Monthly Archives: March 2010

Malcolm is a CAMRA member …

That’s got the statutory disclaimer out.

Now to business.

On the one hand, in the present climate, Malcolm can see the reason (if not the overall merit) of the “sin taxes”: duties on booze and baccy.

He can also, just about, see that cider should be taxed on a par with beer. But then — since Malcolm believes cider should be a cooking ingredient and nothing more —  that’s understandable.

What doesn’t make joined-up sense is the way Budgets over the last couple of years have  impacted on pubs and clubs, but (largely) by-passed the main source of cheap-booze supply: the supermarkets.

Pubs

The real joy of a pub is supping in agreeable company, in a pleasant environment. Often accompanied by food … and that means (in Britain today) rapidly improved food. Since the smoking ban, also in a far more improved atmosphere. For that, most civilized folk expect to pay a reasonable premium.

Take a book into a pub (or indeed a wine-bar), find a corner, and you’ll be left alone. Go looking for a conversation and you’ll soon find one. It’s sociable, with a bit of drinking on the side. Yes: there are exceptions, the individuals who are there simply to get tanked up at excessive cost. A good publican quickly has them sussed, and sent on their way. Such institutions need to be treasured.

Bothies

The heavy-drinking culture is largely elsewhere. It involves the quickest way to a skinful. That means:

  • (for the dedicated liver-burner) quantities of the cheap offer, the loss-leader, from the local supermarket;
  • (for the third-form beginner toper or the hopelessly-destroyed) the park bench, none too far from a complaisant off-licence;
  • (for the trendy Wendies and their lechers) a club where teenies are induced to part with their gelt in exchange for luminous high-octane knicker-droppers.

All involve a lack of adequate commonsense, management, sanity and policing.

Remedy

So, whichever way one approaches it, the problem lies at the supply end.

Therefore, Malcolm wholly approves of the excess duties on strong cider. He would suggest such a noxious substance should be available only on prescription, along with all those weird and wonderful alco-pops.

He further believes that the six-packs of nasty mass-produced wife-beaters should be banned. If not, as an alternative,why not put a stamp duty (say £5) on the plastic tie binding them? It’s practical: none too long ago (starting in 1711 and continuing until 1960), packs of cards were taxed, simply because there was a duty on the Ace of Spades.

However, “craft” beers (and, all right, since Malcolm has a soft heart, ciders) could be exempted though an Appellation d’origine contrôlée. Provided the brew comes from a particular location, and is produced in a modest quantity, it enjoys a lower taxation. Result! It immediately becomes attractive for pubs, clubs and even supermarkets to vend niche products, thus widening the choice for the consumer (and even educating their palates). If the product becomes too popular, the cut-off of quantity production applies. Brew-pubs prosper, mass-produced fizz pays the taxes. It would even qualify as a job-creation scheme.

Sooner or later (and the sooner the better), a strong-minded government has to take on the Problemo Uno. That is the whole mess of distortions in the retail market, deriving from the end-customer increasingly being dependent on a small oligopoly of supermarkets, who can then do BDSM on the primary producers.

So, start with the drink trade: that way there’ll be some public support (and the Daily Mail won’t instantly go ape). If it works for Real Ale, then it might also for Real Food.

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Filed under Beer, CAMRA, Labour Party, leftist politics., pubs

Incredible, but apparently true

This time last year the average term to maturity of British national borrowing was 14.1 years. As the FT sagely noted:

the average maturity of the gilt market is currently 14 years, longer than almost anywhere else in the world …

… the UK’s unusually long maturity profile does offer a bit of breathing space; or, to put it another way, if the UK had the same debt profile as America right now, its predicament would be dramatically worse.

That represents a major underlying strength of sterling.

A year on, with massive borrowing in the meanwhile, with sterling being bad-mouthed, the AAA rating repeatedly questioned, the average term has dropped

… to 13.9 years.

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Filed under banking, Britain, economy

Don’t blame the politicians!

Here we go again: another round of the Great Parliamentary Rip-Off debate. Point your fingers. Chuck your ordure. Wheel out the tumbrils. Demand, oh so shrilly, a Public Enquiry (it keeps the pot boiling). And don’t forget, above all, to look to partisan advantage.

Les tricoteuses, reading and urged on by the effusions of The Sun, wait at the base of the guillotine for the main act. Yet, ultimately, the politicians, acting according to their nature, are not solely to blame. In any event, it was (apologies for another Malcolmian cliché) ever thus:

But ’tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round.
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.

It’s our fault …

We put them there. We vote (or don’t vote at all) for them in our own image. What we collectively want is the easy life, the quick fix, the hand-out, the bit-on-the-side, the back-hander, the cash in an envelope that avoids putting it through the books. In our lives, as well as in Parliament, we only feel affronted by it when, by proxy, our own mendacities, our own mediocrities are revealed, publicised and denounced.

… guided by the media

We are assisted in our hypocrisy by a whole media circus, all involved in the same stunts.

Take (oh, please do! As far away as possible!) the Murdoch lie-machine. Driven by the gelt-lust, the aim is to dislodge the BBC from its pinnacle, to clear the way for Sky to be the Master of the Universe. Any number of stories are concocted and amplified to that end. Politicians (of all parties) are prepared to be suborned to this end for a few passing puffs of publicity, a few crumbs from the Dirty Digger’s table.

The Sunday Times has been to the fore in the excoriation of political misdeeds: scandal sells newsprint. Yet, cue — again — Chris Mullin:

Wednesday, 13 November [2002]

Dave Triesman recounted an illuminating little exchange that he had recently with the editor of the Sunday Times, John Witherow. David had been complaining about that paper’s unrelentingly hostile coverage of the government and all its works. ‘It’s nothing personal,’ Witherow replied. ‘We treated the Tories the same way.’

‘What are your values?’ asked Dave, ‘What do you stand for?’

To which Witherow shamelessly replied, ‘The bottom line.’

That doesn’t excuse the BBC, either. The BBC has its charter, which includes a “mission statement“:

The Public Purposes of the BBC are as follows—
(a) sustaining citizenship and civil society …

For the hierarchs that noble aim starts around a quarter of a million a year, plus expenses. It may not match the trouserings in the higher echelons of the London press (let alone the squillions tractored home by top Sky executives), but Joan and Joe Soap see it as their money, accountable to them through the licence fee.

There is an alternative

We could actually vote ideologically. Admittedly, that involves education and self-education, and — most taxing of all — thinking. Whatever our persuasion, Left, Right or Centre, we could put “give” a higher priority than “take”.

So many of us consider we are “good judges of character”, then put our X against the name of a known rogue: “Ah, he’s a real card, he is!” There is a glaring example. Andrew Gilligan, egged on by Veronica Wadley of the Evening Standard (then in the Daily Mail fold), manufactured serial Lee Jasper allegations (subsequently all rejected in a blitz of investigations). That did for Ken Livingstone. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson rose steadily to the top of the cess-pit. Michael Howard, after all, sacked Johnson from the Tory Front, not for his shameless extra-marital shaggings and amorality, but for bare-faced lying.

That episode should inform us of something about “honesty”, misrepresentation and how we chose to be represented.

Come the General Election, a number of heads will roll. Even among their party colleagues and supporters, some will go unlamented, unregretted. Malcolm remembers, from being there, watching the screens reporting results with like-minded souls. A Labour loss might be met by groans among the generality. In a corner there will be a group of like-minded souls, purists perhaps, who note the name of the evicted MP, mutter “Another Labour gain”, raising glasses to a socialist victory. Malcolm is prepared to venture similar things happen in other parties.

Down with the Cynical Opportunist Party!

Back in the early ’60s, when he was emerging from the jobbing-reporter chrysalis, National-Treasure Michael Frayn wrote columns for the Guardian and the Observer.

There are several anthologies of Frayn’s columns.  Clive James is a fan:

The focal point of his journalism was his “Miscellany” column for the Guardian: a stream of comic invention unmatched since Beachcomber, whom he admired, and, later, selected and edited. Frayn’s own three main collections of columns were The Day of the Dog (1962), The Book of Fub (1963) and At Bay in Gear Street (1967). Frayn fans who own those volumes in paperback generally try to get hold of two copies of each, in case the first one gets read to pieces by borrowers.

Failing those, there’s over a hundred of examples in the Methuen anthology.

Clive James’s  site provides links to nine classics, including The Europaean, the Supranational Anthem of the European Economic Community:

Der lustige Frog mit den leerende Wop,
Der boomende Belge mit den kraftige Kraut,
Sie bringen opp all naastie Tariffs zum Stop,
Und werken den Kommon Millenium aut!

None of the nine are specifically UK political.One of Frayn’s memorable inventions was the Rt Hon Christopher Smoothe, Minister for Chance and Speculation. Fortunately, elsewhere Google points us to a 1962 gem on the Guardian archive: the televised parliament gameshow

THE SPEAKER: Hi folks! Welcome to another edition of TV Parliament, the party game programme for the family. Remember – the side that gets the highest rating wins the debate, and the Member who is elected most pleasing TV personality by the audience gets a luxury holiday …

Indeed: something with which, from today’s headlines, we are instantly familiar. It concludes with:

THE SPEAKER: Do you want to quit, Christopher, or will you go on to the 64,000 question?

Mr SMOOTHE: I’ll … I’ll go on.

Mr GEORGE SNUGG (Isle of Dogs, Lab): Will the Minister give the House the names of the first six kings after William the Conqueror?

Mr SMOOTHE: I am looking into that question … and it would wrong to anticipate my findings.

THE SPEAKER: That’s the correct answer!

(Wild applause.)

We’re nearly half-a-century, eleven or so General Elections, and ten changes of Prime Minister on. Not a lot seems to have changed.

Or perhaps it has …

Not even his fertile imagination could conceive both major parties headed, now or recently, by the heir to Frayn’s other creation, the PR man Rollo Swavely.

Indeed, the best government that can be bought.

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Filed under BBC, democracy, Labour Party, sleaze., Tories.

Farage: fodder for cattle (Oxford English Dictionary)

Nigel Farage (than whom, among politicos, only Alex Salmond is more oleanginous) was subject of a feature in the Sunday Times.

For some reason (possibly a reflection on his worth as a political notable) the interview was “done” by Camilla Long. Now, as far as Malcolm knows, Ms Long’s position is deputy editor of the Sunday Times “Style” supplement. She has a stunning C.V.: she started as little more than an intern for Vogue, from there she left for the Tatler, and so to her present Olympian height, pontificating on frillies and similar vital issues. One of her previous outings for the Sunday Times involved a blatant rip-off:

The Sunday Times is expected to print an apology this weekend after its Style magazine plagiarised material from US pop culture magazine Radar.

The Style magazine article … contained more than 15 entries out of 50 that were substantially similar to a list, “100 Reasons Why You’re Still Single”, that appeared in US pop culture Radar magazine last September …

Some of the listed items the Sunday Times ran were adapted for the UK.

Number 58 on the Radar list, “Have taken more than one cell phone picture of your genitals”, becomes on the Sunday Times men’s list at number 21, “Have ever taken more than one mobile-phone photograph of your genitals” …

It begins to seem almost an obsession.

Ms Long’s  recent piece started:

I’m quite relieved that Nigel Farage MEP has only one testicle. When the former leader of the UK Independence party (UKIP) had the other removed in 1987 because of cancer, the doctors offered him an artificial replacement to give him “greater social confidence”. But to watch him screaming at Herman Van Rompuy as he did last month, saying the European council president had the “charisma of a damp rag”, tearing around with a loudhailer on his campaign to oust John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, from his Buckingham seat, working “100-hour weeks”, inhaling whole packs of Rothmans and choffing down hundreds and hundreds of pints, I dread to think what he would be like with … two.

For some reason (and this is the main point of interest in this post), that particular detail attracted the attention of Iain Dale. He added a further detail, from one Gawain Towler (better believe it!), who is Farage’s press officer:

I will tell you what is odious. The fact that on Friday, just after Farage had delivered a barnstormer of a speech at the Milton Keynes conference I recieved a phone call. It was Camilla Long,

“Look Gawain”, she said, “I am really sorry to ask you this but the editors have told me to”,
“What’s that?” I said,
“They want me to ask which one of his balls was removed after his cancer”.
You want odious? I would suggest even asking that question is pretty bloody impertinent and cheap, and I told her so, but she persisted. So I agreed to ask, but told her not to expect a particularly forthcoming answer.
When I asked Farage, he was, unusually for him somewhat put out, but after saying that he though it a cheap shot he then he recovered his normal poise,
“Tell her if she is so bloody interested that she can come over and check herself”.
So I called her back and told her, both that he felt is tawdry, but if she must then that is his coment.

[That is straight cut-and-paste, to preserve the original in its fullest detail — and accuracy.]

What Iain Dale didn’t do was add the rest, which appears in The Grey Cardigan, the Press Gazette‘s blog, under the headline, “Sick as a Sunday Times sub”. Read on from where Dale abbreviated the story:

“They want me to ask which one of his balls was removed after his cancer”.

At Fleet Street Blues they’re impressed: “Never let it be said that the Sunday Times‘ subs aren’t sticklers for factual accuracy.”

Sticklers for accuracy? Presumably those are the same subs who failed to spot the word “abuse” missing from a sub-head that consequently read: “Film of him hurling in Brussels got him fined £2,700 and 40,000 hits on YouTube”.

Perhaps that’s going to be Mr Farage’s next trick.

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Filed under blogging, Iain Dale, reading, smut peddlers, Sunday Times

Crooks, bloody fools, and Stephen Byers

Steven Byers doesn’t emerge from Chris Mullin’s A View from the Foothills (a recent read of Malcolm’s) with any great credit. Mullin reckoned that Byers “backtracking” with £300 million to buy off Railtrack shareholders:

provoked derision on the Tory side and bewilderment on ours … [it] calls into question the wisdom of putting Railtrack into administration in the first place. Steve was on his own this time. [entry for 35 March 2002]

Later [9 May 2002] it’s the non-resignation of Martin Sixsmith:

Steve’s statement was a little naff and would have benefited from a note of humility.

So yesterday’s splash in the journals was no great surprise.

Change of tack

Yet, it is hard to see what the dismal trio (Byers, Hoon and Hewitt) have done, as opposed to being loose of mouth, and short on brain. Anyway, those “revelations” are little more than Private Eye has been saying for some long time.

So, when Malcolm was dispatched to collect shoes from the cobbler, a quick diversion into Oxfam Books meant he came home with a definite find: Paul Foot’s Articles of Resistance.

The section on Sleaze is particularly illuminating, reminding Malcolm of the extent of corrupt practice there was in the Tory government. The Swindlers List is introduced:

There was an embarrassing splurge of publicity when it was announced that about half a million people had been swindled in a multi-billion pension scam. But no one listed the politicians responsible: the Rt Hon Norman Fowler, chairman of the Tory Party; the Rt Hon Anthony Newton, leader of the House of Commons; and the Rt Hon John Major, prime minister.

The pages of forensic analysis that follow (reprinting pungent Private Eye columns of 25 February 1994 and 26 January 1996) make the present kerfuffle seem very, very small beer indeed.

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Filed under Labour Party, leftist politics., Private Eye, sleaze., Tories.

Brutish Airways

Amid the Sturm und Drang, two truths emerge:

  • The Tories need to clarify a long-term position. On the one hand, they want hands-off private enterprise, deploring economic micromanagement and interference; on the other there is this constant demand for government intervention. On the one hand, they say the relationship between the Labour Party and the Trades Unions is too close. Next minute they winge it isn’t close enough, because government doesn’t intervene. It’s so easy being the Opposition: you’re not held liable.
  • Willie Walsh, the IALPA poacher turned head gamekeeper, is a union-buster. That was what he did at Aer Lingus. That is why he was hired at BA. That’s why he got a 6% pay rise last year (to a total of £743,ooo, with a further million in share rights), while the company he runs lost over £400 million. That’s why he’s doing what he’s paid to do.

There’s a third, unconfirmed, suggestion:

  • BA have the highest ratio of back-office staff to flight crew among UK airlines. It is even suggested that ratio looks bad in comparison with European rivals. Yet Walsh chooses to target the flight-crew, the people at the sharp end of the self-loading freight interface. It’s almost as if the intention was to ground those flights.

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Filed under Britain, British Airways, Tories., travel

On thy belly shalt thou go …

At an early stage in his life Malcolm was a choirboy. 

One season he found himself, on four occasions in four different churches, reading the first lesson in the traditional Nine Lessons and Carols service. He came to relish the punch-line of Genesis 3, 14-15

And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

Yesterday we had a particularly grim bit of political snakery, dust-eating, and general turpitude.

And there were no fig-leaves of decency in sight.

It was the budget-fixing  meeting of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA). The two snakes-in-the-grass were Brian Coleman (he of the oleanginous bent and taxi-bills as inflated as his puffed-up ego) and the how-low-can-one-go Bertha Joseph, disgraced Mayor of Brent:

Joseph defected from Labour to the Conservatives in 2007 and was described by Caroline Spelman, at that time the Tory chair, as a woman of “total integrity, honesty and courage”.

Two years later, she was suspended by Brent council after a committee found she had failed to register within 28 days receipt of two gifts of cash amounting to £900, brought her office into disrepute by seeking and obtaining the cash for “sponsorship” of the mayor’s ball which she used to buy clothes, and used her position as mayor to gain an advantage for herself by obtaining the cash.

Days later, Joseph was made deputy chair of LFEPA after the Conservative group on the authority gained a majority of one following the defection of Labour’s Betty Evans-Jacas.

Joseph appealed against her suspension from Brent council but a judge ruled against her in February and remarked on her “repeated lack of credibility”, which he said cast doubt on both her contrition and her assurances that it wouldn’t happen again.

Not to mention the odd adultery:

The middle-aged woman sitting beside West Indies and Lancashire cricket legend Clive Lloyd in the Royal box at Wimbledon was elegantly dressed and her immaculately made-up face beamed with proprietorial satisfaction.

She and Clive, who sported a new grey suit he had bought especially for the occasion, looked for all the world like a couple very much at ease in each other’s company.

Both wore gleaming wedding bands and occasionally exchanged the kind of knowing glances usually shared by those on very intimate terms.

Little wonder then that when the images were beamed around the world on television, many people assumed the woman was Clive’s loyal wife of 37 years, Waveney.

But they were wrong. It was, in fact, parliamentary hopeful Bertha Joseph, 53, whose main claim to fame, to date, has been that she was the London borough of Brent’s first Afro-Caribbean mayor.

So the LFEPA budget was fixed. The names in the frame are not just Coleman and Joseph, but Boris Johnson himself. Tom, at boriswatch.co.uk, has it:

In case anyone was labouring under the misapprehension that Boris Johnson might mean that shit about accountability

If elected, I will aim to create a different style of government at City Hall by introducing a series of measures designed to make my Mayoralty more accountable, and spending more transparent.

…they should have their eyes comprehensively opened by tonight’s news that, to absolutely no one’s surprise, Boris’s own weapon dog, Brian Coleman, has got his way with the LFEPA budget thanks to the vote of disgraced councillor Bertha Joseph, who subsequently tendered her resignation (initially reported as a ‘Boris sacking’, however, presumably in an attempt ).  This implies that at 9am today Bertha was considered sufficiently reputable to vote on the future of London’s emergency services while at 5pm today, in a City Hall spokestoad’s words:

…the Mayor believes the first tier tribunal made a compelling case against her continuing to serve on the authority.

Now, let’s have a Biblical check:

The unruly child (Boris):

And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.  And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die. (Deuteronomy 21:20-21).

Fatty Coleman:

And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp.  And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague. (Numbers 11:32-33).

“Honest” Bertha:

In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon.  The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, The rings, and nose jewels.  The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the veils.  And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.  Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy might in the war.  And her gates shall lament and mourn: and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground. (Isaiah 3:17-26).

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Filed under Boris Johnson, censorship, Conservative family values, crime, Daily Mail, Guardian, human waste, London, Tories.