Friday, August 22, 2008

Data Loss Sparks Fresh ID Card Fears

Fresh concerns have been raised over the government's controversial ID cards after it emerged the firm in the memory stick shambles is at the centre of the £20 billion home office scheme. 

The home office has suspend its three-year contract with PA Consulting following the loss of a memory stick containing data on 84,000 criminals.

PA Consulting was contracted by the home office last year to track offenders through the criminal justice 'JTrack' system. 

The data was not encrypted and contained names, birth dates, prison release dates and home detention curfew dates.

PA Consulting Group was awarded a development contract for the ID cards said to be worth £10 million in 2004, under the then home secretary, David Blunkett.

The same company was used by the government to set up the chaotic Criminal Records Bureau IT project.

The ID card scheme is coordinated by the Whitehall & Industry Group (WIG) which includes 39 civil servants, and 40 consultants from PA Consulting, the government's private sector 'development partner', and three on secondment from the passport service, the metropolitan police and a management consultant company.

The Telegraph has revealed that PA Consulting has been paid more than £240 million for government contracts in recent years.

This includes £100 million by the home office for the ID scheme and other work and £35 million to work on new biometric visas for the foreign office.

The Telegraph report adds: "Between 2004 and 2007 the company also picked up at least £31m from the Department for Work and Pensions, £20m from the Department for Communities and Local Government, £17m from the Ministry of Defence, £16m from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, £9m from the Department for Education and its successors and £3.5m from the Cabinet Office."

Announcing an inquiry, the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, said the data stick loss was "completely unsatisfactory" and the home office had suspended its contract for the company to run the JTrack scheme. 

Conservatives have accused ministers of a "massive failure of duty", accusing them of attempting to shift the blame and say the government must urgently examine the implications of the latest fiasco for the £20 bilion ID card project.

The loss of the memory stick is the latest in a string of data blunders by government departments who have awarded massive contracts to private IT firms. 


Obama Picks Kinnock Copycat Biden

The Chosen One has chosen silver-haired windbag, Joe Biden, as his running mate for the White House. The decision was due to be revealed by text message to the Obama faithful, as part of the campaign hype to whip up interest. But in the end it was leaked out by the media.

The Obama campaign tried to wrong-foot the Clinton and McCain camps with the late announcement and the choice of an all-American guy with Washington experience. But, after Biden earlier cast doubts on Obama running for president, the McCain camp was quick to put out this YouTube put down.

Biden, with the looks of a younger McCain, has a background in law, experience of foreign policy and a reputation as a "remorseless gabber", as one columnist put it. 

Over here, he was known as the Kinnock Copycat. Biden shot to fame in 1987, when he was accused of plagiarising a speech by Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock. A video of his admission, made by rivals, cost him his shot at the presidency.

Obama-Biden (no relation to anyone else with a similar sounding name), made their first campaign appearance together at a rally in Springfield, (Illinois not Simpsonland), ahead of next week's media circus, also known as the Democrat convention (DNC).

Unlike presumptive nominee Obama, Biden was vetted by the Democrats. So it seems there are no skeletons lurking in that cupboard. In a clear snub to Clinton, she, apparently, was not even part of the vetting process. 

Faced with a revolt by Clinton delegates and McCain riding high in the polls, the Obama camp has resorted to damage limitation, with Obama-Biden being sold as the 'dream' ticket. 

The Denver DNC is a chance to show very public support for the Democrat nominee and running mate in the full glare of the media. 

But with both Obama and Clinton names in the hat, it could still go either way.

Clinton's huge band of supporters and delegates face a choice. Continue to support Clinton as the nominee, or go along with the Obama-Biden dream. 


Come Back Gordon The Economy Needs You

The economy's at a standstill. GDP growth at it lowest for 16 years. It's worst than the last time we were told the economy's in meltdown. While we batten down the hatches, is our illustrious leader here helping us weather the storm? 

Well no. He's having his picture taken with the troops in Helmand and the Afghanistan president - then off to Beijing for another photocall. All to capture the headlines and be duly posted up on Brown's new No 10 website

Any small crumb of comfort or reassurance from any government minister would help ease the anxiety. But don't hold your breath. 

Although we do now have this piece of Brown reassurance that suddenly popped up  at 4.27pm in the Telegraph.

Blair was left to strut around as the world statesman while 'prudent' Brown 'looked after' the shop. But Brown can't pull off that one. For him, it's still the economy, stupid. 

It almost makes you yearn for those dulcet tones again - I'm just doing my job and looking after the economy. Or maybe not.


BBC's Part In McCain Homes Sting

The BBC can be so dumb and so biased. When it comes to the US elections, they really should be more careful. It's a very dirty business. The BBC has fallen for the oldest trick in the book. They were part of a sting that back-fired. 

The row, over how many homes Republican hopeful McCain has, came during an interview with reporters from the Politico web-site, who planted the question. McCain replied "I think - I'll have my staff get to you."

That's fine - all part of the tricks you'd expect in the campaign.

Quick as a flash, a video was posted on YouTube with Obama accusing McCain of enjoying a lavish lifestyle and showing he owned lots of luxury homes. 

Amazingly the BBC is quite happy to report the part it played in the sting. Its own filed report on the BBC website tells us:

"The independent (sic) internet video that triggered the row was produced by Robert Greenwald, an Obama supporter who has put together a number of web videos in support of the Democratic hopeful."

"BBC correspondent Katty Kay spoke to Mr Greenwald as he was making the video, before the furore erupted ... BBC's Katty Kay followed the makers of the video as it was being produced."

They knew what was going to happen all along. Then it all back-fired for BBC/Obama. 

In the world of negative campaigning, you don't just attack the opponent with all guns blazing. You lie in wait and ambush them with a more damaging counter-claim. And that's what the McCain camp duly did. 

Out of the back-pocket came the reply video on YouTube - accusing Obama of "getting help" from convicted Chicago crook, Tony Rezko, to buy his million-dollar mansion in Chicago. The McCain camp said a convicted felon had help Obama to buy his home.

So on the one hand, we have a rich white-haired dude who owns lots of big houses - on the other hand, we have the Chosen One who gets his luxury pad with the help of a Chicago crook.

Stay out of it BBC - you are dealing with the big boys here. 


Thursday, August 21, 2008

No10 Website Breaches Civil Service Code

Brown's Downing Street website has broken a golden rule of Whitehall - you don't mix government information with party politics. Or at least you don't get caught out.

The new-look site, with its Brown makeover, is the most blatant act of party political spin, since Blair used his Royal Prerogative to winkle his unelected, unaccountable pal Campbell into the heart of the government propaganda machine, to sideline the Civil Service.

And it was Brown of course who, in his very early days as PM, promised an end to all the lies and spin and to cut back on the number of special advisors and media spin doctors. 

It has been reported here how the new Downing Street website has had a Brown makeover. The site got into hot water over a 'joke' video about a Clarkson online petition. It now covers Brown's every move from every angle and even introduced a section on the No 10 flower garden to green up his credentials. 

That's fine for a political party - but not for a website which is supposed to follow government guidelines on impartiality, integrity, honesty and objectivity. 

Downing Street is the official residence of the prime minister. At that level, communication  should be a function of the civil service - an arm of the Government Information Service. Clearly it has been highjacked by the party political spin machine. That's bad enough, but now it is being used as a vehicle to promote Brown as a political leader of a political party. And that breaches every guideline in the book.

Back in 2002, and stung by the 'good day to bury bad news' scandal, the then head of the Civil Service, Sir Richard Wilson, recommended a limit on the number of politically-appointed spin doctors, through a new Civil Service Act. Years later that still hasn't happened. 

One of Brown's first announcements as prime minister, in July 2007, was that he intended to introduce a Civil Service Bill. That still hasn't happened.

But the Civil Service does have clear guidelines for anything online, in the Civil Service Code Of Practice, outlined here

If civil servants are putting up political propaganda, then they are in clear breach of these guidelines. If they are not, which elected government minister or Civil Servant authorised it all? If the answer is neither, then who's running the show?


Is Clinton Plotting A Convention Coup?

It doesn't bode well for Obama superstar. The great ship has lost its paddle and taking in water. Even his slick publicity machine is fighting to stop him sinking. The Messiah's empty-headed TV performance during the Saddleback debate with McCain is lingering and festering in the media. For the first time, McCain is ahead in some polls. And that leaves the field wide open for Clinton.

While the Chosen One's campaign team was hitting on McCain in TV ads, they took their eyes off the ball and didn't realise what was creeping up behind them.

Clinton has pulled a blinder here. Just suspending her campaign after the US Primaries was only the beginning. Then the full force of her strategy swung into action. 

First she managed to get Obama to wipe out her campaign debts. Next Obama's VP choice, John Edwards, was wiped out with a sordid scandal. Then she gets a roll-call vote of delegates at next week's Democrat convention (DNC) in Denver. And behind the scenes she's whipping up support.

Clinton's 18 million supporters are taking the battle to Denver. Hillary's gals are preparing for a fight. The US Primaries left a bitter taste and shattered their dreams of the first woman in the White House and they won't take that lying down. The Clintons just don't like to be beaten.

At the end of the day it will be Obama's arrogant, pompous attitude, political skulduggery and total lack of any experience that could be his downfall. Unlike the Main Stream media and the fanatical band of Obama supporters, the American people saw that coming a long while ago.

Obama, the presumptive presumptuous senator from Chicago, is due to announce his VEEP running mate on Friday. A crafty move to leave it until the last minute and capture TV coverage and headlines ahead of his huge media onslaught planned for the DNC.

Clinton strategists may, however, come up with plan B. Force Obama to chose Clinton (and her delegate votes) as his running mate. That makes her ideally placed to take over the reigns when the McCain and Clinton camps finally expose Obama for the sham he really is. Or at least give her a head start in 2012. 

One thing's for sure, never underestimate the Clintons. Bigger fish than Obama have tried and failed. Whatever the outcome, there'll be a place in the big tent for Hillary. 


Inflated GCSEs Let Everyone Down

The government's obsession with GCSE targets is an inflatable joke. They've let the schools down, they've let the pupils down and they've let themselves down.

Schools are playing the education system and fighting government obsession with league tables, to produce record GCSE results, to stave off closure and meet unrealistic targets. A view shared by the leader in  today's Independent.

With the spotlight on school league tables, today's GCSE results show more and more pupils are being entered for soft option and 'pointless' vocational subjects to boost results and school performance. The biggest jump in top grades since 1990, according to the BBC. 

Traditional tough subjects like physics and chemistry and being replaced by the easier combined science and languages shunned altogether. Single subjects are being rebranded as 'studies' which require less rigourous academic study.

Schools, afraid of being branded failures, are coming under increasing pressure, as the government tries to switch schools to its flagging Adonis academies programme - using PFI schemes to keep public spending off the balance sheet and handing control over to big business backers, sympathetic to the government. 

In June, it was highlighted by the Orange Party here, that the government is planning a cull of one in five secondary schools in England, unless they make the grade and hit the benchmark targets of 30% of pupils gaining five good GCSEs including maths and English. 

In a desperate attempt to boost targets, the government has already threatened to take funding away from so-called 'specialist schools', which promote themselves in areas like arts, technology, unless they deliver.

These schools face being stripped of funding and placed under the control of New Labour sympathisers as part of the 're-education' process.

The 638 schools targeted are being unfairly stigmatised as 'failing' as an excuse to hand them over to the vast army of education consultants and bureaucrats in privately managed academies.

Teaching unions are rightly indignant and reject this "focus on failure and closure".

Meanwhile, the government is trying to massage the GCSE figures by introducing course-work modules and more retake opportunities for students. 

In an attempt to produce a meaningful 16+ examination and counter the spin, some schools have started to switch pupils to the International GCSE which is more akin to the old 'O' level.

Today's artificial 'record' GCSE results come hard on the heels of last week's artificial 'record' A-level results. Both spun in a desperate attempt to prop up the government's failed education policies which are failing our children. 


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No 10 Website Gets Garden Makeover

Downing Street clearly doesn't know its political arse from its Civil Service elbow. The Flower Pot Men have been at work at No 10.

Not content with plugging pictures of Brown and stories about Brown from every conceivable angle, the new Downing Street web site has gone into gardening, with pictures of pretty flowers in the Downing Street garden. And Brown popping up doing everything except a bit of weeding. 

For green-fingered visitors looking for information on one of the world's top nations, here's the blurb that accompanies the pretty flowers in Brown's Gardener's World:

"The Number 10 pond and garden from the terrace. The terrace tubs contain a variety of flowers such as Begonia non-stop series, Bidens ferrifolia and Geranium tornado red; Buxus sempervinens topiary can be seen behind; Crown copyright."

'Crown' Copyright should read 'Brown' Copyright. 

Government propaganda has really hit a new low. Swing around to any official government website and you'll be hard pressed to separate government information from political spin.

Over at the Home Office, the website is more subtle but just as contrived - a free puff for a political party if ever there was one.

We've had to put up with the website silliness of people calling each other prats over at No 10. Then, there was a Downing Street video post, taking the piss out of the online petition calling for Clarkson to be PM, which has been branded as a complete waste of taxpayers money. 

And now pictures of the garden to make us all believe what a green and friendly lot they are. 

Is all this produced and paid for by the Government Information Service (civil servants) or the party political machine?

This kind of crap is well-known in local government - where councils hit on the bright idea of blowing their own trumpets by dressing up the bullshit as 'news' stories. And stuffing them through our doors as so-called freepapers. 

Only, in local government,  legislation is in place to keep that sort of thing in check. And you can always use the freepapers as lining for the birdcage. 

They're still at it, but higher up the political food chain. The same technique is being employed with great gusto by the PR spinners at No 10. 

Now that Downing Street is stuffed with policy wonks and media managers, you'd be hard pressed to spot a career civil servant. 

At one time there was clear water between the elected political government and an impartial Civil Service. That was blown out of the water when Blair used the Royal Prerogative to get unelected and unaccountable Campbell into the heart of the government propaganda machine and bypass the official Civil Service protocols. 

But those checks and balances were there for good reason - to stop the PR prats from highjacking the Government Information Service and using it to spin away for petty party politics. Someone should be sent on gardening leave.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

C4 News Sniffing Around Obama

Channel 4 News is the first mainstream broadcaster on either side of the Atlantic to begin sniffing around the spin and hype of the Obama political machine, which has been highlighted by the Orange Party on a number of occasions. But is this a one-off or can viewers expect more unbiased  reporting?

In a down-bulletin piece last night, the programme featured a report from Washington-based reporter, Sarah Smith.

The lead in article, which accompanies the news package, points out Obama's life is subject to intense scrutiny:

"His rhetoric sounds like he is running as an "outsider", not just another politician, almost an anti-politician. But is the real truth about Barack Obama that he is really an insider and that he has spent years mastering the rules of the political game? His life and background are now subject to intense scrutiny, in particular his dramatic rise through the politics of Chicago. Meanwhile, rumours about his religion and his past in one of America's most corrupt cities swirl round the internet." 

With the Democrat convention less that a week away and the Obama campaign going into overdrive, it takes a fearless mainstream broadcaster to stick its neck out and try to uncover the truth. 

But Channel 4 is a state-owned, commercially subsidised broadcaster wearing its pseudo-liberal heart on its sleeve. The Orange Party suspects this will have been a one-off sop to fairness and objectivity, before the C4 News is sucked up in the Obama hype and starts to bang the drum for the One. 


What Price Olympic Gold?

The nations are riding high on the success of our Beijing cycling team. We've swum against the tide and clinched medals at the Water Cube. The media has captured the public's admiration and adulation. But success comes at a price. Should so much of the public's cash have been channelled into Olympic success and how much more will we have to cough up for London 2012?

In cycling and elsewhere, the cash comes, not from sponsorship, but from Lottery funding. That's our National Lottery cash. It's been directed into the Olympics by the government, to deliberately target the medals table, where we have a chance of striking gold.

Millions of pounds have been spent on equipment, training and facilities. But would there be a better use for the cash? And who authorised this dramatic switch of lottery funding away from grass-roots sports, community and arts projects, to target the big Olympic events in the run up to Beijing? 

Where is the like-for-like business funding, which should be a feature of big sport? 

After Beijing, all eyes will be on London 2012 and we'll have to avoid a let down there. 

So the use of lottery cash will expand even further - and then, the bog standard community playgrounds, swimming pools and sporting facilities will have to play second fiddle to the big prize. And that's already happening.

Some reckon that spending the public's cash on the Olympics is a winner.

But after all the triumph and success of Beijing dies down and London looms - it will be at the cost of the small sporting projects up and down the country. Those, and the arts and very worthy community based social projects will suffer. Maybe that's the price we are prepared to pay for Olympic gold. 

Former conservative prime minister, Sir John Major, told the BBC today he believes "all political parties should back guaranteed long-term National Lottery funding for grass-roots sports, from where the Olympic stars of the future would come."


Monday, August 18, 2008

Brown And Foreign Policy AWOL In Georgia

Ask Brown and the government about the Georgian conflict, UK foreign policy, a new all-powerful EU and the answers may come back, eventually. But only after they've checked with Bush, run it past Blair policy and got the OK from Brussels.

The Sun and Daily Telegraph make uneasy bedfellows, but today they are speaking with one voice on a central issue. 

The Telegraph points out - "Britain has been strangely absent from the Russo-Georgian conflict". The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh is a tad more blunt - "Hello Gordon - we still can't hear you."

However, taking sides and raising the spectre of the Cold War, does not help. Former chief of general staff, Mike Field's clear plea "Let's not start World War III", is ample warning on that.

Brown isn't the only thing that's gone missing. What's also gone AWOL is any glimpse of a UK foreign policy and the public's voice over the role of an ever expanding EU and its new constitution/treaty currently being pushed through member states. 

And, at times of international tension, can we rely on Brown and his Blairite side-kick Miliband? 

Brown and Mliband's strange absence can be partly explained. They've dusted down Blair's position at his meeting with the Georgian president, disclosed here. That sets out the Blair vision for a super NATO, all-powerful EU and how Georgian troops can be used to prop up the war in Iraq. 

They've taken a look and thought - we'd better keep our heads down. Neither want to be seen as getting too close to all that.

Instead, it was left to the confusion of France's Nicolas Sarkozy to broker a peace. Acting as the EU rotating president, sure - but at all times very clearly speaking as the French President. And as the voice of newly emerging EU foreign and military muscle which played a part in the conflict.

An expansionist EU, with Brussels now firmly in control of foreign policy and military matters, has been allowed to slip in under the radar of the voters and public. The current row over the new  EU constitution/treaty is ample proof of that. 

The true scale of a powerful, unaccountable and expansionist EU, embedded in the new EU constitution/ treaty, lies at the heart of the matter, eluded to in the Telegraph Leader: 

"But before being able to implement such a policy, we must first recover control, in practice as well as in theory. Britain is the world's fifth-largest economy and fourth military power. If we cannot act independently on the world stage, it is hard to see who can."

Over at the Sun, the ever politically astute Kavanagh, pulls no punches:

"We are led by a man who issues press releases about his phone calls to Tbilisi from holiday in Scotland. As David Cameron flies to Georgia with warnings about Russia’s threat to world peace, Gordon seems more preoccupied with the date of the Fife by-election."

After the Georgian conflict, these are the issues which require some very serious, clear and rational public debate.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Vintage BBC Cold War Report From Cuba

Good to see the BBC still has a vintage Cold War reporter, alive and well and living in Cuba. Peddling politics, wrapped up as animal stories for the silly season, is as old as the hills. Now the BBC's Michael Voss in Havana is at it, with a story about Havana zoo swapping animals for vet equipment with Venezuela. 

Exactly the same story that has been kicking around for a week. Only the BBC chose to put it on the front page of their morning on-line news page - along with a stock PA picture of a cute baby giraffe. 

The report can't resist slipping in a few political comments. (The bits not about animals are in italics): 

"Havana zoo boasts one of the best collections in the Americas, partly due to Cuba's military roles in Africa. In the 1970s, tens of thousands of troops fought in independence wars on the continent. The zoo has an impressive breeding record, with 700 zebras and 300 lions having been born in their confines and subsequently exported. The animals are due to be sent by air freight to Venezuela next month. The two countries have a close relationship, with Cuba paying for Venezuelan oil imports with doctors and health workers."

What next, monkeys and missile-bases? This style of political spin is as old as Graham Greene.

Maybe the BBC's Man in Havana has been on too many daiquiris.


Blair And Obama-Two Peas In A Pod

Where have you seen that guy Obama before? He's been there all the time. He's called Tony Blair. They are like two peas in a pod. Both seem to have backgrounds they'd rather hide from the voters and air-brush out of history. 

For Obama, it's his citizenship and American roots. For Blair, it's his posh upbringing and public school background.

Both are lawyers and both have played around with their names. Barack Hussein Obama, formerly known as Barry Soetoro. Anthony Charles Lynton Blair - well, just call him Tony.

They speak the same hyped-up language. Both are the products of very clever marketing with an army of spin-doctors and political wonks. Promising all things to all people.

Both hijacked political parties. Tony and the gang dreamt up New Labour to take over the Labour Party. Barry is up to the same tricks with the US Democrats.

And both have some very suspicious fund-raising questions hanging over them and links to dodgy politicians and businessmen.

Both face leadership challenges and election battles. For Barry, it's the formidable Clintons and then the Republicans. For the Blairites, it's the true Labour back-lash and then the Conservatives.

And here's the rub. Both have the backing of the very powerful Murdoch media mogul.

It's as if they were born in the same manger - and both think they're the Messiah.