Tuesday, October 16, 2012

They know where you live

After Dudley and Birmingham councils are banned from using the DVLA database because of widespread abuse, when are we going to wake up to this fact that Big Brother is watching us at every turn? What chance patient confidentiality once they compete a national NHS database, for instance?

Puffed up

Every year or so, a group of self-appointed experts calls for drug use to be made legal. These self-same do-gooders would outlaw cigarette smoking, ban drink-drivers for life and impose a massive "fat tax" on fast food. I fear they are probably right to say we lost the "war on drugs" years ago. But if you legalise the use of drugs, surely you have to make their supply legal too. And where do you draw the line between "soft" and "hard" drugs? 

Lions and donkeys 

They couldn't run the armed forces. They wasted billions on defence systems we don't need or don't work. Now they are hiring out their services as lobbyists for foreign arms manufacturers. Are there no depths or top brass won't sink to? We lost in Afghanistan years ago. Talk about lions led by donkeys. 

Welcome to the real world 

MPs should be encouraged to have jobs outside Parliament not forced to give them up. A cap or even a ban on outside earnings would mean simply more full-time professional politicians with less and less connection with the real world. So much the worse for the rest of us. 

Yes or no to in or out? 

The Tories can fiddle about all they like with with bits of the EU but the only referendum worth its name would be a simple one: In or out? 

Abandon ship 

If they make that tedious twit Lord Turner, the euro-loving ex-CBI boss, governor of the Bank of England we may as well all abandon ship and move to Greece. 

Do you still need them? 

As we celebrate 50 years of the Beatles and the Stones prepare for more concerts, we should rejoice that John, Paul, George and Ringo gave up while the going was good. Anyone paying a grand to see the Stones must have more money than sense.



You can't trust Wikipedia, it’s a PR spinner's playground.

Go no further than the entry about Ofgem, the fatuous politically-correct, utterly toothless watchdog for the gas and electricity industries.

Not a single word of criticism is chronicled - not even Labour's pledge to scrap it, never mind criticism of its abject failure to bark, let alone bite, as our bills go up and up.
Check out its entry and you will see it's a bland corporate statement disguised as a reasonable analysis of the quiescent quango.

Friday, October 12, 2012

What if Mitchell is not lying?

Why does everyone assume Andrew Mitchell is guilty of calling the police f***ing plebs? Have we reached the point where Cabinet Ministers are automatically assumed to be liars?
Mr Mitchell should not resign as Chief Whip unless he is not telling the truth. But he has declared to the Prime Minister and the public that he did not say the words attributed to him.
Should we not believe him? He is an honourable man.
Petty bureaucrats dog us at every turn. It can be hard to keep your composure when some pathetic jobsworth is bossing you about – often just because he can.
Still, I have always assumed that if you swear at a policeman, you’ll be arrested no matter if you are a king or a clown, and serve you right.
If the police account of Andrew Mitchell’s rant is true, he should lose his job.
But what if it is untrue? What, then, are the police up to? Are they lying? And, if so, why? To undermine the Government?
One side is not telling the truth. It may be Mr Mitchell but equally it could be the police.
And if it is the police, we should be much more worried than we might be if it’s just a grumpy Minister after a long lunch.

Conservatives and conservation

When 700 people take to the streets in protest at a planning application, you'd think someone in authority might pay attention.
Alas for the residents of Hagley, their campaign is unlikely to make a blind bit of difference.
Hagley is just one of the early victims of the Government's planning free-for-all which will concrete over large swathes of countryside.
What baffles and enrages many people is that while the bulldozers prepare to dig up the Green Belt, nothing is done about the blighted, derelict wastelands we see all over the Black Country.
How can it possibly make sense for green fields to be turned into housing estates when there are hundreds of acres of brownfield land just begging to be reclaimed?
The people of Hagley are right to complain about the 175 houses to built on land sold to Cala homes by Lord Cobham.
Of course the development will put more pressure on schools and doctors and clog up the roads even more. That's what happens whenever and wherever new homes are built.
You can't really blame Lord Cobham for cashing in. It costs a fortune to run Hagley Hall and the family have been flogging off bits of the estate for decades.
The problem is that now, more than at any time since the post-war building boom, the planning system is entirely in favour of new development.
Nobody seems to care any longer where it should be allowed or who it should be for.
In its desperation to get the economy moving again, the Government is bending over backwards to accommodate the demands of property developers.
If they say they stand more chance of turning a profit by developing a green field than reclaiming some bomb site in Bilston then local councils are expected to roll over and play dead.
Indeed, the Government has created an incentive - some might call it a blatant bribe - to make sure local councils do as they are told.
It's called the New Homes Bonus and it was invented to prevent the policy of "localism" undermining Whitehall's plans to concrete over the countryside.
Localism is supposed to mean that decisions are no longer taken by anonymous civil servants and here-today-gone-tomorrow Ministers.
It's supposed to mean decisions are taken by local people for local people, in other words, by councillors.
But Ministers know that, left to their own devices, councillors can't be trusted to turn ploughshares into bulldozers.
Some councillors may get it into their heads that their job is to represent the views of the voters and that would never do.
So, while in theory regional planning policies have been scrapped, the truth is that the Government is pursuing the same old war by other means.
And one of those means is the New Homes Bonus.
Last year, councils trousered £432 million in New Homes Bonuses, which works out at £2,710 per new house built. And there's plenty more where that came from.
Thanks to this scam, Bromsgrove Council, which is responsible for deciding whether to back the Hagley homes plan, will make about £470,000 just for doing what the Government tells it to do.
Do not under-estimate the power of this sort of chicanery. Who knows? Maybe just before the next local elections, they'll announce plans to spend £200,000 on a new children's playground in Hagley and everybody will be suitably grateful.
Ironically, this policy was introduced by Grant Shapps when he was Minister for Housing. He has now been promoted to Chairman of the Conservative Party.
He definitely deserves that job because now he will have to try explaining his ludicrous housing development policies to the very Tories who will be most badly affected by them.
For, as we know, Conservatives tend to live in leafy parts like Hagley and I shouldn't be surprised to find a majority of those who took to the streets last Saturday had voted Tory at the last election.
And, of course, they are hardly unique. All over the West Midlands, Tory-voting settlements face unwanted expansion.
Yet the inner city areas which truly need reviving will continue to be neglected.
It's hardly surprising. If a developer can start with a clean sheet - a green field - it's much easier, quicker and cheaper to build a housing estate than it would be to reclaim the unwanted site of some former factory.
Yet in an era when everyone is supposedly committed to the environment, it's obvious which kind of development is "green".
The Government's job should be to make sure our millions are spent where they can do most good.
Places like Bromsgrove should actually lose money if they approve green-field developments while any bonuses should be devoted to helping developers clean up wasteland to make it suitable for new housing.
And then there are the half a million homes standing empty up and down the country - thousands of them owned by the very councils now succumbing to the Government's bribery.
Why not refurbish them and put them to good use before a single tree gets chopped down?