Sunday, 28 June 2009

Lawyers and lies

In my last offering I relayed an anecdote from the dim and distant past, a snippet of my life as a barrister of moderate ability. It prompted a comment from one of the innumerable Messrs Mous. In a nutshell he alleged that lawyers lie for money. This is not just a matter of semantics, it is a matter of substance, so I want to explain why he is wrong. What I am about to say does not ignore that some lawyers break the rules. The anecdote I told was of a client who gave evidence that his right arm and hand were virtually non-functioning and then, after his evidence had been accepted and he was awarded a substantial sum in damages, used his right hand to open a heavy courtroom door. Mr Mous suggested I should have reported that fact to the judge.

The job of a trial lawyer (as they like to call them in America) is to argue his client's case to the best of his ability. It is absolutely not the job of the lawyer to judge the case. I dealt with plenty of cases in which I had grave doubts about my client's truthfulness, only to find at trial that he was quite plainly telling the truth. Equally, I dealt with many in which my opinion was that my client was in the right, only for him to be exposed as a blatant liar. If you want trial by lawyer rather than trial by court, a great many more miscarriages of justice will occur than at present. As a trial lawyer you have to suspend disbelief and just put forward what your client says, after all that is what your opponent is doing and unless both sides are argued fully how is the court meant to resolve the dispute? The process of examination and cross-examination will lead the judge or jury to agree with one side or the other once they have weighed both sides of the argument and all the evidence. That course is not open to a lawyer because he only hears what his client tells him, he does not and cannot hear what the witnesses on the other side say and, most importantly, how they say it, until trial. Their evidence will be served in writing prior to the trial but that merely lets you know what they say, it tells you little or nothing about how they will answer challenges to their version of events.

That doesn't mean we don't form a view about who is likely to be telling the truth, of course we do, and as we gain more experience we like to think our powers of assessment improve. Such an assessment can be nothing other than an opinion, however. We can tell the client we think his position is weak and explain why - and we do, we have to - but if he insists that he is correct and our assessment of the situation is wrong, who are we to disagree? We weren't there when the disputed conversations took place or the disputed incident occurred, whereas he was. Maybe he really is lying to us, maybe he is telling the truth, we cannot know either way. What we can do is advise him of the apparent weaknesses in his case and tell him how very expensive it will be if he loses and has to pay the other side's costs.

A clear majority of cases I dealt with did not go to trial. Either one party capitulated totally or a deal was done. It was only in a few that we ended up in a trial. If my client was lying, was I lying when putting forward his case? I don't think so, because in order to tell a lie you have to know that what you are saying is untrue. The lawyer was not there when the disputed events occurred, he cannot know what happened, he can only know what his client has told him. And at this point we come to a cardinal rule I have never known to have been broken in any case I was involved in. If your client tells you he is not speaking the truth you are not permitted to argue that he is truthful. If he tells you he forged a document you are not permitted to put that document forward as genuine. The reasoning behind this is that if he says it he is admitting something against his own interest and, therefore, is likely to be truthful about that. People often lie to protect themselves but they rarely lie to put themselves in trouble. If your client admits wrongdoing you are never permitted to advance a positive case to the contrary.

As to the anecdote I told, what was the position? The trial was over. The judge had given his judgment in my client's favour and then it appeared that things were not as my client had said. Is it seriously suggested that I should have invited the judge to return to court and tell him that I had witnessed something inconsistent with the evidence he had accepted? That would give rise to another series of issues which would require another trial. Where would it end? You would have lawyers being cross-examined about what they saw or heard and then the judge would have to decide those issues and consider whether they affect his original judgment. It simply isn't a practical course of events. I won't pretend it was comfortable witnessing something that appeared to undermine the whole basis of the judgment that had been given just a few minutes before. But in practical terms it would be impossible to frame a principle requiring a lawyer to report his own client to the court after judgment has been given.

Lawyers are duty-bound to put forward their client's case, decisions about the veracity of witnesses and the overall strength of a case are for the judge or jury, not for the lawyers. It makes no difference whether the lawyer is being paid. Almost everyone of reasonable seniority conducts cases each year for no fee, yet the requirement not to put forward something your client has told you to be untrue remains whether you are being paid or not.

Are lawyers paid to say whatever their client wants them to say? No, absolutely not. We are not at liberty to put forward something we have been told is untrue, nor are we permitted to advance a case that is unsupported by evidence but we are obliged to put forward a case we believe to be complete rubbish because we are not judges, we are advocates. More often than we expect, our assessment turns out to be false.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

"Painkillers" again

I think entertainers must be jolly unlucky people. Singing, dancing and acting appear to cause immense amounts of physical pain, requiring the practitioners to be prescribed constant doses of powerful painkilling medications. Not for them a quiet cup of steaming LemSip or a trip to see the burly Latvian masseuse at Madam Fifi's Sauna and Hanky-Panky Parlour, it has to be handfuls of pills or strong liquids injected wherever and whenever a doctor is paid to administer them.

I read this morning that taking pain medication "became part of" the late Mr Jackson's life. He is not the first and he won't be the last. Before Elvis Presley left showbusiness for a career behind the bacon counter at the Co-Op in Barnsley (or wherever he was last sighted) he was said to have been taking vast quantities of prescription drugs, including many to relieve pain. How strange it is to an outsider like me that the weight of a hand-held microphone can cause such stress to the human body that it leaves the performer in constant agony.

Were I a cynic I would probably suggest that many entertainers' painkilling medication is plain old-fashioned drug addiction tailored by skilled medical practitioners to give the thrill that is desired without the risk of criminal penalties. And pain is a wonderful way to achieve this end because it is virtually impossible to disprove someone's claim of pain. "Slacker's back" results in countless idlers being signed off work by doctors who have no means of knowing whether the person in front of them is putting it on - he says he's in agony, he winces and walks with a stick, what's the quack meant to do? He could say "I don't believe you", but on what ground could he form that view? He might be right, he might be wrong, there is simply no way of telling unless positive evidence is unearthed that is inconsistent with the claimed malady. Many years ago I acted in a personal injury case for someone who claimed his right hand was useless as the result of someone colliding with his car. Throughout the necessary medical examinations and during the trial his right arm lay limp at his side and his wife was brought along to take notes for him because he could not write. On securing a tasty sum in damages we were leaving court when he rushed ahead of me, grasped the handle of the heavy courtroom door with his "useless" right hand and pulled it wide open to allow me to pass through. Fortunately no one on the Defendant's side witnessed it. This sort of thing happens all the time in one way or another.

Frankly, I don't care whether people take illegal drugs or not. Many are illegal through historical quirks while other equally potent medicines are readily available within the law. The whole thing is pretty random. If someone takes something and misbehaves as a result, it is their misbehaviour that the law should address. Injesting an illegal substance and then helping old ladies across the road does not seem in the least bit objectionable to me (unless they didn't want to cross the road, of course).

Somehow I think it would be fairer to the memory of the late Mr Jackson for it to be asserted that he was addicted to drugs rather than engaging in the wishy-washy code of "He started taking pain medication. It became part of his life." He would still be dead (subject to there being any vacancies in supermarket delicatessens) but at least people would be honest about him.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Michael Jackson

So, it's said Michael Jackson has fallen off the twig.

I don't know why anyone is surprised, he's been looking very pale for years.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Why do governments run a deficit?

I have never understood why governments think it appropriate to owe money year-in and year-out. When exceptional events occur and they borrow to alleviate or avoid adverse effects, such as in times of war, their position is entirely understandable. But I fail to see why they should not place balancing the books at the very top of their list of priorities at all other times. After all, £1billion borrowed at 3% costs £30million which is a lot of paperclips. It is beginning to look as though government borrowing this year might reach £200billion, assuming a 3% rate of interest that is a mouthwatering £6billion in interest in one year alone.

Having said that, if the interest is paid to UK-based lenders it is (apart from relatively insignificant costs) a zero-sum game because the money is taken in tax from the domestic economy and paid back into the domestic economy. Only that part of the interest that goes overseas is a true loss and in that respect government debt is never really as expensive as it might seem. Nonetheless, there is always an overseas element in government borrowing so it does amount to a net drag on the UK economy and even if it is less than the headline figure of total interest payable, it is still money that came from UK taxpayers and ends up outside this country.

Even the element of interest that is paid to UK lenders has its problems because it is taken from everyone and handed to very few. It amounts to a redistribution of wealth which would never be countenanced if it were stated government policy. If only politicians were brave enough to point out to the public that government debt means sending vast sums overseas and giving additional income to UK investors in this country, I suspect government debt would also not be countenanced. At a time when, correctly in my view, the government will not hand-out money to prop-up ailing manufacturing businesses willy-nilly, it is handing-out money to prop-up ailing pension funds and banks - additional money to that which the banks have already received and which has caused outrage in some quarters.

The reasons why they do not balance the books are fairly obvious. They fear political damage from reducing spending and believe there is political profit in spending on pet projects. Somehow the damage done by the cost of borrowing is never brought into the equation. It seems to me that a government of any political hue would be onto a huge vote-winner if it said it was going to eliminate, for example, all official naggers in order to reduce debt and free the interest payments on that debt so that it can be spent on the services people really want or to reduce debt even further. Implementing any additional spending resulting from this in an efficient manner raises other issues but in purely political terms it seems to me that the concept is unassailable.

Balancing the books is one thing, building reserves is a different kettle of ballgame. We are probably decades from the UK government being in a position to build reserves even if it slashes spending vastly. Not only do we have the current borrowings to repay (including those in the pipeline for the next year or two while the effects of the recession work their way through the system) but we also have to face two other major sources of debt. Numerous public spending projects have been funded on the never-never and kept off the books (the so-called PFI arrangements) yet they will have to be paid for in the next few years, and public sector pension liabilities will become an increasing drain as the baby-boom generation retires. I have read all sorts of estimates for the cost of these two elements and have reached the firm conclusion that no one really knows how much is involved save that it will be many billions of pounds a year for many years to come.

These are debts every bit as much as a government bond is debt, they involve a liability to fork-out money now and in the future in return for no future benefit. Just as the benefit from a bond is received once as a lump sum and then payments are made to the bond holder over time without him having to do anything more than he has already done, so the benefit of the new hospital, road or school and the benefit of the public-sector employee's work has already been received and must now be paid for without anything further coming in return.

The current position of UK government finances is utterly dire. The amount that must be paid out in future years to cover the cost of on-going borrowing and the cost of servicing PFI debts and pensions is a one-way street. Not only is it vast, it is also money going out for which nothing will be received in return. If anything requires government to seek to balance the books in the future it is the painful lesson we are now learning about the cost of debt. Let's put this in context. Over the last decade we have seen a huge expansion of government spending on non-essential functions - not only the nannying naggers I complain about regularly, but also the countless advisory bodies funded by government to tell government what it wants to hear and the absurd posturing of every branch of central and local government employing "climate change" advisors and assessors to evaluate what can be done to reduce government's "carbon footprint" and many other peripheral activities that no private sector business would waste a penny on. None of this nonsense can even remotely be described as necessary expenditure, it has been incurred because the government thought it could afford it and thought there was political capital in doing so. Had none of that cost been incurred and the sums involved been put instead in a big biscuit tin under the Prime Minister's bed we would be some way towards having the pot required to pay for on-going pensions liabilities.

This illustrates what balancing the books actually means. It does not mean looking only at one financial year and seeing whether receipts balance outgoings, it also means making provision for future liabilities. Governments of both parties have failed miserably to do this and the price of that failure is going to be felt over the next decade and more. For them to have run deficits while an even greater deficit was building up in the background was, I am sure, the result of decisions being made on purely political grounds. Eventually facts always hit home.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Blank - the bureaucratic default position

Just when we thought the scandal about MPs' expenses and allowances couldn't plumb new depths the Parliamentary authorities released copies of relevant documents but deleted so many details that a lot of the documents provided no relevant information at all. In some cases the whole document was blanked-out, yet still it was released for public consumption. The only real pleasure in this exercise has been the reintroduction of the verb "to redact" to everyday usage, thereby dredging it from its old home in the Chancery Division of the High Court, a home in which it gave many of us enormous pleasure for years.

When challenged about the futility of revealing documents that don't allow a clear examination of whether expenses or allowances were properly claimed, the response from the politicians concerned has been a unified "nothing to do with us guv". In a way they are correct. They assert that the decision to edit receipts and expenses forms was taken by civil servants without guidance or instructions from any of our elected politicians. If this is correct, it is indeed nothing to do with them but only in a narrow sense of them not having taken the decision. In a wider, and I believe more accurate, sense it is everything to do with them because they failed to ensure that the material released would satisfy the purpose of the exercise, namely to allow the little people to assess whether claims for reimbursement were valid.

Taking their narrow point at face value, what has happened is a good indicator of one of the most significant problems with bureaucracy. By definition bureaucracy is concerned with implementing a system and not with whether that system is effective or efficient. It is about following procedures whether or not they make sense and whether or not they deliver a benefit. We have seen this at work in so many fields of the public sector recently.

The Financial Services Authority concerned itself with the procedures followed by banks and other lenders rather than with the substance of the effect of the loans on the whole financial sector. A bank that advanced a large loan to someone with no realistic prospect of being able to service the interest payments let alone repay the capital raised no FSA eyebrows provided the correct forms were used. Hospitals have had to provide streams of statistical material to the Department of Health (or whatever they are calling it this week) rather than spending the resources involved on treating patients or keeping wards clean. Policemen are kept off the streets to fill in forms. And armies of pen-pushers have been employed at taxpayers' expense to shuffle information up and down the hierarchy in every government department. Filling in the form is often more important than what the form contains. After all, the information on the forms can usually be interpreted to say almost anything the government wants it to say. The job of the bureaucrats is, both literally and figuratively, a matter of form rather than substance.

And so it is with the redaction of MPs' receipts and claims. There can be no doubt that some information on these documents should not be released because to do so would compromise the privacy of innocent third parties or because they are simply irrelevant. For example, a document might disclose the home address and telephone number of an MP's secretary as well as showing how much he or she was paid; it is the latter information that matters, the former is usually not only irrelevant but is not something the public has any legitimate right to know. An MP who submits an invoice from a shop containing five items of which only one is claimed as an expense can reasonably expect the other items to be blanked-out because they are none of the public's business. But what happens if redacting an ostensibly irrelevant detail, or one which might be thought to be none of the public's business, results in the document becoming ambiguous or even meaningless? That defeats the whole purpose of the exercise, so a balance has to be struck between the need to ensure the validity of expenses claims can be assessed and the need to keep irrelevant and personal details from prurient gaze. It is not only in the current climate that assessment of the validity of claims must be paramount. For example, where the MP's secretary's address is the same as the MP's address that fact is, on the face of things, a legitimate factor in evaluating the claim for reimbursement because it can cause perfectly fair and reasonable questions to be asked.

Redacting documents requires the exercise of judgment. It requires substance to be placed above form and sometimes involves a difficult balancing exercise between keeping private that which is genuinely private and exposing that which is necessary to be disclosed even though it is private. I am not at all surprised to find that things were done as they were because that is the nature of bureaucracy, it is non-judgmental. The default position is the path of least resistance - arrive at 9am, follow the guidelines slavishly, tea break at 11, follow the guidelines slavishly, lunch between 1 and 2, follow the guidelines slavishly, cup of tea at 3.30, follow the guidelines slavishly, go home at 5pm. Do not think for yourself, do not seek to exercise judgment, push that pen, shuffle that paper, tote that barge, lift that bale, never get a little drunk and land in jail.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Is it worth a candle?

Tonight dinner at FatBigot Towers will consist of one of the finest meals in my modest repertoire and a bottle of even finer wine, because today is this blog's first birthday. I could claim to light a candle in celebration but I would fib because the truth is that a candle always burns in the evening here (it's a fine way to prevent stale ciggy odours greeting one for breakfast).

Thinking of this anniversary and of candles I was reminded of the phrase "not worth a candle", meaning something of such little use or value that it is not worth lighting a candle to view it. It seems only appropriate to discuss a subject I would place in that category, namely, counselling.

Most of the true evils of the modern world can be identified by asking whether they existed fifty years ago. I don't mean things - microwave ovens, mobile telephones, computers and the like - I mean methods of human interaction that are claimed by self-appointed "progressives" to ease life's problems. We are infected by a whole host of people whose "work" is claimed to make life better. They tell us what we should and should not eat, drink, drive, see, read, think and goodness only knows what else. None of them has any expertise in anything, they just regurgitate a message fed from on high by "progressives". Let's take a look at eating a drinking.

We should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, they tell us. The message necessarily suggests that eating fewer than five portions a day is harmful. They know they could never get away with saying eating fewer than five is harmful because it would be unsupported by any evidence, so it is put in advisory terms. There is only so much satisfaction in advising people to eat more grapes so a subtle change of emphasis turns it into a minimum dietary standard, thereby turning advice into a requirement and adding weight to the lie implicit in the initial advice. It doesn't much matter how you define a portion because the whole thing is utter tosh. To live in a state of reasonable health we need a combination of protein, carbohydrates and vitamins. We each require a particular balance of the three in order to be able to stave-off diseases of malnutrition. Some are perfectly fit and well and maintain regular bowel movements despite eating small quantities of vegetative matter, others get clogged at the drop of a hat unless they take a whole savoy cabbage and nine pears a day. Five-a-day is far more than many need and less than some need. It is an invented figure. Those employed to promote it are spokespeople for a cause not medical professionals. Yet the message has been pushed so hard and so often it has taken on legitimacy by repetition. And those who promote it are given legitimacy. Their work is now vital because eating five-a-day has been deemed necessary.

We should not drink more than so-many units of alcohol per week, they tell us. I know not and care not what the current figure is because every weekly figure they have ever come up with seems to me to be more appropriate as a recommended daily minimum. Let's call a spade a spade I'm a drunk, my level of consumption of alcohol is off their scale but it also isn't the point. The recommended levels of consumption are simply invented figures, plucked out of thin air and given a thin veil of respectability by not being absurdly low. Those employed to promote these fictitious limits are spokespeople for a cause not medical professionals. They too are deemed to be necessary because the lie they tell has become the official standard to which everyone must comply.

The "work" of fruit and booze advisors / consultants is pointless in practice as well as being patently dishonest. Find me someone who eats more fruit and veg or drinks less booze by reason of this army of expensive naggers. Just one, that's all I ask; one person who has been persuaded by the nagging but would not have been persuaded by reading a sensible message about balanced nutrition or the possible effects of drinking more than your body can tolerate. I suspect that such people are as rare as those whose lives were ruined by failing the Eleven-Plus exam but would now be living in bliss if only comprehensive education existed when they were ten years old.

It just so happens that current mandatory "advice" on the intake of fruit, veg and booze is based on lies. That it is based on lies makes it particularly objectionable but it would be objectionable anyway. It is dressed up as scientific advice being delivered by experts when it is nothing of the sort, it is a robotic message thrust at us by people who require no special knowledge or skill in order to hold down their superannuated positions.

The reason I mention these two hideous areas of governmental waste is that they are, at heart, pseudo-science. Humans lived perfectly well for centuries without it. Malnutrition in the past was not the result of ignorance but of lack of nutritious food. Starvation in Africa today is not the result of the parents not knowing how to feed their children, it is the result of insufficient food for the size of population. If they had the food they would eat it. Suggest to them that they would benefit from someone telling them what they should eat and the most likely response is: "sod that, don't pay them, spend the money on food for us". No one needs food and drink advisors, let alone food and drink advisors paid for out of dwindling tax receipts. The whole thing is a nonsense based on a perceived need that simply does not exist.

And that is where we arrive at counselling.

Did widows in the two World Wars suffer to the end of their days because the death of their husbands was not eased by a visit from a fat baggage in a crocheted shawl? Of course not. The widows grieved as we all grieve when we lose a loved one or, as the case may be, as many spouses grieve when they lose someone who made their life a misery. Then they stuck their chin in the air and said "that won't put food on the table" and got on with life. Of course many of them felt the need to talk about their grief, they did so to relatives and friends who would help ease the blow. There was no magic in it. Auntie Flo didn't need a degree in social work and four weeks of refresher courses a year in order to know what to do and say when her beloved niece cried on her shoulder. She did what human beings have always done, she responded to the situation and gave support as best she could. And she always said "life goes on".

When a landslide killed 116 children (and 28 adults) in Aberfan in 1966 were the parents unable to cope with life because of an absence of people they didn't know sitting in their living rooms? Of course not. They had to get on with life as best they could. Did they talk about it? Of course they did if they wanted to, and they did so to family and friends and anyone who would listen in the pub. I think I can guess what the reaction would have been in a little mining village in Wales to the descent upon them of "professional counsellors" - two short words, the second of which is "off".

These days something awful happens and the television, radio and newspaper reports inform us that the victims have been offered or are being given counselling. It is described like an established medical procedure. "Mr Bigot had another cardiac infarction, he was given morphine to ease the pain, clopidogeral to dissolve blood clots and counselling." Yet it is nothing but pseudo-science, touchy-feely "we share your pain" twaddle. If people need to talk about a traumatic event they will do so. That's one of the many reasons we developed an extensive network of pubs. Getting something off your chest doesn't require any expertise in the listener, it just requires an ear, preferably one that just listens. Seeking advice about how to move your life forward doesn't need a tax-funded sympathiser, it needs family and friends who can give the combination of genuine sympathy and tough love. For those with no family and friends who can fulfill that role they will find it in any good landlord or landlady of a pub or proprietor of a teashop and all for the cost of a few pints or a pot of English Breakfast and a buttered scone.

There is a very simple test of whether we need counsellors and that is to ask whether they would exist if people had to pay for them out of their own pockets. Some with deep pockets might do so, and more fool them. For the same reason the human race has existed happily in the past without these barnacles, we can exist happily without them now. OK, so there might be some benefit in a tiny number of cases where the counsellor does a better job than Joe and Doris behind the bar at the Dog and Duck. But I have no doubt that the institutionalisation of counselling as a response to trauma has a significant negative effect. It formalises the notion that outsiders are better able to give help than those close to us. Nothing could be further from the truth. It also places the State as the first port of call in times of difficulty, a recipe for disaster if ever there was.

Counselling is one of the aspects of modern life that makes me truly angry. So angry that it has become an obsession. Indeed I am so obsessed I must address the problem, I might need counselling. No no no ... gin and tonic does it so much better.

Happy anniversary.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Lying takes skill, amoral scum tend not to have skill

If you think your very survival depends on telling lies it is very unwise to commit your thoughts to print without taking a little peek at the rushes to make sure you are not making a complete pigs' breakfast of the whole thing.

Gordon Brown has lent his name to a simply astonishing piece of mendacious codswallop in today's Sunday Mirror. It's necessary to put it in context. The Shadow Health Secretary said that ring-fencing government spending for health and overseas aid in 2011 would mean cutting the total amount spent by all other departments by 10%. He was not setting out his own party's position, he was using the current government's own figures. In 2011 Gordon Brown's government would have to cut spending by 10% across all departments other than health and overseas aid if it kept to the spending commitments it has made but excluded health and overseas aid from reductions. That is a fairly simple proposition. The government has said how much it intends to spend. It has not said how it intends to spend it. But if health and overseas aid are not to suffer reductions the amount available to all other departments will be 10% less than it is now. What's difficult about that?

In today's article poor Gordon has turning himself into pitiful Gordon. He claims that his spending plans are different from those Mr Lansley was talking about. That is a blatant lie. It doesn't stop there. Then he says the purpose of cutting government spending is to provide "a £200,000 tax cut for the richest 3,000 families". What a stupid line. Is it really his case that the Conservatives would hunt for the 3,000 richest families in the country and arrange things so that they each pay £200,000 less in tax? Has anything more absurd ever been written by a serving Prime Minister?

Then he made his worst mistake. He wrote this: "David Cameron ... would actually make the recession worse, by slowing public spending at exactly the time we need it most." How very insightful that sentence is ... or is it? The reduction in spending of 10% over all but two departments relates to 2011. Does pitiful Gordon think we are still going to be in recession in 2011? If he does it conflicts with everything he and his puppet Chancellor have said on the subject. Or was he saying that cutting government spending this year would make the recession and/or the consequences of recession worse? If he meant the latter he should have saved some ink because the Conservatives are not in power this year so his point has neither form nor substance.

When you start lying it is very difficult to stop. Were government expenditure (save for health and overseas aid) to be cut by 10%, as Labour plans, that reduction could be effected in numerous different ways. Stopping funding for all quangos and charities would achieve something like the reduction pitiful Gordon wrote into the last budget. Yet in his article today he says it "would mean" reductions in the numbers of teachers, police officers, soldiers and university places. That is another blatant lie. There is no scope for misunderstanding here, it is a lie. Were he an honest man he would have written (with a disgraceful amount of spin, albeit honest spin) that such a reductions would be equivalent to the cost of the number of teachers, police officers, soldiers and university places that he mentioned. But he did not say that, he said it "would mean" actual reductions in those fields. A disgraceful, deliberate lie by a man who wouldn't know how to tell the truth if his pathetic sham of a life depended on it.

To make sure there could be no doubt about the depth of his dishonesty he wrote this extraordinary sentence in winding up what must be one of the shabbiest pieces ever submitted by 10 Downing Street to the national press: "They will cut the services you and I rely on so that they can redistribute resources to the 3,000 richest estates in the country." Let's start with a simple question, one even a supported of pitiful Gordon might be able to answer. What services relied on by pitiful Gordon himself will be cut even on his fairyland view of what a Conservative government might do? Hmmm, that's a bit of a toughie. Maybe he means schools for his children; no it can't be that he'll just arrange for them to go to a private school at public expense as his predecessor did. Maybe he means ... no, the list is already exhausted.

"...redistribute resources to the 3,000 richest estates in the country." That is an absolute corker. On no possible basis of fact can it be asserted that keeping to pitiful Gordon's own spending plans - involving as they do sucking a greater and greater amount from everyone in tax to pay for the unprecedented debt his incompetence has accumulated - will result in anyone getting richer. No doubt one could take the cash value of the cuts pitiful Gordon plans and pretend they will be paid to the richest 3,000 families in the country and calculate that each of the 3,000 will receive £200,000 in Monopoly money, no doubt fairy dust is a more appropriate currency in the world of pitiful Gordon. But no one is planning to cut the taxes payed by anyone and no one is planning to give hand-outs to rich people.

The man has descended to the sewer. At long last his words have reached the level of his moral compass. He is a shocking piece of scum, utterly dishonest filth, unfit to lace his own boots let alone anyone else's.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Peering over the edge of despair

It was 3pm on Friday and time to satisfy one of humanity's most basic urges. No, nothing lavatorial, and not that once a month Saturday night messy business after Match of the Day. It was time for my first daily dose of blog reading. Whizz and whirr went the creaking computer, able still to make all the right noises after almost six years of heavy use.

Meanwhile, on the cable modem something was amiss. Of the six lights "power" was illuminated as was "PC", "data send" and data receive" were quiet and, ominously, "cable" was a pit of blackness rather than a shining beacon of lime green to connect me to the outside world. Virgin Media had isolated Highbury from the rest of civilisation. The same Virgin Media that promised me a bells-and-whistles broadband connection for just a few extra pennies a month. The same Virgin Media that cut-off my landline telephone a few weeks ago when it meant to disconnect someone living four doors away and still hasn't reconnected me. The same Virgin Media that provides a helpful free service to those with broadband queries - free if you call from a Virgin phone, that is, which I would have done had they not cut me off. The same Virgin Media whose helpful free (provided they haven't erroneously cut you adrift) service is a recorded message saying their engineers "hope to have the service restored as soon as possible".

From time to time over the years there have been problems. On those occasions the message on the free (provided they haven't cut you adrift) helpline has always given an estimated time for reconnection. Such a message provides reassurance, it suggests they know what is wrong. To hear that they "hope to have the service restored as soon as possible" paints a very bleak picture. Not only do they not know what is wrong or when it might be fixed, they aren't even prepared to say it will be restored as soon as possible, merely that they hope so.

On returning to FatBigot Towers at 11.30 this evening the world was saved. No doubt Gordon Brown will accept claim credit. Service is resumed. Now for more than a day's updating on the latest thoughts of others.

I suppose we all like to think we have the fortitude not to be addicted to anything. A day without cheese? No problem, there's always tomorrow. A day without booze? That's self-discipline. But a day without the internet is in a different league.

Friday, 12 June 2009

What not to do about the BNP

Labour chose one of its smoothest liars, Peter Hain, to represent the party on Question Time this week. Unlike some I don't object to Mr Hain's permanent orange pigmentation or to his history of engaging in illegal actions to further causes in which he believed. If someone is prepared to say "I believe strongly in this and am prepared to break the law and face a fine or imprisonment for doing so" they are, in my view, acting honourably if, perhaps, foolishly. It doesn't matter what their cause happens to be nor how many others support it, having the courage of your convictions, even if it leads to criminal convictions, is to be commended. Of course now he is a fully-fledged slime machine and all principle was discarded long ago in his search for personal fame, power and glory. Once an honourable man he has followed the well-trodden path of losing his honour in order to gain the title "Right Honourable".

Tonight he was on fine form. Talking with a straight face about the government's plans for spending he adopted what appears to be the official line of speaking only in cash terms without making any adjustment for inflation. So he spoke of increases in spending until 2014 when the government's own figures, published at the time of the budget, make clear they plan a modest cut within less than two years from now once inflation (at a very modest predicted level) has been taken into account and quite a substantial cut by 2014. This is exactly the same tactic used by Gordon Brown at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday. There was a simply bizarre exchange in which poor Gordon accused the Conservatives of planning a 10% cut in public spending when all the opposition had done was point out that by ring-fencing spending on health and international development all other spending would have to fall by 10% in order to match the government's own announced spending plans. So his plans, announced by his puppet Chancellor at the budget, are treated by him as an increase in spending if carried into effect by Labour and a cut if carried into effect by the Conservatives. This is not just spin it is a calculated and deliberate lie which Mr Hain was happy to adopt and shout to the rooftops.

I mention that as an example of Mr Hain's blatant dishonesty but it is not what I actually want to discuss today. I want to discuss his approach to the election of two BNP MEPs. For any visitors from overseas I should explain that the BNP (British National Party) is a fringe party of malcontents. On the two great policy areas, the economy and foreign affairs, their position is identical to that adopted by the Labour Party under Michael Foot in the early 1980s. They argue for widespread nationalisation and a state-command economy combined with withdrawal from the EU.

If anyone is minded to doubt the comparison, take a look at the published policy statements. Keele University helpfully archives manifestos from the main parties and Labour's 1983 manifesto can be found here. If you have the patience to read through the document you will see that they argue for the state to have a command position in the economy. Of particular interest is the section headed "Rebuilding our industry" in which they planned not just the nationalisation of certain industries that were then in private hands but a wholesale creation of new industries by the state and under direct state control. Included in their plans was requiring the banks to do what the government wanted or be nationalised. On foreign affairs their headline policy was withdrawal from what was then the European Economic Community.

The BNP's manifesto for the recent European Parliament elections dealt clearly with their plan to withdraw from the EU, although it said little of substance on anything else. Their economic policy is set out in their "mini-manifesto" from 2007 which calls for the economy to be run by the state and in an article they published in April this year entitled "How the BNP Will Rebuild Britain's economy". Their approach is for the state to manage the economy in the same way that Labour wanted in 1983.

One major difference exists between the BNP in 2009 and Labour in 1983. It is that the BNP wants to exclude people of dusky hue from the country and "repatriate" many who are already here. Ironically the BNP wants to press the bankrupting forces of state socialism on only pasty-faced whities whereas Labour wished to spread the misery more widely. The reason I mention Labour's 1983 Manifesto is that Peter Hain first stood for Parliament in 1983, without appearing to distance himself from the party manifesto. Of course he stood for election subsequently on different policy bases but he can hardly complain about the BNP being an extremist party when its central economic and foreign policy platforms are the same as those on which he first sought election to Parliament.

When asked to comment on the recent success of the BNP in the European elections he expressed distress that Britain has sent two "fascist" (as he called them) MEPs to Brussels. I happen to agree with his definition of the BNP as a fascist organisation but on a wider basis than him. It is not just their absurd policy about pigmentation that makes them fascist but their demand for state control. The latter has been the constant feature in fascist regimes, not all of which have also included a racial or pigment-based element to their platform (although almost all have added one at some stage in order to secure their power-base through the practice of divide-and-rule).

That, also, is not what I really want to say today. What I really want to say is that he is wholly and hopelessly wrong in saying that this country is sending fascists to the EU Parliament. The two men in question won seats because individuals voted for their party in sufficient numbers in two of the voting areas. We can never know how many of those individuals did so because they want to kick the "darkies" out, or because they were persuaded by the policy of withdrawal from the EU, or because they want a control economy, or because they support any of the other things the BNP argues for; nor can we know what combination of factors every individual found persuasive; nor can we know how many of the votes were pure protest votes against the government or the current Parliament or, indeed, anything else. All we know is that sufficient people voted for the BNP to allow two of their candidates to win seats. They are validly elected MEPs, just as much as any MEP wearing a different party badge. This country is not sending any MEPs to Brussels, the voters are sending them.

All the pious hand-wringing in the world cannot change the fact that politicians are subservient to the electoral system and have no right to complain about its result. To argue that the outcome has produced an undesirable result is to argue for a different electoral system under which the views of the little people should bear less weight and have less ability to upset the established elite's apple cart. That is to approach the matter the wrong way round. The question is not "what can we do to prevent the country producing these results?", it is "what can we do to persuade those who voted in this way to vote differently?" Fiddle with the electoral system and you cannot quell discontent all you can do is prevent that discontent being expressed through the ballot box; other methods will be found by those sufficiently angry and the rest will fume at being marginalised.

Mr Hain and senior figures in the other major parties must address the reasons for discontent if they are to justify their continued existence at the top table. Condemning the outcome of an election is to condemn the voters, always an unwise decision for a serious politician.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Meanwhile, back at the recession ...

While we have been distracted by MPs being paid by us for giant topiary bathplugs and the exposure of the true weakness of Gordon Brown's grip on power, our old friend the recession has been carrying on doing its own thing. Jobs have been lost in huge numbers in the manufacturing, service and retail sectors. House prices have levelled-out temporarily due to the annual Spring rush but remain well above realistically affordable levels. Increased activity in the housing market will provide a small knock-on boost for manufacturers and sellers of carpets, furniture and washing machines.

In the last week news has come of 800-odd jobs going at LDV, with thousands more at risk in associated businesses, 700 at Hewlett-Packard and more than 1,600 at Lloyds Bank. These are the headline-grabbers but there are many more coming from the closure of, and cost-cutting in, small businesses. There is clearly a long way to go before the effect of all these redundancies works its way through the system. In the meantime other businesses will be affected by the loss of spending power by those who have lost work (and tax revenues will fall).

When asked in an interview last week why he refuses to call a general election Gordon Brown said he was busy dealing with the recession. We have heard a lot of references to "steering the country through" and "leading the fight again" recession in recent months but the reality is that there is almost nothing he or any politician can or should do. There is a reason LDV is closing - it cannot make vans that people want to buy at a price that makes a profit. There is a reason Hewlett-Packard is shedding jobs - it doesn't need them and cannot afford to continue employing them. There is a reason Lloyds Banking Group is closing its Cheltenham & Gloucester-branded branches - it cannot afford to keep them open. What can the government do about any of these cases? The answer, of course, is absolutely nothing other than offer subsidies and hope that, by some miracle, keeping loss-making enterprises open will turn them profitable. It is no surprise to find the trades unions arguing for exactly that to be done but it is a wholly futile exercise which simply increases losses in the long run.

We are in recession because our economy was unbalanced, being kept afloat by hot air and unaffordable credit. There is no escaping the fact that a contraction was necessary, the only question is how large that contraction needs to be before balance is restored. No one knows the answer now any more than they did a year ago because the national economy is not one big thing it is an aggregate of millions of little things. Mr Smith in Brighton and Mrs Jones in Birmingham might earn similar salaries and have similar debts and expenses, but one might choose to reduce their debt and the other might not, or both might, or neither might. These personal decisions affect consumer demand are wholly unpredictable. Similarly, the effect of reduced demand on individual businesses will vary according to how they are run and the wishes of their owners; seemingly identical businesses in Brighton and Birmingham might take completely different approaches. There is nothing government can do about that. And then there is the question of how people react now to the stark fact that taxes are likely to have to rise substantially in the next year or two (and thereafter). Some will ignore it and hope it goes away, others will cut spending now and save to prepare themselves for the onslaught. These personal decisions will have a dramatic effect on how quickly recession ends yet no amount of speechifying and theorising by politicians or anyone else will change them. The real economy, comprising those millions of individual decisions, will find its own response to the current situation. The little people are the real economists in all this.

The best thing poor Gordon can do is sit on his hands and hope the damage he did to the economy in his decade as Chancellor is not as bad as it is.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

A fine day Part 2 - the democratic deficit

A few days ago I waffled on about how Gordon Brown's authority comes primarily from his party rather than from the last general election and that his position is necessarily weakened by fractures appearing in the party itself. Friday's forced "re-shuffle" was a direct consequence of that weakness, not least because it was not expected to happen until Monday and had to be brought forward to try to stop the snowball effect of ministerial resignations and divert attention away from criticisms of the Prime Minister.

It is important to put current events in context. Criticisms of the Prime Minister and the government are only part of the picture, there is also a massive constitutional issue about the way parliament has been sidelined by an over-powerful executive which whips its backbenchers into voting for all but the very most absurd policy initiatives. The last thing a beleaguered leader should do in the face of such a serious issue is make things worse. Oh dear, step up poor Gordon.

The cabinet traditionally contains one member of the House of Lords, the leader of the government party in that House, and in days of yore it contained a second in the Lord Chancellor. Neither of these had conventional departmental responsibilities and were not front-line policy spokesmen. When Tony Blair decided to abolish the established role of Lord Chancellor he used the incumbent (his old flatmate from student days, Lord Falconer) as a spokesman on any number of issues and received criticism for undermining the elected House by doing so. For a year we have had a member of the House of Lords running the Department for Business, the first time a major spending department was headed by an unelected politician since the mid 1980s.

Friday saw the breathtaking constitutional change of Lord Mandelson being promoted so that he now holds the second most powerful position in government and another Lord is now in charge of transport. But that wasn't the end of it. In addition to the cabinet itself there are now five other ministers who attend cabinet meetings and two of them are unelected, Lord Malloch-Brown and Lord Drayson and the Attorney General, Lady Scotland, attends when the agenda includes matters within her departmental responsibilities. Out of twenty-three cabinet ministers three are unelected and out of the twenty-eight ministers who attend all cabinet meetings five are unelected, that will soon be six when the new Minister for Europe, Mrs Kinnock, takes her seat in the House of Lords. So Gordon's answer to the gap between government and the little people is for almost a quarter of his top table being appointed rather than elected.

And it doesn't stop there. Are ministers going to be responsible for forming policy? One might think that is the way to ensure democratic validity, but no. Gordon announced three new policy quangoes to guide the way forward.

Things have quietened down a little over the weekend. It might be that all those who were inclined to resign have done so. Gordon is enjoying a couple of days of breathing space while everyone reflects on what to make of last week's turmoil. What I see is a widening of the democratic deficit. Not only does Gordon have his own democratic deficit by being a party appointee without endorsement through a general election, but his deficit has widened through his party being fractured. More than that, the gap between the top of government and the House of Commons has widened and the gap between policy formation and our elected representatives has also widened.

Gordon is bleating more and more about constitutional change, his anti-democratic moves last Friday will come back to bite him. If, indeed, he lasts long enough to be able to put forward whatever half-baked plans he has.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

A fine day Part 1 - neither MacMillan nor Forsyth

When I went to bed on Thursday night the cabinet was one member light of its compliment at the start of the day because James Purnell resigned in the old-fashioned way - by saying "I resign" and leaving office on the spot. It also contained two ministers who had announced they would stand down when the Prime Minister decided to change his cabinet. So they were still in office and garnering a few hours or days of ministerial pay, they knew not which, despite being the lamest of ducks. Their announcements came before Mr Purnell's which gave rise to the delicious possibility of Gordon Brown not changing the cabinet and leaving them in place. He might as well have done for all the responsibilities they had for the formation or implementation of policy.

By bedtime on Friday the upper ranks of our government had been decimated. Four cabinet members exited in addition to those who announced their departure on Thursday, and two non-cabinet members who have been louder spokesmen for the government than many of their more senior colleagues had also resigned.

Those of us of a certain age talk about "the night of the long knives" when Harold MacMillan dismissed seven members of his cabinet in 1962. None of them showed any sign of wanting to leave government to spend more time with their second homes or of being overtly dismissive of the ability of Mr MacMillan to carry out his responsibilities. He sacked them because he needed to present a new face of government under his leadership. He also needed to assert his authority because whispered questions had been asked about his ability to steer the ship. A radical step was taken to say "I'm in charge". Those of us of a certain age also know that "I'm in charge" was a catch phrase used by Bruce Forsyth when the game-show part of a live television programme he presented needed to be pulled back from mayhem to meet time constraints.

Poor Gordon is no Harold MacMillan, nor is he a Bruce Forsyth. His replacement of seven cabinet ministers was forced on him rather than him forcing it. The clearest evidence of this is that he was forced to promote the multiply corrupt Lord Mandelson who is now the holder of the title "First Secretary of State". One can only speculate about what Lord Mandelson had to do behind the scenes to prevent even more cabinet resignations but he must have done something in order to have been able to persuade the Prime Minister to give him an additional half a department and a title that makes him the government's undoubted number two (such a worthy title for the man).

On Friday afternoon, at around four o'clock, a press conference was held at 10 Downing Street with the apparent intention of allowing poor Gordon to explain how his new appointments were part of a master plan of refreshment and renewal and would strengthen the government as it ploughs towards glorious victory at the next general election. Instead we saw a broken man being berated by mocking journalists.

The normal protocol of Prime Ministerial press conferences is based on common courtesy. Whatever the journalists might think about the Prime Minister, he is still the head of government and will be treated with courtesy and reserve. Not on Friday afternoon he wasn't. I was struck by the similarity with the final showdown that caused the Speaker to resign less than three weeks before. Speaker Martin tried to placate critics with a statement only to find that the inadequacy of his words and delivery added fuel to the fire and open rebellion followed on the floor of the House of Commons. The same pattern of behaviour was witnessed on Friday. Normally poor Gordon fails to answer questions or answers them with assertions that are demonstrably false. The journalists know that they have to put up with the answer they are given and will not normally contradict that answer to the Prime Minister's face (although they will do so in their newspaper columns). On Friday they answered back, heckled and openly challenged the truth of answers they were given. It was unprecedented in modern times, just like the overt challenges to Speaker Martin's authority on the 18th of May.

It had been such a fun day that a meal at the splendid local Thai restaurant was warranted. On taking my seat the waiter said hello and asked "has Gordon Brown gone yet?" He is an MBA student who works in the restaurant six evenings a week to pay his way, he hadn't been able to follow events during the day but read the Evening Standard on his journey from college to work and knew the writing was very much on Gordon's wall.

Harold MacMillan's night of the long knives succeeded in giving his government new vigour because he was able to promote people of quality whose own strengths caused the whole government to be strengthened. As a result MacMillan's authority was itself strengthened. The new entrants to Gordon Brown's cabinet are mere makeweights. Peter Hain, forced out of office less than eighteen months ago by exposure of corruption, has returned. Tessa Jowell was demoted twice by Tony Blair and is married to a convicted fraudster, so she is perfect material to be brought back to high office. A junior minister of no great distinction, Bob Ainsworth, has been catapulted into the important position of Secretary of State for Defence despite showing no sign in his seventeen years in the House of Commons of having the gravitas required for a cabinet position. Two party yes-men, Ben Bradshaw and Lord Adonis complete the new entrants to the cabinet. Bradshaw is a former journalist who rose through the ranks by knowing how to evade questions with the slimy charm of Tony Blair, but has never said a single thing of substance on any contentious issue of policy. Adonis is an academic who twice chickened-out of standing for election (once for the Liberal Democrats and once for Labour). He's a clever chap, one of the few in the cabinet, but apparently spineless.

There is no sign of new strength in the new cabinet. Everything points towards poor Gordon simply filling places for the sake of filling places. In one way it makes no difference to him because he dictates policy in every field. All he needs is someone prepared to sign on the dotted line. This "re-shuffle" does not set the scene for the death of the current government, the press conference does.

It's only a matter of time and I am going to enjoy every minute.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Why poor Gordon's authority is shot

As I start writing this piece today is set to be one of the most memorable politically. An incompetent and dishonest cabinet minister announced her resignation this morning, the day before local elections. She is the cabinet minister responsible for policy on local government which makes the timing particularly embarrassing for the Prime Minister. Like so many of the present cabinet she has never actually achieved anything in government and is merely a dedicated party functionary employed at vast public expense to further the interests of the Labour Party. As such her departure, and that of the equally useless Home Secretary yesterday, has special significance to the authority of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister.

We all know the conventional theory. The leader of the largest party in the House of Commons is invited to form a government and a change in the balance of seats in the House or in the identity of the majority party leader does not require a general election for the new Prime Minister to be validly appointed. When Brown took over from Blair the same constitutional process occurred as when Eden took over from Churchill, MacMillan from Eden, Douglas-Home from MacMillan, Callaghan from Wilson and Major from Thatcher. There was, however, something different about the practical effect of the change.

Callaghan was the first of those I have named who was elected leader of his party, the others assumed leadership at the invitation of party grandees following meetings in smoke-filled rooms, ordinary party members and even backbench MPs had no real stake in the appointments. Callaghan's election made him beholden to the party machine far more than any of his predecessors because the "grass roots" could say "we put him there so he must do as we wish or we will remove him". In fact this was not much of an influence because he did not command a majority in the Commons and needed to tailor his policies to what he felt he could push through with the help of the Liberal Party. When John Major was elected leader of the Conservatives in 1990 he was under pressure to keep the party happy although the issue of Europe and the growing EUSSR project meant he could only ever seek to satisfy one wing of the party. For Mr Major things changed in 1992 when he led the party into a general election and received his own mandate as Prime Minister. No longer could it be said he was beholden solely to the party for his position.

Although a general election does not involve a direct vote for Prime Minister it does involve candidates standing on a platform that implicitly includes "my party's policies are as set out in our published manifesto and the Prime Minister will be Mr X if we win a majority." A Prime Minister who led his or her party through a successful general election has a personal democratic legitimacy as well as a pure constitutional legitimacy. In answer to his party saying "we put you there" he can answer: "no, the result of the general election put me here". Without that personal democratic legitimacy he will be beholden to his party for his role and will not be able to point to any other factor as the substantive basis for his position. We are now seeing how that affects the practical authority of a Prime Minister who commands a working majority in the House of Commons. He has no ammunition with which to fight discontent in his party because he owes his status to the party and to no other entity.

Those who can exploit this situation best are loud-mouthed party functionaries like Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears. If the cabinet included any people of real substance things might be different because they would be governing for the country rather than for the party. The current shower don't know the meaning of the concept. It was noticeable that on news breaking of Blears's resignation this morning the radio phone-in I listened to featured a number of callers extolling her work for the Labour Party and no one with a single word to say about what she had actually done as a minister. Indeed, her letter of resignation emphasised the party above all else.

When you owe your very existence in office to your party machine, any attack from prominent members of that machine challenges your authority to the core. That is why I believe Hazel Blears' decision to stomp off in a hissy fit is particularly significant and far more significant than that of Jacqui Smith who only ever does what she is told and has neither the personal courage nor the intellectual ability to take the initiative on anything. Hazel Blears is an absurd figure of no substance, a laughing stock of a minister who would be out of her depth in a soup spoon, but she has a loud mouth and the sort of blind, stupid loyalty to a corrupt party that gives her special authority within just such a party. Poor Gordon's authority is so dependent on people like her that we might now be entering the final few weeks of his disastrous tenure as Prime Minister.

Perhaps Hazel Blears has actually done something useful for the first and last time in her self-serving and non-achieving ministerial career.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Lead me not into ...

One of the joyous consequences of balmy weather is the evening constitutional. Today it took me on a fine ramble for over an hour, including a trip around Newington Green. Newington Green is undergoing something of a revival involving the wholesale reconstruction of the green itself to include generous lawns for picnics, children's playground and an outdoor theatre area. One of the roads feeding onto the green has been closed to provide a large al fresco dining and drinking area for the bars abutting it and the more sensible restaurants and cafes have made outdoor spaces and offer snacks and ice creams to attract passing trade. There's something of a throb about the general atmosphere on nice summer evenings.

And then there are the dogs.

In the space of ten minutes in and around the green I witnessed at least half a dozen unleashed dogs, some on pavements following cycling or walking owners, others running around on the green itself. Perhaps I hold an extreme view because I was bitten by a dog when a small boy and still bear the long scar on my flabby right thigh; although I doubt I am the only one who finds the sight of a roaming hound with slobbering chops more than a little uncomfortable.

Dog owners just don't seem to get it. Of course some consider their creatures to be akin to a handgun and use them to intimidate the meek, most do not. It is the "most" that trouble me more. Let me take you back about two years to a bright summer morning when I was having a cup of tea with a neighbour while sitting on the front steps of FatBigot Towers. Someone who lives a few doors south came along with her dog and joined us for a chat. I didn't know her from a bowl of soup but my neighbour did. Her hound jumped up at me a number of times and I asked her to restrain it. It might or might not be relevant that we were all on my property and she entered uninvited, although it might say something about her general attitude. The exact words I used were "would you mind keeping your animal away from me please?" Said, I think, without malice and phrased very much as a request rather than a command. Her response was exactly what I had encountered from dog owners before: "He's only playing, he won't hurt you."

What she meant was: (i) if it did the same to her she would consider it playful and (ii) she would not expect her dog to do her harm. She had no idea that the very act of having an animal jumping at me was harmful to me, it scared me as dogs always scare me. That she felt I should not be scared made no difference. That the dog did not, on that occasion, sink its fangs into my fleshy body made no difference to the fear because the fear lay in the risk.

A few months later her dog did bite someone. I did not witness the event but heard about it from the very same neighbour I was chatting to when it attacked me. He was an eye witness and informed me that her reaction was to blame the victim, a child of ten, for scaring the dog and she used that well-worn half-truth so beloved of animal owners "he's never done that before", as though it excuses her irresponsibility in allowing an animal to run free in public.

All dogs have the innate capacity to bite strangers, some are more inclined to do so than others but they can all do it and an awful lot achieve the feat despite the feigned astonishment of their owners when it happens.

My return from tonight's constitutional required me to cross the road twice to avoid oncoming untethered dogs; one a scrofulous collie and the other a well presented but dribbling Staffordshire bull terrier. I shouldn't have had to cross the road because the owners should have had their pets on leads but they decided to promote their opinions of their dogs above the opinions others might have. One day the law will come to its senses and allow roaming dogs to be shot on sight.

Monday, 1 June 2009

I don't know where to place my "X"

It's getting close to the time I have to decide. Where should I place my little "X" on Thursday? The only elections in London are for the Euro-Parliament, so the outcome is irrelevant to anything. I'm not concerned about the results, it will make not a jot of difference to my life or that of anyone else in London if the eight available seats all go to the Conservatives, Labour or even the Monster Raving Loony Party; the Parliament has no real power and individual MEPs have no effective representative role to play. For me, Thursday's election is not about the European so-called Parliament, it is about momentum in the run-up to the next general election.

I can discount four possibilities immediately. Voting for Labour, the LibDems or either of the national socialist parties, BNP and Green, is a non-starter. I'd rather urinate into the very fine mulligatawny soup I made this afternoon. So should it be Conservative or UKIP?

Voting UKIP this time is something of a two-edged sword. In the past it has been a fair bet that UKIP's strong showing in Euro elections was evidence of the degree of distaste for the EUSSR project. It achieved little in swaying the main parties towards the Eurosceptic cause in their avowed policies however it is noticeable that neither Labour nor the Conservatives has argued for further centralised power to be held in Brussels (although some of us might think their actions have achieved exactly that end). Sending a message has always been part of local and Euro elections as well as Parliamentary by-elections. The issue of one-world, post-democratic government has never been more serious and the chance of extricating ourselves from the stranglehold of Euro-fascism hasn't been greater since the 1975 referendum. A strong showing for UKIP could help to move the argument away from the pro-EU consensus dominating the official line of both Labour and the Consevatives.

I am not much deterred by UKIP being essentially a one-man show. Nigel Farage, for all the tales of his drinking and womanising, is a highly proficient operator and a good spokesman for his party's cause. I know virtually nothing about any other UKIP candidate but that really doesn't matter because, as I have explained above, for me this election is not about the European Parliament. The more the main parties seek to portray UKIP as a one-trick pony, the more attractive a vote for them appears because it allows UKIP votes to be seen for what they usually are - votes to get out of the deeply corrupt EUSSR regardless of any other policy they have.

Things are rather complicated by the MPs' expenses issue; not because UKIP has anything to do with glittery lavatory seats and "flipping" but because a vote for a fringe party can be construed as a protest vote and nothing more. The benefit from signifying disgust with the EUSSR will be diluted.

The other option is to vote Conservative, which is not an easy choice because of my firm opposition to their official line on the EU. Yet if I cast my mind forward to the general election, the wider the gulf between them and Labour this week, the greater the chance of the Labour machine becoming even more demoralised than it is already. For me there is no more important political task than to replace this bankrupt government with something better. Then I have to ask what the replacement will be and it's not exactly a cornucopia of sweetmeats. They are still wedded to the EUSSR project, they are still wedded to the concept of big government, they are still too mindful of opinion polls to put forward the sort of radical shift in power from the State to the little people that we need. Mr Cameron says some encouraging things from time to time but he said some awful things when he thought they would be popular; it is hard to see a strong vein of principle running through his various pronouncements.

So it's either UKIP to try to shift the debate firmly in the Eurosceptic direction or Conservative to try to screw down the lid on the Labour coffin. The former might reduce the momentum required to achieve the latter and the latter might be premature and allow a bounce-back by encouraging all the sad old Trots to put aside their superior disdain for the democratic process and turn out to boost the leftist vote. After all, we must never underestimate the power of religion. Socialism is the opiate of the people, nothing else can explain the current government being able to command loyalty from around a quarter of the populace in opinion polls. Hit them too hard now and they might be able to rouse the apathetic troops of the hard left.

It's not an easy choice. What is easy is to say that I will not disclose how I vote. I am happy to let anyone who cares to listen, and even more who don't, know where my general sympathies lie, but my vote is a very personal thing. It is mine. All mine. I have it because people like my father risked their lives to quash a previous plan for the EUSSR. I will walk to the polling station with a spring in my flabby step and remember how lucky I am to have the right to apply the pointy end of a stubby pencil to a piece of paper and exercise my tiny little bit of influence. With any luck I will have made up my mind by then.