Saturday, May 31, 2008

Give Brown A Break (A Very Long One)

It's not been a very good week for Brown, now more unpopular than since polling began in 1943 - which makes the prime minister more unpopular than Hitler. But ringing people up at 6am isn't the way to get round people. 

That bold plan to tackle knife crime with, er, posters, just doesn't quite get to the bottom of the problem, does it? And having your picture taken with a couple of fat cats from two-bit oil producers is hardly going to win over the voters.

Yes, we all know the story. You were hoodwinked by the New Labour gang - taken in by the public school boy charms of Blair, the Campbell spin and that devious sod Mandelson - but weren't we all! All those words and slogans made so much sense at the time. Words like 'modernising' and 'narratives' and things.

And we all know that Blair only went if you promised not to mess about with foreign policy, domestic policy - if fact any New Labour policy - and just stuck to speeches on global warming.

You see, you have to learn not to take it too personally. It's New Labour and the decade of lies, deceit and failed policies that people don't like. Yes we all know you were there at the beginning of the Project but, like now, you didn't touch it, meet it, sign it or do anything - did you?

So let's be positive now Gordon. You did a great job at the treasury selling off our Gold Reserves at a knock down price, creating a live now pay later debt culture and keeping all that naughty spending hidden away off the balance sheet - it looked great on paper and made everybody feel good at the time.

But you know, all good things must come to an end. So why don't you just bugger off back to Scotland and give us all a break.


Friday, May 30, 2008

IT's A Disaster

Billions of pounds have been squandered in New Labour's love affair with big, hugely expensive IT computer projects. Can they be that gullible to be taken in by smooth talking IT salesmen?

Like salesmen the world over they promise everything and deliver just a huge hole in the pocket (and nothing on time and on budget). Maybe New Labour just likes spending billions of pounds of our cash. It makes them feel important.

In the last decade of New Labour, we've seen many of them crash and burn. Huge IT projects at the MoD and Dept of Work and Pensions end up as embarrassing financial fiascos.

But it is the NHS's Connecting for Health (CfH) computer that's the big daddy. The biggest non-military IT computer project in the world. Costing a staggering £12.7 billion (and that just the official figure).

The NHS IT programme, launched in 2002 in the heyday of New Labour, is already years late.

Until recently, the whole project was shrouded in secrecy, with all sorts of legal injunctions in place to stop reporting. The National Audit Office (NAO), supposedly the big public spending watchdog (well, big on the its previous bosses' expenses) dithered and delayed any report on progress or cost. 

Now the plans will face further delays after a contract with one of the big three key suppliers was terminated.

The Conservatives say the government's attempts to "ram through a top-down, centralised, one-size-fits-all central NHS computer system" has come "crashing down around their ears". That's putting it mildly.

Why not just scrap it and spend the money on, well, how about the NHS? 

Do something about the filthy wards (whatever happened to Johnson's Deep Clean gimmick - come to think of it whatever happened to Alan Johnson?), the appalling hospital contract food (don't even go there) and the third rate service (because the debt ridden hospitals have to spend the cash on paying off the PFI loans). 

£13 billion of our money down the drain and into the pockets of the international IT consultants. It's enough to make you feel sick.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Don't Be Taken In By His Great Big Grin

The Great Man has spoken-everywhere. Brown, the global statesman, appearing on all the TV news bulletins, every inch the world leader. First, it was Gordon with the Big Oil Producers demanding a solution to the global oil crisis. Then, still wearing the same suit, tie and grin, Gordon the peacemaker announcing a UK ban on cluster bombs. 

Only they were not big oil producers and  the UK  cluster bomb ban is nothing new.

The 'oil producers' consisted of three minor players Shell, BP and TOTAL - together producing just 2 percent of the world oil. But it gave Brown a chance to  deflect the public concern over an increase in fuel tax onto the global oil crisis. It will have no effect whatsoever. 

And then - with that grin again - an announcement to ban cluster bombs left more questions than answers. What are we doing dropping these vile weapons in the first place? What difference will a UK ban make, when the big arsenals of these terrible weapon are held by the US, China, Russia? And the UK will probably still reserve the right to use them - presumably when a prime minister decides it is "the right thing to do." 

There was no mention of the stockpile of cluster bombs the US military keeps at bases on UK soil. And what about similar weapons being developed for the future - cluster bombs in all but name? 

So this is New Labour's fight-back strategy after the election disasters of the last few weeks. Ignore the Big Issues, the things that are really pissing off people, and instead spin the senior statesman with the scary grin.

Meanwhile the clouds are gathering over New Labour (although we will probably have to wait until after the autumn Party conference) and the Conservatives are rubbing their hands with glee.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Don't Mention The War!

Does anyone care about the war in Afghanistan? Has it all been brushed under the carpet by the MoD war-time propaganda machine? Or is it that we just accept it while our servicemen continue to die, along with hundreds of civilians, in far off lands. 

In 1956,  Eden, the UK prime minister, took this country to war on a lie. The US said stop it. Eden paid the price and resigned in disgrace. The British Empire ended after Suez. And for nearly half a century, any idea of UK 'interventionism' died with it. Liberal interventionism came back with New Labour and Blair. But only if the US said it was OK. And only if Blair "knew it was right". 

Wars are never pleasant. People get killed. Taking a nation to war is bad enough when the State is threatened directly. The only justification for war must be if the UK is directly under threat by a foreign state. It hasn't been since 1939. 

Pull all operational troops out of Iraq. See what happens? The tribal groups will realign and eventually federate. Look at the Kurds. They seem to be very peacefully getting on with it. Baghdad is a problem. And here the solution is for a UN agreed creation of an independent city state. With a UN peace-keeping force.

And then there's Afghanistan. Strange because nobody seems to know why we are there and exactly what we are doing. Fighting Tommy Tailban? But who are they? Fundamental Islamists, sure but also many Afghans. It's their country not ours. Us British were there years ago fighting somebody or other (they even made it into a film - Carry On Up The Khyber). Then the Soviets tried - and beat a hasty retreat. And now it's us again and the US. 

What are we doing there? Well, certainly protecting the poppy fields from destruction. After all, more than 90 percent of the UK heroin comes from these fields. Protect the poppy with pride!

Just pull out of here too. We don't have an Empire anymore! Heroin from the poppy fields of Afghanistan is a really bad thing. No general worth his pips would try to fight two wars on two fronts. We just don't have the money to wage any wars let alone two at once. 

Think of the money we'd save. Billions of pounds. We're a tiny island off northern Europe for goodness sake not a world superpower. We could use some of the cash to help pay off our increasing national debt (and maybe use some for schools and hospitals and staff). 

And come to think of it why doesn't someone ask what are all our troops doing stationed in Germany (don't they know the Cold War has ended). And in southern Cyprus - since when have the friendly Turkish EU wannabes been a threat?

It is time for a reality check. Realise that we can't afford billion of pounds fighting wars in foreign countries. Wake up to the fact that Muslims really don't like western Christians invading their country. Liberal interventionism shouldn't be on the whim of a UK prime minister because he thinks he's right. There's a place for liberal interventionism but only with full UN approval and only then if the UK Parliament and people agree. 

The problem is Brown is simply carrying on with a New Labour policy. They've dug themselves into a hole and can't get out. You'd have to do something with all the troops, the sailors and the airmen and vast army of MoD staff. And there's the huge defence, catering and supply contracts.  Pulling out will cost a lot of very rich and powerful people an awful lot of money. 

This isn't anti-war. This is just common sense. 


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Eco-Towns Are An Eco-Con

Eco-towns. One of Gordon's Big ideas. Thousands of new homes built in rural areas. Branded as Eco-towns as part of the spin. But what are they really? Well, remove the word 'Eco' and put in the word 'New'. There you have it. They are New Towns to be built on green fields.

Big housing developers are big business. They donate to New Labour and want something back in return - to build lots of new houses and make them even richer. 

But there just isn't the land available for big developments. Sure there's lots of land - but it's owned by the landowners for hunting and leisure - or it's green field farming land. And with the current UK planning laws, it would take years to get any off the ground. 

And just look at the demographics. They are to be built in rural Conservative areas. A cunning plan to bring in lots of grateful New Labour voters into safe Conservative held seats. 

So brand them 'Eco-friendly'. It is so, well friendly. if you want to hoodwink the public stick the word 'eco' in front . It works every time - at least it did up until now. And to make it easier these Eco-towns will fast track the planning process (there won't be any in the UK). Consultation yes but no one listens to that.

It's a masterstroke of spin. 

But there's already a backlash and from an unlikely source - the Media Classes living in their pretty villages. OK they might be NIMBYs - but the Media Class has a powerful voice and it's right. They highlight the obvious - where is the infrastructure for these New Towns - no schools, shops, hospitals and big increases in traffic . 

Try this test - annouce thousand of new homes to be built on farmland and see how that would go down! 

If you want to build homes -there's an easy answer - build on brown field sites - or refurbish and regenerate existing premises . But there's not as much money to be made out of that. 

Eco-towns? More like Eco-con.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Time To Call Time On Death Of The Pub

Sundays used to be a time to pop down to the local and put the world to right. Not any more. Where's the real ale, real fire, real food, real atmosphere, real pub? Time to put the real back into reality.

With traditional pubs disappearing at a rate of knots (one in four closing and rising), soon they will be a thing of the past. And it only happened over the last few years. 

Thanks to New Labour, it's now all style and no substance. A cafe culture, wine bars, gastro pubs. And if you do find a pub open, with the obsessive smoking ban, chances are they stink of stale beer and urine.

We live on a wind swept island in northern Europe. It gets cold and miserable even in summer. Our staple alcoholic drink is beer like rest of northern Europe. And we like to chat. The atmosphere was a bit smoky but that's part of the atmosphere.

Pubs disappeared in a mixture of New Labour political correctness and greed and the smoking ban has a lot to answer for. 

Live music is dead. The brewery can make more money from us feeding the jukebox. Real fires have gone. You need to employ someone to lay and light them, keep they stoked up, clean up the mess and sweep the chimneys. The Political Elite don't care. They have created their own themed pubs in the pretty commuter villages. 

Real food just isn't as convenient as convenience food. Mass-produced frothy beer is cheaper than real ale. The mark-up on wines and fancy bottled drinks is enormous. Creating a stylish gastro-pub dining experience is a con. The mark-up here is amazing. And of course there is no-smoking, nowhere. Dogs are banned (Health and Safety and all that).

There is an alternative that could work. 

Create English Heritage Pubs but only if they pass the 3R's. They must sell real ale. If they serve any food it must be real food with local seasonal ingredients made on on the premises. There must be real fires, open fires. Piped music is banned. Real live music is encouraged. Smoking is allowed with areas set aside for non-smokers. 

The English Heritage Pub would operate strict licensing hours - 11am to 11pm. Landlords would operate a zero tolerance policy on any unruly behaviour.

The incentive for breweries would be the increase in trade and there must be a lowering of Business Tax for the qualifying pubs, with improvement grants to bring the premises up (or down) to standard. 

But to qualify they must follow the 3R's - Real ale, Real food, Real atmosphere. It will only work as a whole package, you can't cherry pick which bits you fancy. The local Tourist Board would monitor standards (along with CAMRA) and award the trade licence - a plaque on the door - then market the pub as Traditional English Heritage Pubs. 

Some pubs would qualify immediately with little change. Soon others would want to join the bandwagon. It could turn into a movement.