Monday, 30 March 2009

Fairness is an illusion, in some cases

The Today programme reported this morning that New Labour's latest equality bill contains a proposal to cut maternity leave. Apparently, the problem is that "the UK has the most unequal arrangements in Europe" what with women getting 9 months and men only getting a few weeks.

Now, I'll admit that I didn't listen to all of the report. The woman being interviewed was so incredibly irritating that the real choice lay between the off switch and a nasty traffic accident. I chose the off switch. Nor am I interested in the argument over whether maternity leave is 9 months, 8 months, 7 weeks, of 10 minutes. The fact is, a member of staff getting pregnant is a nightmare for a small business, and that debate is just about how much of a nightmare we make it for the business owner in order to give the new parent a fighting chance of getting off to a decent start.

No, my irritation is on two completely different counts.

First, the comment that "the UK has the most unequal arrangements in Europe". Think back to the last time you saw a couple arriving at a maternity ward in the later stages of labour. Chances are, your mental image is of two people who are in a somewhat unequal state. Speaking from experience, I can say that he's probably a bit worried and a bit nervous. As for her, Mrs P looked like a weeble. Only slightly more round. And in rather more pain. Equal, we were not.

Likewise, imaging a pair of new parents, feeding their child naturally and in line with Government guidelines. Again, they will not be equal. He doesn't have breasts - unless he's really fat, but even then they won't be functional.

So I'm sorry, but equality is not achievable in this field. Women will, inevitably, go through a harder and more arduous time during pregnancy, and need more time off. The argument that "the UK has the most unequal arrangements in Europe", therefore we need to change them, is utter rubbish.

Second, it would be nice if maternity arrangements could remain stable for a while. My firm is smallish - 35 staff or so. From time to time one of the women falls pregnant (always the women, I note - is my firm sexist, perhaps?) and we need to decide what arrangements to make for her maternity. We generally start from the statutory minimum and work from there to create a package that is fair to her and to other staff, which reflects our goodwill for her past work and our genuine desire for her to return after the new arrival, and which can reasonably set a precedent for future pregnancies.

We have never been able to use any of the precedents we have set. Not once.

Why? Because no two pregnancies that we have had to cater for have happened under the same maternity provisions. Every single time, the rules have changed under our feet since the last pregnancy. Each time, the rules have extended maternity rights in a way that made the previous arrangement unworkable.

This means that every time a member of staff falls pregnant, we have to sit down and spend the time working out what to offer her, from scratch. Time that we could spend working.

Constant change therefore reduces our productivity. This is one of the ways in which Government is the problem.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Spring seems late this year

The clocks have changed, but there are no leaves on our trees yet. Last year, the view from our back windows was verdant green.

Last year's news was of the "Spring Early, Climate Change Happening, World Doomed" variety. This year, nothing. Asymmetries like that make me suspicious.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

A Reply!

I've received a reply to my letter from the Senior Correspondence Officer at Buckingham Palace:

The Queen has asked me to thank you for your letter of 10th March.

Her Majesty has taken note of the views you express. I should explain, however, that there is no possibility of The Queen dismissing the Prime Minister or dissolving Parliament as you suggest, as any actions which Her Majesty takes as a constitutional Sovereign would be in accordance with the advice of her Government Ministers.

Nonetheless, it was useful to The Queen to have your views and I am to thank you for writing.

Oh well. Not unexpected, but nicely put. And on exceedingly nice notepaper. Recycled, too!

Friday, 27 March 2009

All is well in the World?

Listening to Radio 4 on the way to work this morning, as usual, the top item was the Government's brave decision to consider the question of whether those in line to the throne should be able to marry Catholics, and whether girls should have an equal place in the succession.

I can't be the only one who listened to this and thought "wtf is going so horribly, badly wrong for this country that Mandelson has pushed this press release to the front of the queue...?"

Thursday, 26 March 2009

If I wanted an Apple Mac...

... where would I start?

I've used a PC for my entire work career. My only experience of Macs was at university, 20 years ago. I'm thinking that Macs have probably moved on a bit since then? So I look at the Mac range and have no idea where to start!

I'm kind of tempted, because the Mac is closer to my idea of what a well-designed IT system should be - i.e. that I don't need to be a geek in order to be able to use it. It happens that I don't think that I should know how my PC works in order to persuade it to do stuff. I've kind of acquired all the knowledge I seem to need over a decade of managing my firm's IT needs, but there is a nagging doubt that there is a whole load of stuff that I don't know about, which would therefore fall into the category of stuff that I don't know that I don't know - the most dangerous of the four categories. My experience of an iPod Touch has been revalatory; it is precisely how I imagined computing devices would work when I was a kid, except that I thought we would be wearing spacesuits and talking to aliens by the time they were that good.

But where to start? I don't even know basic stuff, like could I restore my PC files to a Mac?

Monday, 23 March 2009

This is what you have to fear ....

... even if you had nothing to hide.

Let's say, for example, that you were a police officer. A police officer who had no history of racist behaviour. A police officer who had not joined the BNP. A police officer who, therefore, had nothing to hide. A police officer who, presumably, had nothing to fear.

Well, it seems that such an officer does in fact have quite a lot to fear from the publication of data about him. Leg-Iron has the story. Someone signed this officer up for the BNP. Whether they did this as a joke or maliciously, he has now lost his job following the publication of the BNP list, and the media are reporting the story selectively to give the impression he is an out-and-out racist.

Those who tell us that the database state is just fine and dandy, and that the collection and sharing of information should not worry people who are not trying to fiddle anything, always make one huge great howling mistake. A mistake that no-one who knew what they are talking about would make. A mistake that can have serious consequences for those it affects.

They assume their databases are accurate.

Friday, 20 March 2009

The G20 is more than a Party Political Broadcast - or is it?

Labour have published a microsite for the forthcoming G20 summit. There is a big banner there:

And they ask for comments in a very obvious "can-we-have-your-email-address-please" kind of way. They want to know what we would like to say to Brown, Obama, and the other 18 attendees who are (presumably) such non-entities that they don't merit naming. Or maybe Labour can't remember who they are?

Anyway, I've offered two comments so far:

This one:

I would like to ask the G20 whether they are aware that the UK's Labour Party is unable to distinguish between its governmental activities and its party political activities, as exemplified by its microsite at, which is a clear example of using publicly funded events to boost their own dire poll ratings?

and this one:

I would like to ask the other members of the G20 whether they are a little bit insulted that our Prime Minister thinks that the G20 is a meeting of himself, Mr Obama, and 18 other little people whose names don't merit mentioning, and whether this might affect their willingness to help the UK out of the hole it made for itself?

I'm not optimistic for a meaningful reply!

Update: Gosh, this is fun:

Talk about Friday Fun:
Fun that continues for as long as you want:

Thursday, 19 March 2009

That Gordon Brown Apology In Full

Courtesy of the Daily Mash. So good I wanted to make sure both of my readers saw it.

GORDON Brown today apologised for not being even more intelligent than he so obviously is.

The prime minister said that while he had been amazingly clever and much cleverer than anyone else, he could have prevented the financial crisis by being even cleverer than that.

Mr Brown told the Guardian: "I'm so clever I know what you're going to say even before you say it. I'm so clever I can read two books at the same time. The one in the toilet and the one next to my bed.

"But if only I had been clever enough to realise that capitalism involves some risk and that maybe something could be done to minimise that risk such as rules that stopped banks from lending money to people who couldn't afford to pay it back."

But that would have taken a super-human degree of intelligence. Not even ET or one of those big, scary computers that can play chess could have worked that one out."

The prime minister also said the era of laissez faire capitalism was over but insisted it would not be replaced by so-called 'big government', adding: "I don't know what we'll actually call it. Maybe 'fat government', or 'chunky government'."

My personal favourite is 'so-powerful-you-won't-be-able-to-go-for-a-pee-without-my-permission government."

Mr Brown's critics are now expected to spend the next two weeks debating whether an apology for not being even cleverer amounts to an actual apology.

Psychologist Dr Tom Logan, said: "I'm afraid this is closest you're going to get to an apology from someone who is now clearly in need of immediate hospitalisation."

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Dave Should Not Have Withdrawn

(for those that don't know, David Cameron called Gordon Brown "a phoney" during PMQs today. The Speaker objected, and Cameron withdrew the comment)

Let's compare and contrast the impact of the two possible options open to Cameron after the Speaker intervened.

Option 1

Cameron: "I withdraw the comment"

Option 2

Cameron: "No, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister and the party that he represents have repeatedly come to this House and evaded or avoided questions. So often, we have listened to their statements both here and elsewhere and found them to be seriously lacking in the necessary qualities of truthfulness and straightforwardness. The Prime Minister's reply was simply the latest in a long series of statements that are so clearly disconnected from the real world that, if he believed it, he is deceiving himself. He is, in short, a phoney, and from now on my party will devote itself to exposing this Government's spin, lies and hypocrisy until such time as it is ejected from the office that it no longer deserves to hold. You, Sir, have duties that go beyond merely protecting the sensibilities of the leader of your party; you have a duty to this House to ensure that the Prime Minister meets his responsibility to answer this House's questions. To date, he has established a pattern of refusing to do so, and if you wish to avoid outbursts such as my comment then I ask that you join me and others in this House in demanding that the Prime Minister starts to give straight answers to straight questions.

Speaker: "The Leader of Opposition will withdraw the comment or leave the House"

Cameron:"Mr Speaker, I am deeply disappointed that you have again chosen to protect Ministers rather than uphold the right of this House to hold them to account and expose them as the phoneys that they are when they evade this duty. That you do so in the name of protecting the dignity of this House, a dignity that is regularly damaged by the actions of those Ministers, is doubly upsetting. I shall therefore leave this House for the remainder of today's sitting."

What a shame. What a missed opportunity.

(I'll grant Cameron though, it is easier to do these things with hindsight)

Monday, 16 March 2009

Artifical Intelligence vs Natural Stupidity

Many thanks to Stu for the link to the wonderfully-named spEak You're bRanes website, dedicated to highlighting just some of the utter rubbish that is spouted by our co-citizens on the BBC's "Have Your Say" site. As with all the best satire, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

I did especially like “The Twat-O-Tron”, an automatic generator for the kind of rubbish comment that is so often posted in the hope of contributing to the debate, but which only enlightens us as to the nature of the poster. Some examples:


Libby Lefty Nutcase, scotland


Typical. when will people realise that the Scottish are destroying our once great country. True patriot must have two strikes and youre out. GREAT britain is going to the dogs.

Smart_Guy In the Know

I'm a bit worried now. We seem to have produced something that will pass a Turing Test. The thing is, Alan Turing presumably thought that if his test were ever to be passed by a machine, it would be a result of advances in the machine. We seem to have achieved this by bringing people down to meet the machine...

[/smug middle class intellectual mode]

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Letter Now Sent

Ulp. I'll update you if I hear anything in reply. Unless I get sent to the Tower, of course.

I've also written a shorter snappier version and sent that the The Times. We'll have to see if they publish it.

So ... now it's your turn. Write, email, post, whatever. Feel free to use any, all, or none of my letter as a basis - I hereby waive all claim to copyright in it!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Draft Letter to Her Majesty

Draft Letter follows. Please offer criticism in the comments.

This would need to be one of a series of requests; I doubt that my opinion alone would be enough to persuade her. It would also need to be one of a series of letters to The Times with a view to sparking a debate there. Please let me know whether you'd be willing to write as well, either by comment or by email; if I'm alone on this then it really isn't worth the effort, or the MI5 file....


Your Majesty,

It is after long and careful deliberation that I write to ask that you consider whether it would be appropriate to exercise one of your constitutional powers.

We, as a nation, have a belief in democracy; one that we have seen fit to impose by force on others. I am not a constitutional lawyer, and I do not claim to have anything more than a general knowledge as to how our system works. As I understand, we have a set of rules, steeped in history, which date from a time before this country was democratic. Whilst those rules permit democracy, they do not guarantee it. Democracy has generally been achieved in recent times (despite this) through the use of conventions and accepted practices. A trivial example of this is that we (i.e. the people) do not choose the Prime Minister; you do so at your discretion. By convention, you have consistently chosen the leader of the largest party in the Commons and thereby achieved democracy for us. That achievement is not however a function of the rules per se; it is the result of the way that you (and others) have applied and exercised those rules to the benefit of all of us.

I am concerned that whilst there has been no breach of the rules in the appointment of our current Prime Minister, Mr Brown, the outcome has been undemocratic, contrary to previous precedent.

Mr Brown was not elected to his current position. In fact, he has never faced a serious electoral challenge; he represents a safe Scottish Labour seat in which his election as an MP was never seriously in doubt. He did not stand for election to the leadership of the Labour Party; instead he operated behind the scenes within his party and persuaded others from standing against him. He cannot therefore seriously claim a democratic path to his current position.

Worse, there is no personal mandate that he can claim. Mr Blair won the last election in 2005; Gordon was not formally presented to the electorate as his deputy and therefore inherits no actual "deputy's mandate" from Blair. Of course, it was generally known that Brown was the most likely successor to Blair, but in the face of questions on this subject Mr Blair promised to serve a full term. The implication of that was crystal clear; he would not stand down mid-term in favour of Mr Brown. Mr Blair’s party was elected on that basis and therefore Brown cannot claim an effective "deputy's mandate" from Blair.

In the Autumn of 2007, an opportunity arose for Mr Brown to call a General Election to establish his mandate. However, he declined. The reason for his not doing so are private to him, but the prevailing belief is that he did so because he feared that the electorate would refuse him a mandate.

So, thinking back over his career, Mr Brown has no electoral history that he can call on. He has no democratic support from elected MPs. He has no form of inherited mandate. He has declined to seek his own mandate.

His only claim to his current position is that the rules say he is entitled. He has done nothing (so far as I am aware) that is outside those rules. However, as noted above, those rules do not guarantee democracy; to do so requires the honest application of discretion by the holders of various senior positions. Mr Brown has side-stepped this and, in my opinion, has thereby avoided the application of democratic principles.

The nearest precedent of which I am aware is, of course, John Major. He, however, arrived at the Prime Ministership after a resignation for which he was not responsible. He was elected by other MPs in a contested leadership election. Within a reasonable time, he submitted to a General Election. The 1992 election was (admittedly) held only when it became absolutely necessary, but this was still within a reasonable period after his succession at the end of 1990.

More significantly, the period between the end of 1990 and April 1992 was one in which UK domestic politics was, generally, "business as usual". Mr Major could therefore reasonably claim that the general policy outlook on which his party was elected in 1987 was being continued. Given this, and given the nature of his arrival at No: 10, he could credibly claim an inherited mandate to govern in the way that he did.

We are now facing a wholly different political and economic outlook to that of 2005, and the policies that are being applied are wholly different to those on which Mr Blair was elected. A clear example is that a party which was elected after it explicitly and publicly abandoned its commitment to public ownership has now nationalized a number of banks. Regardless of whether one takes the view this is the right thing to do in the circumstances or not, there is no legitimate authority to do so granted by the people.

Thus, it seems to me

- that Mr Brown has no personal mandate
- that there is no recent precedent for a stand-in PM remaining in post for so long
- that Mr Blair's mandate was for a full parliamentary term, and hence Brown has no democratic mandate
- that we face a situation that is very different to 2005 in which new and very dramatic policies are being put into effect, and therefore there is no mandate for the use of those policies
that the various political parties have different opinions as to how the current economic crisis should be handled, and that the final choice between them should be made by the people

I should clarify that my personal political opinions are opposed to those of Mr Brown. I believe that many of the policies that he is pursuing now (and that he pursued as Chancellor) are wrong. The view expressed in this letter is however entirely independent of that, and would apply even if I agreed with everything he did.

For these reasons, I ask that you dissolve Parliament to allow for a General Election, so that normal democracy can be assured.

Yours sincerely,

Oh well.

Well, my outbreak of optimism has well and truly fizzled out. Of all the things that I decided to get on with and do while I still can, each and every one has been shot down in flames. In the opinion of others, each is either too expensive, too time-consuming, too fattening, or we don't have space for it. Or a combination of more than one, in a few cases.

I spent a week trying, and last Sunday night the last remaining idea fell off the list with a dispirited sigh, leaving me with decades of work still ahead of me and no hobbies or outside interests that I can pursue with a clean conscience. So the overall outcome of the sentiments in my earlier post has been to make me spend the last week even more down than before.

Sorry for miserable posting. Normal service may one day be resumed, I hope.

New! Improved! Totally Redesigned!!

So we are engaged in Quantitative Easing. We're not printing money, we're quantitatively easing the economy.

Just like the last eleven years weren't a sustained period of tax and spend, they were necessary revenue-raising and investment in public services for hardworking families.

Why does it make me even more worried when people decide they need to think of a new name for things in order to make them presentable?

Friday, 6 March 2009

Brown will never go

I've just commented on Hatfield Girl's blog in response to her call for a General Election. It's either banned or Compulsory commented that the decision to call an election lay with Brown alone, provided that the Queen doesn't sack him and the Labour backbenches don't rebel.

Given that the chances of Labour MPs voting out their own government are rather small, and that Brown clearly will not go for an early Election voluntarily, I asked whether it was time for a letter-writing campaign to Her Majesty asking her to step in and prompt a General Election. This is something that I've been pondering for a while. Such a letter would obviously have to stay away from partisan political attacks on Brown (as she ought to be above that) and focus on the constitutional position. To my mind, there are a number of points we could validly make on that score;
  • that Brown has no personal mandate
  • that there is no recent precedent for a stand-in PM remaining in post for so long
  • that Blair's mandate was for a full parliamentary term hence Brown has no democratic mandate
  • that we face a situation that is very different to 2005 in which new and very dramatic policies are being put into effect, and therefore there is no mandate for the use of those policies
  • that the parties have different opinions as to how it should be handled, and that the final choice between them should be made by the people
I'm happy to draft a letetr, but how would one start organising this on a sufficient scale? We'd need a large number to make an impact, obviously - more than the number who read this blog!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Hatfield Girl Sums It Up

As she puts it, A General Election Must Be Held Now.

Why? "It's over. "

Yes, I'd say that pretty well sums up the situation. Come on Gordon, visiting Obama was going to solve everything when he put his arm round you, pronounced you the guy with all the right ideas, and said he'd been admiring all your efforts from afar. Except that he didn't; he nipped out, bought you a few DVDs, and then ushered you out of the building like the unattractive failure you are.

Your last hope has just humiliated you, and - by extension - us. Give up and go home.

Now, please.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Is this what you wanted?

This is a post directed at anyone who voted Labour in the last three elections. What I want to know is, is the current state of the UK really what you wanted 11 years ago?

The big issue in 1997 was "sleaze"; some backbench Tories were clearly either sailing close to the wind, or up to their necks in it, depending on your interpretation. That needed attention, but was the wholescale import of that culture into government really what you were hoping for? Did you want to see cash for peerages? Did you want to see Bernie Ecclestone pay for the law to be changed? (and then get his money back!)

The NHS was said to be in crisis. Where was it in Labour's manifesto that we wold all pay twice as much for the NHS but only get the same level of service? Where did they announce tht after eleven years of lavish spending, children with apparent appendicitis would wait three hours in A&E to see a doctor? In an A&E unit where the phone rings constantly but is never answered? Where the paint peels off the walls? Where there is a half hour standing wait in a queue merely to be recorded as having arrived?*

In 1997, we had just finished the 90s recession. You wanted economic prudence, it seemed. You got Gordon instead. Did you really want the City to be so wholly mismanaged that we would be plunged into what may be the worst bust in living memory? Is that really your definition of prudence?

You voted for an ethical foreign policy. Remember that? If so, please explain to me what was ethical about lying to Parliament, lying to the country, and lying to the UN in order to invade a poor third world country, kill somewhere north of a hundred thousand of its citizens, just because you don't like their leader. What was he - some kind of serial liar?

Blair said in 1997, "I want to renew our country's faith in the ability of its government and politics to deliver this new Britain.", and promised "A Britain ... where merit comes before privilege, run for the many not the few" Does anyone seriously suggest that he achieved the former by breaking his explicit 2005 promise to serve a full term, leaving No:10 under the terms of an secret deal, to install a Prime Minister chosen by the few, who then balked at the chance to obtain a personal mandate from the many because he feared we wouldn't give him one?

Is this the New Britain he was promising? A tin pot state in which a failure of a Prime Minister is foisted on us without our consent?

Do you, all of you who voted for Labour, feel proud of what they have achieved?

*don't tell me this is exaggeration; I observed it personally last night.