Archive for June, 2010

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010


There is something refreshing about this new government as Ministers begin to challenge really difficult problems which have remained in the background for too long, or been subject to the wrong approach. This does not mean this Blog approves of every proposal but it does mean that the drifting, common to fag end governments of all parties after about eight years, has stopped. Time will tell whether the new approaches are for better or for worse.

I admire Ken Clarke’s courage is declaring the filling of prisons to bursting point, beyond even the intention of the Victorians who built the oldest, is no way to fight crime, prevent its recurrence and effectively punish. The yardstick for imprisonment must, short of major crime, be public safety. Returning re-offenders over and over again is hugely expensive and achieves nothing. There really must be a radical new approach to low level serial crime which offers a better and more cost effective outcome.

At the heart of the matter is the lack of prospects of a whole cohort of young offenders who fail in eduction and are left with no hope of earning, except through crime. This is a major and reprehensible social failing, for which guilt must be widely shared across a spectrum, including removal of the authority and power to discipline from teachers and the wasteland or retail parks where once there were good prospects for employment and therefore something to qualify for.

It will be a painful process to dismantle the excesses of the public sector and set  personal initiative and the private sector on the road to expansion on more secure lines than the post 1980’s boom. If it is done properly a social transformation will result and Ken Clarke will find his prison population falling back to the proper level of a modern civilsied democracy.

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Tightening the Police Belt

The way we have organised a police system in the U.K mainland is financially daft, with every county or city having its own dedicated and independent force to do everything. In Northern Ireland there is one police service for the whole province, which is better, though direct comparison is difficult because of special circumstances.

What is needed for England (replicated in Wales and Scotland) is three national police forces divided as follows; a Community Police Service charged with crime prevention and law enforcement, a National Detective Service to solve crimes committed, and a Traffic Police responsible for all road discipline and crime. It is idiotic for these to be organised county by county although every local authority should have a cabinet member responsible for law and order with close links to the police commanders operating locally. Just as the Army divides the country up into Military Districts, so the police can do the same while remaining, like the Army, national institutions. 

The police policy of successive governments has failed to balance local need and national priorities, preventing crime and solving crime, on the beat and in the office, hands on and paper pushing, targets and results. We have all noticed indifference to our reports of a minor theft or burglary (apart from offers of trauma counselling) yet watch a huge and immediate concentration from far and wide of both police vehicles and personnel for a moderate traffic accident.

The coalition needs to up its game here. This is not a target cancelling, money saving, tidy up, efficiency project. It is a root and branch affair or it is useless.

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Spy Thriller

There is a rather surreal B movie aspect to the arrest of the Russian ‘spies’, engaged in information gathering operations in the U.S of apparently non-classified information which any savvy political commentator or  investigative journalist would have access to. False identities and information exchange in the most unsophisticated  but melodramatic circumstances, which if written as a novel would have difficulty getting published, is entertaining. Not only did the F.B.I spot these people years ago, but they even posed as their bosses issuing instructions. The whole episode makes the Russians look rather foolish. The Americans are trying to be dignified while stifling a wry smile.

This is clearly a left over from past times and shows what little understanding existed in the immediate post Soviet era of how open, except for military secrets, western society is. This does not mean that there are not powerful establishments in every western country, but they are very easy to join if you play to their rules and easy to penetrate as an outsider if you want to find out something, without resorting to high collared macs and hollow trees.

There is however a lesson in this episode. To the Russians it is time to move on, but to the Americans and their allies it is surely time to bring the Russians in from the cold and engage with them on a more equal footing. In the world approaching just around the corner, we will need Russia more than we realise.

Monday, June 28th, 2010

G 20 and Recovery

There is an interesting sub-text developing. This blog has repeated many times the need to re-balance our economy on with manufacturing at the heart, reducing reliance on the City and services. There needs to be more saving and less borrowing. Especially we need to import less and make more of what we use.

It now seems that thinking is beginning to follow these lines globally. Both America and Britain have been open markets to any cheap goods made across Asia and these new manufacturing countries have built prosperity upon those exports while neglecting their own hinterland, in the case of India and China especially. As they begin to build an economic model turned more to home consumption, the shape of the global economy will change. This will create opportunities for us, which thus far we have been slow to grasp.

There is evidence that the coalition government understands this. It will need to become more aggressive in creating a taxation climate and ready finance to boost industrial development. It has made a start but herein lies the key to social improvement and reduced welfare dependency. It is good to chase malingerers and benefit cheats but whilst a problem to be dealt with, they alone are not the heart of the matter.

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Home Again

We do not yet know who will win the world cup, but we do know for sure England have not just been defeated in this tournament; they have been beaten.

There is something not quite right with English football. Too much money, too much celebrity, too much rope, but not enough character and not enough skill. Lack of skill masked by flair.

No doubt the tabloids will tell us to be proud of our team. We should ignore such misplaced goodwill. The fans across the country and in South Africa have been both loyal and heroic in their support. They have been let down by a bunch self centred second raters.

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Moving to Work

I see nothing wrong in moving towards regional employment opportunities. People have been doing this since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Before that they moved to more fertile land. It is right to make it possible to vacate council accommodation and benefits in one location, to a similar situation, but with a job fixed, in another.

It is also right to stress the importance of doing everything possible to encourage small neighbourhood industries to set up to provide local employment, economic regeneration and family cohesion. Ed Balls is right to point this out, yet it was under Labour that so much regeneration was retail based selling foreign goods.

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Special Relationship

Having spent years cringing at the unlikely coziness between Bush and Blair which produced one of the most toxic political partnerships of modern times and having consistently advocated a more independent view of British interests informing our foreign policy, I am very comfortable with the Cameron/Obama chemistry.

I think Obama understands our need to reduce borrowing. America’s overseas debt total is just over 90% of GDP, approximately the world average. Britain’s is 450% of GDP and the second highest in the world after the U.S.. Both men are very nervous that Afghanistan is not working out as the military and diplomats said it would and when the political patience snaps, they are likely to be at one. Both men share a dislike of Israel’s attitude to realistic terms of a Palestinian settlement. Both recognise the rise of China India and Brazil as economic powers and the need to move relations with Russia on to a more productive path.

Unfortunately they share a view of Iran which is misplaced and which continues to strengthen the hands of the hawks in that country. They probably see eye to eye on the oil spill, but domestic politics require the President to voice anger against the hapless BP and for Cameron to appeal for caution in attacking this seriously compromised corporation, whose survival is now in doubt.

However, taken in the round, the prospects for transatlantic relations look promising for all of us. This is the best team-up for some decades.

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Tribal States

Further emphasis is given, if any were needed, to the complete miscalculation of the Afghan project by understanding the precarious nature of tribal states. Colonial powers and other conquerors have, down through the pages of history, created stable regions by imposing a universal discipline on diverse tribal and ethnic interests. All is well while the governing power remains, but falls apart when that power retreats.

There are obvious examples. Britain after the Romans, Russia’s Near Abroad after the Soviets, Africa after the colonial powers and of course Iraq. There is a period of conflict and unrest, until one tribe dominates before the country often splits into separate parts. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia for example. Afghanistan is like this too. When we leave, the new security forces will be seen as oppressive, enforcing a rule alien to many of the traditions and power bases across the country’s regions and the country will return to the loose shape it prefers, to which it has already returned after the British left India, after the Russians and will once again after NATO.

Whatever it does will not affect the plans of Al Qaeda nor affect the threat that organisation currently or in the future poses.

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Helping the Poor

Although the Budget has been promoted as fair and spreading the pain, it is a fact of life that austerity directly impacts the quality of life of the poor, whereas it only affects the comfort of the better off. In the last great austerity period in the years after WWII, there was full employment, a demand for skills of every kind, wages were rising and the benefits of the Welfare state were rolling out. It was the middle and upper classes that felt the most pain. This time, this is clearly not the case.

I think the coalition is right on its general policy thrust put the fine tuning is flawed, rather like the Tory election campaign. There are two issues which must be faced, to provide real hope to those in need, just as Labour’s social policies, continued by the Conservatives from 1951, gave hope to the drab and shattered landscape of the early years of peace.

The first is that the so called service economy fails altogether to reward or even employ manual and trade skills, beyond builders and plumbers. The second is that neighbourhood employment in small factories making parts for industry or everyday utility items is an essential feature of lifting people out of poverty and reducing welfare dependency. It is no use re-shaping welfare, unless you create the kind of employment which the welfare dependents are equipped to do or for which they can easily be trained. Neighbourhood work goes hand in hand with better parenting and care for elderly family members within a community.

This gaping hole in the structure of the economy is the outcome of the weaknesses of the Thatcher reforms, which were better in cutting out the old than planting the new. But Thatcher was faced with a huge task of economic renewal and inspite of this failing did a good job. It was Labour’s task to fill the gap when it came back to power and by doing so through the creation of a vast empire of public employment, much of it futile, will be seen by historians as one of the great economic disasters of history. It entirely overshadows current debate about the timing and extent of cuts, but it is why we are burdened with public debt in the first place.  

The next issue is the welfare state. Atlee with Labour and  Butler, Macmillan and their progressive Tory allies saw that the glue that held the social coherence together in their difficult times was the welfare state. What is now needed is the vision to see that this very glue is gumming up the economy, creating bills we cannot afford and above all hitting the poorest very hard. It is utterly self defeating to remain with the mantra of universal benefits. Pensions, child allowances and fuel payments as well as disability allowances and even unemployment pay and attendant support, should not be available to those whose incomes or severance make it unnecessary in terms of survival. Neither should health or eduction be free to those who can afford to pay some of, but not all, the cost.

Only when we can get our brains around these twin issues will we be able to really attack poverty and at the same time put our public finances on a sound footing without penal taxation and skeleton services. So far the new government has not done nearly enough either to the banks to channel their money to business first or to stopping the rich being paid money they do not need. This is where the debate now has to go.

Thursday, June 24th, 2010


General McChrystal

President Obama was wrong to sack this man.

Yes he did a very silly thing to let a journalist trail around after him (and his aids) for a couple of weeks and spout off in a reckless way, normally reserved for close and trusted buddies. Remember this general was not caught in a wiring scam. This was open in your face stuff.  Imagine one of ours saying the Queen was a disappointment and Cameron was a clown in open conversation with the Sun.

However America is different. In that country the military has always had a higher place in public esteem and is seen not as servant of the people but as saviour. Three of their most revered Presidents, Washington, Grant and Eisenhower were ex-generals, although only Washington was a political success. There have been many generals in the State Department. The American people admire ego as we admire eccentricity.

The torrent of derision poured out by General McChrystal and his aids required the President to assert his authority as Commander in Chief and Head of State. This would have best been done by a severe dressing down followed by ordering this military aesthete back to his command minus a star on his lapel and with a new press officer at his elbow.

Unfortunately what this sorry incident reveals is a waning confidence that the war can be won and that Afghanistan can be turned into a conventional State. Neither of these things can in fact happen and soon this humiliating truth will have to be faced. When that day comes a few rude remarks will be as nothing to the fur which will fly.