On the 25th Feb 2010 North West Leicestershire Council in the English ‘East Midlands’ held its regular Full Council meeting, with all Councillors and senior officers present. The main subject was the 2010-11 budget, (as well as local protests over excessive housebuilding on green land in between villages).
During the budget discussions an elected spokesman for the ruling Conservative (Tory) Party administration at the Council, enthusiastically praised himself, council officers and his fellow Conservative Councillors for having obtained extra funding from Central Government for street cameras with number plate recognition software.
What is this technology, you may ask ? These cameras record which cars are driving where and at what time, so they have your picture and they know who owns the car, where the car is kept, when the insurance is due, and it marries up this information with camera scans of you and your car obtained elsewhere.
Your whereabouts may have commercial implications, or carry some type of domestic confidentiality. For example, a woman may have a mildly jealous husband, but she wishes to take some expensive medicines to carers for a seriously ill ex-boyfriend. She may wish to protect the confidentiality of her visit, for benefit of all. An employee of the Council may wish to visit a prospective new employer, or a private sector employee a rival firm for a job interview. Someone may wish to keep an evening job confidential.
There are many reasons why the general public wish to go about their business without being watched by an unelected faceless official. People are used to a general right of privacy from government, in Britain. That’s why we don’t have ID cards, or random police roadblocks as in dodgy countries run by dictators. We are a democracy and we want to keep it that way – and not give too much power over us to the expense-swindling government-of-the-day. One reason for this is that in reality the faceless officials are not so faceless. They are human – open to error, mistake and occasional illegality or money-making on the side. Power corrupts.
But now, in Coalville, someone somewhere has access to your movements and whereabouts. Who is it ? How is the information stored ? Who has access to it ? Can it be sold or passed on to other agencies ? Can people processing you photos and car number plate scans use the information for gain ? What if one of the people involved is the (for example) jealous, or even abusive, husband ? Can the information get lost on a disk on a train, as often happens ?
The District Council have provided no information on this, but surely they should. Is it not our democratic right to know what detailed information is being ‘secretly’ collected on us in this way, and to be able to verify in detail, the inevitable bland assurances that we will be given when such issues are raised ?
In the current centralised way in which the UK government is organised, large ‘extra budget’ sums are never given by central government to a local authorities without conditions. What information is being passed on by North West Leicestershire District Council and to whom ?
As has been widely reported in the press, local authorities already have wide powers to find out about our web browsing and to read our private emails – on very trivial grounds indeed, like how we put out or household rubbish (!). Now they can check where we are going and when in our cars.
The justification is often ‘terrorism’ but this cannot surely be valid, because terrorist suspects can be tracked using powers given by the courts against individuals, not the whole population. Mass information on millions just clogs up the system. Ultimately information collected for terrorism purposes is only as good as the human beings that monitor and analyse it – and there will never be enough analysts to monitor the whole population.
Of course we all know the answer. Information stored on the general population will end up being used for trivial purposes. That is the nature of government as we have already seen, and the general public need powers to protect themselves against this.
Meanwhile we shall wait to see if NW Leics District Council come clean about all this, or whether we have to drag our rights kicking and screaming from them !
Paul Reynolds Feb 26 2010
The Foreign Secretary has warned of the necessity to extend the war activities of UK forces in Afghanistan in order to save Britain. Thus he presents himself as a naive simpleton struggling to read, let alone master his brief. He goes on to point out that UK forces are trying to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists – terorists that target the UK. Hilarious. He is a laughing stock. The Afghan government has only controlled small parts of Afghanistan for years, and all the foreign officials in Kabul know this very well. Many of those parts claimed to be under government control are in fact controlled by kleptocratic warlords, that have dominion over nothing except militias in police uniform robbing passers by and abusing women and children.
In many parts of Afghanistan, it is not so much that insurgents have ‘taken over’ some districts, but that they have instead filled a vacuum in lawless, brutalised areas.
The danger in Miliband’s statement however, is that, having made such a series of simply wrong and factually incorrect statements, the political pressure is created to ‘prove him right’ by exaggerating or fabricating uncheckable stories in the UK media about Taliban terrorists in the UK, or terrorists training camps convebniently full of ‘evidence’ of planned attacks on the UK.
It is in the British national interest to have good relations with Pakistan and other countries in the region. It is also in the UK interest to have demonstrably led a peace settlement and an end to the killing in Afghasnistan. It is also in the UK government’s interest to see (and participate in) sugnificant economic growth in the region. In these interests the UK military has its part. However to allow the humiliation of UK forces again (after Iraq) and dent their global reputation for effectiveness, should never, never be forgiven.
It is a disgrace that the clear steps to peace in the region are being neglected.
“My administration is proposing a sweeping overhaul of the financial regulatory system, a transformation on a scale not seen since the reforms that followed the Great Depression.” That is what President Obama said about the US system. By contrast Labour Government Minister Alistair Darling said that the UK financial regulatory system did not need to be changed. The Governor of the Bank of England disagreed with Chancellor Darling publicly and IN THE SAME ROOM, directly criticising the Chancellor’s ineffectual spin-based ‘reforms’. Please, someone…save us from this paralysis and incompetence. My country is rapidly going down the tubes and, horror of horrors, we have another year of this to go.
Green shoots ? UK economy on the upturn ? Have the journalists gone stark raving bonkers ? The serious press is reporting a multitude of stories about the recession bottoming out. Take off the blindfolds dear scribblers.
No, I am not going to deny the possibility of finding little upbeat stories – some of them are factual and some are planted. It is the sheer stupidity of the editorialising around these stories. Of course it is possible for any government to create economic growth, by borrowing and printing money and pouring it into the economy via government spending and by messing around with banking capital ratios. This is ‘easy peasy’ – but it also why governments have annual and aggregate borrowing or printing limits. It is anti-democratic to allow any government to seek an election victory by borrowing and printing huge amounts and splashing out – either artificially to avoid economic decline or artificially to create economic growth.
By 2013 the UK government’s borrowing will exceed 100% of GDP. Yes, that’s more than 50,000 quid for every person in work. In case there is any doubt about this, imagine the effect on the economy of every employed person in the UK getting a 50,000 tax rebate. If we are comparing this with the borrowing increases since 1997 that would mean a tax rebate of more than 30,000 quid per person – hard cash for people to spend in the shops or doing up their houses. Most of the money washes through the economy. Is it not surprising that there is growth. Sure some of the money has been used to prop up the banks, but they still have not come clean about the quantity of bad loans on their books (ie they have not ‘faced the music’ fully yet). The money is ‘out there’.
Have the financial press forgotten why Keynesian economic stimulae were all but abandoned ? It is not that it doesn’t work. It was the negative effects that derive from the politics. Politically-directed stimulus money gets ‘captured’ by the politically strong (doctors ?). The productivity of the spending declines as the strategy degenerates into paying people to do little. Lending declines as interest rates rise and credit ceilings come into play. Above all, the assumption that governments will ‘save’ money by spending less than they receive in taxes, in the good times, is almost always a wrong one.
Maybe the financial press has forgotten about the concept of the ‘quality of economic growth’. For economic growth to be ‘of good quality’, it must be sustainable environmentally, widely felt across the economy rather than amongst a small elite or economic group, and above all fiscally sustainable (ie not a temporary artificial creation of wild spending and borrowing by government). After the unprecedented mega-spending by the UK government, the hangover will come. By splashing out as if there is no tomorrow there will be growth – that is almost certain. Indeed even Sterling will rise temporarily as the government uses its vast borrowing to buy back its own Sterling-denominated IoUs (gilts).
Then what ? Panic, probably. Well, that may not matter if you are a Labour politician. It will be after a general election when almost certainly, Labour will be in opposition. But….as they bequeath the job of emergency spending cuts to the next governmemnt, while they shout ‘Cuts ! I told you so !’ from the sidelines, they will slither away from the job of sorting out the UK finances and recovering from the mass unemployment now just starting.
Judging by Vince’s ‘Storm’ book he is painfully aware of this too, and says so in slightly coded language – often too subtle for the UK financial scribblers. Advisers to Cameron and Osborne no doubt say the same thing, and indeed they can read the detailed but polite text (ie not the spin) of IMF and IFS reports as well as anyone with a will to read between the many, many lines. But dear David and George are of course paralyzed by the ‘traction’ that the Tory cuts jibe seems to have with the popular press (and maybe the public – that is not clear yet).
What a sorry mess. So much for a more open and honest style of government, my dear Gordon !
You have to admire Gordon Brown’s brazen ability to ‘utter untruths’ between his teeth ! One day he promises open and transparent government, then not a week later declares that the delayed Iraq enquiry will be in private. A day before he reduces significantly the permisable scope of Freedom of Information requests, outlawing ‘public interest’ criteria as a justification for some types of FoI request. It leaves you breathless. If a piece of information cannot be released even if it is the public interest to do so, then exactly in whose interest is substituted ? Here we have statist old socialism at its best – the state having its own ‘interests’ separate from the interests of the public. I think I prefer the Mr Bean Gordon Brown to the Stalin Gordon Brown. Ultimetely the latter always seems to trump the former.
The spin machine has been in overdrive over the Iraq enquiry. The justification for a secret enquiry is that army officers and intelligence officers can speak freely. Hilarious. What is the point in speaking freely if no-one is allowed to hear what you say ! The other justification is timing. This is also hilarious. The demand by the families of those British soldiers who have lost their lives for an enquiry in public (ie not secret), is then twisted by Gordon Brown into a demand for a full judicial Public Enquiry over many years. So we have a choice do we – either a secret enquiry or a multi-million pound judicial Public Enquiry over several years. The government is doing its spinning best but this type of chicanery won’t wash this time. All deference to the government has evaporated. Pressure for an open enquiry may well win out. I for one want to express my views about the lessons in public (I appointed the first post-war regional government in Iraq in 2003, in Basra).
The government press release says that the enquiry will allow people to be candid. If one looks in the dictionary candid means ‘frank, open, ingenuous’, not ‘secret, concealed, disingenuous’. !
The other Brownian justification is national security ? But it was the abuse of national security cover that got us into the war in the first place. The infamous ’15 minute’ claim, the ‘Niger yellow cake uranium’ fabrications, involving White House smears on intelligence officers, the WMD accusations, the decision to go to war when the Americans had already ‘turned’ several senior military officers prepared to form a new government withoutb a war – all these things passed through the hands of those supposedly responsible for UK national security.
The misuse of secrecy and ‘national security’ imperatives is part of the set of lessons to be learnt. A secret enquiry will hand control to those who were to blame for all this – since they will adjudicate over what is secret and what is not ! By making it secret, the unreformed out-of-control UK security establishment will escape criticism.
It is quite likely that US officials, fearing embarrassment and precedent rather than national security breaches, have leaned on a weak and flailing Downing Street and obtained a cast iron agreement to control the release of info at the enquiry. Somewhere there is a memo from DC to Downing Street. Now that has a familiar ring about it………
The expenses scandal and its repercussions rumble on. We could have a new PM by Tuesday and even a general election by the end of the month. But as this crisis continues, many other stories re being pushed off the front pages….the UK agreeing to committ huge resources to guard Iraqi offshore oil production – the PMs refusal to fund a UK troop surge in Afghanistan – Israel’s unprecedented snub to the US president – the imminent closure of Vauxhall in favour of production in Germany and closure of LDV (and the involvement of Lord Mandelson’s friend Mr Deripaska in both) – and the IMF’s criticism of UK economic policy and it’s debts due to exceed 100% of annual GDP by 2013, and general predictions of a large fall in Sterling and a big rise in UK inflation and interest rates.
In a few weeks we will have to re-read all the foreign news websites to catch up on what has been really going on in the UK and the world while we have been away in expenses-scandal-land.
We have now had three weeks of the Parliamentary expenses scandal. Making sense of the whole thing and its implications is not easy for those who have better things to think about than the details of the UK political system !
Two other factors puzzle the general voting public.
Why so difficult to sort out ?
One is the way in which the story has dragged on without an answer. We all have heard the ‘we are waiting for the Chris Kelly review conclusions’ excuse. We wonder of course why something so simple and so common across the nation (most private firms have expenses rules) is regarded as so difficult from our elected MPs – so difficult that it requires a review that takes 9 months to complete ! This is one governmental problem that the MPs and not the civil servants are directly responsible for. Why are they so unable to organise something so simple ?
The public does not (as some MPs seem to think) object to expenses for MPs. They are not so dumb. Sure, MPs outside London should be paid expenses for London accommodation – enough for them to choose whether they want to stay in a hotel (as the private sector do) for the 200 days a year or so when they have to be in London. 200 hotel nights in London costs at least £30,000. Negotiating a price for free first class rail travel for 600+ MPs could be done in a couple of weeks. A daily ‘subsistence rate’ for being in London is already established by the UN (as it is for mot other places). Constituency assistants and parliamentary assistants can be put on the parliamentary payroll and PAYE so MPs don’t have the hassle of paying them – and don’t have the opportunity to employ relatives who do no work. So what on earth is so difficult about this ? This puzzles and infuriates all ‘normal’ people !
Why so petty, when they finger-wag us about our behaviour ?
The second factor is why, instead of solving quickly the expenses problem, we are hearing all sorts of different proposals for constitutional reform ? There are more than 20 different proposals from the relatively trivial (independent chairs for parliamentary committees) to the monumental (an actual written constitution for the UK), and lots of steps in between. This is puzzling for the public. What angers the public is the petty financial self interest of MPs. It’s not that we paid for the bath plug, it is the disappointment that the grandstanding ‘high moral ground’ MPs who wag their fingers at us, are so petty themselves….so petty and self-centred that they declined to pay for their own bathplugs !
There is something unspoken, as if the proposers of grander reforms all know the connection between the expenses frauds or ‘mistakes’, and the absence of reforms. But this is not explained directly.
Expenses fraud ? Ah, what we now need is a new constitution ! Or maybe independent chairs of parliamentary committees. It is as if the link is so obvious that no-one thinks to explain it.
No it isn’t obvious. It does bear stating. And stating clearly.
The decline of the UK Parliament and Cabinet
The degeneration of our Parliament and our MPs has occurred over decades. The expenses situation is a symptom of this decline.
Why did MPs not notice the expenses problem that had arisen since 1997/8 and deal with it ? It is because the culture of identifying and sorting out problems had long disappeared from Parliament. MPs had become passive – passive as ministers, passive as constituency MPs and passive as opposition members holding government to account.
So many MPs have little experience of the real world. Less than the average Briton. But the running of government – including dealing with foreign governments, the EU, and huge UK ministries such as those dealing with health, defence, social security and education – requires people of much greater than average experience, education, and wisdom…and objectivity in pursuing the national interest.
Just look at the existing Cabinet. They include sponsored MPs with very thin CVs. That means insufficient experience and weight, and it means a lack of objectivity since sponsors don’t ‘cough up’ sponsorship money for love, do they ? This means all that they are able to do, despite the fact that many of them are nice people, is mouth the written text given to them by civil servants and professional advisers, and put to use their intensive media training designed to help them avoid difficult or unexpected questions.
Hence the irritating spin and the evasiveness when asked simple but unplanned questions.
How did we even get a passive Foreign Secretary ?
Perhaps the worst example and the pinnacle of decline in UK governance is the current Foreign Secretary. In Washington you only have to mention his name and foreign policy experts fall around laughing. He has become a symbol of UK decline. The foreign policy ministerial brief is the most complex in government, especially at a time of two wars involving UK forces, EU constitutional reform, huge changes in international law, global environmental and health problems, a resurgent China, India & Russia – and the world economic crisis.
This role is usually taken by a senior respected statesman with experience of high international matters of state. Our Foreign Secretary however, is the son of a wealthy communist academic who left college to join the Labour Party Research Dept. and was selected for a ‘safe Labour seat’ and then given a ministerial job.
How did he become Foreign Secretary ? He held out as a possible leadership candidate against Gordon Brown, and wouldn’t be ‘bought off’ in the early stages, leaving an impatient Gordon Brown with the prospect of facing a leadership election within the Labour Party. He stood between Gordon Brown and a ‘coronation’. Hey presto he becomes Foreign Secretary and Gordon Brown avoids a leadership election. The nation gets a Foreign Secretary barely able to read out the statements that civil servants have written for him, let alone have any impact at all on foreign policy.
This a defeat for democracy and a victory for the civil servants, who can run the show and comply with requests from foreign powers without worrying that the Foreign Secretary might disagree ! After the Iraq war, what hope is there in future for Britain to say ‘no’ to joining the US in their next war, with such a laughably inexperienced Foreign Secretary ?
Weak Cabinet, weak ministers, weak MPs
There are many other Ministers who have no idea how to run a meeting let alone run a Government Department, and instead keep their jobs by adhering to the Labour Party’s spin training and arguing at all times in favour of civil service expansion – they are not taught about the running of government, they are taught how to avoid direct questions, and are promoted to government jobs if they are good at this. If they are good at spin/evasiveness and loyally ‘talk up’ the civil servants that write their briefs, they can successfully join the spin machine (merely voicing briefs given to them by civil servants). Any MP that shows independence of mind is now earmarked as ‘insufficiently loyal’ to the civil servants and the departments they work ‘for’, and can not get a Ministerial job. Civil servants (and 10 Downing St) don’t want anyone ‘troublesome’. They want MPs who know their place and don’t rock the boat.
How did this shift in power occur ?
The neutering of MPs has been going on for a long time, but there are a number of factors that have accelerated the tend in order to get us to today’s sorry state.
1. First is the centralisation of UK government. These days over 80% of local government money comes from Central Government, and the allocation and nature of spending is controlled by central government. For example now 100% of education spending comes straight from central government. This means that the local electorate matters less than senior civil servants in deciding how money should be spent. Ministers concerned with local government cannot possibly deal with the details of 1000 local authorities. In practice this means that elected MPs and local electorates have very limited involvement in local spending decisions. This centralisation was driven through by the Thatcher government and it continued under Blair & Brown. A more recent phenomenon also initiated under Thatcher is the rise of government agencies and various Boards and Commissions (known as QUANGOS in the jargon) which have powers governed by strict secrecy laws that used to be openly exercised by elected local authorities.
2. Second is the general power of the civil servants and security officers. This has increased dramatically in the last decade. The strengthening of secrecy laws, the War on Terror & security concerns, the surveillance society, laws against ‘whistleblowers’, wide ranging summary powers like ASBOS and local authority fines, have all transformed the power (and salaries) of civil servants. MPs have been sidelined in this process as well as with respect to ‘local goings on’ on local authorities and local branches of national organisations. The Freedom of Information Act has had little effect on this – indeed much information released has embarrassed MPs more than the civil service.
It should be remembered that the UK is the only developed country in the world without a proper Civil Service Law. A Civil Service Law is usually the law which defines the limits of the power of civil servants and defines the relationship between MPs and civil servants. This means in practice for example, that many, many things which are illegal in other advanced countries are perfectly legal in the UK – for example various types of money-making activities engaged in by civil servants, including ownership by civil servants of companies that civil servants make contracts with ! In the UK the legal requirements on civil servants to declare their interests is very weak and easily circumvented – all the emphasis is on MPs declaring their interests.
3. Third is a series of measures that have shifted power dramatically away from Parliament in favour of Cabinet, and then in turn a series of measures that have taken power away from elected members of Cabinet – to the extent that elected MPs who are Ministers in Cabinet have complained that nothing is discussed in Cabinet any more (decisions being prepared by civil servants and presented to Cabinet as a fait accomplis). MP Clare Short has alleged that the reason why the government was so keen to prevent Cabinet minutes related to the decision to go to war in Iraq being published, was not that there were national security secrets involved, but because there was no discussion in Cabinet – which would have been clear if the minutes were published ! It is certainly clear from the complaints of Ministers that most major decisions in the UK are taken with very limited input from MPs – even if MPs had the ability to scrutinise proposals professionally.
4. Fourth is the constitutional stuff. MPs have very weak powers to scrutinise government. For example, members of the public are often shocked at the easy ride that government departments get before Parliamentary Committees. In most democratic countries it is the specialist sub-committees that do all the hard slog in scrutinising government – and then putting their findings and conclusions before the main sessions of the full parliament. However in the UK these Committees cannot force people to attend, they cannot enforce proper answers and submission of documents, and they are banned from putting their findings and conclusions before the whole parliament for a vote !
The lack of a written constitution also weakens MPs. The arrest of MPs in Parliament for obtaining information which is merely embarrassing to government is a dangerous development echoing events that led to the rise of Hitler in Germany. The bugging of MPs homes and searching MPs computers for information also merely embarrassing to government. Arresting civil servants who go to MPs with evidence of illegality in government is another dangerous development. All of these developments show how the lack of a clear constitutional position weakens MPs.
Worst of all, much UK legislation does not go before Parliament but instead is ‘passed’ using the vestigial powers of the Monarch. These are called ‘Orders in Council’. Tony Blair was particularly fond of using Orders in Council if he felt he could not get new laws through parliament ! This bypasses MPs – and MPs are acutely aware of their limited powers in this regard. What’s more, the vestigial powers of the Queen used by ministers without going to Parliament include making war, making peace, and importantly, signing treaties (including our membership of the EU !). That means massive state powers are exercised by government, away from Parliament.
With the EU it is particularly important – most decisions in the EU are made in the Council of Ministers. However, because EU membership is a treaty, the government is not forced to report fully on the decisions it has agreed to. This can often mean that the UK agrees to something in the Council of Ministers secretly, and then if it is unpopular, they then blame the EU and claim it is ‘being imposed by Brussels’ ! In other EU countries there are much more full disclosures, and debates in Parliament about the decisions. In the UK if journalists want to know what decisions the UK has made, they can go to the Netherlands to find out !
The present Labour Government, and the opposition Tories, are now talking of ‘constitutional change’. However their remedies in the light of the decades-long weakening of Parliament look feeble in the extreme. To rectify these deep-seated problems will take at least 10 years. Having a weak ‘review’ is just cynical. Fixed term parliaments will help. But merely appointing ‘independent chairs’ of parliamentary committees and having open primaries for MP candidate selections, are merely moving around the deck chairs as the Titanic sinks !
Many MPs, with steam coming out of their ears, have avidly been reading the press reports concerning John Wick, security expert (whom some paranoid Labour MPs are accusing of being involved with MI6), and Henry Gewanter, PR man. These reports in the Times, Wall St Journal, and the Mail, among others, suggest that these two gentlemen are in some way involved in the peddling of information on MPs expenses to the press, mysteriously downloaded to a ‘larger than one terrabyte’ disk from communications systems in the Fees Office, smuggled through the House of Commons security system.
Several UK newspapers have stated that they have been conducting investigative pursuits in order to find the other personnel down the chain, leading to the individuals who downloaded the data originally. MPs have been frustrated by the absence of information on the link between Mr Wick and Mr Gewanter, and puzzled by the publication of names in the Wall Street Journal.
My word some MPs are a dim lot. The press know perfectly well who to ask about all this to glean potential snippets of hints (for example Jonathan Rush and Peter Rose – not that either have the answers MPs want) but they don’t want to risk overshadowing the main story. So that’s my initial contribution to the tittle tattle side of the debate. My next post will be on more serious governmental reform issues. Now what was that website I was studying …. ahh yes….. http://www.contingencytoday.com …..
The UK government’s budget
Anyone that believes this stuff gets today’s star prize in gullibility !
We have all come to expect this government’s annual budgets to be exercises in spin and deception, rather than serious analyses and solutions to our severe economic problems. But this last one beats them all. In order to make the government’s sums add up and avoid facing the truth, the government has predicted growth by the end of 2009, 1.4% growth next year, and 3.5% economic growth for 2009.
The details should have been released as a flimsy paperback book, since it is mere cheap fiction. The idea that there will be growth by the end of the year is just laughable. The global International Monetary Fund and the UK’s Institute for Fiscal Studies both agree that the UK government’s figures are way, way off the mark. The UK’s additional borrowing announced adds £700 billion to the UK’s projected borrowing total.
This figure does not even include the ‘PFI Initiative’ liabilities and the £135 billion spent buying nears-worthless shares in troubled UK banks. The total debt owed by you and me and UK citizens, is racing beyond 100% of GDP. What is serious for Britain is that it now looks like the Labour Government has given up on winning the election, and so is now focused on handing over to the next government the biggest mess it can make. The money the government is getting in taxes is falling, so to make the sums add up the government is ‘pretending’ that there will be growth next year and huge growth in 2011. This is enabling the government to pretend to the throngs of new public sector managers and bureaucrats, that all is OK and their low pressure ‘target-monitoring and box-ticking’ jobs are safe. ‘You can carry on as normal’ is the message.
This is not good enough, and it is a very cynical approach. The reason it is damaging is that as the money runs out, reductions in public sector spending will be absolutely unavoidable. So the difficult detailed task at hand is to ensure that cost reductions across government do not hurt the poorest or educe vital public services ‘at the front end’. This is a huge task. Civil servants cannot be expected to determine the cost reductions on their own – this leads to ‘maximum pain’ cuts to reduce public support for financial tightening. Civil service managers tend to protect their own. That is human nature. That is why it is a big job and why it takes time. The work should have begun by now, to reduce spending whilst avoiding the political ‘maximum pain’ reductions which have happened so often in the past.
Many ‘quangos’ (boards, commissions, agencies) must be closed down altogether. Some big ticket spending must be abandoned (ID cards, defence projects, bloated IT projects), and the tendency for many government employees to spend large amounts of time ‘on paid leave’ and on jargonistic management and ‘risk awareness’ courses, must all be addressed. Much greater transparency in spending, locally and nationally, is needed s that the public can more easily spot daft spending projects, or silly low priority spending and incomprehensibly-vague-sounding staff appointments. No longer should we allow local government leaders in the East Midlands for example to go on fact finding missions to the beaches of Nicaragua, Brazil, Malaysia and elsewhere. If we are to protect the poor and maintain front line services, these luxuries are going to have to go.
It is unfortunate for the public sector managers and ‘awareness promoters’ to lose their jobs. But we have to face priorities – it will be a choice between helping the poor and keeping essential services going OR protecting low priority vague managerial jobs. We cannot have both, given the real state of public finances. The UK will have to start exporting more again. We have to focus education on key productive skills, and simplify the qualifications system to help industry. We have to reform much more seriously the banking and financial system. Tax havens and loopholes will have to ‘close’. We will probably have to join the Euro in the next few years. The UK government will have to get its act together in helping business organisations promote exports, and new business start-ups. All these things take time and sensible, open decision-making.
This will not happen, and the urgency will not come to the fore, if we PRETEND that the crisis is not as bad as it looks, and if we pretend serious reforms are not needed because growth is just around the corner. In many senses this is not a recession we are experiencing. It is a ‘permanent’ adjustment downwards after a falsely-created boom, on the back of $4 trillion duff bank loans that will never be paid back (see latest IMF reports).
We should worry for Britain.
Pretending the problems aren’t so bad for cynical political gain, is disgraceful and unpatriotic.
Britain must come first !
19th April 2009. My UK news comes from the BBC World Service radio and both the UK and international versions of the BBC News website. This is because I am away on a short project overseas. Two news items make the UK look like a Third World Dictatorship or Hard Line Soviet Regime .
The first is the controversy over the policing of the G20 demonstrations and the investigations by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). The news stories playing in the media at the time stated that a man unconnected to the demonstrations had died of a heart attack. If it wasn’t for the emergence of a film clip from someone’s phone, that would still be the belief.
So now it seems that the man, who was a newspaper seller on his way home, apparently died from being the victim of an unprovoked attack from behind, whilst he strolled nonchalantly past a row of police, with his hands in his pockets. A second coroner’s report revealing the likelihood that the cause of death was not a heart attack but abdominal injuries from the police attack, raises questions about the first coroner’s report.
The media then uncovered another clip of a loudly protesting woman being slapped and then beaten with a stick by a senior police officer.
We then learn, unusually from the IPCC during its investigation, that some Metropolitan Police had removed their officer numbers from their shoulders so they could not later be identified. This unlawful practice was hindering the IPCCs investigation, they claim. However, with such a practice occurring simultaneously at different parts of the demonstration, one can only conclude that this was some kind of instruction, or agreement between the officers themselves, was in play.
The second ‘dictatorship-like’ sequence of events are those surrounding the arrest of Tory MP Damian Green, allegedly for receiving secret leaked information from a Home Office civil servant.
A Parliamentary Committee confirms that the MP’s home and offices in Parliament were raided without a warrant and the MP detained for many hours. We learn from the MP himself that he was warned of a possible long prison sentence by the police (known amongst gangsters as ‘putting the frighteners’ on someone). A police statement apparently used the word ‘grooming’ drawing parallels with crimes of paedophilia. The UK Home Secretary (‘Minister of the Interior’ in many 3rd world dictatorships) implied that the arrest was warranted and perfectly normal, since there was national security at stake.
We now learn something that the UK ‘Ministry of the Interior’ knew all along. The information obtained by the MP was not a national secret. There were no security issues. The information is of the type normally released to the public, and had been withheld only for reasons of causing potential mild embarrassment to the Labour government of the day. The investigating Parliamentary Committee accused civil servants of exaggerating the importance of the information released and falsely claiming it was an international security matter in order to invigorate the police, implying that very senior police officers were happy to accept such exaggerated claims without checking them.
These two cases make it clear that the UK has already started on the slippery slope towards the state becoming a law unto itself.
As the head of the IPCC emphasised a just a couple of days ago ‘The police need to appreciate that they are servants of the people not masters of them’. I would add that this applies to present and future governments, too.