22 October 2014

Speaking truth to power……..

 "You break every rule of good man-management. You bully your weaker colleagues. You criticise colleagues in front of each other and in front of their officials. They can't answer back without appearing disrespectful, in front of others, to a woman and to a prime minister. You abuse that situation. You give little praise or credit, and you are too ready to blame others when things go wrong."

From a memo written in 1981 by Sir John Hoskyns to the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

8 October 2014

No wonder they are worried……...


I was listening to the news this morning and it carried a piece about the COBRA committee holding meetings regarding the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and I wondered why the government should make it such a high priority.

Then I was travelling on the Bakerloo Line and it occurred to me that there is a very good reason for the government to be worried. What would happen if some mad-person decided to turn themselves into a biological weapon. What would happen if that person deliberately sought to be infected with the Ebola virus and then travelled to any major centre of population, London, New York, Moscow, Bejing, take your pick.

You might think that its a mad idea, and it is, but we have seen people willing to turn themselves into human bombs for their cause so why not a biological bomb. And the consequences don't bear thinking about. Someone travels the Paris Metro or the New York subway or the central line in London, whilst they are infectious and touches as many people as possible, as much street furniture, railings, door knobs as possible. By the time they keel over they would have had contact with hundreds of people who would, in their turn, go on to have contacts with hundreds more.

There are plenty of books and movies which have based their premise on a similar idea but rarely have we had, in reality, enough of the key ingredients to make it possible. White Supremacists, Jihadis, Survivalists and religious extremists exist in industrial quantities and now we have Ebola. No wonder COBRA is keeping itself up to date.

2 October 2014

Thankfully not…...


Anyone who knows me well will be used to one of my favourite phrases, "I blame Margaret Thatcher". Its a phrase that I use regularly and think way more often so Hilary Mantel's new collection of short stories, titled 'The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher', rang a profound bell with me. What is interesting is that the story which lends its name to the title of the collection is based on an event in Mantel's life where she watched Thatcher from a distance. At the time it occurred to Mantel that, had she been an IRA assassin, Thatcher could easily have been dead from an IRA bullet.

Whilst on one level, the idea is really attractive, in reality, I'm glad that it didn't happen. Not because the old bag didn't deserve it but because, had it happened, we would, as a nation, have suffered far more than the damage that she inflicted upon us. She, and her policies, would have been set in stone for generations.

Thatcher's dream, being the daughter of a shop-keeper, was to turn Britain into a nation of shop-keepers or, in another way, she sought to turn Britain into a service industry island. And she succeeded. In her world, she held manual labour in contempt which was most probably the driver behind her desire to destroy unionised labour. She attacked on two fronts: on the one hand she attacked the power of the unions themselves and, on the other, she sought to destroy the employment base of the unions. In both, she succeeded and, as a consequence, today we have a nation which broadly reflects Douglas Adams' 'useless third' from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

So who does the manual labour in our post-Thatcher, 'everyone is a consultant' Britain. Well, from my limited experience, its people from abroad, from member nations of the EU, who have come to Britain to fill the gap created by Thatcher's grand plan. And now we have Nigel Farage, AKA 'Thatcher-lite', who wants to send everyone home, back to where they came from and that begs the question, 'who is going to fix the drains when all the Poles leave?'. I doubt our battalions of hairdressers are going to manage it, or management consultants so maybe our nation will have to rediscover, and honour, those manual labourers held in such overpowering contempt by that daft old bitch.

19 September 2014

Thank you, Alex


A few weeks ago I wrote, "I'd have a lot more respect for Alex Salmond if he had fought for decentralisation of the UK's existing and overbearing bureaucracies in order to deliver more services with less overheads. Had he managed that then he'd have a real argument, not for splitting Scotland away, but for applying those skills in Westminster.".

With the vote now in, and 84% of the registered electorate having cast their votes, Scotland has voted to remain within the Union by a decent, if not resounding margin of 55%:45%. But the result of the vote is going to reverberate for some time, particularly because it has raised everyone's awareness of the significance of devolution.

It will be interesting to see just how quickly Westminster can move to deliver the last minute commitments made to the Scottish people by the Leaders of the three main parties, commitments which probably had a significant effect on the result. The question now will be whether or not Westminster devolves powers across the United Kingdom, thereby diluting the significance of the Westminster Parliament.

From my own viewpoint, Westminster's 'Westminster-centric' view of the world lies at the root of the problem. The United Kingdom stretches far beyond the bounds of the Houses of Parliament but that is not the way that Westminster is perceived by most of the United Kingdom. Too much time and attention is given to matters which refer to issues within the M25 and the City of London in particular.

Westminster needs to address the needs of the United Kingdom as a whole and, had it done so in the past, the Scottish vote might never have happened. As an illustration, Westminster needs to look at infrastructure issues, not from the viewpoint of how they serve London but how they serve the United Kingdom. The current CrossRail project is causing a revitalisation of East London - why is the same approach, and funding, not applied on the Leeds/Liverpool axis?

We live under the title of the United Kingdom and Westminster has damaged the credibility of the Union by behaving as if it didn't really exist. If Westminster now changes its attitude to the rest of the United Kingdom then I will thank Alex Salmond for bringing us all closer together.

9 September 2014

The blame game……..


With the approach of the Scottish independence vote, and the very real possibility that there will be a 'Yes', I have been thinking about how we have come to this situation.

As the vote approaches it would seem that the Government made a major error of judgement in not offering the Scots any option other than a blunt Yes or No. The Government refused to include a the 'Devo-Max' option which now, at the last minute, they are being forced to propose. I don't know how many postal ballots there are in the referendum but it is lucky that they had to be sent some weeks ago when the tide was with the 'No' campaign. But how many more postal voters would have voted 'No' if they had been offered the 'Devo-Max' option as an alternative?

By the same token, would the heat be in the debate in the final days had the voters more generally been offered the 'Devo-Max' option. It seems clear that most people in Sctotland want some degree of autonomy but 'In' or 'Out' now seems too stark a choice, too beset with risks which the 'No' campaign have been forced to underline. But the Scots would seem to be moving towards a 'Yes' probably because many feel that they have nothing to loose given that they have been roundly ignored by successive governments in the last 30 or 40 years.

And this discussion highlights another, possibly more significant issue, which is the 'London-centric' view of Britain, embraced by most politicians. Owen Jones writes an excellent piece in the Guardian on the subject and describes the parade of politicians since Thatcher who have determinedly maintained the Union whilst focussing their attentions on the south in general and the health of the City of London in particular.

Depending upon whose opinion you take, the centre of the United Kingdom is somewhere along a line between Blackpool and Leeds and nearer Blackpool or, alternatively, it is somewhere on a line between Lancaster and Burnley, but nearer Lancaster. Either way, the centre of the United Kingdom is somewhere north of Westminster but, the way our politicians behave, you'd never have guessed it.

In many ways, the Scottish vote will be influenced by the way our politicians have treated the United Kingdom, as a whole, over the last 100 years. In the last 50, they have behaved as if Westminster, and the City of London, is the centre of the universe. As a direct consequence, I can't blame the Scots for voting with their feet.

28 August 2014

The global capital of buck-passing……..


The 'Today' programme (BBC Radio 4 27th August) carried an interesting interview with Rotherham Council Deputy Leader Paul Lakin who was being interviewed regarding Prof. Alexis Ray's report on child abuse in Rotherham. Cllr Lakin was pressed by John Humphries to give his opinion as to whether the Police & Crime Commissioner, Shaun Wright, should resign. Lakin was unable to state an opinion other than that it was a matter for Mr Wright and Mr. Wright alone.

Quoting from The Guardian, 'Following the publication of Jay's report on Tuesday calls also came for the head of Shaun Wright, who became the police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire two years ago following a five-year spell in charge of children and youth services on Rotherham borough council.

Though he is not criticised by name in the report, he was responsible for child protection during a period in which Jay said police and council were well aware that there was a serious problem with child exploitation in Rotherham and yet failed to act.'

Humphries went on to question Lakin further about wider responsibility across the period covered by the Ray Report. Humphries was incredulous when Cllr Lakin stated that, since 2010, he was not aware of the breadth and depth of child abuse in Rotherham. Lakin joined the Council in 1999 and stated that he had not known of any abuse reports with my inference that, he therefore bore no responsibility for what went on.

One of the facets of the Ray Report is that the perpetrators targeted care homes to gain access to their victims, very reminiscent of Savile, Cyril Smith and others and, once again, no-one accepts responsibility. How did the perpetrators gain access to care-homes? Who let them in? I can't imagine that you or I would be able to walk into a care-home, find out who was under-age and then arrange to meet, groom, abuse, rape and traffic those victims yet this seems to have happened in Rotherham and the people responsible, the people in post whilst this abuse went on, shrug their shoulders and say, 'Nothing to do with me guv'.

I don't doubt that this abuse is widespread and I don't doubt that it is ignored or covered up mostly because there is no culture of responsibility in public life today. But more importantly, many of the Rotherham victims were ignored because those in authority saw them as an underclass, not to be believed and not worthy of help.

I look back at the manner in which John Profumo responded to his own mistakes whilst in government and it is a distant memory. I am sure that Mr Lakin would have been a lot more careful about what he did or did not know if he believed that he would be responsible for everything that went on during his watch, whether he knew about it or not.

But here, on HMS Great Britain, the captain is no longer responsible, if they ever were, when the ship founders.

16 August 2014

I vote to remain part of the UK


The approaching Scottish independence vote has focussed my mind and, although I won't be allowed a vote, if I was I would be voting to remain part of the United Kingdom. Why? Because I like the 'idea' of a 'United Kingdom' even if I don't think that our Kingdom is anything approaching 'united'.

Alex Salmond has gone to great lengths to explain how Scotland would be better off as an independent state, separated from the rest of the UK, and little that he has said convinces me. Why not? Because I've watched how Scottish parliamentarians behave and its just as bad as their English, Irish and Welsh counterparts.

If the Scottish Parliament building had been delivered for £21M, as the original budget for the conversion of the old Royal High School building proposed, then I'd be impressed. But the 'upturned boat' cost £457M the last time I looked. Then there is Edinburgh's tram project which seems to have cost the thick end of £1.2Bn for one line and stops which don't benefit many of Edinburgh's residents. Then there is the second Forth Crossing (possibly called the Third Forth Crossing) required by the problems encountered with the stay wires on the original Forth Road Bridge. So £200M is pointed at a second bridge when the engineers have been able to fix the problems with the first (or second) making the second (or third) redundant.

So, as far as fiscal probity goes, the Scots don't rate as highly as I would like and that is the major issue for me about Scottish Independence. Its more than likely going to end up being Bureaucratic Dependence (on the Scottish Taxpayer). There will be more and more layers of bureaucracy on top of existing bureaucracy and, at the same time, in the remainder of the UK, those layers of bureaucracy which dealt with Scottish matters won't go away. Those running those empires will just retitle themselves to keep their jobs. So, costs both north and south of the border will rise with no benefit to anyone but friends of the various parliamentary organisations.

I'd have a lot more respect for Alex Salmond if he had fought for decentralisation of the UK's existing and overbearing bureaucracies in order to deliver more services with less overheads. Had he managed that then he's have a real argument, not for splitting Scotland away but for applying those skills in Westminster.