Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's grim down south

Variable pay in the public sector? That must mean the Government wants to pay people more to work in London and the South East and less if they’re north of Watford.

This is, of course, precisely the wrong way round. The Government would be much wiser to reduce pay for civil servants in London and the South East and/or increase it elsewhere.

At the moment, the capital city attracts too many people and costs the rest of us too much money.

A North-South divide in public sector pay would make that much worse.

Prices would rise in the South and fall elsewhere as the “regions” accustomed themselves to becoming second-class citizens.

The more affluent the capital becomes, the more affluent the capital becomes. It’s a vicious circle. It sucks in all the money we can spare so they can have Olympic arenas and cross-city railway lines.

It concentrates power and influence in the hands of those who already regard the possession of power and influence as a birthright. And it leaves the rest of the country out in the cold.

One small example: for every £1 per head spent on public transport in the West Midlands, they get £10 in London and the South East.

Londoners say that’s because their needs are so great, their city is so over-populated and it takes so long to get from A to B.

They’re right. But that’s because London sucks the lifeblood out of the rest of Britain.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

One of the few positive policies adopted by the London-centric media-political axis which runs the country was to force some of the luvvies at the BBC to move to Manchester.

It’s not grim up north but you wouldn’t know it from all the whingeing that’s gone on as a result of this modest adjustment in the way our money gets spent.

Favouring the South because travel costs are high and house prices are extortionate will not simply undo any good the BBC’s move has done. It will be a thousand times worse.

It will make it impossible for most people to move from the regions to London because they will never build up the capital required to find even the most modest lodgings in the capital.

It will entrench the privilege of London and the South East and leave the rest of the country even poorer in comparison than it is now.

The only answer is to reduce pay in London. Get rid of “London weighting” and then get rid of a bit more so that comparable public servants are worse off there than they would be elsewhere.

At a stroke, you would reduce overheating in the South East – where, even now, house prices continue to rise – and give a major boost to economies elsewhere in the country.

Overall, there would probably be a saving to the public purse as well. It would certainly be cost neutral.

People outside London and the South East should not be treated as the poor relations. We should not beg for crumbs at the rich man’s table. We should be given the respect, and the money, we deserve.

Yes, let’s have differential public sector pay scales. But not so that Londoners can be even better off than they are already.

Diddly-squatters' rights

The woman on the checkout at Budgens said it all: “Why do they think they can go on strike for better pensions when people in the private sector have ten per cent of diddly-squat to look forward to? If you ask me, I’d take away all their pensions.”

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Welcome to plan B – more money for infrastructure, more money for businesses, more money for housing developments. But most of what will happen depends on the Bundesbank.

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Why is the British taxpayer paying £110 million for redundancies at BAE?

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With record immigration and the borders agency in chaos, when will the Government do something about getting the numbers down or have they abandoned the idea altogether?

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Energy Secretary Chris Huhne says our fuel bills will fall even though he has agreed to let them rise as a result of pointless “green” taxes. He cannot justify his claims – unless we all freeze this winter. And how can we take the man seriously when the police are investigating his alleged motoring offence?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Auf Wiedersehen? Not yet

As Germany flexes its muscles and as the whole of Europe hangs on its every word, it’s worth wondering if Mrs Thatcher wasn’t, as usual, right to be worried about the resurgence of the country.

Amid all the euphoria at the time of German unification, she was nervous.

Lord Waldegrave, who was Europe Minister in 1989, says Mrs Thatcher was alarmed Germany would be an "unstoppable force" in an unbalanced Europe.

She told Russia’s President Gorbachev: "Although Nato had traditionally made statements supporting Germany's aspiration to be reunited, in practice we were rather apprehensive.

"All Europe is watching this, not without a degree of fear, remembering very well who started the two world wars."

Of course, she failed to slow the unification of Germany, admitting: "If there is one instance in which a foreign policy I pursued met with unambiguous failure, it was my policy on German reunification.”

In order the better to try to understand the Germans, she invited several historians of Germany to a meeting at Chequers on Sunday March 24, 1990.

According to the memorandum of the meeting drawn up by her foreign policy advisor, Sir Charles Powell, this included "angst, aggressiveness, assertiveness, bullying, egotism, inferiority complexes and sentimentality".

As David Cameron meets Chancellor Angela Merkel and German MPs start attacking Britain’s approach to the EU, it’s clear the real power in Europe rests in the Bundestag and the Bundesbank.

You could reasonably argue that we are, at the moment, witnessing examples of this “aggressiveness, assertiveness, bullying”.

The German Government and its bankers are calling the shots. They have deposed the elected leaders of Italy and Greece and replaced them with hand-picked, unelected placemen.

Now they are drawing up plans to take over failing economies via a European Monetary Fund.

It will only work – everyone acknowledges this – if there is genuine political union within the Eurozone, a Superstate with a centralised economic policy.

No nation state will wear this but that won’t stop the plan. It seems it even involves circumventing Cameron’s legislative pledge to hold a referendum on any change in EU treaties.

Chancellor Merkel says: "The task of our generation is to complete economic and monetary union, and build political union in Europe, step by step. That does not mean less Europe, it means more Europe."

Germany seems to think it can hide its own ambitions behind the fa├žade of the EU. The truth is that Germany runs the EU and proposes to mould the EU in its own image.

You could argue that this is a positive development. The southern basket-case economies would be forced to submit to Teutonic discipline.

On the other hand, you could argue that Germany has exploited the Euro to make its products cheaper and more competitive.

It has, in effect, been pouring money to Spain, Italy, Greece and elsewhere so that these countries can afford to carry on buying Germany’s manufactured goods.

Who is to blame when the borrower over-borrows and can’t repay his debts – the borrower or the lender?

Obviously the borrower in the first instance but, if we castigate the banks for pouring away billions of pounds in unaffordable loans, why not also blame a wealthy country like Germany for encouraging its poorer neighbours to carry on borrowing to finance a lifestyle they couldn’t afford?

Germany is guilty of lining its own pocket at the expense of other Eurozone countries and therefore has an obligation to bail them out.

Indeed, the real solution to the crisis would be for Germany to withdraw from the Euro altogether and bring back the Deutschmark.

That’s not an attractive idea in Berlin and Frankfurt because, suddenly, German products would become unaffordable and German manufacturing would take a hit while all its rivals within the EU would receive a hefty boost.

That is a reasonable long-term alternative to a European Superstate.

And there is one snag with all these proposals for “more Europe” – nobody has actually asked the peoples of the EU if it’s something they want.

They don’t ask the question for a very good reason. They know the answer would be no.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Climb up here, Rolf, you'll soon be flying


He was awarded an MBE in 1968, an OBE in 1977 and a CBE in 2006 but the time has come – give Rolf Harris the knighthood he so richly deserves.

Rolf may be an Australian but that didn’t prevent them giving Edna Everage a Damehood so why not the man who gave the world the Stylophone, the wobble board and the digeridoo?

Rolf is an excellent artist – and at least you can tell what it is he’s painted – and he’s never flogged a decomposing dingo in formaldehyde for several millions and called it “Art”.

More to the point, Rolf is responsible for some of the modern classics which should be in every household’s collection of all-time greats.

Consider, for instance, “Tie Me Kangaroo Down” with The Beatles
or the famous “Waltzing Matilda”.

Then there’s the definitive version of “Stairway to Heaven”
as well as the world’s first ambient music track, “Sun Arise”,

He may be an Aussie but let's not hold that against him. Give this man a Knighthood now.

Monday, November 07, 2011

44 varieties of rioter

Why should it come as a shock to discover that rioters from 44 countries were involved in the summer’s riots?

This country has become the last refuge of scoundrels from all over the world.

Many of them come here to get as much as they can out of our welfare state. Some will lie and cheat to fiddle the system in their favour – and, in fairness, the system is set up to make that as easy as possible.

So if there’s looting afoot, no wonder they take whatever they can get. Smash-and-grab raids result in instant gratification and flat-screen TVs.

If you’re here to get what you can get in any case, it makes perfect sense to join your fellow migrants on the rampage through our towns and cities.

These people aren’t poor, starving, huddled masses. They co-ordinated their activities via Blackberry Messenger – what a pity the system didn’t crash earlier.

A friend saw a couple of them arrive outside the Bull Ring in Birmingham with a sack full of hoodies which they handed out to their fellow thieves so everyone could enjoy some anonymity from the CCTV cameras as they went about their rampage.

Admittedly the majority of the summer rioters were home-grown. But as the prisons fill up with those who have finally been brought to justice, 14 per cent are foreign.

They are from all over the world: the courts have jailed rioters from Afghanistan, Cuba, Ethiopia, Samoa, Jamaica, Somalia, Poland, Colombia, Iraq, Congo, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

They weren’t rioting over “the cuts” – they were just enjoying the feeding frenzy and taking what they could while the going was good.

The Government is supposedly planning to get tough on these rioters. The Immigration Minister Damian Green has said more than once that foreign-born criminals should be thrown out of the country.

He declared at the time of the riots: “We strongly believe that foreign-national lawbreakers should be removed from the UK at the earliest opportunity.”

It sounds pretty straightforward – conviction, imprisonment, deportation.

What could be simpler than that except, maybe, deportation without imprisonment? Why should we pay for their board and lodging even in an overcrowded jail?

But we know already nothing is that simple when it comes to the way this country bends over backwards to accommodate undesirable aliens.

Tough-talking Mr Green has been forced to tone down his rhetoric. He now says: “Foreign nationals who were convicted of offences during the riots will be returned home wherever possible.”

Note, please, the weasel words “wherever possible”. It’s Mr Green’s get-out clause.

You might think the Government Minister in charge of immigration would have some power to say what is, and what is not, possible when it comes to chucking out foreign criminals.

You would, of course, be hugely disappointed if you put much faith in the Minister’s pronouncements.

For Mr Green is at the mercy of the European Convention on Human Rights which, as we all know, won’t even allow us to deport terrorists.

All they need is some lame excuse and they get to stay in this country no matter what they’ve done.

They may have a boyfriend and a nice cat; they may already have convictions at home which they want to avoid; they may even have British children and wives.

It’s easy to wriggle out of deportation. New Home Office figures show that – excluding the rioters – more than 5,000 foreign criminals have managed to escape being sent home.

In May this year there were 3,775 criminals who had been released from immigration detention centres because there was “no prospect of them being deported in a reasonable time”, according to John Vine, chief inspector of the UK Border Agency (not that we can trust a word that useless organisation says).

Of those, 3,259 had served sentences for low-level offences, another 429 for more serious crimes, and 87 for the most serious offences – including murder, rape and paedophilia.

On top of that, 1,600 were still behind bars after completing their sentences – costing us £55 million a year – because nobody knows what else to do with them. Another 12 had simply disappeared.

Not everyone used the Human Rights Act to escape deportation. Some refused to say what country they called home or they were due to return to “unsafe” countries.

But Mr Vine says that between February 2010 and January this year, 425 foreign prisoners – a third of those who appealed – won human rights cases against deportation. The Home Office gave another 151 permission to stay.

How much all this is costing us in Legal Aid payments to the serried ranks of human rights lawyers is anybody’s guess. But you can be pretty sure it would more than cover the cost of repairing the damage caused by the rioters in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.

Mr Green is speaking for the vast armies of law-abiding people when he says foreign rioters should be kicked out of the country as soon as possible.

His party, he may recall, promised to scrap the Human Rights Act.

Luckily for the rioters, we have a Coalition Government and the Liberal Democrats won’t let the Conservatives do any such thing. Isn’t democracy wonderful?