Monthly Archives: March 2014

The weather is being driven by hot air currently over the Low Countries


No, not the Great British Obsession with Brussels and all things EU. Just the Evening Standard coming to grips with the killer photo-chemical smog shrouding Londoners:

… the Met Office said there was a pollution warning level ten, the highest on their scale.

A level this high means adults and children with lung problems, adults with heart problems, and older people, should avoid strenuous physical activity, according to the Met Office.

People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often, according to their advice.

People are advised to reduce physical exertion, particularly outdoors, especially if you experience symptoms such as cough or sore throat.

Things have been grim much of the month, and it’s not yet summer. Nobody in authority seems keen to address the problem. It really is a problem:

It is estimated that fine particles have an impact on mortality equivalent to 4,267 deaths in London in 2008, within a range of 756 to 7,965. A permanent reduction in PM2.5 concentrations of 1μg/m3 would gain 400,000 years of life for the current population (2008) in London and a further 200,000 years for those born during that period, followed for the lifetime of the current population. For the current population, this is equivalent to an average 3 weeks per member of the 2008 population, with the expected gains differing by age. 

A measure of the ambiguous posturing of Mayor Johnson was encapsulated in a prize quotation:

A spokeswoman for the mayor said although the figures were hypothetical, he took the issue “extremely seriously”.

Yeah, BoJo, so “hypothetical” that we have official warnings to stay indoors, avoid exercise which may add to breathing the filth.

2012 measures

The London Olympics were a particular example of how Johnson took the issue “extremely seriously”. £5million was thrown at remedies. These amounted to:

  • planters along the designated route network (i.e. the roads marked up to bring officials to and from the Olympic site);
  • applying sticky to the roads adjacent to monitoring stations, in the hope this would glue down the pollutants.

Another trick was simply to deny that some monitoring stations existed at all. Brent Council has such a station at Neasden Lane, on the heavily-polluted North Circular Road. It regularly records the kind of pollution levels that would get us into trouble and cost with the EU:

Across London, a network of boxes monitor the level of pollution that we breathe in. There are limits on the amount of pollution allowed, which were agreed over a decade ago by our government and all the others in the Europe Union. Many of the boxes around London regularly measure pollution exceeding that amount. The UK should get fined an estimated £300m by the European Commission if any one station measures unsafe pollution levels for more than 35 days in the year. 2011 was one of several years that have landed our Government in the dock, and the Mayor and the Government are [d]oing everything they can to wriggle out of their responsibility for our health.

Since that’s from Jenny Jones, her detractors would sniff (understandable in this climate) and mutter something along MRDA lines.

Note that “if any one station measures unsafe pollution levels“. Ms Jones has that one nailed:

The Government only get away with it, by not telling European Commission that the monitoring stations exists. They claim it doesn’t meet the standards the Commission sets, but the local authority and the experts who run the London air quality network both agree that it does. 

But, wait!

There is a cunning plan! Close the monitoring sites!

The closures could save councils nearly £50m over 10 years, Defra suggests. The proposals only apply to England, and have been rejected by the Scottish government on the grounds that they “would deliver no obvious benefit”.

“The UK government wants to hide air pollution and cares nothing for public health,” said Simon Birkett, director of the campaign group, Clean Air in London…

He added: “Worse, the changes would mean the loss of key protections in the planning system and the very monitors and expertise needed now to improve air quality.”

Prof Duncan Laxen, the managing director of Air Quality Consultants in Bristol, said that much of our understanding of air pollution has come from local authority monitoring: “It will be a retrograde step if the government’s preferred option is to lose this local knowledge.”

Defra insisted that the aim is to “reinvigorate and refocus” local air quality management. It said that the current regime was “diagnosis driven” and that “the level of local reporting can distract resources”.


Let’s follow and adapt Mr Punch:


If you had been planning to visit London, Don’t.

booksAs for the second zinger Mr Punch has there, try Jules Feiffer’s 1959 cartoon story, Boom! — you’ll find it in Passionella and Other Stories. At that time the nuclear powers were popping off tests on a regular basis, to the extent that, as Feiffer imagined, the air was filling with big black floating specks. Official solution: posters declaiming “Big black floating specks are good for you”.

Seems familiar.



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Filed under Boris Johnson, Evening Standard, London

That Murdochian agenda, again

Last week the Sunday Times screamer was all about the usual YouGov poll. Let’s be a trifle less biased and less hysterical, and get it from Anthony Wells:

The full details of YouGov’s weekly Sunday Times poll are now up online here. Topline voting intention figures are CON 36%, LAB 37%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 11%.

That means two polls today, from YouGov and Survation, both show a reduced Labour lead of just one point. As ever when you get a couple of polls indicating a shift straight after an event it’s tempting to conclude the event has had a big impact. Be a bit cautious – the YouGov and Populus polls conducted Wednesday night and Thursday morning didn’t show a narrowing, it’s these two polls conducted from Thursday to Friday that show narrower leads. They aren’t necessarily contradictory (many people in those initial polls wouldn’t have seen the details of the budget or the media reaction yet), but it means the evidence isn’t all one way. Wait a bit to see if this pattern continues into the week.

Well, the general pattern of a reduced Labour lead did persist through the week, and was — but naturally — hailed by the Tory press. The gem — again, but naturally — was the Daily Mail‘s spin:

Labour MPs demanded that Ed Miliband beef up his economic policies last night after his ‘lame’ response to the Budget gave the Tories a poll bounce.

And in further dispiriting news for the Labour chief, a survey revealed that voters think he is the ‘weirdest’ party leader in Britain.

The YouGov poll for BuzzFeed showed that 41 per cent think Mr Miliband is either ‘very weird’ or ‘somewhat weird’, while 34 per cent thinks the same of Nick Clegg and only 27 per cent believe that David Cameron is weird.

If that’s a strange, even weird, bit of polling, stranger still is the quality that was generally omitted from the commentaries: Miliband was seen as the most honest of the three party leaders.

And so to this week’s Sunday Times.

The regular poll is still on the front page, just. It is no longer the main headline. In fact, you have to scroll six paragraph through a very different story (on Labour will take axe to student fees) to find:

Miliband will take comfort from a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times that suggests Labour has beaten off the Conservatives’ post-budget bounce by opening a seven-point lead. The party is backed by 40% of voters, against 33% for the Tories. But another poll, by Opinium, shows a lead of just one point.

Note how the Sunday Times rubbishes its own paid poll, by puffing the Opinium poll in the rival Observer.

And, note too, how ConHome’s Newslinks manages to ignore the hard-Tory-linew Sunday Times (sales: 850,000ish) poll in favour of the liberal-lefty Observer‘s (sales 220,000-dh) Opinium. I cannot think why.

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Filed under Britain, ConHome, Ed Miliband, Murdoch, Observer, polls, Sunday Times

Everyone remembers their first …

This one started with a Paul Waugh tweet:


The link would take you to a BBC web-site with David Laws doing a interview with school students.

And why not?

To be honest (something Laws wasn’t over his expenses), the teddy-bear’s name question is:

  • a terrific idea for an interview;
  • as good a way to humanise a politician (or any other figure) as comes along.

So, to join the fun, and win brownie points, mine (not just first, but only) was boringly “Teddy”.

The rest is a bit different.

Teddy-bears, new, were not a readily-attainable consumer item as the Second World War moved on after Alamein to complete the conquest of North Africa. I adopted Uncle Derrick’s cast-off.

He was a previously well-loved and well-worn specimen, presumably from a couple of decades earlier. His limbs were loose, so my mother sewed them back on. His paws were even more threadbare than the rest of him, so she made cut-outs from yellow dusters, and sewed those as well.

He was in due course discarded into the toy-box (my grand-father’s old cabin-trunk), and his later whereabouts remain unknown. Three daughters later, he could well be in the attic, in one of the many boxes of soft toys we seem still to be lumbered with.

The cabin trunk lives on

It occupies a corner of the Pert Young Piece’s bedroom, packed with her complete (I believe) collection of annual Harrods’ teddies, plus Ellis (a skinny, gingery, super-hirsute and rather frightening beastie).




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Filed under History, Lib Dems, Paul Waugh, politicshome, Uncategorized, Wells-next-the-Sea

Nazi crap

It started with this:



Mr Hughes hasn’t learned his manners since he:

was Mayor of Royston, Chairman of North Herts District Council and twice a Parliamentary Candidate

In one of those candidacies (the only one I can immediately find), in 2005 for Wentworth constituency, he came second with 17.33% of the poll, just 42% behind Labour.

He is, moreover

a key economic adviser who … will advise newly appointed Ukip economic spokesman Steven Woolfe.

Furthermore, he is a:

like-to-think-he’s-seen-it-all ‘Digital Strategist’ who uses highly targeted eMarketing techniques on Facebook (which let’s face it is still in its infancy in this regard) to target young people.

His LinkedIn profile is interesting. Consider:


Elsewhere you may find that the Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner is, and will be until 2016, David Lloyd, elected as a Conservative.

UKIP put up a candidate, Marion Mason, who finished bottom of the poll.

On past experience of Kippers, we shall doubtless hear more of this wunderkind. And that past experience should lead us to expect nothing good.

More Herts crap

Down the road a bit, and in the same local rag, we find this:


It was them fascist plods, wot dun it. Obvious.

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Filed under Conservative family values, crime, Paul Waugh, politicshome, sleaze., UKIP

The excitements of #PMQs



Cameron has the usual crick in his neck. Just the faintest sighting of the bald spot. His coiffure always nudges me to recall Reagan’s inaugural, and the comment about: “How can you trust a guy who stands there in a howling gale? Whose hair doesn’t move, but his neck does”. Cameron, like Reagan, is going brunet (that word again) as he ages.

Also in the frame, Lansley leads the House, all starry-eyed and wistful, somewhere in another world. Cleggers is spark out.

But the neckwear war, those in the doughnut position, behind the Front Bench, ought to require licences.

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Filed under David Cameron, politics

Sing when you’re …

The event of my evening was going to be the major bus blaze at Scarborough:

Fifteen people were evacuated from a double decker bus after it caught fire in Scarborough.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service were called to Filey Road on Saturday morning and discovered flames in the rear of the vehicle.

The fire caused five square metres of damage and is thought to have started when the engine developed an electrical fault.

The driver of the bus led 15 passengers to safety after raising the alarm.

That one was so vital it took me two days to notice it.

But it was pooped on by:

Bid to draft police into battle against dog poo in Great Yarmouth

Police officers could be drafted in to help in the battle against dog fouling in Great Yarmouth. Parking wardens have already been given the power to issue on the spot fines to irresponsible owners, but town hall leaders are now hoping to expand their crackdown team by bringing PCSOs on board.

I’m not sure quite what tickled my fancy there.

It could be the metaphor of a “battle” against dog crap: bit one-sided, I feel.

Or it could be the pictogram that ornaments Yarmouth lamp-posts:

Yarmouth crap

He looks as if he could do with blooming support.

But most of all it was the succession of ambiguous box-pops, which deserve to be taken out of context:

Council leader Trevor Wainwright …  said: “We have a zero-tolerence policy and we can issue on the spot fines.

“We’re looking to talk to the police so PCSOs can carry out this function, they do it elsewhere in the country.

Or, even better still:

… residents at the Question Time-style meeting thought more could be done and suggested that the council put up “large, strongly worded sings” to discourage problem owners, and include warnings over dog fouling on its council tax bills.

Altogether now, a strongly-worded sing!


Filed under Norfolk, Uncategorized, Yorkshire

Getting credit unfairly

I see Jim Waterson at Buzzfeed is crediting this blog for the “then” picture of David Cameron:



That appeared here (I think for the second time) in November last. Note, as I did then, that the boy Dave was wearing, not just his sarong, but also his trues Blues Brothers tee.

As I recall, the originals source (remind me, someone) suggests the image comes from a trip to Thailand (or could it be Burma?), snapped by a “former girl-friend”. Now, there a story to be told.

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Filed under blogging, David Cameron

A puff for Ireland

Yesterday’s post [Lethal vaping] was a moment of personal revelation — I hadn’t realised just what a deregulated, and dangerous madhouse the world of e-cigarettes is. As post it seemed to go quite well — the statporn was definitely up.

Today, there’s something of a “next episode”, found in today’s Irish Times:

A Harvard professor has called on the Government to show leadership in the EU by regulating electronic cigarettes as medical devices.

Prof Gregory Connolly, director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at Harvard, argues that if unregulated, e-cigarettes could be the “panacea” for the tobacco industry’s woes by discouraging quitting and encouraging children to take up smoking…

“The reason why I came here is to tell this nation – you need to go in and show leadership within the EU. You’ve got to pass a law here regulating [e-cigarettes] as medical devices,” he told The Irish Times .

Which would be a way forward, not just in Ireland, either.

Let me recall a quotation from yesterday’s NY Times:

MEPs have rejected calls for a blanket ban on the sale of e-cigarettes across the EU.

However, under a compromise deal, strict limits will be placed on the amount of nicotine they contain, and individual EU member states will be able to introduce a national ban if they see fit.

If three or more member states chose that path, it could trigger an EU-wide ban.

By no coincidence, the Irish Times piece seems to incorporate, without acknowledgement, material from that NY Times one.

As I understand:

  • Denmark found e-cigarettes contained an unapproved form of nicotine, and banned them: that was eight years back.
  • The Dutch public health institute … published a policy paper claiming that electronic cigarettes are as harmful as ordinary cigarettes, warning they are addictive and contain poisonous substances. [Daily Telegraph, 28th November 2013].
  • Local authorities, where they have the power, have banned them. Even in Britain major chains, such as Wetherspoons, ban them.

The issue is not whether they help or hinder the reduction of smoking. It is that, as matters stand, it’s all a bit Wild West out there. Of which, no doubt, the nicotine narco-traders approve:

If unregulated, e-cigarettes could recruit a new generation of cigarette smokers for the industry. A recent Utah study showed that 9 per cent of children in the 12th grade (about 17 years old) were smoking e-cigarettes and 3 per cent cigarettes and they were “transferring over” to cigarettes, [Prof Connolly] said.

Bringing it back home

No government, no political party, seems to have wholly clean hands. It’s just that Tory hands are rather more nicotine-stained than most:

  • Lynton Crosby, the Tory guru, had (perhaps still has, through his firm of Crosby Textor) a strong paid interest in tobacco retailing.
  • David Cameron refused, repeatedly, to admit he had lobbied by Crosby on plain packaging.
  • Several senior Tories, the most famed being Ken Clarke, have close ties to the fag-pushers.
  • David Lidington and other Tory MPs were guests of Japan Tobacco International at the Chelsea Flower Show — then repaid their obligation by voting against smoking controls.

Last word to Professor Connolly:

“The reason why I came here is to tell this nation – you need to go in and show leadership within the EU. You’ve got to pass a law here regulating [e-cigarettes] as medical devices,” he told The Irish Times .

Because of the smoking ban, the State had the “moral virtue” and the “leadership” to do this, he said.



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Filed under Conservative family values, health, Ireland, Irish Times, sleaze., Tories.

All Fools’ Day comes early

The morning gem is from The Independent:

The Nuclear Security Summit is in its second day in The Hague and has brought leaders from 53 countries together to discuss ways of combating nuclear terrorism. The catering company responsible for feeding the leaders and delegates has made a controversial staffing decision: No female serving staff are working in the plenary room where the main talks are being held. Instead, only men over 25 have been given the privilege of serving the working lunches at the World Forum.

Why? Oh, tell us, do!

According to Dutch national newspaper the Algemeen Dagblad, the director of the catering company, Hans van der Linde, was looking to create a “uniform” look amongst his staff. They quote him justifying his decision in the following manner: “If 20 gentlemen are serving and three platinum blonde ladies, then that spoils the image.

“The personnel needs to act in as reserved a manner as possible, and you can’t achieve that by adding a couple of pretty, conspicuous ladies to the mix,” he added.

Platinum-Blonde-1931-ColumbiaC’mon, Malcolm! Cue the Margot/Harlow joke!

Look it up for yourselves.

Presumably any 25+ year old male waiting staff with platinum-hair had a regulation brunet (note the subtle vocabulary) rinse for the occasion. And none were “conspicuous”.

It gets worse!

In an attempt to clarify himself, van der Linde spoke to Radio 1 about keeping his female employees out of the plenary sessions. He denied ever mentioning hair colour, and told the station that he had initially come up with “the creative idea to only employ ladies to serve the world leaders, and to have them do that in little Delft Blue dresses.” His idea was apparently rejected by the ministry of Foreign Affairs, who made it clear that a more sober appearance would be appropriate. Van der Linde added: “We also have to go up a very steep flight of stairs, so little dresses wouldn’t be practical, as you wouldn’t be able to lift your legs high enough”.


Somewhere along the way this all became a Finbarr Saunders cartoon strip.

Fnarr. Fnarr.

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Filed under Europe, films, Gender, Independent, politics

National crisis!

It is a a measure of how limited are the horizons of Little England.

Tomorrow’s Daily Telegraph has a front-page story — competing with the MH370 disappearance, Osborne’s annuity ploy coming unstitched, Russia ejected from G8  — and headlined:

Perfect storm leads to fence panel shortage.

The on-line version is even more sensational:

traditional lap fencing … is being offered for up to £80 a panel to panic buyers on the black market.

There has even been a spate of thefts of wooden fence panels from people’s gardens.

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Filed under Daily Telegraph, weather