Friday, 28 November 2014

You'd need a heart of stone ...

It continues to baffle me why otherwise sane, risk-averse persons should choose to gamble their entire wealth by going to law. It has long been established that the only winners from legal actions for libel or slander - defamation as it seems to be termed these days - are the lawyers. There must come some point at which vanity, hubris and the faint hope of victory overcome common sense - but beware it, for that is the point at which all your life's wealth is lost. 

In the construction business we've long learned not to have intractable disputes. Or if we insist on having them, to have recourse in the first instance to tribunal processes such as adjudication, faster and simpler than an action in the Construction Court. Relatively. £600 an hour is fairly cheap by city solicitor standards and even a simple adjudication can cost £30k.

I suppose politicians fall into the same category of fuddle-headed moron as pop stars and glamour models as far as defending their 'reputation' goes and so one need not over sympathise will any ill fortune in the law courts. In Andrew Mitchell's case, it would take a heart of stone not to chuckle.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Glory of Science

I suppose there must have been a moment in the post-war world in which the thermionic valve was King when a scientist playing with silicon crystals caught a glimpse of the future. Airships powered by silicon engines, perhaps, or wrist-televisions with silicon crystal screens. I doubt that anyone would have predicted that when paired with the transistor these silicon chips would become so ubiquitous as to be found even in posh birthday cards. My first wireless as a boy was a Phillips with clunky piano-key buttons and a proper tiller-wheel tuner with little ropes behind the illuminated spectrum dial; the joy was watching the half-dozen valves warm up, glow orange and then produce the most gloriously mellow and warm tones from the small 4W speaker. Quality of sound apart, the job can now be done by something the size of a shirt stud.

The Indie's lead piece on Graphene today must echo the wildest of the speculations about Silicon in the early days. We know that the eventual applications will be miles removed from those we imagine, and that it may need a second, complementary development to realise the material's potential. Yet this story remains a small beacon of light in the November gloom - the glory of pure science, open, transparent, friendly as a Labrador and filled with hope. If there is a positive reason for thanksgiving today, this is it. 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Blair cronies give the bloody butcher a bung

Whether the bloody butcher of Baghdad called in a favour from his cronies Jonathan Powell and Justin Forsyth, his former Chief of Staff and Advisor, now respectively Save the Children board member and Chief Executive, or whether they acted out of altruistic gratitude at Blair's greatness is not known. What is more certain is that they decided to award Blair a risibly inappropriate 'global legacy award' in New York without the knowledge of the organisation's management tier - two hundred of whom have now protested indignantly at the outrage.

Blair has indeed had a lasting effect on the lives of many thousands of children. He ended them. For most Chief Executives of charities dedicated to saving them, this would prove something of a bar to sycophantic rewards, but Justin Forsyth clearly has no such difficulty. 

With the prospect of Chilcot's report appearing before the 2015 election again receding, Blair will remain at large and beyond justice for the moment. 

There's a petition asking save the Children to withdraw the award HERE

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Ukraine: Being the buffer IS Poland's job

Der Spiegel carries an interesting piece this morning a year after the anti-Russian mobs took over the Maidan in Kiev. The amateurish and manipulative tactics of the EU's unelected Commissioners, the early miscalculations by Moscow and the corrupt and wibbly oscillation of Yanukovich are detailed. Intriguingly, there are telling details that beg further questions; that the EU only provided Ukraine with an English language version of the complex Association Agreement, and Moscow had to provide a Russian translation to the Ukrainians, and most critically a hint of Poland's intransigence and absolutism. 
The Poles in particular insisted that the issue (Tymoshenko) could not be allowed to torpedo the association agreement. Behind closed doors, President Bronisaw Komorowski said: "Never again do we want to have a common border with Russia."
And there I think you have it; the EU's position was driven by Poland's desire not to the be the buffer between Western Europe and Russia, and an attempt to shift this role to Ukraine. It is, to be sure, an issue of concern to the Poles and Germans, the Czechs and Slovacs. But do the Spanish or the Italians really care whether Poland or Ukraine is the buffer? And are they consciously willing to pay the estimated €3bn to €12bn a year cost of shifting the buffer zone? The whole Ukraine dispute has the smell of a German-Polish initiative that was allowed to get out of hand - Ukrainian accession is by no means in the best interest of the EU as a whole. 

And from the UK's rather more objective view, it IS Poland's job to be the buffer; that is what Poland is there for. Putin's game is by no means played out yet, and this winter will tell how firmly rooted is the the resolve of both the EU and Russia. 

Monday, 24 November 2014

Can there be democracy without politicians?

Dan Ware like Gillian Duffy is destined for long memory. Of all the hundreds of yesterday's column inches devoted to how Labour / the Tories / UKIP were fighting for Dan's vote, only one column actually got it right. Dan doesn't vote. He was ignoring the election. Dan is part of the majority of the UK electorate who decline to participate in returning politicians to Westminster or elsewhere, on the grounds that "It doesn't matter who you vote for, the same buggers always get in". 

Janet Daley in the Telegraph has a pretty good understanding of it all. The Dans of this world - many millions of people in the UK -  work, deal in cash a lot, look after themselves and their families and are resentful of Labour's forced equality, Tory toff privilege and the wastrels of the LibDems. And they really don't like politicians. All the party election material that drops through their letter boxes goes straight into the recycling bin, unread. They don't know who their MP is (unless, rarely, he's a 'good bloke' ) and really don't care.

Politicians are creatures of such narcissism and vanity that it is taking them an inordinate amount of time to admit that most people don't want them. They used to ascribe the non-voting of 65% of their constituents as 'apathy' before mobile phones, the internet and social media made it quite clear that people weren't at all apathetic. Now they admit coyly that 'there is a worldwide dissatisfaction with politics' without actually facing the truth that there is actually a deep global rejection of politicians.

We are clearly in transition and our old democratic systems are liable to change. The most fundamental question at the head of the agenda is can we have democracy without politicians? Or, like gut bacteria, are politicians a mildly unpleasant but necessary part of our democratic health? I don't know the answer, but I suspect as we inch towards 2015 that the question won't go away.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Emily's Knocker

When the Sun took white van man Dan Ware to call on Emily Thornberry in North London, one tiny incident captured my attention. As he was filmed knocking on the door of her townhouse, the improperly fixed lion-head knocker slid down to hang on a single fixing, exposing the original dark paint behind Emily's sunny new Primrose yellow front door. Dan gave it a half second look that suggested that his instinct was to nip back to the van for his tools, before recalling it was a Sun prop van, filled with nothing more useful than journalists. 


I'd love to offer this as a metaphor for something meaningful about Oborne's political class - the bodged, amateur paint job failing to hide the darkness beneath, or the British lion not being safe with Labour. But I won't. And since those antique knockers sell for hundreds, the chances of it still being there today are probably slim.

I have a certain sympathy with both Emily Thornberry and Dan Ware. Emily is one of few MPs who though not from a working class background has experienced real hardship and poverty in her life - as a child, following the break-up of her parents' marriage. Her actions and career since suggest to me she grew to fear and loathe poverty and financial insecurity, and I believe her snap of Dan's home was a reaction to something that for her represented everything that scarred her. 

And for those of you who don't know Medway, Dan's home in Strood is relatively up-market. You can walk from Strood (and I have done, more than once) across the Medway, through Dickensian Rochester and into Chatham, and thence into Gillingham. Chatham is rough. I mean really rough - even the women have neck tattoos, and the babies have ear rings and are clothed in Burberry check babygrows from the market. On Friday nights, the gutters run with piss. On Saturday morning the footways are spotted with blood. Chatham isn't so much working class as underclass. It's a long way from leafy North London - about 150 years away. 

And that's the real challenge for all politicians - including UKIP ones. How can the lives of people in places like Chatham be improved without actually just throwing money at them?   

Friday, 21 November 2014

Congratulations, Mr Reckless

There's really nothing more to be said except well done to all at UKIP, and congratulations to Mr Reckless. The new political world seems to be panning out:-

Party Members / supporters
Labour Party The public sector (excluding HM Armed Forces), ordained persons and persons in religious orders
Conservative Party Big corporates, global business, the seriously rich, International white trash, senior civil servants and military who don't support Labour
Liberal Democrat Party People who want to legalise marriage with animals, Vegans
United Kingdom Independence Party Everyone else, ordinary people

Mrs Miliband bans England flag

Scene: Around the oiled Swedish antique pine breakfast table at Dartmouth Park, North London, over the morning Muesli ...
"Ed - Go and take that bloody flag down! That's the fifth call I've had this morning from the neighbours!"

"Justine, please ... I've just told all our MPs that they must all have England flags flying on their houses by the weekend - how can I opt out?"

"I don't care - this is bloody Dartmouth Park; it's bad enough that the two mill price tag round here had just brought all the neighbours within the bloody Mansion tax band; I mean, I can't show my face at the Montessori nursery without eyebrows being raised, and someone actually tutted at me in the Croissant queue yesterday, and now you want to devalue the neighbourhood with ... that ....tacky ....rag!"

"Well, if it takes the value under two mill just by flying a flag, they shouldn't complain, should they?"

"Ed! Go and take it down! Now!"

"Justine, you know you're always saying how the Prius isn't big enough for us anymore? How would you feel about something larger? With room for a Biedermeier commode in the back? In white?"