The Curmudgeon


Friday, February 29, 2008

The Warrior's Return

He's taken on the Taliban;
Biffed them a jolly whack -
And now we all know he's a Man,
Our Princey's coming back.

He's camped with Mr Cameraman;
He took some awful flak.
He's proven he's no also-ran;
And now he's coming back.

Rejoice, rejoice, thou Royals fan,
And heed the Pressmen's pack:
Put out the flags, he's got a tan!
And he is coming back.

We're winning in Afghanistan;
We're winning in Iraq;
Well done, that little Windsor man!
Our precious Princey's back!

Hypoplasia Drabble

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hard Sell

The general in charge of hawking the missile defence boondoggle seems to have been drinking too much miracle tonic recently. At a conference in London today he presented a sales pitch on a par with Condi's New York mushroom cloud or Tony's forty-five minutes from doom. Lieutenant General Henry Oberling "described a hypothesis in which in 2015 Iran announces it has long-range missiles with a nuclear capability and Europe does not have a missile defence system. Iran blocks the Straits of Hormuz and provokes terrorist attacks in Europe", presumably just for the hell of it. As a result, "there are riots in Europe and only Athens and Rome are protected from Iranian missile attack". This would lead to "fractures in the alliance" as the US roundly scolds its allies for failing to adopt the modern miracle of missile defence when they had the chance.

However, with the modern miracle of missile defence, "we can defeat the missiles and dissuade Iran", a country the Bush administration claims has not been dissuaded from attempting to manufacture nuclear weapons even in the face of the biggest arsenal in the world; and European leaders would be able to "bide time", which is what European leaders like to do. "The decisions we make today, right now, will shape the future," Oberling said, handily adapting the tagline from the film Gladiator. He also proposed another possibility for the year 2015 in which "al-Qaida would capture ships and nuclear-armed missiles"; obviously, with the modern miracle of missile defence, this too would be nothing to worry about. Few things would deter a nuclear-armed al-Qaida more effectively than some missiles which were pointed at Russia in order to deter Iran, and which the Bush administration said would work.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Unique Selling Point

Daveybloke, the Cuddly Conservative, has at last come up with a winner: he has somehow induced Lord Tebbit of Raleigh and Dunlop to fly off the handle with a "strongly worded" letter in tomorrow's Spectator. Tebbit accuses Daveybloke of introducing "Blair worship" as "the doctrine of modern compassionate Conservatism", and thus alienating those voters who were so brilliantly wooed by the likes of Michael Howard, Iain Duncan Smith, William Hague and Edwina Currie's little friend. He calls the Iraq invasion "bungled" - presumably Tony was weak rather than wicked - and fulminates about "sensational increases in tax without measurable improvement in services, and the debauchment of the civil service". Worst of all is Blair's record when it comes to immigrant-bashing: "It was Blair who introduced uncontrolled, unmeasured immigration of people determined not to integrate, but to establish, first ghettos, and now demands for separate legal jurisdiction". No doubt he has also failed to fiddle the unemployment figures sufficiently, or to put enough people in prison, for the satisfaction of the noble lord: "In biblical terms, Blairism is the poisonous tree which can give forth only poisonous fruit and must be rooted out."

This is, of course, a brilliant coup for Daveybloke, who has been flailing around for years "seeking to occupy the political centre ground"; or, in Oldspeak, seeking to get into power without actually offering to change anything much. War, privatisation and foreigner-baiting are all very well; but they don't add up to much of a programme as long as the Government is already doing them, even if one does have the personal advantage of not being Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. On the other hand: war, privatisation, foreigner-baiting and the implacable hatred of Lord Tebbit - now, that's the sort of manifesto an electorate can sink its teeth into.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Iraqi Employees: Fine Words, Shabby Deeds

Here is Dan Hardie again, on the level of commitment being shown by the British government in removing from danger those who have helped it in uniquely difficult circumstances. It seems that a few people - perhaps less than a dozen - were evacuated from Iraq last autumn, and that since then nothing has been done, even for those entitled to aid under the Government's contorted criteria of having been continuously and directly employed for a period of not less than twelve months. Obviously, this is good enough for the likes of New New Labour. If your own standards are higher, write to your MP, raising some or all of the talking points given in Dan Hardie's post. As always, please be polite.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Free at the Point of Use

An eighty-eight-year-old man, who was a pilot in the Second World War and has thus earned the sympathy of the British press, is being denied NHS treatment to save his sight. He is having to sell his house in order to pay for a course of injections because the local primary care trust says he does not qualify for free drugs. Apparently the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (aka the Corporate Relational Acronym People) "has not issued final guidelines on the relevant treatments", and the trust has decided upon a liberal interpretation of a thoughtful dictum by Patsy Hackitt, the Patients' Friend, that the lack of guidelines "should not be a bar" to patients receiving drugs. "We have been trying to get the criteria that they use but they're very elusive about this," the beneficiary said, adding uncharitably: "We suspect the older you are the less inclined they are to pay for you."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Accentuate the Positive

An eminent consultant at the Institute of Psychiatry in London has published a book called How Sadness Survived which, if the Observer's Whitehall editor has understood it correctly, argues that depression is a Good Thing because "it can give people an increased resilience to cope with life's challenges". Depression is also "far from being a modern malaise", since "Aristotle saw it as a state of immense moral and spiritual value because of the insights it could bring". Of course, there is no doubt that Aristotle was talking about exactly the same state of mind to which we now refer as "depression"; not least because, like tragedy, democracy and quack medicine, it "has been with us for thousands of years".

Depression causes pain and disability in the United Kingdom to the tune of around seventeen thousand million pounds a year, and Dr Paul Keedwell has written his book in order to understand how such a thing has withstood the "evolutionary changes" which have taken place over the past few millennia. After all, if the human species has evolved to the extent that it can produce Dr Paul Keedwell, sadness would appear self-evidently to be a mere atavistic relic, on a par with flared jeans or the vermiform appendix. "Doctors are divided over why it is so common", but Dr Paul Keedwell believes that it "has simply adapted in the human species to actually give us some long-term benefits" - just as one would expect from a painful and crippling condition. "In its severe form it is terrible and life-threatening", despite which patients tend to "see themselves as broken in some way"; but Dr Paul Keedwell believes that "for many it is a short-term painful episode that can take you out of a stressful situation for a while". Pain being self-evidently more beneficial than stress, this is obviously a wonderful thing. Depression can also "give us new and quite radical insights" and "it can give us a way of responding effectively to challenges we have in life" and "it can help people to find a new way of coping with events or your situation - and give you a new perspective, as well as making you more realistic about your aims". It appears that depression has all the practical benefits of a weekend at a self-help course, besides being nearly as much fun to get through.

Dr Paul Keedwell has apparently based his conclusions on a recent survey of Dutch adults which showed that "their vitality, their social interaction and their general health actually improved on recovery" from their depression. That is, they were better when their depression had lifted, and when the circumstances which led to their depression were in the past. This is certainly revolutionary. Those who were socially isolated, or who had drink or drug problems, did not do so well; perhaps because they were unable to benefit from the full force of the depression which results from the proximity of one's neighbours and a clear head.

Update: Dr Paul Keedwell has courteously directed my attention to this piece, which he wrote himself and which offers a more nuanced précis of his arguments than the Whitehall editor at the Observer.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Brussels: Not Intrusive Enough

Those evil people in Brussels, who have so often and so deservedly been spattered with tabloid rhetoric because of their insane urges to ban potato crisps or regulate the bends in the British banana, are considering "controversial anti-terror plans that would collect up to 19 pieces of information on every air passenger entering or leaving the EU". Since they already supply the same information to the Americans for all passengers flying between Europe and the United States, presumably it seems a shame to waste it on the Bush administration. Civil libertarians and data protection officials have said the scheme is draconian and probably ineffective; but a majority of EU governments, who know better as usual, have indicated support.

As is traditional, the government here on the mainland has taken care to isolate itself at the heart of Europe; but not, as is also traditional, by simply sulking until an opt-out is granted. This is not the social chapter, after all; this is to do with snooping, spying, and above all being draconian and probably ineffective. All of these are, of course, New Labour specialties. Accordingly, the British government is the only one of the twenty-seven EU member states which "wants the system extended to sea and rail travel, to be applied to domestic flights and those between EU countries" and "to be able to exchange the information with third parties outside the EU", since even snooping and spying and being inefficient isn't much good unless it can be done by private companies and, no doubt, the US department of homeland security and perhaps the corresponding departments of our friends in China and Saudi Arabia too.

The British government has been monitoring flights from Pakistan and the Middle East under an arm-waving exercise called Operation Semaphore, and claims it has "resulted in hundreds of arrests" of rapists, drug smugglers and child traffickers. As usual when on solid ground, the Ministry of Data Confidentiality Within the Bounds of Economic Feasibility was apparently too modest to say how many of these arrests resulted in a conviction.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Explicit Assurances

The Upper Miliband has admitted that, contrary to "earlier explicit assurances", British territory has been used as a stopover for two flights involved in the Bush administration's kidnap-and-torture racket. Apparently this constitutes an "embarrassment". The territory in question was Diego Garcia, the island in the Indian Ocean which the British government stole from its inhabitants so that our closest and most valued ally could put an air base on it. As one would expect, the Bush administration did not inform the British government at the time because it was "not legally obliged" to do so; and we all know how seriously the Bush administration takes its legal obligations. However, the CIA are now "as confident as they can be" that no other kidnapees have been flown through Britain during the War on the Abstract Noun. The CIA also explicitly assures us, doubtless equally reliably, that neither of the victims who were on the flights that landed at Diego Garcia "was ever part of the CIA's high-value terrorist interrogation programme" - in other words, they were not tortured, only kidnapped and held without trial. The flights were "mistakenly overlooked in previous US internal inquiries carried out at the UK's behest", which shows just how much trouble our closest and most valued ally is prepared to take on our behalf.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

That's the Beauty of Gas

The advantages of the free market are once more in evidence as British Gas regretfully announces a five hundred per cent rise in profits. Between January and March last year, the price of wholesale gas fell because of mild weather and a new pipeline; but the company was nonetheless obliged to increase its prices by fifteen per cent last month. "Sharp falls in the price of gas in winter 2006 led to unexpected profits in British Gas early in 2007, but rising costs later in the year also mean that analysts expect margins in the second half to be very thin," said a spokesbeing; it is not clear whether the margins will be thin relative to the five hundred per cent profits, the fifteen per cent increase, or the customers who have to decide between heating and eating. We must also not forget that British Gas, like all energy companies, is making massive sacrifices because of the need to "invest heavily to improve ... environmental performance and develop renewable power". British Gas has apparently made a start by "scrapping its final-salary pension scheme". However, they do run a great many call centres, which no doubt explains why British Gas "receives up to five times as many complaints as its rivals".

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Friends Like Those

Forces of conservatism in Europe are out to sabotage the paradigm shift which would result from going the third way by following the flux of the kaleidoscope into the hand of history. In Oldspeak, there are certain people who do not want the former Downing Street doggie as President of Europe. Even the German chancellor, who for reasons best known to herself has "great personal sympathy for Tony", does not think much of the prospect. "He made a lot of fine speeches about Europe but, essentially, stood on the sidelines when it came to concrete steps forward," according to unofficial spokesbeings; and there is also "his commitment to the Iraq war, Britain's high rates of Euroscepticism, the government's half-hearted ambivalence towards the EU and Gordon Brown's battles over the past six months to exclude the UK from several key elements of the Lisbon treaty by 'defending Britain's red lines' against the rest of Europe". As one Hans-Gert Pöttering observed with typical Teutonic pedantry, "it would certainly help a country to get the job if it decided to opt in"; but of course opting in has never really been Tony's way unless Maggie did it first or there's a chance to play soldiers. Still, he does have some support among leaders "in eastern Europe", where god-bothering right-wingers are more in fashion; and from such progressive paragons of responsible statesmanship as Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas "Racaille" Sarkozy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

General Doron Almog Reprise

Scotland Yard have issued an explanation of the non-arrest of General Doron Almog, for whom a warrant was issued in 2005 concerning his alleged demolition of fifty-nine Palestinian homes. "Under British law," says the Guardian, "war crimes should be treated so seriously that even if they are committed abroad, UK courts have jurisdiction to try suspects"; but only if the suspects condescend to go where police are waiting to arrest them. Almog was tipped off about the warrant and, as befits an officer and a gentleman, sat on his El Al plane at Heathrow for two hours until it took off for Israel. The British police considered boarding the aircraft, but refrained from doing so because they were afraid of being shot by Israeli guards doing a wonderful job under difficult circumstances. The officer in charge was unsure of his legal right to board the plane without permission from El Al, and "the time scale involved made it impossible to receive the appropriate advice before the El Al flight was due to return to Israel". Apparently it did not occur to anyone to stop the plane taking off until the matter was settled, since the escape of a suspected war criminal is as nothing compared to the prospect of delays at Heathrow.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Grin of the Dark

Ramsey Campbell's The Grin of the Dark is the story of an aspiring film critic, Simon Lester, who is attempting to research Tubby Thackeray, a comedian from the silent era who turns out to be perhaps not quite forgotten enough. At first glance, the book looks like a comic remake of Campbell's Ancient Images (1989), but The Grin of the Dark is a much grimmer and more disturbing work than that entertaining but lightweight novel.

As in Ancient Images, old films and atavistic rites both feature strongly, but they are much more satisfactorily integrated than in the earlier novel, in which the "lost" 1930s horror film, Tower of Fear, is little more than a McGuffin, and is certainly nowhere near as horrible as Tubby Thackeray's two-reelers from the teenies. Campbell's descriptions of the sadistic slapstick which Thackeray's opera both depict and apparently induce may amuse some; I found myself sympathising, for once in my life, with the British film censor. Lester's use of the internet as a research tool enables Campbell to add to his protagonist's woes with harassment on the Internet Movie Database by a troll who may be a ghost, and Campbell's habitual use of spidery and cobwebby images gains a new and disturbing sense of threat from the world-wide web.

Campbell's depictions of family life in his novels have often tended towards the sentimental, as in The Influence and the otherwise magnificent Midnight Sun; but his decision to narrate The Grin of the Dark entirely from Lester's increasingly distorted perspective shuts off the exits. There are no saner characters into whose frightened but still normal minds we can flee for a temporary respite; indeed, few of the secondary characters in The Grin of the Dark seem to have much in the way of minds at all. Lester's partner Natalie is sympathetic, but as Lester's state of mind becomes more and more disturbed she simply grows more distant as the novel progresses. Her parents and Lester's are meddling, muddled, vicariously ambitious grotesques who twist every word said to them, while Lester's bumptious editor rewrites his scholarly work-in-progress into overly combative journalese. Even Mark, Natalie's seven-year-old son, becomes ambiguous in his enthusiasm about Tubby Thackeray and his wish to help Lester with his research.

In its concern with language as a vehicle for supernatural manifestation and/or mental breakdown (as usual with Campbell, the boundaries between the two are far from clear), The Grin of the Dark also resembles such stories as "End of the Line", "McGonagall in the Head" and "Becoming Visible". Like the last of those tales, and like Campbell's outstanding novella Needing Ghosts, it makes effective use of the present tense: a horror story told in the past tense holds at least the implicit comfort that it's all over by the time you read it, but The Grin of the Dark carries the clear implication that what happens to Simon Lester not only could happen, but is already happening, to the rest of us.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Think of the Children and Lynch a Pervert

New New Labour continues its break with the bad old days as the Minister of Improved Fitness for Purpose dusts off a Spy-4-Yourself Law so sane, humane and workable as to be shelved even under the previous management, who thought the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act a jolly good idea. Presumably because the News of the World appears to want it, the Minister has agreed "to trial (sic) a scheme allowing single mothers to run checks on prospective new partners to ensure they have no child-sex convictions" and to enable "checks on family members or neighbours who regularly look after their children"; family members and neighbours being the only practicable dumping-grounds given New Labour's massive provision of nursery-school places, crêche facilities and so forth. The police and probation services will, of course, "exercise strict controls over what information is revealed". Perhaps the Government plans to compel use of the famously invulnerable biometric identity cards by paedophiles as well as by foreigners, before giving the rest of us the choice. Until that happy day, since even convicted paedophiles may possibly have sufficient imagination to change their names if they wish to indulge in further boarding-school antics, it is not entirely clear what the new checks will achieve, except perhaps the sense that single mothers, too, may be allowed to participate in the forthcoming Citizens' Police State.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fat Cat Phish

From: "darlingbloke"
Date: Sat Feb 16 2008 4:00pm Europe/London
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: valentine public S C R E \/\/ with executive next Door

Dear thrusting Executtive Freind!!!!

i am darlingbloke i am in chrage of FREE economoney whihch gives yuo Reward. i amn Freind of Businesiness i am darlinbgloke Darling Bloke bloke. therere isn asbolutley Nothing wrogn whith giveing Somebodody a reward butt at the presmnet time when poeople are Going thruopugh these Dificultys thaT is smoethnibg the Baords have got to look at. i am darlingbloke in chrage of UK thrusting economomy whijhich is facing Difuculty Year so regretababaly i am Not going to loook at it myslef. i am Freind of Busniness darling i am Darling bloke. Youu shuold behave rsponsbibly i dnont have any poprblem with the Cheif Exexetive of a Bnak or Oil Comppany getting Reward for doing the righght Thnig by thr Company there is NO OBLIGATION TO thrusrting difficvult UK ecomnomny but if yuo cnanot jutsify to your next door nieghbour who may psossibly wrok for a Poorer company and nott gett as big Bonus Reward you shuold Thnik Again. yuo have gottt to be Abel to say to peopoelele here is somoenone who made a Dificulty Deferance Difierance the Reward may be a Lot bttut he has Jutsititified itt to his nexdore nighbore.

Thank Yuo for your Atttttentioin.

Yorus incincerelyly

darlingBl;oleloke darling Bloke




Friday, February 15, 2008

Dippy Wicks

The Minister for Nuclear Profitability, Malcolm Wicks, has insisted that New New Labour is showing "leadership" in the area of renewable energy. As usual with attributes that display positive connotations - responsibility, viability, toughness, sensibleness, positivity, non-inflationariness and the rest - "leadership" in this case means cutting back funds and then doing one's best to cover the damage with a nice, thick, gloopy coating of rhetoric. Grants for households to install solar, wind or water power are being underspent; the programme for low carbon buildings has been "reformed", hence cut, and the maximum grant for solar PV has also been reformed to a level that makes the systems uneconomical. In fact, the only European countries showing a greater level of leadership than the mainland are Malta and Luxembourg.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not Just George's Poodle

The recently-departed Downing Street doggie, whose unerring sense of the godliness of wealth was apparent long before he joined the Catholic church, has been accused of rolling over in response to pressure by the House of Saud. Supposedly, Tony applied "irresistible pressure" upon his chum Peter Goldsmith, who was attorney general at the time, to end the BAE corruption inquiry by the Serious Fraud Office. Of course, pressure that is irresistible to Peter Goldsmith may not be a particularly serious matter in itself, since Goldsmith's adamantine determination in defence of the law is almost as well known as the wit of Kim Howells or the dignity of Boris Johnson; but Tony's actions have been called unlawful and, of all things, "based on tainted advice". The assistant director of the Serious Fraud Office was told that there was a risk to "British lives on British streets". Lord Justice Moses said today that, unless there was a threat of "imminent harm", the situation might have been used by "any villain". It is not clear whether the threat to British lives would have come into effect forty-five minutes after the continuation of the SFO's inquiry; so we must be duly grateful that high office in the British government is not open to just any villain.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Constitutionally Incapable

The Minister for Incarceration and Deportation, Jack the Suit, is working on "a proposed British bill of rights and responsibilities", doubtless including an appropriate dress code, and "a British statement of values". He believes that "there is a wide understanding that English constitutional documents such as the Magna Carta are profoundly important to the way we have developed as a society", and it is obvious that this deplorable situation cannot be allowed to continue. He also believes that "the British people have developed an innate understanding of rights", which has inveigled itself into "our cultural DNA" and, as is well known, has caused many of New New Labour's present difficulties, as when people object to Magna Carta being torn up so that terrorists can be stopped from changing our way of life. Fortunately, "most people might struggle to put their finger on what [their] rights are, or in which texts they are located"; thus, as so often when it comes to the uniqueness of our Britishness, "we can learn a great deal from the US example, and particularly with regard to the enviable notion of civic duty that seems to flow so strongly through American veins". The Minister's notions of citizenship seem terribly biological. However, an American-style constitution, overriding the sovereignty of six hundred and something liars, crooks, thugs, cranks, arse-lickers, windbags, mediocrities, time-servers, jellyfish, nonentities and occasional real people, would not work in the UK. The sovereignty of parliament is a "fundamental plank" of government, and is not to be overridden by anything so trivial as a set of civilised rules.

Anyway, in the interests of constructive debate, I offer the following Decalogue, comprising British values and their corresponding responsibilities, as a tentative suggestion for the back of Straw's envelope:

1. Democracy is a British value. Feel free to take part in any debate under which the Government has not drawn a line, and remember always that, thanks to the national database, the Home Office knows where you live.

2. Respect for others is a British value. Remember that foreigners do not always appreciate this.

3. Respect for the law is a British value, unless you are rich enough to circumvent it or you are a fundamental plank of government.

4. Freedom is a British value. That is why every schoolchild has heard of Cromwell, while comparatively few have heard of John Lilburne. Invest in Honest Jack's titan jails.

5. Tolerance is a British value. Make sure it isn't diluted by extremists, teenagers, foreigners, internet users or people who cover their heads.

6. Restraint is a British value. Read the Sun and the Daily Mail.

7. Trial by jury is a British value, unless the Ministry of Justice decides it isn't.

8. Great literature is a British value. Read the Sun, the Daily Mail and Dan Brown.

9. Minding your own business is a British value. Shop a benefit fraudster today.

10. Respect for history is a British value. Remember who won the war.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Nice Change

We've had a change of government, you know. The Upper Miliband has been hard at work recasting New New Labour's foreign policy. Whereas Tony and his chums maintained that such adventures as Operation Iraqi Looteration constituted an honest, albeit not unflawed, response to a moral imperative to spread democracy among the uncivilised tribes, the Upper Milband claims that, despite the not unflawed nature of such adventures as Operation Iraqi Looteration, the moral imperative to spread democracy among the uncivilised tribes must not be clouded. This is certainly an improvement.

Motivated by a "deep concern" whose depth has been established beyond all doubt thanks to the telepathic abilities of the Guardian's Patrick Wintour, the Upper Miliband offers "a string of practical proposals" with which to tie up the case for democracy and hang it somewhere convenient. These include:

- "encouraging economic openness as a means of tackling corruption" which, as we know, has been working like a charm both here and in Iraq;

- "a new round of provincial elections in Iraq, to help to bind in former insurgents who want proof of their local influence" over whatever political movements the US government can, in conscience, permit. Those reclaimed insurgents who cannot afford to paint targets on themselves would also get "the chance to join the Iraqi security force".

- "security guarantees" offered by "organisations like the UN or NATO" to governments which might find the firepower useful in suppressing non-democratic elements;

- support for "civilian surges", provided they are led by "literate, better-educated people able to access information and communicate with others" rather than by those who have not had the kind of privileges to which the Upper Miliband and his ilk have been accustomed.

The Upper Miliband claims to "understand the doubts about Iraq and Afghanistan, and the deep concerns at the mistakes made"; though not, apparently, the shallower concerns at the crimes committed. In another delightfully nuanced piece of recasting, he pleads for a line to be drawn under the event: "My plea is not to let divisions over those conflicts obscure our national interest, never mind our moral impulse, in supporting movements for democracy. ... We should not let the debate about the how of foreign policy obscure the clarity about the what". Debates over illegal conflicts which are still going on should not be permitted to obscure New New Labour's idea of the national interest, which is of course definitive and non-negotiable. Movements for democracy are all very well, except when they begin at home.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Negative Problematisation, Solutional Integratality

Tim Loughton, the shadow Minister for the Soldiers and Stockbrokers of the Future, has discovered that social workers have votes too. He observed that "in other countries, particularly in northern Europe, social workers are respected on a par with teachers, doctors and other public service professionals". Of course, Britain is no exception in this regard, treating social workers, doctors, teachers and other public service professionals all with equal penny-pinching contempt. Nevertheless, the shadow Minister for Thinking of the Infant Resources criticised the "deeply corrosive situation where too many social workers are seen as part of the problem rather than an integral part of the solution". What problem might that be, I wonder? Well, being a member of Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives, Loughton naturally agrees with New Labour on most things: "We are not going to chuck out a whole lot of stuff that has gone before," he said. "A lot of what has happened in the last ten years has been good." However, it appears that social workers in Britain are "risk-averse", possibly because they suffer from media stereotypes "ranging from slightly alternative liberal busybodies to out-and-out child snatchers" - stereotypes which the Conservative party has done almost everything in its power to reverse but which still, unaccountably, persist. Anyway, now that we have Daveybloke to provide the slight-bodied alternative liberal business, and the immigrant police to do the child-snatching, there's a bit of a gap in the market; hence "a good social worker is as crucial to the wellbeing of vulnerable children or to the survival of damaged families as a doctor is to the health of his patient or a teacher to the learning chances of his pupil". Accordingly, the shadow Minister for Juvenile Britishness has promised that "a future incoming Cameron government would not launch wholesale changes to social services but would instead look closely at how existing structures can be made to work better", because "we're not getting enough bang for our buck". Social workers may cast votes once in a while, but they are hardly party donors, after all.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Arab Mind

The Ministry of Forcible Democratisation has issued soldiers with "cultural appreciation" manuals which give what the Independent (doubtless independently of the MoD press release) calls "a candid assessment of the grievances motivating the forces facing British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq". The manuals explain how the troops can avoid making matters worse: a subject on which the MoD is of course uniquely qualified to comment. It is noted, for example, that "Western policy in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11 2001 in New York and Washington has led to a feeling among many Arabs that the US in cohort with a number of European governments is pursuing a hidden agenda under the guise of the 'global war against terrorism'" - a feeling which British troops must combat with all the pluck and gumption at their disposal. Perhaps they could start by re-conquering the Iraqi oil ministry and placing its assets beyond the reach of Halliburton and company.

The candid assessment continues with the reminder that, grotesque as the thought may appear when applied to the sort of people who think we should stop apologising for the British Empire, "Westerners are often perceived as culturally ignorant, regarding their culture as inherently superior to that of the Arabs." The magnitude of this fallacy is made still clearer with the assessment of Arab cultures and customs, which is "aimed at helping government staff and soldiers understand the peoples they are interacting with": Islamic law, unlike the British military, "tends to be biased in favour of men"; while Arab cultural norms, unlike those of Christendom, discriminate against women because of "denigration of female attributes". Domestic violence, honour crimes and genital mutilations are "socially sanctioned", and yet Westerners have the gosh-darned cheek to regard their culture as superior. No wonder there's been so much trouble.

The guides "emphasise how Arabs value the notion of shame", which Tony and his chums have done so much to make unfashionable in British public life. "The socio-psychological need to avoid a loss of face... and a consequent diminution in social status in the eyes of society, to a large extent underpins social behaviour and interaction between Arabs, at least in public." Of course this is not the case in more civilised societies. Wisdom is also dispensed, in authentic New Labour mode, about the occupation of Palestine: "Western pronouncements against the human rights records of Arab governments ... ring hollow for many in the region when held up against what are perceived to be the gross human rights abuses committed against the Palestinian population, apparently with the sanction of Western governments." They're just not culturally advanced enough to understand the reality of the situation.

Still, there are one or two bits of Eastern wisdom from which our boys could do worse than learn: "teenage rebellion" in Arab families is almost unheard of, and "it is incumbent on children to care for their parents when they enter old age. Most Arabs find the Western concept of the 'nursing home' shocking, even abhorrent". So don't expect too much in the way of pay rises or free medical treatment, and don't expect too much in the way of help to see your parents through the pensions crisis.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Hostile Entity

The Righteous State, having crippled the only power plant in the Gaza Strip some eighteen months ago, is now cutting the electricity supply further "as part of a new economic campaign targeting Hamas" as the Guardian hath it, faithfully echoing a spokesbeing for Olmert bar Sharon: "It's not that we think there is a quick magical solution but we believe that a combination of military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Hamas is a strategy that in the medium and longer term will in fact bring about a change in policy and protect our people". Israeli military strikes have killed fifteen people in Gaza since Monday, in retaliation for a suicide bombing which killed one Israeli and injured eleven others. The suicide bombing, as usual, was not in retaliation for anything. A spokesbeing for the US State Department understood Israel's right to defend itself, but did not think that "actions should be taken that would infringe upon or worsen the humanitarian situation for the civilian population in Gaza". Regrettably, the spokesbeing apparently failed to detail the sort of sanctions which would be put in place against the Righteous State should any such actions occur.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Southern Finery

The superior efficiency of privatised public utilities was confirmed yet again today as the regulator for the water supply racket fined Southern Water (not to be confused with Thames Water) something over twenty million pounds. Southern Water "supplied false information on customer service data that suggested it was performing better than was actually the case" over a period of at least five years, during which "many customers were overcharged". The fine reflects an interesting set of priorities, comprising a penalty of one tenth of one per cent of turnover for failing to meet guaranteed levels of service to customers, plus thirty-five times as much for misleading the regulator.

The group of investors who bought Southern Water last October have "agreed to absorb the fine themselves rather than passing it onto customers through higher bills"; heaven forfend that they should be compelled to absorb the fine themselves or that - less efficient still - the sum should be taken out of the hide of whoever was managing the company while the deception was going on, and spent on repairing a few pipes.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


The Lower Miliband has given a brilliant demonstration of the splendid incoherence which New New Labour ministers can attain when forced to talk about something other than killing foreigners or punishing poor people. The Lower Miliband was discussing public services - a nasty, spiky, left-wing topic, of the kind that is nowadays best dealt with by churches, charities and Daveybloke in his cuddlier moments. The Lower Miliband commenced with an attack on those members of the public who just sit at home waiting for public services to do something for them: "We have to get away from the notion of 'letterbox' public services - of sitting in your house waiting for public services to be delivered. ... What we all know about public services is that their success or failure isn't just dependent on what is delivered to the person - it depends on the engagement of the person." The last thing we should expect of public services is that they should go around providing services to the public. If you want your bin emptied, your children educated or your sewage drained, you had dashed well better be prepared to take the responsibility yourself. "The big challenge for the future is how we can engage people themselves in the success of the service", and the Lower Miliband made it clear that a "roll bank state", whatever that may be, is not the answer. The answer is something called "soft accountability", which sounds rather like the kind of accountability that doesn't actually require anyone to take responsibility for anything: it could, for example, "take the form of the public meeting their local police once a month at a 'beat meeting'" so that the police, like any other corporation, could advertise what a wonderful job they're doing. "The second challenge we face is how do we unlock the capacity of the individual themselves" - no more of that "flush and forget" attitude to drainage; no more spending of taxpayers' money on things that ordinary people should be having meetings about. This will result in a more personalised type of public service, which will presumably be appropriately targeted at those who can afford it; the notion of a "universal" public service, as the Lower Miliband observes, may have been fashionable ten years ago but simply "doesn't happen in any way anymore". This, like the state of our parliament, police force, army, railways, national health service, education system, Olympic preparations and, no doubt, sewers, is a sign of New Labour's "progress and success".

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Shock Information Falsification Accusation Defamation Shock

The Westminster ghetto was in uproar today as the shadow Minister of Hanging and Flogging, David Davies-Davidson, accused the Prime Minister and a grey suit of saying the thing that was not.

Mr Davidson-Davidson said: "This is a very serious issue. It is a breach of a Prime Ministerial undertaking to Parliament and makes the Prime Minister a liar, basically."

The unusually forceful language utilised by the customarily mellifluous and urbane Mr Davids-Davis is believed to have been prompted by the fact that the issue concerned the surveillance of a member of Parliament, rather than the lives of a few thousand foreigners or a few dozen British troops.

Prime Ministerial undertakings to Parliament are understood to have a special status in the Westminster ghetto, which means they far outweigh such comparative trivia as manifesto commitments or erotically enhanced intelligence dossiers.

Politicians on all sides were deeply shocked at the accusation. The idea of members of a Government saying the thing that is not is deeply taboo in the Westminster ghetto, although members of Parliament can accuse one another of many things, including in extreme circumstances "having the full confidence of the Prime Minister".

Politicians, and particularly high-ranking ministers, are considered to have a particular moral and ethical repugnance for saying the thing that is not, because they can be called to account by the electorate at five-yearly intervals, and could even risk losing their job if they represent a marginal constituency.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Heart of Flint

The battle for the centre ground of British politics and the Shirley Porter Compassionate Award for Social Responsibility continues with a proposal by the Minister for Second Homes, Caroline Flint, that people in social housing and on council estates should be kicked out of their homes if they fail to satisfy employment incentivisation corporations that they are actively seeking work. Flint has recently discovered that over half of working-age resources in social housing are not in employment and, therefore, cannot be seeking it: "If you are in a family, an estate or a neighbourhood where nobody works that impacts on your own aspiration. It is a form of peer pressure" which leads irresistibly to an urge to loaf about the house in benefit-sponsored luxury rather than availing oneself of the millions of shiny new jobs which are constantly being called into existence by careful manipulation of the unemployment figures. During the interval between being laid off in the approaching recession and having their prospects boosted by eviction onto the streets, the beneficiaries of Flint's initiative may perhaps expect a few dawn raids from the idleness police: "Rather than the jobless going miles to get employment, debt and childcare advice, it is better to bring that advice to them," she said.

The shadow minister for housing, Grant Shapps, apparently criticised the proposals for not being harsh enough: "What we've heard is classic Labour spin - designed to sound tough" - not, you will note, designed to sound fair, or reasonable, or useful, or constructive, or socially responsible, or economically sensible, or even designed to sound as if it came from somewhere in the vicinity of the present planet; designed to sound tough, hard, mean, the way Daveybloke sees himself in dreams - "but in reality meaningless." The problem is that "ministers and local councils have a statutory duty to house homeless families with children and so they can't boot them out of their houses without then providing alternative accommodation." Taking this unfortunate state of affairs into account, Downing Street has issued a spokesbeing to say that "in principle it's a good issue to be debated", which presumably amounts to a coded rebuke to Flint for failing to sell the idea properly, as a deterrent to Islamic extremism or a way of controlling immigration or something of similarly proven appeal.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Preserving Our Way of Life

Never let it be said that New New Labour fails to learn the lessons of the past. While nobody much has been made to suffer for the invasion of Iraq, the peccadilloes of British soldiers or the shoot-to-protect tactics of the Metropolitan Police, even the Home Office recognises that a certain amount of extra public relations effort may be necessary before the obstinate British public can resign itself to yet another round of the war on democracy. "We are committed to better explaining existing policies, such as the UK's foreign policy, refuting claims made about them in the language of violent extremists," blathers a paper on what is tactfully referred to as a "strategy to prevent people becoming or supporting violent extremists" - the kind of people who think bombing civilians at random will make a society thrive, for instance. Well, explanation is always a good thing, of course. If only the Vicar of Downing Street had devoted more time and effort to explaining himself, the Glorious Successor might not now be facing such bad news in the polls. We must hope against hope that he can unbend sufficiently to employ a press officer or two, just to make sure there are no more misunderstandings.

Meanwhile, just in case any trigger fingers get itchy, the Government plans to introduce new measures, so as to avoid the inconvenience of jury trials where anyone important is involved. The latest counter-terrorism bill will permit the Minister of Unfitness for Purpose to withhold evidence in the interests of "national security or the UK's relationship with another country or 'otherwise in the public interest'". As we are all well aware, there are a whole raft of possible events which are, by definition, not in the public interest: revelations of criminal activity by the police or army, for instance, or anything that might cause undue embarrassment to a minister of state. Accordingly, the latest counter-terrorism bill does not concern itself with such pedantic details as actually restricting its provisions to cases where terrorism is involved, but simply liberalises the legal framework by permitting secret inquests by government-vetted coroners and lawyers, just to make sure there are no more misunderstandings.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Soldiering On

Despite the distinct possibility that troops will soon be needed as replacements for disaffected policemen, postmen, schoolteachers, midwives and so forth, New New Labour continues to treat war veterans with the sort of contempt usually reserved for pensioners, single mothers and other people without guns.

In the face of a significant increase in referrals of war veterans by doctors to charities that assist with post-traumatic stress, the Government has moved on from the good old British line that there is no such thing as shell shock: "It is our policy that mental health issues should be properly recognised and appropriately handled," said a spokesbeing for the Ministry of Humanitarian Intervention, which recently closed Britain's only remaining dedicated military hospital. A "national network" of fifteen military mental health departments has been opened in hospitals around the country, and the Ministry says that the rate of discharge from the army because of psychological illness is "low", thanks doubtless to the wonders of PFI and the well-known sensitivity of the British military to the emotional difficulties of its human resources.

Psychiatric treatment for post-traumatic stress is largely unavailable without a war pension, but war pensions are unavailable unless it can be proved that the stress is linked to the war rather than to, say, being dropped on the head at birth or to the kind of treatment that gets meted out to teenagers at places like Deepcut. "If a link is proved, then [veterans] will receive a war pension," the Ministry spokesbeing assured. The catch, of course, is just how to prove the link. If a soldier comes home from Iraq and commits suicide, how is the Ministry to know that they did it because of war trauma and not out of a lazy, single-motherish urge to defraud the taxpayer?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

President Tony

The International Envoy to the Middle East and Justifier of the Ways of Washington to the Palestinian People may soon be "reduced to a role of supporting political development in Palestine and boosting its economy", whatever that may mean. If, as seems likely, it means simply denouncing Hamas and cutting off aid, the UN and those who rise above it can do those little things perfectly well for themselves. Potentially at a loose end once more, Tony is apparently considering the job of full-time president of the EU council. He has told friends and other marketing devices that he is "increasingly willing to put himself forward for the job if it comes with real powers to intervene in defence and trade affairs". Tony has always enjoyed intervening in defence and trade affairs - killing and profiteering, in Standard English - and it has also been obtruded upon his slightly flawed intelligence that "he is not going to be allowed to become the key player in furthering Israeli-Palestinian talks this year", despite qualifications which are no doubt obvious to Tony. However, Tony is "still doubtful that the role of council president will become a powerful job", which accounts for his present coyness in thrusting himself forward.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Post-Tony, Yet Not Anti-Tony

The Glorious Successor is being pressed to offer a radical reform programme. Gosh. Another one. Modernisers - such dynamic and imaginative personalities as Hazel Blears, James Purnell, and the nice lady in charge of gravitating Lottery money into the Black Hole of Olympia - believe that Gordon should now be offering "a clearer sense of the concrete priorities to which we are committed". The priorities "need to symbolise our ideals and principles", above and beyond the obvious ones of privatisation, incarceration, deportation and surveillance. The Glorious Successor is urged to adopt "a future agenda which is post-Blair, not anti-Blair; building on the achievements of the past decade, not running away from them"; presumably by privatising more, incarcerating more, deporting more and snooping more. Admittedly, it is difficult to see how Gordon could summon up greater enthusiasm for this agenda than he has already displayed; but, as always, the dull and divided perceptions of the confused and blinkered voters constitute the most formidable obstacle to New New Labour's modernising zeal. For one thing, despite the efforts of successive Home Secretaries and angels of mercy like Liam Byrne, "the public no longer view the Conservatives as the 'nasty party' of the 1990s". For another, "while voters demand ambitious policy ends, they are increasingly resistant to the means to reach [them]"; even though the said means are undoubtedly the only viable ones given the presently operative situational paradigm: namely the aforementioned privatisation, incarceration, deportation and surveillance. The modernisers' proposed solution - a flurry of abstract nouns as uncompromised in its management-consultancy mediocrity as it is eloquent in its bureaucratic cack-handedness - shows that Tony's guiding light remains yet unextinguished amid the ever-thickening fog that is New New Labour: "We need to provide a stronger narrative about the overall purpose of a Labour government and the direction it wishes to take the country in". Gosh. Another one.