Saturday, 21 November 2009

The most depressing thing ... (part II)

The other thing that councils really don't like to do is acknowledge the depth of experience and expertise that might exist within their own communites.

Some of that expertise is very expensive stuff - when charged - and that makes their unwillingness to make use of it even more bizarre.

When I am employed as a consultant (as opposed to eking my way as jobbing journalist) I am paid at rates not dissimilar to those that the Council no doubt shell out on their commercial consultancies.

I am recognised as an expert on data law, on statistical research - and a few more areas besides. So, if I stick my hand up and offer to help, it always strikes me as strange when councils say no - and prefer instead to spend their money on external consultants.

Oddly, this refusal to capitalise on expertise available is likely to be against the advice that some of the cutting edge consultancies are probably giving them.

Sad. Also, at times, something that makes me very cross indeed, since at the end of the day, their refusal to listen means I end up paying more as a ratepayer anyway.

The most depressing thing... (part I)

...about local authority bureaucrats is their inability to hear anything that isn't said by "approved people".

The list of approved people is, of course, pretty short, and is restricted mainly to other bureaucrats, their political masters in London and County Hall - and any assortment of consultants currently relieving them of large quantities of money at £1,000+ per day.

That can be the only explanation for the pretty pisspoor reaction to ANY public criticism. After all, this week I reported on how Lincolnshire Community Health Services were piloting a survey for parents of five-year-olds that appeared to be excessive, intrusive and possibly not even wholly legal.

It was duly taken up by the Mail. The BBC reported on it. So did the local press. And whilst, in the interests of balance, some supportive voices were published, the general reaction was pretty universally hostile.

People really do object to local authorities asking question about whether their children lie, cheat or steal.

So what is the Health authority doing? Is it openly talking about possibly having got things wrong.

Nah!

They are pressing on as before. They will take into account parents views "as appropriate": and as for suggestions that the suervey might be flawed, either legally or in pure data-gathering terms - they really aren't interested.

Is anyone even remotely surprised. After all, sticking fingers in ears and loudly repeating "not listening" is the culture of government we now have after a decade of nanny state knows best.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Being pragmatic about the BNP

So did it do the BNP any good. Yep.

Nick Griffin does not come across as a monster. The panel landed a few blows...but no knock-out..and wtch the comments coming in. How many referred to "Nick". He has arrived in a way he hadn't an hour ago.

Otherwise, two basic questions: who won the intellectual argument? and what about the PR tally?

No-one much in answer to the first. When individuals poked at the BNP position, it is clear that there are serious inconsistencies and intellectual holes. But look what happened when the audience poked Jack Straw on immigration. Sheer incoherence. No. Mr Griffin hasn't got brilliant answers...but one could spot an emerging brand here.

The story is going to be how he is a moderating influence on the BNP. How he took a party that was to the right of Genghis Khan...and brought it back to just slightly to the left of GK.

And positioning is important. Surprised to note a friend praising Bonnie Greer. Oh, no. The IMAGE - and image is key here - was that of patrician put-down. Wonderful for those who already agree: but nothing like so good for those who are tempted by the easy answers of the BNP.

She embodied everything the BNP claim is wrong with the establishment. Snooty, educated - and not relating to the interests and needs of ordinary people.

Not a disaster. Nick Griffin is no Le Pen. Because the problem for French politics for many years was not merely the existence of the Front National...but the extent to which Le Pen was a charismatic operator and went down very well with the media.

Conclusion? Nick Griffin is savvy and dangerous - and on the evidence of today, the existing political establishment are going to have to work a lot harder to stop him from making further gains.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Moral Panic will Save our Seats!

Yes. Forget the economy. Forget the War on Terror. In fact, forget pretty much everything, as new Labour discover the dangers of "shagbands".

These, to the uninitiated - and I have to say I was pretty uninitiated until Wakefield MP Mary Creagh, a whip in the Department of Health, shattered my illusions on the subject - are thin plastic wristbands, available in a range of colours, and worn on the wrist by young persons desperately seeking sex.

Each colour represents a particular sexual act and, as the urban myth has it, girls wear these fashion atrocities, and if a boy manages to snap one, then the girl must carry out the sex act that corresponds to the colour snapped.

At least, that's the story as far as the Daily Mail is concerned, who also provide a handy guide, revealing that yellow means "hug", purple means "kiss", blue means "oral" and black means "sex".

(The full guide, according to Urban Dictionary, suggests that young people are not quite so limited in their sexual choices, and that many more colours and activities are available).

It is not altogether clear what is more shocking: the fact that our delicate youth are being exposed to such lewd thoughts - or the horrid word. The Mail writes: "it is their name that causes alarm bells to ring: Shag-bands. And they are worn by children far too young to truly understand what that crude term means".

Shame therefore on Mary Creagh, for daring to flaunt her lewd title of Government Whip so openly.

But seriously...about all that one is able to conclude from this little piece of confected hysteria is that children today, as children of every generation since year dot, play with concepts that mean very little to them. Might as well rail against the playground terrors who point their finger at another child and go "bang: you're dead".

Has no government Minister time to pop up and have a go at this senseless invocation of violence? Or is it possible that most sensible adults realise that little Johnny, aged 8, may well talk about "sexing" his companions, and have next to no understanding of what he is talking about: whilst his big sister, aged 15, may use the selfsame phrase, and know exactly what she has in mind?

As a local commentator put it (one of the teenage horrors with which I share this household): "Shagbands. Everyone knows what they are - and no-one takes them seriously".

Still, if it pleases a Labour Minister to believe that the nation's youth are so depraved that one only has to snap a plastic wristband for them to instantly fall into depravity, then who am I to disagree?

The real question is: which is more serious? That an allegedly grown-up Labour Minister believes this sort of tosh? Or that she - presumably - takes her policy pronouncements directly from the Daily Mail?

Monday, 18 May 2009

Am I the only one...

...to be growing heartily sick of the current guilt fest being inflicted by the general public on our legislators?

If there were questions to be raised over expenses claimed in ANY job, what I would expect first and foremost would be an uncomfortable half hour with my boss. I would be required to explain. I might be asked to repay.

Only in the most neolithic of companies would I automatically expect to find myself sacked or subject to criminal investigation. People make mistakes.

Getting the benefit of the doubt once is a pretty good rule of thumb. Twice is pushing it. Three times feels like too many.

Are our companies really so draconian? Would people really like them to be so draconian? One mistake and you're out, no references and a criminal record to boot?

I very much doubt it.

Maybe it is time the general public thought a bit more before it opened its collective mouth in holier-than-thou criticism.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Equal under the Law?

The man cannot be serious. But, unless he has been quoted woefully out of context, he is. Listen up to the words of wisdom of "a spokesman for Waltham Forest Council":

"As part of the borough’s policy of promoting tolerance in our schools, children are taught that everyone in our society is of equal value.

"At George Tomlinson, parents were invited to meet with teachers and governors several weeks ago to discuss what work would be taking place throughout the national LGBT History Month and how this work would be delivered.

"Regrettably, some parents chose to remove their children from school.

"The council does not condone any unauthorised absence from school and action has been taken."


The full story can be found here. But in a nutshell, a local primary school - George Tomlinson - has decided to run a LGBT awareness week. Some parents don't like the idea: a mixture, I'd guess, of closet homophobia and genuine concerns about stuffing gay sex down the throats of 8-year-olds.

So, after having their concerns listened to in the only way that Local Government knows how - which is not at all - they are taking the only action left to them.

Which is to withhold their children from school. Whereupon, instead of recognising that these are possibly the sort of parents the school MOST needs on side - because they are interested in the content of their children's education - the Local Authority puffs out its chest and goes all legal on them.

My recommendation: well, this blog is called "reciprocity", and its about the small people (us) standing up to the big people (government) by demanding reciprocal treatment.

Most schools act unlawfully when it comes to cctv. Most schools break the law a hundred different ways when it comes to health and safety. But...a blind eye is turned.

If the Local authority, in its wisdom, turns the full majesty of the law on these parents, they should be in there next week...auditing, checking...and every single legal infraction they find, they should report. And demand action be taken. Now.

They might get the school closed by Easter!

Footnote: since so many people choose to muddle ends and means. Personally, I am all for LGBT awareness: I believe in sexual diversity - probably a good deal more so than most local bureaucrats.

But there is always a debate to be had about HOW you do these things. Are weeks of awareness really the best way forward? Are they right for 8-year-olds? And most of all, when schools fall out with parents, is threatening to take them to court the only answer?

I don't know about the first couple of questions: but I do know my answer to the last. A resounding NO.

Investigations are continuing...

The other po-faced bit about the Mandy-takes-a-custard-bath episode...

(No, Mandy, no: did no-one explain that red nose day is NEXT week?)

...is the way in which the Police have decided to "launch an investigation". Pardon?

An investigation? Do they not watch the news? This bird with dark hair walked up to Peter and tipped green slime over him. Then she was interviewed later explaining why she did it.

Various news agencies helpfully captioned her as Miss Deen, of campaign group Plane Stupid. She is 29 and lives in Brighton. Sorted.

Yet we need an investigation?

I wonder how many hours of police time, how many forms, and ultimately how many thousands of pounds that will cost.

Of course we need to investigate things sometimes. When government or social services or anyone screws up, an investigation is useful. But in my own experience of trouble-shooting some very troublesome business issues, it doesn't take a genius or much more than a few hours of knocking heads to get to the bottom of most things.

Its called "finding out" what went on. Giving the process a grandiose sort of word like "investigation" guarantees that it will all get a load more complicated and take twice as long.

As for an "inquiry": forget it. You just know that particular beast isn't going to deliver any answers. Only more questions

Green Custard and Bans

What joy, today, to see the oleaginous one - aka Lord Mandelson of Pride - take a dollop of green slime full in the face.

Its been a week for memories: and this was so reminiscent of a long-lost political era in which Young Liberals poured ink over Prime Minister Edward Heath, and eggs were thrown at Michael Hesseltine. The latter was an especially cruel act, given the length of the man's hair: no doubt a lengthy session with the Head n Shoulders in the bath tub, followed.

And yes. Oh yes, oh yes. Of course it would have been dreadful if the tub had contained not green custard, but sulphuric acid. Or boiling coffee. Or some equally deadly concoction.

But puh-lease can we debate this without the po-faced policeman who turned up on the Beeb's News at One to mutter about 'Elf an Safety.

We've heard this one before, sort of, in respect of Fathers for Justice: don't go climbing up the side of Buck Palace, or we might accidentally have to shoot you.

Don't go doing direct action because it might look a bit like someone doing something really nasty. And oh dear, what if some of that custard had got into Lord Mandy's eyes?

Its another of those very English things. In darkest Africa, the authorities ban politics as blatantly as they wish. Say something we don't like: whump! You're banned.

Here, the Council will send you a bill for any leaflets that you handed out that got left as "litter" anywhere. You need to fill out a Risk Assessment in advance of a demo. And now Direct Action needs to take account of safety.

Sometimes I just want to tear my hair out.

Politics in Britain is being killed not by the heavy fist of oppression, but by the slow carbon monoxide of red tape.

Or treacle.

Now there's something to chuck over a politician. If they would only stand still long enough....

Friday, 6 March 2009

The Poisonous Root...

OK. OK. Just quieten down at the back. Stop sniggering.

Yesterday's Daily Mail reported that:

"A couple caught simulating sex on CCTV to torment their neighbours were handed two-year restraining orders today".

They don't exactly sound like the sort of neighbours I would like to have. Noisy. Rude. And eventually convicted of causing harassment. Which is where the cctv came in.

The story implies that following some initial bad behaviour, the police suggested that the unfortunate neighbours use cctv to obtain evidence of this pair's nasty behaviour. Fair enough, you might say. Except that training the cctv INTO this couple's garden is itself quite possibly unlawful.

But no matter. For, as Deputy District Judge Alan Fowler is quoted as saying, the neighbours were entitled to breach this couple's privacy "because they were detecting a crime".

Now I am always slightly wary of accepting secondhand reports of what judges are supposed to have said. A comparison between court reports and newspaper versions can on occasion be quite enlightening.

But this has the whiff of modern England about it. We have long since ceased to be a nation in which respect for the Law counted for much. Certainly not if our Home Secretary's pic'n'mix attitude to legality is anything to go by.

We have instead adopted a flexible, graded system. It is OK to break a given law, provided that the aim of your action is to catch someone breaking a more sensational law. In this context, rights to privacy can go hang.

And if, perchance, you are some sort of sex offender, the tariff ratchets swiftly upwards: anyone for a little vigilante violence? Its OK - because the "pervert" deserves it.

This is a far cry from the US approach to law-enforcement in which there is still some lingering respect for the doctrine of "fruit of the poison tree". This states, pretty uncompromisingly, that where the source of a particular piece of evidence is tainted (by illegality) ALL subsequent findings resulting from that evidence are to be ignored.

Its harsh: it gives rise to accusations that the law favours the criminal. But it is also just: an absolute rein on police fishing expeditions.

Not, though, in the UK. The oddest thing about this case is that the pi├Ęce de resistance - the couple simulating sex on camera - only became a crime by virtue of the presence of the camera in the first place. They knew they were being filmed. Stupidly, they put on a performance for the lens.

Otherwise, it seems highly unlikely that their neighbours would have ever seen or been disturbed by this particular bit of faked rumpy-pumpy.

The number of circles in that argument are starting to make my head ache. Entrapment, anyone?

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Careless Words

Oh dear. Some people in the public eye really should be more careful how they phrase things.

First up is MP Julie Kirkbride, expressing her concern - in debate about moves to make secret the addresses of candidates for parliamentary election - about nutty constituents. "You never know", she observes poignantly "if someone is going to explode ...".

Clearly a reference to the recent outbreak of suicide bombers in leafy Bromsgrove. Although others arguing in favour of the measure claims it has nothing to do with terrorism.

Then there's the English Cricket Umpire just back from being shot at in Pakistan. He appeared on the Beeb's News at One today to complain that he had been promised "Presidential Level" security.

So what's his problem? A short grounding in the history of Pakistan over the last fifty years or so suggests that that is exactly what he got. Pakistani Presidents have an unfortunate habit of not dying from old age.

I suppose he could have asked for "Prime Ministerial security" - but even that, as Benazir Bhutto found out to her cost, has its drawbacks.

OK. Is this crude and bad taste? Perhaps: but so too is being so ignorant of a country and its history that one can presume, as this guy does, that one can insist on everything being "just like home" - and then whinge when it isn't.

Perhaps the Pakistanis have more serious problems to worry about right now than the whining of an overseas visitor.

Monday, 2 March 2009

x

Getting booted up

One immediate spur to action was the weekend's Modern Liberty Convention.

It wasn't exactly inspiring: but it was good to be out and about, hob-nobbing with the activist classes, and up on my hind legs actually speechifying about something once more.

Nice, too, to be recognised (and heckled) by David Howarth, Cambridge's ever-so-cuddly Lib Dem MP. At least that proves that David is a far more visual sort of person than I have ever been. The chances of my recognising even my best friend whilst passing in the street are small to vanishing. My lack of visual acuity is something of a hosuehold joke.

So: much as I remember the man, the voice and some of his sentiments, the chances of my recognising someone I last saw as an up and coming member of the West Midlands Liberal Party some twenty years ago are...nil.

But back to Cambridge and the CML. I also chaired a session - on regulating the internet. Inevitably, perhaps - given that we had the Internet Watch Foundation on the platform - debate skewed round to matters of sex and porn. A pity, since the debate about internet regulation is about so much more: terror, suicide, hate speech, offense and threat. You name it: someone, somewhere has probably requested that it be banned or blocked.

Then, as karma would have it: back home to write up the apparent demise of the Australian attempt at internet regulation. Oh dear! It has hit the buffers, splatttering Comms Supremo, Stephen Conroy, with loads of egg.

It couldn't happen to a nicer Minister.

Let's try again...

I started, so...maybe I won't ever finish, but my New Year's resolution (or seeing as its now February, my Lenten vow) is to get this blog re-started. Yes: a newer, lighter, more streamlined audela is even now waiting in the wings.

If I fall out of the habit again, please poke.