Saturday, 29 June 2013

Aliens over Stoke- now it all makes sense.

The government has released the last of its ‘X Files’, well the records it kept of people who contacted the MOD to report the presence of aliens at the bottom of their garden anyway.

It turns out several of these sightings occurred in the skies over Stoke-on-Trent; suddenly a lot of things about how my home town has been run in recent years make sense.

You’d have to be from Pluto to think that building an expensive and publicly unpopular new Civic Centre in a Central Business District with no other tenants will drive regeneration. It also explains why the proposed East/West precinct never seems to get any closer to being built, the site of the former Hanley bus station isn’t a festering eyesore; it’s a Close Encounters style beacon to the aliens. If we don’t build it they will come.

Little green me, maybe that should be little blue ones actually, also seem to have had a hand in writing the spending review unveiled by chancellor George Osborne this week. As predicted he announced more cuts to public spending and a cap in welfare, also anyone seeking to claim benefits will have to wait for seven days. On Venus if you lose your job you can almost always get another one within a week, it’s only down here on Earth we have awkward things like recessions.

Then again perhaps we don’t, the boffins over at the Institute for Financial Studies said this week that the double dip one in late 2011 and early 2012 didn’t really happen. You could have fooled me pal, from where I was standing it sure felt like one.

Their reasoning seems to be that is you don’t call it a recession then it isn’t one. Which is a little bit like saying that if you call a compound fracture a ‘boo-boo’ instead it won’t have you writhing in agony.

Never mind there is a little sugar to sweeten the bitter pill of spending cuts. The government is going to unleash a torrent of massive infrastructure projects to kick start the economy.

Hang on though, before anyone strings out the bunting there isn’t any new money to pay for said projects, they’re just warming up ones that have already been announced. This isn’t, alas, the dawn of a ‘New Deal’ for the twenty first century so much as a rehash of one of New Labour’s old tricks.

The government’s one big idea seems to be digitizing the courts system to cut down the number of times cases are cancelled and get rid of the tidal wave of paper in which it drowns. As ideas go this is a good one, the trouble is that past experience shows that all governments are legendarily poor at delivering big IT projects.

As for the party formerly known as Labour, they harrumphed mightily about the cuts, but since a few weeks ago they all but admitted they would stick to Tory spending plans if elected nobody took much notice. Apart, maybe, from observing that yet again Ed Milliband had had the ball of political relevance snatched away Charlie Brown style just as his foot was about to make contact.

If only the sorry state of British politics really were down to the malign influence of aliens from planet Zog. Alas the source of our problems is all too human, inept politicians and an apathetic public; a combination more toxic than the atmosphere on Neptune.

This is what happens when otherwise sensible people decide that politics is either silly or dull; it certainly isn’t something with any relation to their lives anyway.

A great city that played a pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution and still has creativity coded into its DNA risks being bankrupted by a Labour group that operates in an opposition free vacuum. Nationally complacent millionaires lecture families struggling on the minimum wage or less about the need to tighten their belts whilst chomping on ten quid ‘gourmet’ burgers.

If by some chance there are aliens scanning our benighted corner of the universe I doubt they will choose it as a landing site. They’d struggle to detect any signs of intelligent life and if they asked to be taken to our leader they would find the journey not worth the trouble.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Vote early, vote often; just don’t ask what you’re voting for.

New MPs seldom know what they are voting for and have their ignorance of parliamentary procedure played upon by the whips. This is about as much of a surprise as what bears get up to in the woods, having it articulated in the press though has set the cat squarely amongst the pigeons down Westminster way.

In an interview given to the Observer last weekend Tory MP Sarah Wollaston said ‘You are encouraged, it is the same in all parties, not to worry about what it is you are voting for because the whips are there to guide you.’ You might wonder why the whips don’t just be honest about it and bring a boarder collie with them to work, I couldn’t possible comment.

Ms Wollaston goes on to say that what frustrates her most about life at Westminster is that ‘in politics what’s really valued is absolute loyalty’, that and an ability never to say anything remotely controversial, something she, to her credit, is unable to do.

Sarah Woolaston, who worked as a GP before entering parliament, has said a great many things that have displeased her party in her short political career and as a result has frequently been ticked off for ‘damaging’ the re-election chances of her colleagues. What would otherwise be simple back bench naughtiness is elevated to something more important by the fact that Wollaston was selected through the ‘primaries’ that were all the rage in the run up to the 2010 election, since then they have gone out of fashion with David Cameron quietly dropping the whole idea.

She adds that candidates who have been through the ‘political sausage machine’ take to the odd half life of a loyal, sycophantic, backbencher ‘like fish to water’. Anyone with a brain or a soul though becomes increasingly frustrated, like Wollaston they come to realise there needs to be a change to the ‘narrative’ of how politics works. The public, she rightly notes, are tired of MPs who are cardboard cut-out lobby fodder asking planted questions and representing nobody but themselves.

Like Citizen Dave I too think primaries are a bad idea; but for very different reasons. He just wants to keep control of selection because that is the best way of ensuring the green benches are filled with obedient lobby robots.

Primaries don’t work, in the US they drag on interminably and that a figure like Sarah Wollaston emerged from one here is the exception rather than the rule. They tend to favour the products of the political ‘sausage machine’ because they are better at playing the games necessary to get on the ticket in the first place.

Dr Wollaston is quite right though to diagnose the damage being done to the heart of our democracy by an excess of complacency and an overactive sense of entitlement. We need more authenticity and less ambition from rank and file MPs; a greater willingness on their part to ask awkward questions and laugh in the face of the playground threats from the whips office.

In short we need a lot more of our MPs to be like the doughty Ms Wollaston.

Rainy days not going away

The UK could have to endure cold winters and wet summers for years to come, so said a conference of climate scientists who met at the Met Office this week. They concluded that we are slap bang in the middle of a prolonged period of Atlantic warming that is shifting the jet-stream and generally messing about with our already unpredictable weather.

Professor Stephen Belcher told the BBC on Tuesday there were ‘hints that we are coming out of the cycle’, but that ‘the loadings of the dice don’t seem to follow cycles.’ Talk about trying to have it both ways, with such a natural gift for making any outcome sound like the one he was looking for all along the good professor could have a career in politics.

The weather has a hugely powerful impact on the national mood, when the sun comes out we feel all is well with the world; when it rains we are sunk fathoms deep in gloom.

If you follow this to its, illogical, conclusion the coalition will be praying for the sun to have its hat on throughout 2015; meanwhile Ed Milliband and Ed Balls, like a post socialist Nurayev and Fonteyn, will be leading a corps de ballet of shadow cabinet members in a furious rain dance. Personally I just wish the forecasters didn’t sound so damned cheerful when they tell us it is going to rain.


Oops Mr President, at this week’s G8 summit Barack Obama kept referring to George Osborne as Geoffrey, suggesting that he thinks the UK’s economy is in the care of a forgotten 1980’s soul singer. It’s an easy mistake to make, I often get Boy George mixed up with Mr Bean. The trick is to remember that one is a hapless idiot with the communication skills of a brick, the other is a character played by Rowan Williams.

On the subject of the G8, David Cameron told the world’s press this week that the leaders present had got so much work done because they didn’t wear ties. Proof, if you ever needed it, that we are being led by a man who, like a Big Brother contestant, can’t pass a microphone without babbling whatever inane drivel he has rattling about in his head into it. Just to be certain he also wore his lucky pants throughout the summit; which explains why nobody wanted to stand next to him in the group photograph.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

A lead in the polls isn’t ‘connecting’ with the public.

Could this be the end for Dick Dastardly, otherwise known as UKIP leader Nigel Farage? An opinion poll published this week shows the surge his party experienced after the recent local elections had spluttered out like a cheap firework.

The poll conducted by ICM for the Guardian puts UKIP on 12%, down from 18% a few weeks ago but still three points up on their previous highest rating. Labour polled 36% with the Tories on 29 and the Lib Dems managing a minor rally to join UKIP on 12%.

Despite being ahead this is no time for the two Ed’s to be popping champagne corks, the same poll gives David Cameron and George Osborne a 9% lead when rated for economic competence; so showing themselves willing to dismantle the principle of universal benefits has brought Labour exactly nothing in terms of political advantage.

It isn’t all good news for David Cameron though, less than half the people questioned believed he has the backing of his party, a fall from 62% last year.

Speaking about the results to on Wednesday Martin Boon of ICM said they showed that the public were ‘plainly fed up with politicians of all stripes’ and that as a result fewer people were willing to admit, even to themselves, ‘who they will plump for next time.’

The rapid decline of UKIP is hardly a surprise; they are a classic one trick pony of a party, on any subject other than Europe they have little to say worth listening to. Farage is an entertaining contrarian in small doses; prolonged exposure always results in severe irritation.

This poll offers even less comfort to the three main parties than it does to UKIP, many of the members of which are much happier shaking their fist at the world than trying to change it.

Labour have managed to establish a healthy lead, but not a good enough one to win the next election; the Tories have retained their, utterly unfounded, reputation for economic competence; meanwhile the Liberal Democrats are just relieved to still be breathing. As it stands the Tories will probably win the next election due to being seen as the ‘least worst’ option and the whole sorry farce will trundle on as before.

What this poll tells us is that the public are heartily sick of politics. They see it as a nasty parlour game played by strange people that has only a tangential connection to their everyday concerns.

This is almost entirely down to the antics of the boys, and a few girls, in the Westminster bubble. They hollowed out their grassroots party networks because they found all those members with quaint ideas about having a say on policy tiresome; preached hypocritically about tightening belts whilst fiddling their expenses and every week they are the ones who embarrass an ancient parliamentary tradition with the childish freak show that is PMQ’s.

I say the parlous state of British politics in the second decade of the twenty first century is almost entirely down to the behaviour of its practitioners, almost, but not completely; we the voters have to take a slice of the blame cake too. We had an opportunity to vote for a more mature type of politics in the 2011 referendum on AV, but thanks to a mix of apathy and fear let it slip though our fingers.

For the system to regain public confidence we need a parliament that looks more like the country it governs, with more BME members and women certainly and more people who have had jobs outside politics too. We also need a political culture that is lass adversarial and more collaborative; sadly I won’t risk holding my breath as I wait for one to arrive.

The three main parties will, no doubt, be relieved to see Nigel Farage exit stage left, although he was rather more like a character in a PG Wodehouse novel than a real extremist; a noisy, but ultimately harmless, buffoon who added to the comedy of life as he shot across the political firmament en-route to the inevitable pratfall.

The next such figure or the one after that to arise may not be so benign though; when the public lose faith in politics genuine extremism flourishes.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

An iron chancellor in waiting and a party without a point

Winter fuel payments should be taken away from ‘wealthy’ pensioners, this isn’t the latest edict from the bunker inhabited by Iain Duncan Smith, it’s the latest plan from Ed Balls to rebuild Labour’s reputation for managing the economy. In terms of utility it is right up there with the chocolate fireguard.

In a speech made at the London headquarters of Reuters the shadow chancellor said it would be ‘completely irresponsible’ for Labour to promise increased public spending given the ‘bleak’ state of the country’s finances.

If returned to office an incoming Labour government would, he said, ‘inherit a substantial deficit, we will have to govern with much less money. We will need to show an iron discipline.’

Ed Balls didn’t, of course, give specific details of what would be in the Labour manifesto for the 2015 election, but he did drop a few thrilling spoilers about ‘tough fiscal rules’ to be followed and a ‘re-prioritising’ of the money ‘held within and between budgets. As part of this removing winter fuel payments from ‘wealthy’ pensioners would raise £100million; peanuts in comparison to the welfare budget.

Just to make sure the point that Labour can cut just as ruthlessly as the Tories little Ed Milliband announced this week that if returned to office the party would cap welfare payments and stick to spending targets set by the coalition.

The motivation behind the announcements is clear, they are designed to demonstrate that Labour understands the fiscal difficulties faced by the UK and is therefore fit to govern. Unfortunately it hasn’t worked; in fact it has made them look more muddled than ever.

The whole project is too drearily unambitious for words, Middle England, the market every party wants to woo, is hardly likely to take ‘re-prioritisation now!’ as its battle cry. There is also more than a touch of hypocrisy about a politician preaching ‘iron discipline’ on matters fiscal when a parade of his brethren have once again been trooped before the cameras accused of fiddling the system.

That the Labour Party is prepared to go down this route highlights the continued political naivety of the party leadership. They are willing to dismantle the principle of universality in return for a mess of financial pottage and the vague chance of having the Daily Mail, maybe, saying something nice about them; frankly the game isn’t worth the candle.

The two Ed’s have made the mistake of thinking the trick pulled by New Labour in the 1990’s, stealing the economic clothes of an unpopular Tory government, is the party’s route back to strength and office. It is nothing of the sort.

In fact, as Martin Pugh points out in his excellent and provocative history of the Labour Party it was always a symptom of the party’s decline as a political force. Times have changed, people are crying out for an alternative to a society where the lucky few sail happily through dappled sunlight whilst everyone else splashes like mad just to stay afloat.

By sacrificing its principles on the altar of expediency Labour isn’t winning votes and demonstrating its fitness for office, it is making enemies and exposing its weakness and lack of direction.


The secretive to the point of being weird Bilderberg group is holding its annual conference in, drum roll please, Watford; oh the glamour eh. This is either the convocation of a sinister world government as the conspiracy theorists have it or a get together for sad pseudo alpha types who think turning up makes them look important. Given that George Osborne and Ed Balls are on the guest list, they’ll be letting Nick Clegg in next; I’d say it was the latter.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is getting a D-I-V-O-R-C-E, I wonder if like most divorced men of a certain age he will get a silly haircut and a second hand sports car; come to that who will get custody of the political prisoners? There are so many questions, most of which I’d get sent to Siberia for asking were this being written in Russia.

Prince Charles says there should be a wildflower meadow in every community to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the coronation. Bless, the poor booby probably thinks this will be the place where smock wearing yokels will merrily frolic in the sunshine, pausing only to nibble on biscuits sold at a huge mark-up under the Duchy Originals brand. I’m not the biggest fan of the Prince of Wails, but on this issue he’s got a point. I too would like to see a large patch of open ground in every community, they’re called school playing fields, what a shame the current government and the one before have sold most of them off.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Tolerance is the weapon that will defeat terrorism.

It didn’t take long, a little less than a week in fact, for the Woolwich murders to become a bandwagon to be jumped on by politicians with a policy to sell.

Step forward Prime Minster David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May, both of whom are mad keen to use public outrage to revive the ‘snooper’s charter’ that would give draconian powers to the security services. These would include the power to prevent extremist clerics from speaking at colleges and other venues where they might radicalise vulnerable young people.

This seems reasonable enough, particularly if similar measures are put in place to curtail the activities of the EDL who have been trying to stir up tensions since the killing.

The security services would also be empowered to force internet providers to give up details of individuals search history and have access to details of phone calls and text messages too, all this without anything in the way of public accountability. Speaking on the BBC Mrs May said the ‘intelligence agencies need access to communications data, it is essential to do their job.’

There seems, on the surface, to be public support for her stance, in a poll conducted for the Daily Mail 64% of the people questioned said more needs to be done to prevent young people from being radicalized; 63% said they though terrorists should face the death penalty.

These are frightened times, what happened in Woolwich has further heightened feelings of fear and insecurity, which is why this is no time to be making important decisions on the hoof. There is no more important decision that that relating to how much of our freedom we are willing to surrender in the name of security.

The people who told the Daily Mail’s pollsters they wanted something; anything to be done to protect us from terrorism are also same people who fill its letters pages with angry missives about the state poking its nose into their private lives. To adapt a phrase there are few things more contradictory than the British public in one of its fits of insecurity.

The security services don’t need any new powers, the ones they’ve got are more than enough to deal with the threats we face. To their credit the nation’s spooks don’t have much enthusiasm for having their powers increased, perhaps because not being bound by political expediency they know that any curtailment of freedom enacted now, even for the best of reasons, presents a risk of the same powers being misused at some time in the future.

Anyway as a weapon for defeating terrorism turning Britain into the sort of country where everyone spies on everyone else is all but useless. In fact it makes us into just the sort of crabbed, paranoid society where extremism whether religious or political flourishes.

A better example to follow is that of Norway following the awful shooting outrage carried out by right wing fanatic Anders Brevik. They responded not with spies listening to every phone call and hatchet faced armed policemen on every street corner, but with more openness, more tolerance and stronger communities.

That is what we need now, a concerted effort to celebrate the things that bring us together. After the awful events in Woolwich ordinary people, of every creed and none, didn’t riot; they came together in shared grief.

This is what will always beat extremism of any kind into the ground, faced by the solidarity of ordinary people who just want to live quiet lives terrorists are revealed for what they really are. Not rebels just deluded malcontents making a lot of noise to hide their inadequacy and inability to link meaningfully with society.


Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been conspicuous for his absence from parliament since leaving office; he has spoken in the commons just four times since 2010; now we know why. He has been busy making loads and loads of wonga.

He has made £1.37million speaking at the sort of dinners where the guests expect a former world leader as the cabaret. To his credit Gordon Brown has given £600,000 of this to charity and used the remainder to support his ‘ongoing involvement in public life.’

His earnings eclipse those of his former cabinet colleagues, of whom only Alistair Darling and Jack Straw come even close, earning, respectively, £263,000 and £183,000.

It is one of the stranger rules of political life that it is usually the least accomplished leaders who make the best fist out of being out of office. Consider the case of John Major, he was a truly inept prime minister, but has carved out a second career as an author of popular books about cricket and the history of music hall.

How very different from the latter days of Margaret Thatcher, who long before illness sent her sailing into darkness cut a rather tragic figure, a titan who had lost office and failed to find a role.

Now gloomy Gordon, who during his three year tenure in Downing Street was hardly a great communicator, is raking in the dosh on the after dinner circuit. Life is filled with such ironies; it must certainly bring a smile to even his stony visage to think of Tony Blair following the same road of gilded irrelevance trodden by the iron lady.


Half a million Britons are forced to use food banks every week because they can’t make ends meet thanks to benefit cuts and the sluggish economy. A sensible government would find in this pause for thought, but not this one; perhaps you can’t see the breadlines from Notting Hill. History will not be kind to a government that scrabbles around to placate the prejudices of UKIP and the sillier tabloids whilst the people it patronises with fatuous talk about ‘alarm clock Britain’ go hungry.

Scientists in the US and here in the UK are said to be working on a project to create ‘autonomous lethal robots’; real life killing machines. If so the worst nightmare of science fiction disguised as the ultimate boy’s toy could soon be clanking towards us shooting laser bolts from its cold red eyes as it goes. Given the amount of trouble they have caused over the past decade with the conventional forces at their disposal the thought of the harm the boobies in charge on either side of the Atlantic will do with an army of killer automata to play with is enough to keep anyone with an ounce of imagination awake until the stars go out one after another.

And finally, Tory MP Patrick Mercer has resigned from the party to prevent ‘embarrassment’ as he faces allegations of improper lobbying. That thud you can hear is the stable door being slammed shut as Neddy away gallops over the horizon.