Monday, April 28, 2008


The Curse of Shapps Hits the BBC

When Harriet Harman showed she’s as brilliant at running her website as she was at following election law, who’d have thought that BBC coverage would focus not on her being an idiot but being a “victim”? And who could have imagined that the BBC would then go on to refer to well-known Conservative comic figure Grant Shapps in a way that’s more flattering to him even than his own laughably improbable claims… And that’s provably untrue?

This uncritical embellishment on Tory spin is even more irritating than John-Spray-On-Testosterone-Humphrys’ typically dumb line of questioning to Nick Clegg on Today this morning. And at least there, rather than being presented as po-faced fact, Nick got to answer back – and it’s well-worth listening to the second half of his interview in particular, as when he gets cross, by golly he’s good.

But, anyway – the Prologue.

Last year, as I’m sure you’ll all remember – but you can read my bumper compilation if you don’t – a ‘Liberal Democrat member’ confessed that he thought we had no chance of winning the Ealing Southall by-election, and talking up the Tories instead. There were two things worth noting about this post: in retrospect, that “David Cameron’s Conservatives” were left becalmed in third place while the Liberal Democrat candidate finished second with a significant increase in his vote share; and right at the time, when the ‘Liberal Democrat member’ was posting under the name “Grant Shapps”, from the YouTube account held by the Tory MP of that name. Whoops!

There were, of course, two possible explanations. One was that a Tory campaigns dirty tricks ‘expert’ had made an embarrassing cock-up and forgot to sign out of his own account and into his sock-puppeting fake ‘Liberal Democrat member’ one; the other, put forward by Mr Shapps and believed by a whole one other person on Earth, was that his account had been hacked in some intricate conspiracy where some opponent had impersonated Mr Shapps impersonating a Liberal Democrat talking up the chances of the Conservatives in a by-election Mr Shapps was assisting in the campaign for, in precisely the same terms in which the real Mr Shapps himself had been briefing the media about the parties’ chances. Hmm. Which, dear reader, do you think is the more probable?

Thanks to Will and Jonathan, then, for spotting that the BBC not only took Mr Shapps’ side of the story – unlikely enough – but then claimed entirely fictitiously that Mr Shapps had been embarrassed by a hacker claiming the Conservatives had no chance of winning. Yes, Auntie Beeb have somehow managed to make up a story so pro-Conservative that it’s factually inaccurate even by Mr Shapps’ own self-serving and highly improbable account. Perhaps they looked up alleged examples of hacking and, on seeing a note that ‘Tory MP Grant Shapps claimed that his account was hacked to post a deceitful attack on the Liberal Democrats in which the alleged hacker coincidentally used exactly the same spin Mr Shapps himself was using’, which is his actual claim, they just thought ‘No, we must have got that wrong’ and ‘corrected’ reality to something less manifestly improbable rather than thinking ‘Hmm, should we consider the faintest scintilla of a possibility that a Conservative MP wasn’t being entirely truthful rather than accepting his story so uncritically that we make up a new bit to make it more believable?’ Or perhaps Mr Shapps has always been at war with Eastasia?

Anyway, should you too wish to let the BBC know just how wrong they are to be making up further lies to make an obvious liar seem more credible, click here.

Update: Despite the header details still claiming the story was last updated on Friday at 10.15am – naughty Auntie Beeb, that’s a lie – sometime around 3pm today all mention of Grant Shapps was removed. No apology to those of us who complained, no clarification, no correction to ‘of course, some MPs have a less cut and dried record with hackers…’ No, rather than change the ‘poor MPs are all just victims of these terrible hackers!’ line of their story or admit a mistake, the BBC have stuffed their made-up story into a memory hole and pretended it never happened. For the record, from Friday until this afternoon their site fictitiously proclaimed:
“Last year, Conservative housing spokesman Grant Shapps was targeted by hackers who broke into his YouTube account to post a message under his name saying the party could not win the Ealing Southall by-election.”
This isn’t just sour grapes for the BBC not accepting ‘my’ side of the story. The problem with a respected news organisation making something up, then just removing rather than correcting it, is that people who read the original story (such as, first from a quick search, Leaders We Deserve) will still believe it’s true. And that’s just not what the BBC should be about.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008


Slaughter of the Nancies

Today I’m mostly feeling very ill, though managed to get out with Richard and Millennium for a secret mission; curled up on the sofa for the TV equivalent of comfort food, though (well, for me that’s really Doctor Who, but hey), with the results programme for I’d Do Anything. We’ve been watching it intermittently, in part for John Barrowman, in part because it’s a good musical (I was once a terrible undertaker at school), and in part for that reality TV buzz of extermination. Tonight I’m typing those unusual words: I agree with Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Bah. Keisha was brilliant throughout.

Back more than a month to the initial ‘auditions’ programme, and big lass from Blackpool Jodie instantly stood out for me as the perfect Nancy – thankfully, she’s still in. The single mum who made the hairs go up on the back of my neck felt the fatal touch of John Barrowman as angel of death in the second week, but the other who really impressed me was always Keisha. They’ve all repeated the cliché that she sounds like a young Shirley Bassey: well, she does, and I hope she goes on to greater things now she’s been dropped from the programme. Admittedly, in the ‘about the Nancies’ clips she came across as an egomaniac – but that’s what we expect of a leading lady, surely? It just feels wrong that a woman with such a fantastic voice and great presence keeps getting no votes when several of the survivors can boast neither. So best wishes to her, surprising side tip on Ashley, who’s suddenly improving and acting quite intriguingly (just as last year I gradually warmed to vampire boy), but mainly, go Jodie!

In the meantime, though, aside from the BBC doing a great big months-long advert for a commercial operation – we’ve got used to that – isn’t Oliver! a weird choice? Aside from the regular hilarity of John Barrowman, Graham Norton and a load of Nancies, aside from the completely doomed idea of choosing a bunch of Olivers (who have to be protected from votes or scrutiny, so you can’t get interested in their fates or life stories, and who are all just a bit bland anyway, save the one who looks scarily like Boris Johnson)… Is it just me who’s familiar with the story at all, and the archetypal ‘tart with a heart’? Because every time one of the panel points at a young woman and declares “You could be Nancy!” I contextualise it and hear ‘You could be a prostitute!’

Mind you, that makes it appropriately very funny if you notice how everyone now titters when every comment Barry Humphries makes about the young ladies is so blatantly informed by his, ah, lower brain.

In tonight’s more exciting viewing, once again we tuned to channels 301 and 302 and have just been disappointed. Oh, joy. People want to watch Doctor Who, the BBC’s second-highest-rated programme, and the BBC promises red-button commentaries. What do they actually show? Snooker. Last Friday? Snooker. On both spare channels. There’s been not a sausage since the commentary for The Fires of Pompeii (though if I had to choose an episode for extras, a fantastic historical and best story since Human Nature would have been the one. It’d just be nice to have the lot). So we’re watching yesterday’s surprisingly Sarah Jane Adventures-but-without-the-light-touch-feel episode on BBC 3, without people nattering over it, and are going to have to try and play it in synch with a podcast. Sigh. Still, Bernard Cribbins is being delightful as I type, Donna and Martha are great and I was pleasantly wrong-footed by thinking Gloopy Martha would be a Rutan; let’s wait until next week and see if that outweighs the irritating young genius and we get an explanation for the Sontarans plotting like late-’60s Cybermen… Cough, choke, rasp, ill-tempered and ill-bodied complaints, et cetera.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008


As the Supervising Editor of Fate Fades Down the Trumpet Knob of Destiny…

The sad deaths have been reported of two rather marvellous octogenarians who’ve often brought joy to my ears (though not in the way Samantha might).

Tristram Cary

Tristram Cary was a ground-breaking composer, scoring films such as The Ladykillers and Quatermass and the Pit and pioneering electronic music. In Doctor Who’s early days, his inspired contributions ranged from comedy ballads to the eerie musique concrète which accompanied the first appearance of the Daleks (appropriately, repeated a couple of weeks ago in commemoration of Verity Lambert).

Humphrey Lyttelton

And now Richard has just woken me in need of a cuddle at news of Humphrey Lyttelton, patron saint of young people who are a bit clever and want to mystify people with the rules of a strange game they’re apparently playing while simultaneously indulging in terrible double entendres. Well, that’s one of the reasons I loved him when I was at college, anyway. That, and the letter sometime in the ’80s – before I understood what most of the innuendos meant – from an irate listener to the Radio Times about how these shocking old lechers mistreated ‘score-girl’ Samantha. I understood what the problem was there, anyway. And just last year I was at Tenth Planet while gravel-voiced Paul Darrow – of the once and future Blake’s 7, confirmed to me on Thursday by Zen – was warming up for a signing by reciting some of the filthiest Lionel Blair jokes imaginable from Humph the previous week. As shocked parents steered their children away from him, I cackled and realised that, tragically, my days of not understanding them are long gone. Now, tragically, there won’t be any more.

My parents playing Humph’s jazz programme on a Sunday never really caught on with me, but I haven’t a clue about any memory before his antidote to panel games. I’m sorry. I’ll miss him, as will any other listener to Radio 4. And I hope someone from the Office of Government Commerce is there to comfort Samantha.

And Now the Radiophonic Workshop and Dick Mills on TV

Onto a happier note for fans of strange noises. If you’re not taking a Saturday lie-in and want cheering up, by the way, turn on BBC Breakfast News in a few hours and you’ll see young whipper-snapper seventy-something Dick Mills – whose first contributions to Doctor Who sound were alongside and even before those of Tristram Cary, and who is still going strong – explaining how to make peculiar sounds and marking fifty years since the foundation of the BBC’s legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop. I met him just a couple of weeks ago, and a nicer chap you couldn’t hope for, inspiring to hear talk about the Workshop (complete with PowerPoint presentation) and lovely to chat to. I spent most of yesterday curled inside a duvet on the sofa coughing in pleasure at Genesis of the Daleks, many of Dick’s evocative special sounds for which I’ve known by heart for three decades. And, in memory of Humph, when I was next to Dick sorting out a few shiny silver discs for him to autograph the other week, a friend whose name coincidentally is Robert Dick asked if I’d seen everyone I wanted. “Not yet,” I piped up, distracted and rather too loudly, “I’ve just got to grab Dick.”

Now back to bed, and my distraught beloved.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008


New Logo Says What We All Think of the Labour Government

Congratulations to Gavin Whenman for having exposed a small (well, really quite generously proportioned) problem with the Labour Government’s latest piece of self-gratification in creating another new logo for Members to ogle. I wonder how much was expended on the Office of Government Commerce’s exciting new branding? I imagine there must have been stiff competition.

Warning: this Government logo may not be considered work-safe.

This may beat “Bird’s Eye Frozen Cod Pieces” as one of the most memorable – and perhaps short-lived – marketing devices in history. I choked on my Lemsip.

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‘D’oh! Conned Again!’ Say the World’s Stupidest MPs

When Gordon Brown’s made such an almightily stupid mess of his tax ‘triumph’, it doesn’t say much for the nous of his backbenchers that even he can hoodwink them. Again. Last year they cheered him when he announced a middle-income tax cut that was going to win them the Election That Never Was. The Liberal Democrats immediately noticed this was paid for by doubling tax on the lowest earners, but Labour MPs took 379 days to spot the problem and mount a very late rebellion when it became obvious it would lose them the Election That Actually Is Next Week. Yesterday ‘rebel leader’ Frank Field, who the likes of the Daily Hate Mail and the Tories always tell us is a genius – bit of a clue there – dropped his rebellion when he was promised compensation for those who’ve lost out… And, to the surprise of brilliant Mr Field and his Labour fellows, it turns out this stupid, spineless shower cheered yesterday without reading the small print. How completely unlike last year, when they, er, cheered without reading the small print.

I thought they were stupid beyond belief for falling for it once. How mind-bogglingly useless do Labour MPs have to be to fall for the same trick all over again?

Prisoners of Stupidity

In half an hour on ITV4 (again at 3, and you can catch episodes on Wednesday evenings at 8, too) there’s another episode of the spy / political / drug-crazed thriller The Prisoner, all set within a mysterious Village full of absurd rituals, where an appearance of democracy is a sham because it’s all fixed behind the scenes, where you’re never sure whether anyone means what they say, and when just when you think you might have got somewhere, you always find yourself back exactly where you started. Oh, and there’s a near-infinite supply of Number Twos. Similarities to the Westminster Village aren’t difficult to come by.

While today’s episode is one of the weaker ones – The General, a very wide-eyed Sixties attempt at satire with a crushingly obvious ending – this time last week they showed perhaps the best of them, the complex, brilliant, mind-bending attempt at breaking down the Prisoner’s self-image by making him The Schizoid Man. By an uncanny coincidence, at exactly the moment that was showing last week, Angela Smith (one of the lowest numbers in the Labour Government) was resigning over the 10p tax rate, having taken just 393 days to do the adding up (you can see why her abilities haven’t propelled her further than the lowest rung, can’t you?). Then, suddenly – in a twist not unlike The Prisoner in one of its more bleedin’ obvious moments – she didn’t. And that’s the difference between the Village and the Westminster Village: the Prisoner is kept there because he stands firm to his principles and won’t cave in; Angela Smith was merely the precursor of all those Labour MPs yesterday who keep their places in the Westminster Village by giving up their principles and caving in at every opportunity, as interrogators pressed The Schizoid Woman: “Why didn’t you resign?”

Mr Brown’s Lies Exposed

Such few principles as Mr Brown clings to boil down essentially to two messages: that he believes work is the morally upright solution to everything; and that he wants to reduce poverty. His doubling the tax rate on the lowest-earning workers gives the lie to both. People who earn the smallest amount and often have to work the hardest to get it have had money taken off them by Mr Brown to give to people on middle incomes. Remember when he raised pensions by just 75p? Once again, his inherent meanness and control-freakery, means that he can’t stand people getting money, still less keeping their own, if he doesn’t think they ‘deserve’ it – and that, like his insulting 75p, he just doesn’t understand that people on less than a tenth of his generous public salary might be a bit narked when he squeezes them for cash.

If you heard any of his pathetic, mealy-mouthed excuse for an interview yesterday, you’ll have heard him trying – disgustingly – to claim that doubling the lowest rate from 10p to 20p* was morally right because it wasn’t the best way of helping the poor. No, Mr Brown, and giving a tax cut to people on middle incomes that’s bigger the better-off you are under about £40,000 was targeted at poverty, was it? Of course not. This shameful steal from the poorest was purely and simply to try and bribe people with their own money in the run-up to an election Mr Brown hoped was coming. But ducked and then lied that he’d never planned one anyone, just as yesterday he backed down in part and then lied that it was in line with what he’d said all along. When what he’d actually said all along was that there were no losers from his tax hike… Which was a flat-out lie.

*Though, of course, Mr Brown still calls what he did “abolishing the 10p rate” as if it was a tax cut rather than a massive tax hike for the lowest-paid. Sorry, but now that shameful piece of spin’s more than a year old, even Labour MPs have finally spotted it’s a lie.

The other point Mr Brown made yesterday was a claim that this was a historic simplification of the tax structure. Aside from the fact that, as I wrote more than a year ago, he’s “simplified” three income tax brackets into either two or three depending on which income you look at – which, as the more agile-brained among you (look away, Labour Members, it’ll make your heads hurt) will know means it’s technically complicated the tax structure rather than simplified it – most of the people he’s talking about don’t have a “simple” tax structure, but an insanely complicated tangle of tax credits designed by Mr Brown himself. And the fact that not everyone he penalised will get any money back is, of course, hidden within this Byzantine edifice.

While Frank Field and his fellow simpletons think that every loser will be compensated, and the compensation backdated, the truth is that the Labour Government has committed to no such thing. The only backdating that Ministers’ve said out loud is a winter fuel allowance-based one-off sum for younger pensioners; and even that means that the people Mr Brown has coshed for their cash may have to wait months and months to get it back, and there’s no assurance that they’ll get the same next year – because, remember, the 10p rate isn’t coming back, so any one-off sum means a rip-off delayed, not abolished. Then there are the young people who suffered from Mr Brown’s smash and grab raid who Mr Brown wants employers to pay for through the minimum wage; well, of course they shouldn’t have been discriminated against for the minimum wage in the first place, but it’s telling that the Labour Government is correcting this not out of principle but as a shabby cover-up – and employers won’t be backdating the higher pay. And then, of course, there are the tax credits, which everyone already knows can take months to work out, are often miscalculated, and then end up clobbering you again to claw it all back, even if you’ve filled out eight thousand forms correctly to get it in the first place.

Here’s an idea: why not just let people keep their money in the first place, rather than fiddle the system with a myriad bureaucratic fixes?

I thought it was the other way round?

The Conservatives’ crocodile tears for the poor follow the inspiring pattern of first falling for Mr Brown’s sleight of hand tax cut and welcoming it last year, then abstaining on the doubling of the 10p band when it came to a vote, then only in the last few weeks – a whole year later, when suddenly it’s unpopular – saying that it’s a very bad thing but, er, that they wouldn’t do anything about it. Thankfully, after Ming Campbell made it his main line of attack on last year’s Budget while David Cameron was still panting wetly at the thought of lower income tax (without noticing a doubling of income tax on the poor to pay for it), the Liberal Democrats have kept up our opposition to this for so long that not just the dim Tories but even the unfeasibly stupid Labour MPs have now noticed. And Nick Clegg spiked Mr Brown appropriately at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions – though, as Millennium points out, if he’d had more than two questions Nick would also have been able to expose another shameless whopper from Mr Brown.

In a few days, I’ll post what I think of the Liberal Democrat tax-cutting alternative – and propose another option that has its own problems in ‘selling’, but would benefit lower earners more while still giving tax cuts to people on middle incomes. In the meantime, if you think I’ve been a little harsh in mocking the spineless, stupid Labour wastes of space, you might like to read what Liberal Democrat Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Jeremy Browne said in the House of Commons the other day. He’s not as gentle as I am.

Finally, an apology. Having exposed many of the ways in which Mr Brown has been deliberately attempting to deceive people, it’s only fair that I come clean and admit that my headline is also a big fat lie. No, while Labour MPs are indeed the stupidest in the world, for that very reason they’ve not yet twigged that they’ve been conned again – I just thought the headline had more impact that way. As to when they’ll actually work out that Mr Brown’s “compensation” won’t reach everybody, won’t be backdated to everyone it reaches, and won’t give the full amount they’ve lost even to everyone for whom it’s backdated… My best advice is to set your calendars for 378 days.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Free the Stoke One!

Some people might think that the week before election day is a bit of a daft time for a bunch of bureaucrats to go witch-hunting within their own party, and many might think that it doesn’t sound like the sort of thing Liberal Democrats do. But Stoke Lib Dems appear to have confused themselves with the Labour Party and suspended Liberal Democrat (Libertarian) Councillor Gavin Webb for being – gasp! – a Libertarian Liberal Democrat. Tristan, Alex (happy birthday!) and Julian have beaten me to blogging about it, but today it sounds like Gavin needs character references. Even from me.

I have a heavy cold at the mo and am feeling very grotty, self-medicating heavily with Lemsip and chocolate cake, so I may be woozy and have grasped the wrong end of the stick. But it appears that Gavin has been suspended from the party not for any misconduct, but for shooting his mouth off with views that everyone’s known he’s been espousing for years anyway. Libertarian propositions that seem to have been especial causes of frumpy opprobrium include his support for legalising prostitution, all drugs, firearms, and drink-driving so long as no-one is injured. I’m probably going to be accused of wanting to keep Gavin in the party only to make myself look moderate, as I agree with him on only about, ooh, one and a half of those, but though I disagree with plenty of his views I really can’t see that any of them are offensively illiberal (though possibly impractical). Quite the reverse.

About fifteen years ago, the first time I was ever in a minority of one on the Federal Policy Committee was when I wanted to pass unamended the party’s very libertarian policy paper on prostitution, which so appalled the rest of the FPC that it was called back to three successive meetings for watering-down before it was allowed near conference. Despite that, you might like to consider that while Gavin may be in a minority of active politicians on that issue, he’s in line with what the expert opinion said would be most effective – and that, the only time the party voted on the issue, even the watered-down paper could still be roughly described as legalising prostitution. So it may be an old policy, but it’s still the people who disagree with Gavin who are out of step with the Liberal Democrats. As far as drugs go, half a dozen years ago we voted to legalise cannabis – eventually – and I spoke in favour of that (after a hum-dinger of a row on FPC, though not quite as much as we used to have under Paddy), though like Lib Dem policy I’m more on the fence over hard drugs, for all sorts of reasons. And there’s certainly room for a wide range of views in the Liberal Democrats there. On firearms and drink-driving, I can see Gavin’s point but I think it’s daft in practice – my rule of thumb is that if a crime’s victimless, it shouldn’t be a crime… But I think Gavin and I have different ideas of ‘victimless’. I’d say that a ‘crime’ that wouldn’t normally injure someone else and that’s with informed consent shouldn’t be a crime at all, just because other people disapprove of it; but if someone’s reckless and very likely to do someone actual harm and they don’t have any option to consent to it, I’d still be dubious about it if by chance injury was avoided. I suppose my dividing line for saying something shouldn’t be a crime would be something like ‘victimless by definition’, then, rather than ‘victimless by luck’.

The good side of this is that it’s stirring up debate about what we stand for, and about the limits of law; the bad side is that I’d have assumed we all stand for free speech, and that people can say what they like quite comfortably in the party as long as they don’t oppose the party’s fundamental principles. Well, Gavin’s fundamental principle appears to be ‘not banning things’ – something with which I have a great deal of sympathy – and taking responsibility for yourself. I’ve scoured through the Preamble to the Liberal Democrat Constitution, and he doesn’t appear to be contradicting it at all. Is it perhaps that he’s a bit embarrassing to his fellow councillors who want to just sound safely like everyone else in the run-up to election times? Because I can understand that feeling, it’s only human, but if so then they’re the ones that the party’s principles would frown at. Is it because he’s called a BNP councillor a fascist? I’ve looked at that pesky Preamble again, and I’ve missed the bit that says being truthful but uncouth is A Bad Thing.

Gavin’s ‘crime’ appears to be ‘Being A Bit Gobby’ (perhaps, your honour, he might protest at that and enter a plea of ‘A Lot Gobby’). It may not win him friends, but it sounds like a Liberal. What’s his accusers’ excuse?

Now let’s get past all this silliness and remember that, with the odd hiccup, Liberal Democrats tend to encourage people to make up their own minds, Labour order people what to do, and Tories… Well, under the current regime, Tories dither for a few days and then do whatever the newspapers tell them will be most popular. We’re better than that, so why not stop holding up shocked mittens at a Liberal being Liberal and go out and beat the other two?

Update: if I wasn’t feeling so knurdly, I’d have realised that the perfect punning title for this post would be “Webb of Sin”. So count yourself lucky that I missed that!

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Friday, April 18, 2008


Cocaine Boris Gets Confused On Drugs

Cocaine-abuser and Conservative candidate Boris Johnson got himself into a stupor on drugs this week on the BBC Asian Network. Mr Johnson, who I assume is no longer a cocaine binger or aiding and abetting fraudsters to commit GBH, was spin-doctoring that he was the best person to stand up for law and order in London when he was asked whether a former police officer might be a better choice than a former criminal. So he attacked Brian Paddick’s record but, er, instantly had to admit he was completely wrong. You can listen to him lying and then backtracking here.

Mr Johnson would probably be safer if he left crime alone as an issue, given that he’s the most prominent of the wealthy Tory cocaine generation in boasting about his exploits, but he might have had more credibility if he’d at least used the old cliché ‘Set a thief to catch a thief’ rather than just saying any old rubbish and hoping no-one knew about his record. Hoping no-one remembered what he’d been up to when saying anyone who isn’t a rich Conservative should have the law come down on them like a ton of bricks was stupid enough; attacking a hugely successful former police officer was stupider still; but making things up about Brian Paddick’s record while Brian was sitting in the studio next to him and could instantly get him bang to rights takes a really special level of idiocy. If you weren’t sure that a leading Conservative politician couldn’t possibly be breaking the law while saying people should be locked up for doing what he’s doing, you’d think the most likely explanation was that Mr Johnson was just off his face on drugs again, wouldn’t you?

Now, here’s an issue where I disagree with Brian Paddick. The Liberal Democrat London Mayoral candidate is quite a lot less liberal about drug use than I am, and I’ve disagreed with him about it to his face. But there’s common ground – which is that both of us want to get the gangsters who push drugs off the streets. My own view and that of most scientific professionals is that cannabis is not harmless, but is a similar level of risk to alcohol and tobacco. Because of that, I would legalise cannabis, which is the only way to regulate its quality and stop criminals making their money out of it. Brian is at the other end of the sensible spectrum on this – he didn’t support changing the law on cannabis, but still recognised that the problem was the dealers, not the users, and rather than wasting police time on people going after small amounts went after the dealers. It worked. What both my preferred policy and the one that Brian put into practice have in common is that they’re common-sense ways of tackling the gangsters.

Mr Johnson, on the other hand, talks tough about drugs, calls for people who did what he did to be locked up (but doesn’t volunteer for it himself), and attacks people like Brian who know – and have delivered – what they’re talking about. He just wants to waste police time on going after the very large minority of the population who’ve taken illegal drugs but aren’t wealthy enough to get away with it, rather than being interested in common-sense solutions that actually tackle the drugs trade.

Just to refresh your memory, Brian Paddick and Boris Johnson are both famous for stories about their drug-taking that have been printed in newspapers.

Still, you shouldn’t be surprised when Mr Johnson breaks the law himself then spins and poses as talking tough about the very laws he breaks. As a copper would put it, he’s got a record as long as your arm.

In other old news, while Brian Paddick was pounding the streets in the 1990s as a highly effective police officer making London safer for people, Boris Johnson was, er, busy giving the address of a journalist who’d exposed an insurance fraudster to, er, that very insurance fraudster so that he could have the journalist beaten up.

Boris Johnson: tough on crimes by ordinary people; tough on people who investigate crime…
…But all in favour of get-of-jail-free cards for rich Tories.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008


Tory Economics: 1150% Inflation. In a Day.

London viewers watching straight through the BBC London News to the London Decides Mayoral Debate on Tuesday night saw Tory candidate Boris Johnson’s spending plans not double, not triple, but multiply by twelve. Planning to throw away every penny spent on bendy buses and charge Londoners to replace them on his own personal whim, such is Mr Johnson’s economic competence that when the debate was recorded he priced his vanity project with:
“I stick by our figure of eight million pounds.”
But by the time it went out the next day:
“It would cost, you know, about a hundred million.”
Great person to have in charge of our council tax precepts, eh!

Everyone knows Mr Johnson’s eye-twitching hate for bendy buses means his only policy is to throw all the money spent on them away and fork out extra London taxes to indulge his own personal preferences. But even so, the costs going up 1150% in one day is a bit steep, particularly when figures Andrew Neil quoted at him during the debate – which is when Mr Johnson stuck to his eight million daydream – were even higher, at £114 million. Not that Mr Neil did a good job chairing the debate, though: as usual more interested in hearing his own voice than either members of the public or any answers, he invited questions from the audience… Then ignored the questions and asked his own, most shamefully when – rather than letting Brian Paddick answer what he’d do to tackle teenage street violence – he kept pressing for Hello-style gossip on Ian Blair. There’s a word for some who only thinks of his own self-gratification, but I can’t quite bring it to mind…

Still, that’s better than Mr Johnson. At least there’s only one thing I can’t bring to mind. I was chatting to a Tory friend on Sunday who mocked me good-naturedly for my “I’m coming out for Brian Paddick” badge, then admitted that “At least your candidate can string a sentence together without going –” and here we both burst into an identical chorus of the familiar “I – I – I – I…” which makes Mr Johnson seem such an egotistical gentleman. And it isn’t just adding up that has Mr Johnson scratching his famous blond locks in the hope of finding a functional brain cell.

Ken Livingstone is a monstrously arrogant egomaniac with a contempt for democracy, who will do anything to get out of having himself and all his moneygrubbing cronies opened up to scrutiny. So Mr Johnson had a golden opportunity to appeal to people like me who wouldn’t trust our current lying, hypocritical, self-serving, promise-breaking, gay-killer-buddying Mayor as far as we could throw him. What did he do on Tuesday night, after Mr Livingstone had been criticised yet again covering up for his crooked cronies? Mr Johnson was unable to give Londoners a single name for the string of Deputy Mayors he wants to have, presumably, as Mr Neil said, “to run things that you won’t be running.” “Thank goodness for that!” put in Brian. Pressed again and again, first Mr Johnson seemed unable to think of the names of any of the cronies he wants Londoners’ money to pay for, and then eventually said it was none of our business. They’ll be working for free, then, will they? No. Of course not. Incompetent, or wanting his own cronies in the trough? You decide.

So, we have a Labour Mayor who gives jobs to his cronies and uses all his undoubted political skills to stop anyone scrutinising them.

We have a Tory who wants to be Mayor who attacks the Mayor for giving jobs to his cronies and refusing to open them up to public scrutiny… Not because he disagrees with any of that in principle, but because he wants those to be his perks.

And what did Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick say about who he’d employ? That jobs in his administration would be openly advertised by public criteria:
“So we get the best people for London – not his mates [gestures], and not his mates [gestures], and not my mates.”
I know who I’d rather have spending our taxes.

Of course, there will be many more questions that Mr Johnson will be unable or unwilling to answer, and there have been plenty of others already. On Newsnight last week, Mr Johnson was completely unable to come up with any figure for his personal bus fleet at all. So far this week, it’s been eight million, then a hundred million a day later. By tomorrow, he’ll presumably be telling Mr Paxman that:
‘Well, Julian, it’ll cost around a million billion pounds, and money well spent if you, ah, ah, ah, ah, ask any Londoner, because nothing on Earth is as important as getting rid of the bendy bus. Bring back Routemasters, Justin, and London’s economy will boom, crime will vanish from our streets and I, I, I, I’ll be able to cut council tax to nothing, all for just a billion squillion pounds on the council tax. And just to make sure those bendy buses which are the source of all the evil in the world don’t come back, Jeroboam, my first act as Mayor will be to order every one of them piled into a giant wicker bendy bus and set alight. Which is a brilliant wheeze, because it means they’ll jolly well have to build more Routemasters for me, and because wicker’s organic, so the smoke from the burning bendy buses will be entirely carbon-neutral, and carbon-neutral means that it actively helps the environment to get better. Er, er, er, er, that’s right, isn’t it?’
In days when Labour’s handling of the economy and the environment are constantly revealed to be so utterly hopeless, they must be throwing up their arms in thanks that however rubbish they are, the Tories still want to tender a lower bid to be absolutely clueless in every way.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008


Were They Counting On Their Fingers?

What do the following highly numerate and on-the-ball people have in common?

All of them have suddenly worked out that Gordon Brown’s final Budget as (named) Chancellor clobbered the poor to pay for middle-rate tax cuts. This was impossible to know until this week – unless you were Ming Campbell, Vince Cable or several Lib Dem bloggers, a whole 379 days ago. On the day of last year’s Budget, rather than a couple of weeks after this year’s Budget, we spotted that Mr Brown had funded his “tax cut” by raising taxes on the poorest two million so they have to pay more.

Prepare yourself: next week, I expect these Tory, Labour and other mathematical prodigies to take up cudgels on behalf of their middle-income constituents, who suddenly find that because their generous-sounding 2p tax cut is funded by doubling their lowest tax band, it’s – gasp – actually a much smaller tax cut than they’d been led to expect.

Our leading political and economic thinkers are evidently suckers for special offers, but not so hot on reading the small print. They’re probably not used to going into a supermarket or a bank without their mums to give them advice, and I bet their online activities involve ordering a lot of bargain ‘V1agra’ (may contain worming pills).

Still, at least they’re just very, very slow rather than as plain deceitful as Junior Minister For Setting Her Undergarments Alight Jane Kennedy, who said it was a way to redirect help to low-earning families. Riiiigghht.

So, doubling income tax rates on the lowest-paid – quite literally doubling, from 10p to 20p in the pound – is actually to ‘help’ them? Perhaps by encouraging them to work harder?

So, shuffling tax rates around so that you have little in the way of changes if you earn over about £18,500 a year but you lose money steeply if you earn under that is Mr Brown’s idea of assistance to low earners?

But, Labour argues, everyone will be better off because of tax credits.

OK, so let’s that that argument a little further.

Getting your own wages is fairly straightforward. But getting tax credits mean you have to fill out all the right forms in order to persuade the Labour Government that it should grant you some of its great bounty through its immense goodness. There are several problems with that argument. It means that, instead of straightforwardly keeping their own money, people must jump through the bureaucratic hoops of a system proven to be riddled with errors and delays – and that Mr Brown would rather pay the extra costs of bureaucracy and intrude into everyone’s lives to decide by his arcane whim what money they ‘deserve’, rather than let them simply keep the money they earn, because he wants to be in control, boss around everyone’s lives, and make his serfs grateful for the pittance he deigns to dole out to them.

Mr Brown has two aims for this tax policy. One is to get a good headline for the middle-income earners he’s terrified are drifting to the Tories; well, that’s been and gone. The other is the Victorian notion that the ‘feckless, undeserving poor’ need to be bossed around ‘for their own good’ and that the Labour Government knows better than they do how to run their lives. So tax credits are designed to get money to ‘deserving’ cases and deny it to others.

And we know that tax credits can’t fill all the shortfall; there simply isn’t the money to do it. As the 2p cut to the standard rate is paid for by doubling the income tax rate for the lowest-paid, that leaves no extra money for tax credits, does it? That’s spending the money twice. I thought it was George Osborne who financed all his commitments by magic money from the pixie tree?

AND THAT’S NOT ALL (as the Labour Government’s going for the language of misleading special offers)!

Labour MPs, as quoted by William Hague – and when you hear that combination, you know that economic literacy isn’t going to be the main event here, even allowing them a whole year to try and work out the hard sums – have been worrying that five million lower-paid families would be worse off after Budget changes to income tax. It’s that worry that Jane Kennedy’s platitudes about the how-do-you-calculate-it, how-do-you-afford-it, how-do-you-justify-bossing-people-about tax credits have been trying to soothe. However, it’s not just lower-paid families that you have to worry about; unless I’ve blinked and moralising Victorian bully Mr Brown has repealed the child labour laws, it’s tends not to be ‘families’ that work as a unit, but individuals.

If you’re a hard-working single person earning under £18,500 a year, there’s not a shred of comfort even if – and it’s a big if – the Labour Government’s sums really do add up. So if you’re younger, or don’t have a family, or can’t have a family, or are anyone who’s perhaps hoping to have kids or get a house in the future and are worrying that under Mr Brown’s brilliant economic stewardship you may not be able to get a mortgage… Bad news. Now you’re having more money taken from you to give to people with more money than you.

Anyone still think Labour is the party that sticks up for low earners?

Update: more on those extremely quick-on-the-uptake Labour MPs on Lib Dem Voice.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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