Archive for the ‘UK’ Category.

Ideas which won’t work

Moore, Roper exchange from A Man for a Seasons

Time to make myself unpopular with some people…

Following the awful events in Manchester on Monday evening emotions are, understandably, running high. Sadly the same cannot be said for thought processes – although this hardly uncommon even when 22 men, women and children haven’t been brutally slain by a religious fanatic. Ignoring the usual twaddle about false flags and the like which always surface after an event like this, those who are thinking with their hearts rather than their brains have come out with the usual selection of bright ideas about where we go from here. Whilst I don’t myself know how to tackle this issue sensibly (Tom and Pete offer different suggestions), it’s rather easier to spot the less sensible suggestions such as those mentioned below.

Surveillance

One of the things which most enrages people after an event such Manchester is how it turns out that the perpetrator was known to the authorities all along. This is taken to mean that they knew he (or she) was a mass murdering wannabe and therefore should have been under 24/7 surveillance, if not already rotting in a gaol cell. It should come as no surprise (but will) to learn that being known to the authorities can mean anything from knowing someone who knows someone who is considered a higher risk to being a low-level petty crook through to being someone who went to Libya on a family holiday.

The number of people on the UK’s terrorism watch list is, at present, in the region of 3,500 people. The Police and the Security Service simply do not have the manpower to keep that number of people under physical surveillance on a 24/7 basis.

Contrary to what is shown on screen, whether big or small, keeping tabs on a single person takes more than a couple of coppers hiding behind a newspaper in an unmarked car. For something more realistic think 3 teams of multiple people operating in 8 hour shifts. Once things like illness and holidays are factored in, physical surveillance of a single person can easily require two dozen people. 24 people for each of the 3,500 potential terrorists would require 84,000 bodies – and that’s before you factor in all of the analysts and other office types who occupy that building on Millbank. That figure is, very roughly, an order of magnitude above the numbers currently employed by MI5 and about two-thirds of the number of police officers across England and Wales.

Full time surveillance of each and every potential suspect there is impossible without a lot of new people (who’ll require training) and the money to pay them (unless you’re using figures suggested by Diane Abbott). The other problem which must be considered here is that in the vast majority of cases the ethnicity of those on the watch list is likely to be other than caucasian and that they will live in areas which are not predominantly occupied by melanin deficient types such as the author. Thus, in order for your surveillance teams not to stand out like a black man at a KKK rally, you’ll need to recruit people with similar skin tones who can fit in to the local communities without too much suspicion. 84,000 people from approximately 3 million UK muslims? Good luck with that.

This is why the Security Service grades those on the watch list by potential risk and focuses most of its efforts on those deemed to be most risky. Mistakes will, of course, be made and, if press reports about the suicidal criminal involved in Monday’s attack are accurate, incompetence can also not be ruled out. It will be interesting to see what the internal investigation (should we get to read any of it) has to say in this case.

Internment

Another favourite idea is to round-up all of those on the watch list and put them in a camp somewhere. Where that somewhere might be is conveniently not mentioned (unless you’re Tommy Robinson in which case you think sending them to the far side of the world is a sensible suggestion).

The UK hasn’t used internment camps in over 40 years, having last tried them in NI during the troubles with rather limited success and over the course of that particular iteration less than 2,000 people were interned. 3,500 people is a lot of people to put somewhere – or, more realistically, various somewheres since even the UK’s largest gaol (Wandsworth, since you ask) only has space for about 1,800 souls. Given how difficult it is to build new housing in this country, building 10 or 20 new sites to house that many people is not going to happen quickly. Does the State, one of the biggest land owners in the country, have the necessary amount of (now unused) land which could be repurposed in a shorter space of time?

This discussion of where to put all these is people though is somewhat secondary. Short of taking a scythe to the law of the land (to the applause, no doubt, of William Roper) such measures would be thrown out by the judiciary in short order should they somehow manage to pass through parliament.

Deportation

If surveillance and internment won’t work, surely offshoring (to borrow a phrase) the problem would work? As with internment this idea runs in to the twin problems of legality and location. If, like the person responsible for the attack in Manchester, they are a British national with no other nationality to their name then there is no country of origin to send them to and the Geneva Convention of 1961 (of which the UK is a signatory) precludes rendering someone stateless.

For those who aren’t British nationals or who have dual nationality then the system would at least know where to send them, subject to proving in a court of law that their deportation is justified. Since the security services will not disclose what information they have on such people to an open court it is rather unlikely that this will happen.

Conclusion

As I said in my introduction, I don’t have any answers as to how to solve this particular problem. There are somethings which could help (an Islamic reformation; weaning ourselves off of our dependence on Saudi Arabian oil; stability, rule of law and economic growth in places like Libya, Pakistan and Afghanistan) but those are long-term strategic goals rather than immediate tactical objectives.

A problem we can solve

Over at City Metric, John Elledge is telling London commuters to stop worrying and learn to love today’s tube strike and the unions involved in it. Whilst he correctly notes that it’s not just the drivers who have withdrawn their labour, he has this paean to why what is a mostly dull (but occasionally very awful) job is worth the money:

It’s also a reward for the fact that it’s a pretty miserable job. Not as miserable as being a soldier, admittedly – but certainly more miserable than being, say, a newspaper columnist.

Think about what driving a tube train actually involves. It’s shift work, so sometimes you’ll start at 5am and others you’re working til gone midnight. Whatever time you start, you’ll be spending approximately eight hours in a small box on your own, doing a series of mind numbingly repetitive tasks, but unable to lose concentration for even a moment.

In that time, you can’t read a newspaper. You can’t waste 20 minutes chatting with a colleague. You certainly can’t tweet about how bored you are. On certain lines, you’ll barely see daylight. And there’s a not insignificant chance that, one day, someone will jump in front of your train, and you’ll have to live with the guilt.

Lord knows there are some terrible jobs out there that don’t come with £50k pay packets, but… I’m kind of okay with paying people well to do that job. A lot of the people who’ll be spending today whining, “Well I don’t earn that much” also don’t have jobs that are quite that shitty.

Dull? Boring? Repetitive? Best Transport for London gets on with automating the entire network then and frees up the drivers to do something more enjoyable.

The price of a soul

Judas sold out for the sum of 30 pieces of silver. Two millennia later it would appear that the former director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, has decided that her price is a peerage and a position in the shadow cabinet.

Is that, adjusted for inflation, more or less than Judas got?

The EU Referendum Question

Having been thoroughly disparaging about the campaigns themselves, let me now turn my attention to the matter under discussion…

The question before us, come June 23rd, is:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Now go and read it again before continuing. Think carefully about what it says.

A Venn diagram showing the political organisations of Europe

The political organisations of Europe and how they overlap.

This is not a vote to leave the European Economic Area (EEA), aka single market. Nor is it one to leave Customs Union or the Council of Europe. Voting to leave will not remove us from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). If any of these were on the table then I’ve no doubt that the Electoral Commission would have ensured that the question said so. Our MPs, whether you like it or not, have also made it clear that any move to leave all of the European political organisations would never make it through the House of Commons even if the government was minded to propose such an option – which it won’t be.

That no shortage of people on the ‘Leave’ side believe that a successful vote means we will be able to, in short order, wave goodbye to all of the European political institutions is but a demonstration of how foolish this entire discussion has been. I won’t say become because, frankly, it was dire even before the campaign began. Complete withdrawal – a notion not discouraged by the leading public faces of the ‘Leave’ campaign – might play well with their more fervent supporters but it does not sway undecided voters to the cause. It also plays in to the hands of the ‘Remain’ camp by allowing them to portray those of us who wish to leave the EU as extremists and isolationists, however false those generalisations might be, and point to the various reports (of varying credibility) that detail how bad (the organisations that produced them think) such a course of action would be.

Traffic light comparison of EU and EEA status

How EU and EEA membership compares

All a vote to ‘Leave’ will do is inform our elected representatives in the House of Commons that the majority (however slim) of the electorate who voted wish to depart the EU. Assuming that the government chooses to listen (which, since it is not a binding vote, they don’t have to) then the sensible course of action would be to negotiate the UK’s departure in such a way to cause the least possible disruption, i.e. move it to the next ring out on the Venn diagram above. Such a move leave the UK free to rejoin the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), along side Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland, and the UK’s membership of that organisation would result in it becoming the fourth largest trade block in the world.

Brexit will not lead to an immediate bonfire of EU regulations since these things will take time (read years) to untangle and Article 50 only provides for a two-year negotiation window. Nor will it result in the closing of the borders to immigration or the ejection of EU, EEA and EFTA migrants already here – however much some may fantasize that it will. The idea that only by remaining can the Tories be stopped from destroying the welfare state and returning us to the 1930s is equally as fanciful since there is no hope of any party being able to push such legislation through both houses without significant rebellions and general outrage even if they were brave enough to propose it.

A flow chart of Global Governance

How EU and EFTA members states interact with global organisations

What leaving the EU does mean is that the UK would be able to retake its seats at global bodies such as the World Trade organisation (WTO) where the EU has assumed exclusive competence. It would also once again be free to act in its own interests rather than being overruled and having to follow the party line in organisations where the EU insists on shared competence and block voting. This would allow it to have its say on new regulations before they reach the EU for rubber stamping.

Remaining in the EU is not a vote for the status quo. Whilst politicians on that side of the fence may pretend otherwise, ever closer union is the goal and the UK, having a permanent opt-out of the Euro (along with Denmark), will become increasingly isolated within the decision-making process as the EU will continue to favour the expanding membership of the single currency, a group that will eventually include all recent (and future) members since their ascension treaties stipulate that they must eventually join it. The only way for the UK to have any chance of increasing its ability to influence this would be for it to go all in…

Whether we ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ in the EU the UK will still be a member of NATO and one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, it will control one of the most powerful military forces on the planet as well as being one of the few nuclear powers, and be a member of the Five Eyes signals intelligence initiative (amongst other things).

The UK’s position as a global power will not go away if the UK remains but leaving will allow it to regain some influence in the world at large since doing so will once again allow it to speak freely at all of the world’s top tables as a leading economic power and trading nation should.

This was originally posted at Libertarian Home last Thursday (June 16th).

Lies, damned lies and the EU referendum campaign

With only a few days to go now, the end of the European Union referendum campaign is, after four months, finally (and many would say thankfully) within sight. At the moment of writing the polls are saying that it is too close to call although the bookies still reckon ‘Remain’ will win. Judging by some of the recent output from the ‘Remain’ camp, the tightening polls have seemingly put the wind up them as they awake to the possibility that this whole business is not necessarily going to be the cakewalk they may have thought it would be.

To say that this has been an awful campaign characterised by deliberate disinformation, half-truths, scare tactics, poppycock, threats and outright lies would be to understate exactly how bad the approach by each side has been. Between daft statements about the future of our national religion the NHS, inflated estimates of what our annual contribution to the EU budget is, xenophobic dog-whistles regarding immigration, warnings from the great and the good (as well as the not as good)* about an economic downturn to rival that of 2008, and the potential outbreak of another global conflict (to name but a few) there has been little sensible discussion from the vast majority of the political establishment and the commentariat that feed upon them.

With the most prominent figures in both official campaigns all being Conservatives MPs, one could be forgiven for thinking that the other parties are barely involved given how lacklustre their contributions have generally been. Even Nigel Farage has, at least in media terms, been quieter than one might have expected. This apparent lack of input (or attention paid to it anyway) does little to dissuade the more cynical that this whole thing is, in some quarters, less about our relationship with Europe and its political bodies and more an extended hustings over who gets to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister at some point between now and the next scheduled general election in 2020. (Putting my prognostication cap on for a moment, I would say that it is highly unlikely that any of the prominent individuals involved, i.e. Osborne, Johnson and Gove, will get the job.)

Away from the internal Conservative squabbles, both official campaigns often seem to think that they are fighting a general election with wild spending promises of what we could do with our annual contributions instead (Leave) matched by calls for a credible exit plan (Remain) rather than a referendum one. This nonsensical approach is perhaps because the UK doesn’t (despite this being the third prominent one in five years) have much experience with referenda and so the major participants are taking what they do know and trying to see if all of the skill set is transferable.**

Whatever the eventual result, the last few days are going to be full of plenty more twaddle and there is going to be a lot of nail-biting on both sides before the result is announced come the 24th.

This was originally posted at Libertarian Home last Monday (June 13th before the Labour MP Jo Cox was killed. Her murder, senseless as it was, and the aftermath of it have only reinforced my opinions about the contemptible behaviour of both campaigns.

* As an aside, how many favours has David Cameron had to call in and how many does he now owe as a result?

** Yes, I’m aware that Matthew Elliott ran the ‘No’ campaign in the AV referendum but there is a difference between fighting for the status quo (as he was then) and against it*** when you have to make all the running.

*** Not that ‘Remain’ is a vote for the status quo.

Freedom’s Price

Never one to miss an opportunity to suck up to the bully, Labour scion Dan Hodges barely manages to allow the bodies of those murdered in the Paris attacks on Friday to cool off before using his Torygraph column to call for us to welcome even more state intrusion in to our lives by supporting the monstrously illiberal Communications Data Bill (aka the Snooper’s Charter). This will, he believes*, ensure that London isn’t itself the target of such an atrocity.

He offers no evidence as to why we should do so, just the emotive plea of someone who thinks that he can gain security by sacrificing the civil liberties of 65m or so people.

Since his only attempt to justify this piece of useful idiotry when confronted on twitter was to repeatedly pretend that all the security services wish to do is have a look through people’s browsing history – as if that isn’t bad enough given the state’s propensity to try to hang you for what they find on your hard disk if they can’t get you for what they initially wanted – I thought I’d deliver a cold hard dose of reality to him and anyone else who thinks that this piece of legislation is a great idea…

The brutal truth, although you might not like it very much, is that the price of living in a liberal democracy is that occasionally we will be the victims of an outrage such as we saw in Paris on Friday night.

No, that doesn’t mean I want to see people murdered in cold blood. Nor does it mean that I disapprove of sensible precautionary measures that may prevent incidents (such as not allowing those with mental health issues to have access to firearms**).

What it does mean is that I am an intelligent, grown-up human being who accepts the possibility of it occurring rather than someone who is so scared that something bad might happen to me that I wish to sacrifice my freedom in order to be swaddled in the dubious comfort blanket of the police state.

Capisce?

* Whilst, no doubt, furiously working himself in to a state of pleasure at the thought of Theresa May in black leather standing over him praising him for this loyalty to the cause.

** Related to this is the need to stop kicking meaningful mental health reform in to the long grass.

At the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

Field of poppies

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

In the last 12 months the following have died whilst in the service of their country:

  • Roberts, Geraint
  • Scott, Alan
  • Campbell, Michael
  • Sawyer, Jamie
  • Warrender, Charles
Image taken from pixabay

List of British military deaths courtesy of the BBC

Funding Auntie

Following on from Sunday’s leak/pre-announcement, yesterday saw the actual announcement of a host of changes to the licence fee.

In summary:

  • The licence fee will survive for at least another 5 years
  • The cost of the licence fee will rise by inflation, ending 7 years of price freezes
  • The government intends to alter the scope of the TV licence to include catch-up services
  • The BBC is take over the cost of subsiding free TV licences for those 75 and over

I’m not, you probably won’t be surprised to hear, a fan of the licence fee, considering it to be nothing more than a tax on watching live television. I’d much rather see the BBC funded though one or more of advertising, subscription or micro-payments.

For myself, I’ve not paid the tax since the analogue signal was switched off in my area in 2012. Having a (now) rather ancient, in technological terms, CRT set and no way to pick up the digit signal via it, I made the decision to stop watching and save myself £145.50 a year.

Like many I am though known to watch programmes via catch-up, an entirely legal (at present) approach which was last week blamed by Auntie for costing it £150m and 1,000 jobs. As if it has a right to that money.

If the government does go ahead and remove this ‘loophole’, I shall either stop watching anything on iPlayer altogether or use a VPN on the odd occasion when I do want to watch something. Either way, the BBC won’t be getting a penny out of me (directly at any rate) unless I buy some of its shows on DVD.

The sneaky, and perhaps downright nasty, move though is lumbering the BBC with the costs of subsiding the licence fee for those 75 and over. Previously this ‘freebie’, introduced by Gordon Brown in 2001, has been borne by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and is estimated to currently cost the taxpayer £631m.

Sneaky because it gets it off the government books and means that the BBC has to swallow the cost yet nasty because it is not the choice of the BBC to provide this subsidy and there is no way for them to withdraw it without finding themselves getting it in the neck from a lot of people and organisations.

If the government (rightly or wrongly) wishes to subsidise something it should pick up the tab itself (with taxpayer money) rather than pass the cost of doing so on to another party which has no power to end it.

By her actions shall you know @charlottechurch

Welsh choir girl Charlotte Church has declared that she would be happy to pay a higher rate of income tax ‘to protect public services‘:

“I have paid all my tax since I was 12 years old, and I would certainly be happy if the rate was 60% or 70%. I wouldn’t move away, I wouldn’t have an offshore account.

“That would be totally fine, for better infrastructure and public services and more of a Scandinavian model, which I see as far more progressive than the way we are, I would be absolutely fine with that.”

Leaving her utter ignorance of the ‘Scandinavian system’ to one side, if she really is quite happy to pay even more tax on any earnings then all she has to do is send a cheque for whatever amount she deems sufficient to HM Treasury, Unit 1, Horse Guards Road, London SW1A 2HQ and tell them where she would like it spent.

Anyone care to give me odds on her actually doing this? Long, aren’t they?

What Charlotte really means is that she’d prefer it if the government stole that proportion of income from all of us, including her.

Until she puts her hand in her pocket and voluntarily pays tax at a rate she’d impose on me then she is nothing more than yet another left-wing blow hard who refuses to put her money where her mouth is until forced to do so under threat of violence.

General Election 2015

And so the race is run. The dullest election campaign in (my) memory has finally drawn to an end and now the polling stations have opened. The public, those that haven’t died of boredom that is, will now proceed to turn out in their droves (about 6 in 10 or so anyway) at the local school, church or other selected venue over the course of next 15 hours in order to select their preferred lizard. Meanwhile the party leaders will show up at their polling stations at some pre-arranged time so that they can have their picture taken with their partner whilst they cast their ballot before retiring home to chew their finger nails and hope and pray that they have convinced enough people that their party is the right option.

I, for the first time since 1997, will not be bothering. Not bothering to such an extent that this time around I’m not even on the electoral register. Sadly for the local candidates this means that they will be deprived of the opportunity to scan quickly over anything unpleasant I might otherwise have said about them come the count.

If this vacuous election campaign has proved one thing, it is that fixed term parliaments might sound good on paper but are, in reality, a damn stupid idea and should be dispensed with ASAP. Better a short, sharp campaign than one which goes on for 5 years.

THe only thing left to find out is how close the opinion pollsters are to reality – and that is why I intend to spend this evening in a pub giving my liver and kidneys a thorough workout. Perhaps by this time tomorrow I will have a better idea of how extra lube I’m going to need for the next 5 years in order to cope with the depredations the next government inflicts on me.