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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Chuck it Heffer

Simon Heffer is opining in his new online Mail slot on Osborne’s Autumn statement.
He sets out his 10 point plan to boost British growth. It’s all fairly vintage tax cutting Heffer stuff and unobjectionable, until he starts to give his prejudices their head.

He writes: “Increase taxes on anti-social items such as tobacco and off-sales of alcohol, and on gambling (including spread betting). Norman Lamont justified a tax on mobile phones, of all things, because they were anti-social. Taxing more heavily the drink that people buy in supermarkets - and which too many sit drinking on pavements - or the cigarettes that lead to illnesses which are such a burden on the NHS, would follow a similar principle. There is also no reason not to include a tax on grotesquely inflated Premiership football transfer fees, and on golden hellos and golden handshakes in the financial services sector. Most controversially, VAT could be introduced on foods deemed injurious to health – those with high fat content, for example.’’

I wonder whether Heffer delegated that bit to a trainee or whether he has finally lost it.
He decrees tobacco and alcohol to be anti-social. Well, we’ll be the judges of that, thank you Heffer.
It is a source of international wonder that alcohol is so scandalously expensive in this country, thanks to the extortionate levels of duty already levied on it. Incidentally, the UK ranks 14th out of 20 countries for alcohol consumption, below France and Germany.
Heffer is from Essex, an admirable county whose sons and daughters have achieved much, no doubt due, in no small part, to the strong influence of Calvinist Puritanism on that land.
Calvinism is famous for being an uncompromising doctrine, which takes a dim view of human enjoyment. Now all of us can, at times be irritated by our fellow creatures having a good time – Red Nose Day, for example, brings out the latent Calvinist in me – but it’s hardly reasonable that Heffer’s hang-ups should be translated into taxes on the rest of us.
Apart from a killjoy instinct, a big fib lies behind so much of this health fascism: namely that these vices are a net financial burden on the country. In truth drinkers, like smokers, contribute enough to the Exchequer by way of duty to pay for much of the NHS and, by dying earlier, save the country a fortune in pensions, plastic hips, bus passes, winter fuel allowances and all the rest of the costs of old age health care.
In these desperate economic times smoking and drinking are nothing less than a patriotic duty.

Monday, 28 November 2011

If at first...

Totally predictably, as Dave Spart would have said, the forces of tyranny are seeking to muzzle me.
My bid to create an e-petition to call the BMA to account over its call for a smoking ban in private vehicles has been denied.
The communication says:
“Your e-petition "Punish the BMA and defend our freedoms" hasn't been accepted.
E-petitions will not be accepted if they:
  • contain offensive, joke or nonsense content
  • use language which may cause offence, is provocative or extreme in its views
  • use wording that is impossible to understand
  • include statements that amount to advertisements’’
I cannot for the life of me see how my petition meets any of those criteria.
But a friend of liberty will not be so easily deterred and I shall resubmit on these lines:
“We call upon the Government to amend the rules on e-petitions to allow for the calling for Bills Attainder to punish those such as the voting members of the Council of British Medical Association, BMA, who by calling upon the government to ban smoking in private vehicles, are threatening the liberties of the British public. This is the latest in a long series of assaults by the BMA on the liberties of the British subject and subversive of our constitutional freedoms and rights. A Bill of Attainder against them could call for the imprisonment of each of them for 10 years and the forfeiture of their property to the Crown.’’

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

A blow for freedom

So, the next move has been made in the British Medical Associations, BMA’s, long, relentless campaign against freedom.

It is calling on the government to introduce an extension to the current smoking ban to cover private vehicles.

This, they say, is to protect passengers from the concentration of toxins, which are, they claim, 11 times greater than in a smoky bar (remember those?).

Its press release says: “We are calling on UK governments to take the bold and courageous step of banning smoking in private vehicles’’.

In fact, the bold and courageous step would be to overturn the current smoking ban and to tell the busy-body Calvinists of the BMA to put that in their pipes and smoke it.

Sadly UK governments don’t do bold and courageous.

But this one has given the subject, through the creation of the e-petition, a means by which he or she can force parliament to address certain issues.

Crier in the wilderness has therefore submitted the following e-petition:

“The Britsh Medical Association, BMA, has called upon the government to ban smoking in private vehicles. This is the latest in a long series of assaults by the BMA on the liberties of the British subject and subversive of our constitutional freedoms and rights. We call upon the government to introduce a Bill of Attainder against the voting members of BMA Council to imprison each of them for 10 years and to make their property forfeit to the Crown. Such an Act would justly punish the BMA Council members for their treasonable intentions and serve as a deterrent to other tyrants.’’

The measure may seem drastic and the punishment harsh, but one must remember that the traditional penalty associated with a Bill of Attainder was death. I’m letting the BMA Council off lightly.

If Council members complain that I am seeking to criminalise what they regard as blameless behaviour one can only point out that they will at least know how smokers feel.

Whether the e-petition will be accepted, I shall discover in a matter of days and will keep you posted.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Bullshit baffles brains

ONE of the diversions of being a business journalist and editing a magazine lies in some of the submissions I receive.

One pinged into my inbox today which began: “Finally!! I have come across a term that perfectly describes what a project manager should NOT be – a Zombie!’’

Yes, that must sure have been a hard search. So far, I’ve only managed to come up with three terms that fit that difficult bill of non description: `nematode’; `fragrance’ and `walking stick ferrule’.

Can any of you think of any other things a project manager should not be?

Sadly, most of the stuff that crosses my desk doesn’t so much raise a smile as a howl of pained anguish, or at least makes me take my glasses off to rub a weary hand across my eyes like Captain Mainwairing.

Take this: “The project has delivered an exceptional business intelligence system that provides us with dynamic information which we can use to proactively improve our business performance’’.

Why do business people do that? Why do they talk such…such…such utter crap?

I recall a few years ago a Cumbrian Tourist Board spokesman was telling Radio 4 Today listeners that it was a shame there had been an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in the county and that torrential rain had blighted holidays there because the county had some `wonderful brands’.

“What are those?’’ demanded a merciless John Humphreys.

“The Lake District,’’ was the reply.

Often it’s part of that unconscious conspiracy against the laity, a means of dressing up the mundane and the banal to make it all sound so much grander and more complicated than it really is.

In the same way trade union leaders try desperately to disguise a poor education with circumlocution and pomposity and so intone: “At this moment in time,’’ or, even worse, “At this present moment in time’’.

“Why?’’ one wants to scream at them. “Why not just say - `now’?’’

Words are used as a smokescreen, either for lack of education, of substance, or of clarity of thought.

They are also used to cover up an awful truth by cloaking it in euphemism. Such I felt was the case a few years ago when the then Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup was talking about our troops in Iraq, who had lost control of the situation there and were being moved to Afghanistan. He said that they were `transitioning’.

Transitioning – an interesting choice of word that, I thought. I suppose the British soldiers in Iraq were `transitioning’ in much the same way that Napoleon’s army transitioned its way back from Moscow.

Words fail me.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

What goes around

An Italophile friend writes expressing his sympathy for Silvio Berlusconi and the people he governed. He thinks Silvio got a raw deal, having been forced out by the ECB/Merkozy. And this happened despite the fact that Italy hasn’t really done a lot wrong in recent months; their deficit is about 120% of GDP which is pretty much where it has been for decades. The combined debt of government, businesses and individuals is similar to that for the UK and the US. Also excluding debt interest their budget is in surplus.

All of which is perhaps true. But the Italians have chosen not to be a sovereign nation like the UK or US. They are in trouble because their economy is not growing to enable them to pay their debts and lenders know it. Not being a sovereign nation, they cannot print money or lower interest rates.
The morals of this are threefold:
1.    You don’t create a single currency to cover nearly 20 different countries with different economies, languages and cultures
2.    You don’t – once the whole thing has inevitably blown up in your face – bone-headedly refuse to relax monetary policy
3.    You don’t ever get away with calling someone an unf***able lar**rse
In the event, I suspect that Merkel will give in. It’ll make her feel like vomiting into her pickelhaube but she’ll persuade her fellow countrymen to step into the breach and keep the show on the road for a bit longer.
But it won’t solve the inherent problems of the euro. And it won’t solve the problem of the West, namely that we owe far too much money and can’t pay it back and passing it around, like a parcel in a 1970s Belfast pub - from banks to states and from states back to banks and then to the Germans - won’t solve it either.
No, that problem will be with us for awhile yet. Until the politicians do what they always do – and inflate it away.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

In April 2003 22-year-old Aron Lee Ralston was hiking alone in the wilds of Utah when a boulder over which he was climbing became dislodged, crushing his right forearm and pinning it against the canyon wall.

His story is told in harrowing detail in the film 127 Hours. I shall spare some of that detail but, in summary, Ralston spent five days eking out his just over half pint of water while vainly trying to free his arm from under the 800lb rock. Finally he broke the two main bones of his forearm and then amputated the limb using a blunt two inch knife in an hour long operation. He survived and has gone on to become a public speaker.

I wonder whether he is getting many bookings in Greece or Italy where they face a similar dilemma.

They too have a choice between making a courageous decision entailing unimaginable pain, trauma and danger or of resigning themselves to the inevitability of a slow and miserable death.

Such is the judgement to be made by the Greek and Italian peoples as they now think the hitherto unthinkable – leaving the euro.

We eurosceptics should not be so blinded by our own schadenfreude as to ignore the enormous consequences of exiting the single currency. UBS, for example, estimates that a weak euro country which left would incur a cost of about 9,500 and 11,500 euros per person in the first year – that is about 40% to 50% of GDP – and 3,000 to 4,000 euros per person in following years.

Which is bad.

But the alternative is to slowly strangle their economy to death with the twin ligatures of the wrong exchange rate and the wrong interest rate. The country will die, losing its young people, save the few who stay to minister to rich North Europeans in their holiday villas.

They must ask themselves: what would Ralston have done?

Friday, 4 November 2011

Vox Populi

SO, just as the travellers at Dale Farm are reluctantly travelling again, the country has acquired another illegal settlement – this time at St Paul’s Cathedral.

The Church of England has been uncertain in its response, veering from blind panic at the prospect of some health and safety liability, to stern determination to evict and thence – inevitably – to hand-wringing obsequiousness to the protestors. For the Anglican Church it's never so much `What would Jesus do?’ as `What would Polly Toynbee prefer us to do?’’.

But I get the impression the Church isn’t too far out of step with national opinion, certainly modish opinion – well, okay, the BBC. The protestors are regarded as idealistic young things, heart in the right place, reproach to their elders etc..

Just about everybody points to the country’s long tradition of peaceful protest and how this makes us great, compared to say Syria.

There is, of course, a great difference between us and Syria, and between us now and at the time of the Chartists, and that is that every adult has a vote and is free to use to change things. If the right to protest means the right to make a nuisance of yourself and inconvenience other people, then I’m not sure it’s a right we should any longer tolerate in a democracy.

The protestors claim that they are being ignored by the politicians and this is the only way to make them listen. I think what they mean is is that they cannot muster sufficient votes to alter society in ways they seek and therefore they will employ other means which will give them greater clout than enjoyed by their fellow citizens who don’t employ such tactics but have to rely on the use – or threat of use – of their single, solitary vote.

This tends to be overlooked because the St Paul's protestors’ cause is modish and Left Wing. I wonder how they would be viewed if they were camping outside the cathedral demanding a restoration of capital punishment; a referendum on Europe or greater controls on immigration. Can’t see Rowan Williams purring his avuncular approval at any of those.

This is odd, given that for all three of the causes mentioned, any protestors could genuinely complain that they represent majorities whose views are consistently ignored by the politicians. Also, unlike the current St Paul’s protestors, they would be arguing for concrete and coherent proposals which could be effected.

The problem is that each of these causes would fit the description of being `Right Wing’ and you can bet that if they dared to sully the steps of St Pauls with placards championing them, the Dean and Chapter would be calling for the bailiffs faster than you could say `exorcism’.

A few years ago a group called `Fathers4Justice’ felt they were not being heard and attempted a number of high profile stunts which were generally dismissed as being childish and proving their unfitness for fatherhood. The Guardian columnist George Monbiot dismissed these men – who had in many cases been denied access to their own children for a number of years – as `right wing whingers’. The CofE was silent. But then the Left will always take the side of women over men – unless it’s Muslim women of course.

That’s it then, I’m afraid we must reconcile ourselves to the presence of  tented city, in the City, Unless the English Defence League or fox hunters pitch up and pitch their tents.