Tag Archives: panics

Michael Gove is not having a threesome with me!

Just what is it about Tories and “families”? I for one recognise that having “family friendly” policies is both desirable and important but while Labour take that as a green light for interference, the Tories become obsessed with moralising. And interfering.

So it is that while David Willets is claiming that family breakdown is due to women becoming too big for their boots (er, the Bridget Jones generation was like 10 years ago), while Michael Gove goes one step beyond.

I don’t have a problem with increasing the number of health visitors per se (although I do have a big problem with yet another national politician seeking to micro-manage the NHS yet again), but what on earth is all this stuff about offering “counselling to couples about to get married”?

Apparently “people should not have to feel they were on their own when building a relationship” – er, excuse me but while polyamory is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice, I’m quite happen being “on our own” in my personal relationship thank you very much. I don’t need a state-sponsored person from a voluntary organisation on hand to proffer advice. Sheesh!

Who walks around saying “if only there was a third person in our marriage” (apart from Prince Charles of course)? If society really has collapsed to such an extent that people lack anything resembling a support structure via friends and family, we really do have much more fundamental problems than are being indicated here. If it hasn’t, then it is a non-issue. Which is it?

This sounds distinctly like one of those things like anti-social behaviour 12 years ago – an issue you never knew existed which politicians magic out of the air to have something to say but which soon becomes an “epidemic” and the subject of a moral panic. If you get to the point of getting married and have no idea of what you are letting yourself in for, a couple of counselling sessions are unlikely to help you. By contrast, if you think you need counselling you probably don’t – the path to wisdom is found acknowledging ignorance and all that. The voluntary sector already provides this sort of hand holding and there appears to be little evidence that, at this time of insecurity, this is even a real problem let alone a priority, so why bang on about it now?

What next? Hen and stag weekend planning services on the state? Free cake for every couple? An official to intervene if the father of the bride is not able to give her away for any reason (subject to a waiting list – with targets!)? If Gove doesn’t see this is an area for the state to back off, there’s no helping him.

But it does tell you all you need to know about the Tories’ attitude to love: one part financial arrangement, one part psychological disorder. That’s Eton for you.

Is groupthink really the correct response to financial meltdown?

David Cameron has announced his party will work with the government to tackle the continuing financial turbulence, whatever that means. Nick Clegg has apparently said much the same.

But is this really the correct response? There are certain instances – for example when the country is physically under threat at a time of war – when suspending party politics may be a good idea. But outside of such extreme cases, when has cross-party co-operation ever lead to good policy?

In the immediate aftermath of 7/7 and 9/11, opposition parties agreed to “work with the government” – the result has been a massive curtailment of civil liberties which continues unabated. Even though the opposition parties quickly regained their senses and resumed scrutiny of legislation relatively quickly, the agenda of detention without charge, identity cards and even internment was set. 2005’s “compromise” of setting detention without charge at 28 days was in many ways a tactical defeat on the part of civil libertarians.

Rolling further back, we have legislation such as the Dangerous Dogs Act – initiated due to a nation-wide panic. This is widely cited as a brilliant example of how badly Parliament can get things wrong, yet isn’t the ground being laid for similar poor groupthink?

It strikes me there is a massive ideological debate to be having at the moment. Outside of Parliament, the Keynsians are having a resurgence. But with all three parties signed up to a monetarist agenda and the drawbridge being self-consciously drawn up, will they even be heard? Regardless of the rights and wrongs of this or that economic society, surely at a time of FAIL we should be encouraging debate in an open society not battening down the hatches? It’s also pretty meaningless with Labour holding a majority in the Commons. Sure, the other parties have some influence in the Lords but it is distinctly limited.

So I’m afraid to say I’m quite, quite wary of this latest development. It is time for a massive ideological punch up in the Houses of Parliament not a group hug. The fact that this is the automatic reaction to every reaction suggests that our political system itself is broken in a way that isn’t the case even in the US.

Come on Nick, this is your big chance: don’t throw it away because of a desire to be establishment!

“New Nagging” – a very Cameroon concept [UPDATED LOTS]

Small bit of advice to Andrew Lansley. If you have to insist that you are not “nannying” that is almost certainly what you are doing. Finger wagging doesn’t stop being finger wagging just because you have the fingers of your other hand crossed behind your back.

I know I need to read the actual speech rather than the media precis, but my kneejerk reaction is: what on earth has happened to Reform? They used to be the thinktank that so-called ‘Orange Bookers’ slammed in everyone else’s face as the epitomy of laissez-faire economic liberalism. In the past few months they’ve transformed themselves into one of the usual thinktank subjects – constantly harping on about how government should intervene here, and regulate that.

* * *

I’ve now read Lansley’s speech – I’ve even skimmed through Alan Johnson’s speech on obesity last month for good measure. I struggle to find much in the way of a substantive difference between the two. Both proudly unveil partnerships with the private sector. Lansley states “Providing information and example is empowering, lecturing people is not.” Johnson states “vilifying the extremely fat doesn’t make people change their behaviour.” There is a subtle difference there but it is not immediately apparent.

In the comments below, Dale Basset makes much of the fact that Lansley states that “Legislation will be a last resort.” Is he honestly suggesting that Alan Johnson would say anything different? It isn’t as if the government have been falling over themselves to introduce legislation. In fact though, it simply isn’t true. In Lansley’s bullet point list of steps to take, legislation – specifically European legislation – is right on the top of his list. Points 3, 5 and 8 are also primarily regulatory and/or concerned with state intervention.

His prescription for tackling adult obesity may be legislation-lite, but it is very heavy on “supportive rôle models and positive social norms.” Be honest, given that this is supposed to be aimed at adults, does it not sound more than a little patronising? He actually suggests a teenage version of Lazytown, but by implication he is suggesting an adult version as well.

And as for the children, he explicitly calls for more nannying, merely questioning the nannying style: “we need more of a ‘Mary Poppins’ than a ‘Miss Trunchbull’.”

Bearing all that in mind, he is lucky that he doesn’t get done under the Trade Descriptions Act for calling his speech “No excuses, no nannying.”

Finally, regarding the ‘no excuses’ stuff, it varies between the nonsensical and the deranged. He explicitly attacks the government’s Foresight report for sending out the ‘wrong’ message to obese people. Since when did obese people, with the obvious exceptions of Lansley and myself, sit around reading government reports (admittedly, this may change if they end up cancelling Countdown)?

The line “Tell people that biology and the environment causes obesity and they are offered the one thing we have to avoid: an excuse.” is all too reminiscent of John Major’s call for society to “condemn a little more and understand a little less.” In short, it is classic Tory Flat Earthism. Who cares if there may be important biological and environmental factors behind the increase in obesity? Whatever you do, don’t tell the fat people.

I speak from personal experience here when I tell you that we fatties are perfectly good at finding excuses ourselves. We don’t need government reports to provide them for us and we certainly don’t need populist politicians to protect us from ‘unhelpful’ things like scientific research. I’m happy to take responsibility for my own body shape, but that is another thing entirely from dismissing external factors. One external factor for instance is being singled out as the fatty every day throughout your school career. While I’m no scientist, I have no personal doubt that there is a link between obesity and mental health, as this interesting Ben Goldacre article suggests. Not only might the “no excuses” culture of Toryism not work, but if its main effect is to simply make fat people feel even worse about themselves it could prove counter-productive.

One of my favourite David Boyle books is Tyranny of Numbers. Way before its time, in it he comes up with a number of ‘paradoxes’ about our target obessed culture. Paradox Number Seven states that “When you count things, they get worse.” It certainly seems to me that the more our society obsesses about obesity, the bigger a problem it becomes. Why this has become such a big thing over the past decade I can only guess at, although I suspect it has something to do with irresponsible medical professionals getting carried away with numbers which suit their budget submissions, and a burgeoning diet industry that can now afford to hire sock puppeting lobbyists (and even MPs). I look around me and don’t seem to see much more obesity than there was 20 years ago, yet everyone I know with a bit of muscle on them is BMI classified as obese. It strikes me that a proper ‘conservative’ attitude would be to not get carried away with all this at all. And ultimately, it if boils down to a choice between traffic light labelling on food and having Chris fucking Hoy rammed down my throad as the latest Lansley-approved ‘rôle model,’ I’ll stick with the regulation thanks.

Jacqui Smith: It’s not my fault, it’s my contractors that are rubbish (whinge, whinge…)

Jacqui Smith’s startling insight into how the details of 84,000 prisoners managed to wind up on a memory stick which promptly went missing:

“This was data that was being held in a secure form, but was downloaded onto a memory stick by an external contractor,” she said.

“It runs against the rules set down both for the holding of government data and set down by the external contractor and certainly set down in the contract that we had with the external contractor.”

Well, duh.

wrong-mike.jpg
more animals

You’ve got to marvel at how these bozos get out of the house in the morning. Based on this statement I can only assume that Jacqui Smith doesn’t actually walk around with her door keys on her, but instead keeps them under a potted plant by the door. To avoid being burgled she has figured out the genius ruse of writing personally to her neighbours and insisting that they don’t break in without her permission.

The point, Smith, is that if it is possible for a private contractor to leave the office with sensitive data on a flashdrive, your system isn’t fucking secure. Almost a year after the Customs and Excise debacle and you still haven’t figured that one out. And now you want to put the exact same fuckwits in charge of a national identity database??!?!?!?

Give. Me. Strength.

Boris Johnson: taking the piff

What on Earth is happening in City Hall? If you want to know if a ship is seaworthy, look at which way the rats are running. It doesn’t look good.

Today’s latest debacle suggests that he is rapidly turning into the liability for David Cameron that some of us predicted he would be:

He wrote: “If you believe the politicians, we have a broken society, in which the courage and morals of young people have been sapped by welfarism and political correctness.

“And if you look at what is happening at the Beijing Olympics, you can see what piffle that is.”

But there is only one politician out there at the moment claiming we have a “broken society” – David Cameron. To claim this is not a criticism of his party leader, as Johnson has insisted is simply ridiculous. Or, to use David Cameron’s own terminology: “It was a lie and it was treating people like fools.

Of course, in Boris Johnson’s case, “piffle” is quite literally his middle name (okay, almost – don’t spoil the gag!). Speaking about the Petronella Wyatt scandal, which ended up being true, he had this to say:

I have not had an affair with Petronella. It is complete balderdash. It is an inverted pyramid of piffle. It is all completely untrue and ludicrous conjecture. I am amazed people can write this drivel.

So it is perhaps not the best word he could have chosen to use to keep him out of trouble.

Metropolitan Police release Total Perspective Vortex (beta)

The Metropolitan Police have launched a beta version of their new crime mapping website. It’s a simple enough Google Maps mash up but I found it highly addictive.

It could be improved – for one thing a break down of crimes by type would be useful. But it does take the figures down to sub-ward level, which is particularly handy.

Overall though, my main reaction to it is probably as it should be: so what? It turns out I live in an “average” area for crime and by “average” I mean there was one recorded crime in June and three in May. Some of the areas neighbouring this crime cesspit have even lower recorded incidents. Where I work, things are slightly worse – 7 incidents in June within my sub-ward. But even then it is surrounded by more average areas. The overall picture is far from a city under seige.

For H2G2, Douglas Adams invented the Total Perspective Vortex – an instrument torture designed to show you exactly how small and insignificant you really are. While I’m sure the Metropolitan Police’s new mashup isn’t powered by a piece of fairy cake, it does have a similar effect. I know the Daily Mail were demanding this sort of thing a few months ago, but I suspect they will end up loathing it as it will (literally) put them in their place.

Ban my games of DEATH!

The One Ring - as found in Lord of the Rings RiskAlix’s announcement that the boardgame War on Terror has been seized by police worried that people might use the “EVIL” balaclava included in it for nefarious acts has got me wondering: what other subversive components lurk within my boadgame sets? I would suggest the following; if the Metro Police would care to raid my house and confiscate them they are welcome to as long as they don’t mind me mocking them mercilessly:

  • Lord of the Rings Risk contains a replica of The One Ring. Invisibility would be very handy for committing criminal acts and anyone owning a copy of this game may inadvertantly be fooled into thinking that this bit of tin will enable them to hide in ladies’ dressing rooms for acts of voyeurism.
  • While Ideology (note to self: second edition is out – check to see if the playing pieces are better quality than the 1st ed) also allows players to play the role of such admirable belief systems as capitalism and imperialism, it also has a darker side. Communism, Fascism and Islamism are all included and by suggesting that these have certain “advantages” the innocent may be seduced into believing such ideals. Filth!
  • The playing pieces in Puerto Rico may officially be known as “colonists” but given their colour and the fact that you play plantation owners, it isn’t hard to work out what they really represent. A clear breach of the Race Relations Act. Similarly, the Robber in Settlers of Catan is unforgiveable (and let’s not get into all that “wood for sheep” business).
  • Ca$h’n’Gun$ – with real, live (foam) guns. Need I say more?

And that isn’t even mentioning the fact that Monopoly turns the most sane, reasonable of individuals into sociopathic bastards. Fundamentally, with all these games out there, it’s a wonder we have a society left!

Is it okay to hate Tim Leunig?

Burning a dummy in effigy
Guardian Readers burn Tim Leunig in effigy.

Press, politico and blog reaction to the Policy Exchange’s Cities Unlimited report has been quite extraordinary. The Guardian today was particularly wretched, producing a big special article extolling the North (if you really think it’s so great, why did you leave Manchester then?) and quoting David Cameron extensively (audio here):

“This report is rubbish from start to finish,” he said, repeating the charge four times in two minutes. “I think the author himself said it might be a bit barmy. It is barmy.” Referring to the report’s co-author Tim Leunig, he added: “I gather he’s off to Australia. The sooner he gets on the ship the better.”

Being part of a multi-media network these days, the paper has been prominently advertising Chris Grayling’s rebuttal of the report on Comment is Free (“I’m not allowed to say what I really think of it on a family website”) while failing to mention that Tim Leunig himself has an article giving his side of the story. To compound things, the paper has issued a handy extract of the report providing all the “damning quotes” while failing to mention its actual proposals or even provide a link to the report.

On the blogosphere, Leunig is variously described as a “twat” and a “fucking idiot.” Recess Monkey has been far more restrained, merely posting a mugshot of who presumably all right thinking socialists should direct their Daily Hate towards. Finally, noticing that no-one in the media appear to have noticed that Leunig was the central party’s golden boy 12 months ago (he being of the Community Land Auction idea), the Lib Dem press office have issued a standard press release so all local parties can join in with the fun (I’m surprised that Tom Papworth is moaning about this though; doesn’t he have some Focus leaflets to deliver?). But just to show what a classy act we really are, the party has declined to issue a national press release. I’m sure those of us working in public policy are now really reassured that the party will stand by us when the chips are down.

What is most remarkable is that in the last 24 hours since it has been available, none of these people appear to have bothered to read the actual report. Jonathan Calder has, and it is hard to fault his analysis:

David Cameron has called Cities Unlimited “insane”. My own reaction on reading it is quite different. While I like the idea of selling empty property cheaply to its neighbours and local control of development funds, it seems to me to be based on two quasi-Marxist assumptions. They are:

  • contempt for piecemeal reform;
  • the belief that it is the state’s role to forecast how society and the economy will develop and then expedite that development.

The fact is, Leunig and James Swaffield do bear some responsibility for the mess they have found themselves in. Fundamentally, they appear to not be able to make their minds up. On the one hand, most of the prescriptions of their report are excellent. But their analysis of the situation is at the height of economistic hubris. No-one can deny that northern towns such as Manchester and Newcastle have declined since the height of the industrial revolution and have struggled to recover since, but how does that inform us about the future? No-one can deny that the south east has been beneficiary of the post-industrial era, but how does that lead one to conclude that it will remain the case over the next 20-50 years? Can you really measure success and failure in such simplistic economic terms (I for one would move back to Manchester in a heartbeat if I thought I could have a similar career to the one I have here in London; I can’t stand the Capital)? Fundamentally, how can you claim to believe in devolution and reject ideas of a command economy while proposing to plan UK-wide demographics down to the last neighbourhood?

It isn’t really the north that should be upset by this report, it is the good burghers of Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire whose countryside Leunig and Swaffield are proposing to tarmac over. Yet this is based on the assumption that in a post-industrial information age, location will remain as important as it was 100 years ago. My ill-informed analysis is different: the south east has boomed while the north has wilted because that is where the UK’s knowledge economy has been focussed. Invest in a knowledge economy up north and there is no reason why we can’t see benefits across the country. From reading the report, I would expect Leunig and Swaffield to agree with that, at least up to an extent, so why preface their work with the counsel of despair which has caused them so much heat over the past 24 hours?

Back to the media reaction though, I have to wonder if this whole row has been engineered by the Policy Exchange deliberately. The Smith Institute has just had an uncomfortable year with the Charity Commission breathing down its neck. The Policy Exchange must know that its intimate, revolving door relationship with the Conservatives is likely to come under scrutiny sooner or later. So, why not engineer a row with the Tories? And use a Lib Dem as the patsy to boot?

Earlier this year, there was a suggestion that Nick Clegg’s Policy Exchange speech had been leaked to David Cameron thus allowing the Conservative leader to undermine his rival by making a strikingly similar speech 24 hours earlier. Charity Commission investigation or not, if you are a Lib Dem you would be well advised to only sup with the Policy Exchange with a very long spoon.

KAPOW! Batman grows UP!

Holy censorship Batman! The Villainous Passportiser is attacking us again with “Do You Know Who I Am” press release gun.

Apparently, people have been shocked to discover that the new Batman film isn’t for kiddies. A year’s worth of advertising centering around the horrifically disfigured villain, plus the fact that it is a sequel to the already dark Batman Begins, wasn’t enough of a clue.

Vaz has a brilliant line in logic here:

“The BBFC should realise there are scenes of gratuitous violence in The Dark Knight to which I would certainly not take my 11-year-old daughter”, said Mr Vaz. “It should be a 15 classification.”

No one is forcing you to take your 11-year-old daughter to see anything Keith! Instead of insisting that every film gets reclassified to your exact specifications, why not simply exercise some parental judgement? If you are incapable of that, then what the hell are you doing chairing a Parliamentary committee? Hmm? HMMM??!!

The ratings system has always been a bit kablooey at around the ages of 11 to 17. The 12 rating (of which IIRC, the 1989 Batman film was the first to have that rating) was widely abused simply because it was impossible to enforce. The main problem was that parents would insist on taking younger children to 12-rated films. Having responded to public pressure then, the BBFC are now getting harranged from the other direction.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that The Dark Knight has dark themes and violence in it. The last film was pretty dark as well and The Dark Knight Returns, Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum have been on the bookshelves for 20 years now. It isn’t even as ambiguous as Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Lazy parents who refuse to take responsibility for their own research don’t have any excuse in my view, and giving Keith Vaz the opportunity to jump on yet another bandwagon is simply unforgiveable.