Friday, October 31, 2008

"Cavalier at best, criminal at worst"

That is the verdict of Major Sebastian Morley, commander of D Squadron, 23 SAS on the use of "Snatch" Land Rovers, who claims that Whitehall officials and military commanders repeatedly ignored his warnings that people would be killed if they continued to allow troops to be transported in this vulnerable vehicle.

Continued on Defence of the Realm.


What are politicians for ...

The art of statesmanship consists as much as in foreseeing as in doing.

John Bright 1811-1889

We saw the financial crisis coming, we predicted the armoured vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan were dangerously vulnerable, we predicted that we were in for a spell of cold weather, we predicted trouble with Russia, and we predicted that there would be a further eruption of violence in the Congo. And we are predicting a major shortfall in electricity supplies.

That is not to claim any great prescience or even to claim that we were (or are), by any means, the only ones. Even on our great cause celebre, the Snatch Land Rovers, we were by no means the first to raise concerns.

What this blog does – as indeed do many others, in the blogsophere, in the media and elsewhere, is apply basic information gathering techniques and apply analytical skills and judgement. And, like many others, we come to straightforward, clear conclusions, which so often prove to be right, simply because that is what the facts are saying. It is simply a matter of joining up the dots.

Yet, as we see Mr Miliband jet off to the Congo for crisis talks, "amid intense diplomatic efforts to end the latest fighting between rebels and government forces", one gets the impression that, once again the politicians have been caught unawares.

The alarming thing is that, as ministers and functionaries, these people have vastly resources than do we, and many like us. They have experts, analysts, a myriad of civil servants, diplomats and the rest – to say nothing of huge financial resources. Yet, each and every time we get some great disaster, or problem, they seem to be surprised.

If that is the case, one really does wonder what politicians are for. If they can't do better than this, and are forever reacting to crises instead of predicting them and heading them off, we might just as well dispense with them and deal with the issues as they arise.

Perhaps if they spent a little less time pratting about over issues like Jonathan Ross – and grandstanding in general - and a little more time doing their day jobs, the world's catastrophes might come as little less of the surprises that they so often do.


It tells you something …

… about the modern media when yesterday's report of the announcement of a £700 million package of new armoured vehicles for the Army gets about a quarter of the space in The Daily Telegraph than a story today about "the launch of a cookery book endorsed by Gordon Ramsay which encourages the Forces to use their rations more imaginatively".

And yes, it does matter. In its own coverage of the equipment issue, The Daily Mail caustically noted: "MoD forced to shell out extra £700 million on tougher fighting vehicles after just two years." It then goes on to report that:

The Armed Forces are having to spend a massive £700million on tougher armoured vehicles for troops in Afghanistan - while withdrawing an entire fleet of state-of-the art battlefield vehicles after barely two years of use.

The £1 million Viking amphibious combat vehicle (pictured above) was hailed as a triumph when it first arrived in Helmand Province in 2006, offering unprecedented agility as it swam across rivers and charged over the most rugged terrain, even clambering over ditches and walls.

But in a sign of the increasing ferocity of the fighting against the Taliban, the Viking's armour has proved unable to protect soldiers and Marines from roadside bombs and buried mines, and at least six drivers are understood to have been killed in explosions.
Lacking as it does any institutional memory, however, it will have escaped the Mail's notice that its sister paper, the Mail on Sunday was in October 2006 uncritically applauding the arrival of the Viking in Afghanistan, as indeed did many other newspapers. This we noted in one of our recent posts.

This post, however, is not about defence issues per se. It simply uses this example to point out – once again - that the role of the media is vital to the proper functioning of our democracy, and the maintenance of good governance.

As we pointed out in that earlier post – not without a certain wry bitterness - we had seen right from the start that the Viking was dangerously unsuitable for the theatre to which it had been committed. If we could see it, then the media – with its "experts" and greater resources, to say nothing of its specialist correspondents – should have seen it as well (Some of these, actually, would have written about it but they were not given the space).

Had newspapers reported critically at the time, and then picked up on the growing toll of deaths – now estimated at least six drivers and an unknown number of personnel seriously injured, the MoD may well have sought a replacement much faster than it has. Furthermore, knowing that its choices of equipment were subject to critical – and where the need arose – hostile coverage, it might be more careful in future about the decisions it makes.

When a newspaper, however, gives more coverage to a celebrity cookery book than it does life and death issues, such as the equipment that will keep troops alive (or not), then you know there is something seriously amiss.

This is another aspect of, "Britain's infantile and degenerate political and moral culture," about which Bruno Waterfield wrote so volubly yesterday. He was referring to the Ross Brand affair but, in virtually every walk of life, the trivia, the tat and the superficial takes precedence over more serious and important issues.

Nothing, of course, should be all serious – and there is not only room but need for the lightweight and entertaining, if only as an antidote to the diet of unremitting gloom. But when this overtakes and drives out virtually all our serious news, there is genuine cause for concern.

I am cross-posting this on Defence of the Realm.


Small comfort

The Indian government has approved a "horizontal aviation agreement" with the EU.

I suppose we can be grateful it was not a "vertical" agreement.

Who are the masters now?

An innocent Parliamentary written question asked by Ann Winterton MP, sought from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "whether financial services regulation is an exclusive competence of the European Union."

The question elicited from Ian Pearson, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, the following response:

The regulation of financial services is an exclusive EU competence where the EU has adopted directives and regulations in the field and where there is general EU law that applies to financial firms, for example, the state aid rules. Member states can only legislate in the field covered by a directive (unless explicitly allowed to do so by the directive) in order to implement EU law, to provide further necessary detail or to ensure its proper enforcement, for example by adding sanctions for non-compliance.

Where permissible under a directive, a member state may go further than EU law but only if it does not contradict EU law.

Some issues concerning regulation of financial services are not covered by EU competence, for example regulation of mortgage lending.
I think we knew this already, but I wonder whether Mr Cameron and his jolly pals do.


Thursday, October 30, 2008


Not EU Referendum territory, but this man should not be alive!



You cannot trust anyone these days. The smackheads round here are going to be really p****d.


How sweet!

The "(European partners) indicated they can be helpful in some respects ... but they're also making it very clear they don't have an interest in re-ratifying or amending the treaty in a substantive way."

Thus said Irish prime minister Brian Cowen, as recorded by Reuters today, telling his grateful people that Ireland may have to reconsider its rejection of the European Union's "reform treaty".

Why Reuters is still calling the constitutional Lisbon treaty the "reform treaty" is anyone's guess, but this is also the agency which calls British MPs "lawmakers". It seems you just can't get the staff these days.

Anyhow, it is so comforting to learn that the "colleagues" are prepared to be "helpful", just when we thought they were a bunch of evil, self-serving … That goes to show how wrong we've been about them all along.

However, it seems there is a mailed fist inside that … er … mailed fist. Cowen also purrs: "We need to come back and say to the Irish people honestly, here is what is on offer from the European Union, do we wish to revisit this question or do we not?," He adds: "If 26 other partners want to proceed in a certain direction and we ... are not going to respond in a positive and constructive way to address that issue, then there are consequences."

"There are consequences", my beloved people, "there are consequences". Now, shut up, do as you are told and vote "yes" like the good little bogtrotters you are.


How true!

Bruno, if you weren't a man, I could kiss you! Not that we go in for that sort of thing on this blog, mind you.

"The Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand furore speaks volumes about Britain's infantile and degenerate political and moral culture," he writes on his blog.

"I know that we ex-pat, non-residents are supposed to keep our mouths shut about developments (especially when negative) in the mother country," he adds. "But enough is enough."

Now, would someone tell that stupid woman Mrs Teresa May that?

And, while they are about it, could they please remind her that, while she is prattling about a debate on the Ross Brand affair, Parliament has still to debate Brown's bank bailout.

This may be an extreme version of bicycle shed syndrome, also known as Parkinson's Law of Triviality, but, as the man said, enough is enough!


And now for a break

Alas, this is not a commercial break as this blog has not mastered that aspect of the problem yet. However, we need a break to have another quick look at what is going on across the Pond. The answer is nobody knows or understands.

If you get your information from the British media you may be forgiven for thinking that Barack Obama is already president and somehow you managed to miss the actual election. Actually, no. The election is on 4 November and the two candidates (plus their Veeps) are a lot closer than one realizes. In fact, the polls are all over the place. On one day last week the polls ranged from Obama being 1 point ahead (which is effectively him losing) to 14 points ahead.

State polls seem to yo-yo in a most alarming fashion and the Big Media is getting more and more hysterical. Except that some local media outlets (of greater importance in America than in Britain) have suddenly become critical of Obama and some of his statements and actions.

In other words, nobody knows or understands. So here is an interesting take on the situation by one of my favourite bloggers, The Anchoress, who points out that America is now truly post-racial and not only in the sense used by The One and his acolytes, who cry raaaaaaaaaacism every time his politics are criticized.

The Anchoress tries to deal with the question that is being asked of why Obama is not more ahead, given the many advantages he has (except for his politics, which are truly socialist):

I have no idea what any of it means, or how next week will turn out - how can anyone project anything in the face of voter "registration" fraud, whackadoo polling and an in-the-tank media?

But all of this uncertainty - all of these "narrowing" polls are proving one beautiful thing, definitively: that America actually is more post-racial than most realize. Think about it. Obama can't break 50 percent. Neither could Kerry, Gore or Clinton.

So, Obama is being treated precisely like every other Democrat politician of the last 16 years. His race is not holding him down. His race is not propping him up.

This should be cause for celebration, I think. We've clearly moved past race.
Go figure, as they say on that side of the Pond. But I am not sure this is quite the post-racial politics the Left had in mind. Then again, Governor Palin is not quite what the Left had in mind either. Heh!


Climate change Bill

I could do it, but this does it better, and Booker is doing it for Sunday – when I will follow up.

The insanity is evident … as snow falls in London in October, for the first time since 1922, the MPs gather to legislate on … global warming.

If I have any small regrets about this, it is that I won't be alive in 2050, the year on which these cretins have set their sights. It would have been such fun then to have written a history of this period, recording how the madmen took over.

One would also have to record that, as darkness spread over the planet, the media frittered its time away playing with itself, while the long-extinct Tory Party completely, totally and utterly lost the plot.

We used to wonder how apparently sound, vibrant civilisations withered away and died. No longer - we're seeing it happen, right in front of our very eyes.



Amongst the minimal media coverage of the MoD equipment package, The Sun, interestingly, picks up on the Buffalo.

After extolling the virtues of the vehicle (quite rightly), it then cites shadow defence secretary Dr Liam Fox, who says: "Promises for tomorrow are little consolation if troops have insufficient protection today."

Has this man no shame?


Will the last grown up …

Some things you don't expect. There's me, mild-mannered and inoffensive – sweet reason itself - and all I wanted was my newspaper.

Plopping it on the counter and digging deep to find the pennies to pay for it, the newsagent – a lovely, cheerful Indian - seized it, brandishing it the air. "Country going to rack and ruin," he stormed, "and they put this on the front page!"

Ahem … and page four, five, the lead editorial, to say nothing of God knows how many prattling columnists, whom I never bother to read.

My man was, of course, talking about the lead item in The Daily Telegraph telling us of "crisis talks" on the Ross Brand affair. I agree with him. Who gives a s**t, one thinks. Nuke the Beeb and move on.

The story about the MoD spending £700 million on new vehicles for the Army gets about three column-inches at the bottom of page two. There is a major scandal buried in this, which may emerge – but don't bet on it.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party is tearing itself apart over at Tory Diary, completely missing the point about why its own efforts are such a failure. One commentator notes: "Backbenchers are fed up at being ignored." Amen!

There was that wry old joke, commenting about the state of the economy, asking the last businessman leaving Britain to turn out the lights. That needs revisiting. "Will the last grown up to leave …" it should read, "… blow out the candle".

As the children play, there won't be any electricity to power the lights.


What's in a name?

You have to smile.


Another fine mess

Wasn't this one the EU was supposed to have sorted out?

After their last stunning success, when they really impressed the natives, we'd better send for the European Army again.

Or perhaps it's the turn of the United Nations (pictured). Oh! Woops! It's already there.

In 2006, we were citing "analysts" who were saying that the United Nations, which had 17,500 peacekeepers in the country, "would have to act with unaccustomed resolution to prevent the run-off from spiralling out of control and returning the country to civil war." This, we said, will never happen. That means, we said, the country is almost certainly doomed to another bloody bout of civil war.

Last night, the BBC, as the situation deteriorated, the BBC was reporting correspondents saying the 17,000-strong UN force in DR Congo - the world's largest - is "stretched to breaking point".

With the United Nations Security Council in emergency session Ban Ki-moon calling for "more troops", the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that up to 1,500 men could be deployed "in Europe's name within eight to 10 days".

No sooner said, however, than it was unsaid. After a meeting in Paris with his Australian counterpart, Kouchner admitted that EU member states had discussed a possible deployment but "a certain number of countries refused."

"It's very difficult to say what we can do outside of diplomatic efforts, efforts at persuasion, and efforts so that peace can be achieved by leaning on the two countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda," he added, offering no further details.

"This is really a desperate situation. Honestly, my personal attitude is to try to do something," Kouchner concluded. "I hope that the French presidency will make a proposal in the coming days."

It is all so predictable – and so very, very sad.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Told you so!

The British snow has struck! The story (and pic) is in The Daily Telegraph.

Forecasters, we are told, are blaming a change in wind direction for the wintry spell with Arctic gusts replacing the mild south-west Atlantic breezes enjoyed in recent weeks. I am truly amazed they haven't put it down to global warming.


A failure of opposition

An answer to a routine parliamentary question from Lord Lee of Trafford on 16 October of this year was hardly calculated to excite any great interest. The outcome, however, turned out to be more than unusually interesting and - despite (or because of) the picture illustrated above - has significant lessons for the Conservative Party.

Continued on Defence of the Realm.


Sterile and infantile …

That was the verdict of today's PMQs from a commentator, heard on the BBC Radio 4 World at One programme. I missed the speaker's name – as always, one is only half-listening.

Whoever it was, we agree. Watching the dismal, puerile display, one is deeply saddened. Neither side of the House comes out well but we were less than impressed by the leader of the opposition, who seems now to typify the decay of the Tory Party.

And, although we have said it before, we will say it again … and again, for as long as it takes. This is not a game. There are real people out there, hurting. If MPs continue to play their sterile and infantile games in the House, there will be a reckoning.

I, for one, will be cheering the tumbrels as they pass.



This was the scene in Coventry this morning, that bit of England stuck somewhere between London and Yorkshire the paradise at the centre of England. It was sent to us by an embattled reader (nice garden!), who bravely withstood the vicissitudes of this frenzied nightmare to record the scene.

Our American cousins may look upon this as a minor event, but what they fail to understand (but then what do you expect of a nation that has Obama for a presidential candidate?) is that this is British snow.

While it might take feet – or even yards – of the mamby pamby Yank snow to do any appreciable harm, British snow is so powerful that even half an inch of the stuff is enough to bring an end to life as we know it.

Less even than that has been known to bring down power lines, block our motorways (US translation: freeways) and stop every train in the country – even those in areas where no snow has fallen – causing untold misery and disruption to millions of people.

London snow is even more powerful and to be feared all the more. Two inches, especially if it falls within a mile of a national newspaper office, has the front pages cleared and a national emergency declared. There are urgent debates in Parliament which invariably culminate in the appointment of a Minister of Snow. That usually ensures we have warm, wet weather for the next six months.

Americans, therefore, need to count their lucky stars. In a few days time, they may have the misfortune to have elected what will most certainly be one of the worst presidents in history – and there is some considerable competition for that – but at least they do not have British snow. That really would be a crisis.


Serves them right

Having followed the convoluted affairs of Volkswagen since 2004, we cannot help but indulge ourselves in a small smile, quickly suppressed, at the plight of hedge fund traders who are, according to The Daily Telegraph, taking a "bloodbath".

Based on the assumption that this German company would share the fate of the rest of the automotive industry, speculative "short sellers" have been holding short positions in anticipation of the share price plummeting as the demand for vehicles drops in the recession.

Instead, as news came though that Porsche - which has been attempting to take over the VW for some years – had secured a larger stake in the company than anyone had thought, shares rocketed, prompting "a huge scramble to cover short positions in Volkswagen, which had been the most shorted stock in Germany's benchmark DAX index."

One hedge fund said: "There have been some dark moments over the past few months but none blacker than this. We couldn't have dreamt a worse scenario." "The German stock exchange has become a joke," said Andy Brough, a fund manager at Schroders.

The point, of course, is that the VW saga goes way back, and we have a heady mix of high finance, politics, local German law and EU intervention – the combination of which means that normal market rules most certainly do not apply to this company. The moment politics and business mix to this extent, beware.

Unfortunately – for them – financial wizz-kids tend to be more than a little naïve when it comes to politics, a stance most often tempered by a certain arrogance, fostering a belief that they are somehow immune to the meddling of the dark forces.

Well, in this instance, they have been well and truly caught out. The Porsche takeover – which would had happened years ago but for the meddling of politicians – has been artificially held back but, behind the scenes manoeuvring at a political rather than business level, has enabled it to make the breakthrough. But, being "political" rather than financial, the clever, highly paid analysts and their trader pals missed the signs.

We do not claim any great prescience – but then we are not highly-paid analysts who do this sort of thing for a living. But anyone with at least moderately-tuned political antennae would have cautioned that you treat VW issues with the very greatest of care, tainted as they were by a complex political overlay. The "normal" assumptions simply do not apply.

Clearly, the expensive-suited traders did not take enough care. Shame!


Some light entertainment

Robert Matthews, prospective Conservative MEP, is asking what should be in the Conservative manifesto for the European elections, over at Centre Right. Amid the flights of fancy, we decided to offer our own, slightly more realistic suggestions:

Lets keep this simple ... we are talking about policies which MEPs have to remember.

1. Slogan: "In Europe and run by Europe".
2. All expenses to be paid in euros, except when dollar rate is higher, when dollar payments shall be made.
3. To encourage more employment, chauffeur-driven cars to be cleaned more often. Twice a day is not enough.
4. New laws for approval by the EP to be printed in Braille.
5. MEP assistants to be taught Braille so they can tell their MEPs what's in the new laws.
6. No voting sessions to extend into lunch period. They must, therefore, terminate at 11.30.
7. Ryanair to provide club class seats.
8. MEP separate channels in airports to be screened off to stop plebs gawking.
9. More facilities for guide dogs in the EP.
10. Plebs required to doff caps when MEPs pass in chauffeur-driven cars (see above) - introduce cap subsidy to enable plebs to wear caps.
11. That's enough laws - ed (until after lunch).
We suspect that not all of these will appear in the official manifesto.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Let it snow!

I guess you are going to get a lot of this from this blog over the winter, as we see it shaping up for an unusually cold one.

The news is that the first big snowstorm of the season in the Northeast USA shut down sections of major highways this morning and blacked out thousands of electricity customers. The National Weather Service posted a winter storm warning for parts of New York state, in effect until 8 a.m. Wednesday, and issued winter storm advisories for parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Vermont.

"It looked like a mini blizzard in October," said Joe Orlando, spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. "We're salting the roads and we haven't even gone trick or treating yet."

Up to a foot of snow was possible in parts of upstate New York, with wind blowing at 25 mph, and gusting to 40 mph, and as much as 9 inches of snow was forecast in Vermont's mountains, the weather service said. Eight inches of snow had fallen by late morning in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains. Schools closed or delayed their opening in parts of Pennsylvania and New York state.

And yes, we know weather is not climate, but this unseasonably cold weather has not come as a surprise to watchers of Watts up with that and other "climate sceptic" sites. The severe winter last year - which ran well into the Spring - the "quiet sun", the shifts in oceanic current patterns, the behaviour of the Arctic ice and the global temperature trend all point inexorably to one thing – it is going to be cold this winter.

I suppose watching the snow through the window will make a change from worrying about the global financial crisis, even if we have to do it in the dark, when the lights go out – as they most assuredly will if the winter really bites. But then, we can amuse ourselves spotting the rats scavenging and watching the media and the politicos squirm as they try to explain (not) that this is just a temporary break in the upwards march of global warming.

Thus, just for the fun of watching them squirm – proving once again that the consensus is invariably wrong – let it snow!


Come here and say that …

Lord Puttnam says the government is still failing to make the most of an untapped resource - local communities – in dealing with climate change.

"Engaging communities," he believes, "involves a lot more than simply asking for sacrifices ... like turning the heating down".

Given that it has been snowing here, intermittently, for the past hour – in October – and it is so cold that we have the heating going full belt, I am sure that if Lord Puttnam would like to come up and "engage" with our local community, we would be more than happy to discuss with him how he could reduce his own carbon footprint – permanently.

Failing that, we could suggest for him a more direct and economic form of (carbon-free) central heating for him ... something like a red hot poker placed centrally about his person?


Redesigning the architecture

Click the pic to make your wish come true!
Norman Tebbit thinks it is time for the euro-sceptics of all kinds to design the architecture of a European home in which there is a place for states seeking ever closer union as well as for those upholding national sovereignty.

We repeat the offer we made in the New Year. Click the pic to see what we have in mind. And don't even begin to think I'm joking.


Apart from that Mrs Lincoln …

General Sir Michael Rose, former commander of UN forces in Bosnia, is telling us he believes the war is being won in Afghanistan - at least on a military level - for now.

But he warns that any security gains will not endure without more soldiers, good governance and swift reconstruction.

Now, let's see. We have a corrupt, dysfunctional government in Kabul, creaming off foreign aid and building itself luxury mansions while the people starve. They are building luxury shopping malls in Kabul and planning to open a world class luxury passenger terminal at the airport - yet there are no modern cargo handling facilities and the ramp space is so limited that the aircraft have to queue or divert to Kandahar and use the military facilities.

Much of the reconstruction is going backwards. Road building has stalled, much of it poor quality and there is no money in the maintenance budget. Thus, roads are deteriorating faster than they can be rebuilt or repaired.

The same goes for the much vaunted school building programme. They are putting up buildings, opening them with much fanfare, but there is nothing in the budget for repairs. Books and equipment have to come out of the local budgets and there is not the money to cover them. There is no money to pay the teachers properly so more than 60 percent are untrained and schools are being closed for lack of staff.

But, apart from that Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?


Got it in one!

Ben Pile in The Register.

As politicians have struggled to define themselves politically, they have retreated from democratic ideas. Voting is merely a formality – there are no ideas being contested, and legitimacy is sought instead from other public institutions such as 'science'. The purpose of new committees of experts is not to inform the climate change debate, but to create ethics for politicians to clothe themselves in. It gives seemingly legitimate purpose and direction to a purposeless and directionless establishment. The purpose of the climate change bill is not to save us from catastrophe, but to set the scene for a new climate change aristocracy to rule over us in its own interests.
No wonder they are an object of contempt.


Academy of Lagado

As blizzards are expected in Scotland, with icy gales forecast for the rest of the country, with unseasonable snow falling in North America and Arctic ice on the rampage, our illustrious MPs are settling down in their centrally heated debating chamber – the doors guarded by machine-gun toting policemen – to discuss … climate change.

Meanwhile, in the Academy of Lagado, the best scientific brains are working on a solution:

There was a most Ingenious Doctor who seemed to be perfectly versed in the whole Nature and System of Government. This illustrious Person had very usefully employed his Studies in finding out effectual Remedys for all Diseases and Corruptions, to which the several kinds of publick Administration are subject by the Vices or Infirmities of those who govern, as well as by the Licentiousness of those who are to obey.

For instance; whereas all Writers and Reasoners have agreed, that there is a strict universal Resemblance between the Natural and the Political Body; can there be anything more evident, than that the Health of both must be preserved, and the Diseases cured by the same Prescriptions?

It is allowed that Senates and great Councils are often troubled with redundant, ebullient, and other peccant Humours, with many Diseases of the Head, and more of the Heart; with strong Convulsions, with grievous Contractions of the Nerves and Sinews in both Hands, but especially the Right: With Spleen, Flatus, Vertigos, and Deliriums; with Scrophulous Tumours full of fætid purulent Matter; with sower frothy Ructations, with Canine Appetites and crudeness of Digestion, besides many others needless to mention.

This Doctor therefore proposed, that upon the Meeting of a Senate, certain Physicians should attend at the three first Days of their sitting, and at the Close of each day's Debate, feel the Pulses of every Senator; after which having maturely considered, and consulted upon the Nature of the several Maladies, and the Methods of Cure, they should on the fourth Day return to the Senate House, attended by their Apothecaries stored with proper Medicines, and before the Members sate, administer to each of them Lenitives, Aperitives, Abstersives, Currosives, Restringents, Palliatives, Laxatives, Cephalalgicks, Ictericks, Apophlegmaticks, Acousticks, as their several Cases required, and according as these Medicines should operate, repeat, alter, or omit them at the next Meeting.

This Project could not be of any great Expense to the Publick, and would in my poor Opinion, be of much Use for the Dispatch of Business in those Countries where Senates have any share in the Legislative Power; beget Unanimity, shorten Debates, open a few Mouths which are now closed, and close many more which are now open; curb the Petulancy of the Young, and correct the Positiveness of the Old; rouze the Stupid, and damp the Pert.

Again, Because it is a general Complaint that the Favourites of Princes are troubled with short and weak Memories; the same Doctor proposed, that whoever attended a First Minister, after having told his business with the utmost Brevity, and in the plainest Words; should at his Departure give the said Minister a Tweak by the Nose, or a kick in the Belly, or tread on his Corns, or lug him thrice by both Ears, or run a Pin into his Breech, or pinch his Arm black and blew, to prevent Forgetfulness: and at every Levee Day repeat the same Operation, till the Business were done or absolutely refused.

He likewise directed, that every Senator in the great Council of a Nation, after he had delivered his Opinion, and argued in the Defence of it, should be obliged to give his Vote directly contrary; because if that were done, the Result would infallibly terminate in the Good of the Publick.
Jonathan Swift, thou shouldst livest now. What would he make of "Dave"?


With a heavy heart …

Ever since I saw it in The Sunday Times, I knew I would have to write about it. I have been putting it off, but the moment has come.

The subject, of course, is the bizarre statement by our new secretary of state for defence John Hutton who, according to the paper, has "become the first defence secretary to back a French plan for a European army, branding those who dismiss it as 'pathetic'".

Well, Mr Hutton, if that is your definition of "pathetic", then I'm pathetic, and so is most of the nation. And you will learn, my friend, that is no way to talk to the voters – not that you and your pals really give a damn.

Nile Gardiner has taken Hutton apart in Centre Right and The Daily Telegraph leader has done a pretty good job as well. There is nothing much I can add to either – just simply endorse much of what they say.

It seems we have another Hoon on our hands, who with "good old boy" General Sir Mike Jackson, did more damage to the Army and armed forces in general that can possibly be imagined. But, after thinking that the European fantasy had worked its way through the system, we seem to be back where we started – St Malo all over again, that awful sense of déja vu.

But, actually, we are not quite back where we started. Operations in Iraq are winding down and it now only a matter of time before the bulk of British forces are able to slide gracelessly out of the theatre, relieving the pressure of servicing two active theatres.

That will leave some additional resources for Afghanistan, where the military are keen to have more forces in theatre. We cannot show any enthusiasm for such a venture. Having spent a great deal of time and effort evaluating the available literature and sentiment on the conduct of the war there, we offered a detailed, if over-long and impenetrably dense analysis of how the war could be won.

We do not claim any special knowledge or insight on this. Simply, we looked at the basic principles of fighting insurgencies, the views of knowledgeable people on the ground and the conduct of operations. What we offered, however, is so far different from what is actually happening – and can happen – that we can only conclude that there is no chance whatsoever of the coalition forces prevailing in Afghanistan.

With the economy of Pakistan in the process of collapse, and the rapid political destabilisation that is occurring, we have also lost – or will lose – an essential ally in the war against the Taleban. Add to that the deteriorating economic situation, and the attraction of foreign adventures becomes even less than it is now.

One can see a situation where the coalition forces – principally the US and the UK – will go through the motions of making "one last push" in the manner of the Iraqi "surge", suppressing the insurgency sufficiently to be able to claim victory. This will be expressed in terms of our confidence in the Afghan national forces to be able to hold the ring without direct military support. That declaration will legitimise a swift coalition withdrawal, and enable homebound forces to claim a "job well done".

Of course, this will not be the case but here, as elsewhere, it will be appearances that matter. As long as the withdrawal looks credible, it will not matter what the "voices off" will say – a victory it will be. That the situation then rapidly deteriorates will be scarce reported – there is little enough reporting already – and when the Taleban, or its differently named successor, takes over, this will be nothing to do with us.

So, what has that got to do with Hutton's announcement?

Well, as we argued here and in more detail here, the European defence ambitions have nothing to do with mounting a credible defence. The European defence forces are a hollow joke, inadequate, disorganised, demoralised and useless.

What this is all about is keeping up the appearance of military might, while actually spending less on defence. And, with the economy in tatters, Mr Brown - originally lukewarm on the prospect of European defence integration - can now see the merit of it. He is heartily sick of the military anyway, and their constant whinging for more money and attention.

This way he will be able to pay less. That he will get less does not matter. European defence integration will enable him to keep up appearances, thus concealing the gradual and possibly terminal degradation of our military as an independent or even effective fighting force.

Thus, looking at the bigger picture, after the withdrawal from Iraq, we can see a brief upsurge in activity in Afghanistan. That will achieve nothing apart from getting some good men killed, and expending a great deal of munitions and wearing out equipment. The rump of our depleted forces will then be required to turn inwards, to our European partners, to maintain some façade of potency.

We will co-operate in a number of high profile but ultimately useless and ineffective military adventures alongside our European military "allies", the "successes" of which will be hyped up, way above and beyond any realistic appraisal of their value. Thus will the military settle down into some sort of half-life which will somehow justify their reduced roles and capabilities.

But, as long as the guard continues to change at Buckingham Palace on time, and our troops are not seen in public with the "ring of stars" on their uniforms, everything will seem normal enough for the media to go back to sleep and the politicians to continue their pursuit of tat and trivia.

That, with a heavy heart, is how I see the future of our once-proud military. It seems pointless, under the circumstances, to write about it – as I have done so so relentlessly on the Defence of the Realm blog - other than to record occasionally the steps in its demise.

In truth, the writing has been on the wall for a long time, and I have been deluding myself in thinking it could be otherwise. To maintain independent Armed Forces, you need an independent nation. We have long ceased to be that, which has made our military an anomaly which had to be rectified. Iraq and Afghanistan were "throwbacks". Mr Hutton will sort all that out for us.

In charting the progressive decline of our forces, the Conservatives will huff and puff and make all the right noises. But they will do nothing about the decay. You can see the way the Tory Boys are playing it. It doesn't matter how much we shout and scream at them. They know which side their bread is buttered. And that is how Cameron (or his successor) will play it – lots of noise and indignation, but no action.

We could, of course, fight the fight – continuing the losing battle. But, soon enough, we will all be fighting a different fight, one for our own personal survivals. Brown, and Major before him, with a lot of help from their tranzie friends, have not only wrecked our economy but the global economy as well. Food, shelter and basic security from the looters and thieves will become our main preoccupations.

So, when the troops come home after their victorious battles, we can go along with the charade, watch their parades and pat them on their backs for a job well done. They can hang their Regimental flags up in their museums and let the bugles play. But it's over. It was fun while it lasted. All that is left is to chart the decline.

I am cross posting this on Defence of the Realm. There, it will - most probably - be the last post. That is rather appropriate under the circumstances.


Monday, October 27, 2008

The nasty party

The mighty elephant has laboured and brought forth (or fifth?) a mouse. So it is that the Taxpayers' Alliance has finally woken up to the fact that we are in the European Union and has come up with a report telling us that it has produced an awful lot of regulations in the last few years.

I think we knew this already, but it is marginally useful (if the figures are accurate, which I doubt) to know that between 1998 and 2007 the EU added an average of 942 new laws each year; a total of 9,415. We are thus told that last year 3,010 EU laws went onto the UK statute book and that there are currently 16,980 EU acts in force.

The Alliance also provides us with a piece of harmless entertainment when it tells us that at least 770 pages of UK Statutory Instruments will be needed to enact the 76 Directives passed by the EU in 2007. "Assuming this as an average per year," it adds, "then EU directives alone have necessitated over 7,700 pages of UK law since 1997."

And the point is?

Well, if it was us, we would draw the obvious conclusion. It is time to go. In fact, we are long past the time when we should have departed, with a cheery au revoir leaving the stinking midden of the European Union on the other side of the Channel where it belongs.

But this is the Taxpayers' Alliance we are talking about. One of its responses to its own findings is that we need the private member's European Union (Transparency) Bill. This, we are told, would force Ministers to declare to Parliament which new laws are derived from EU laws.

In the view of the TPA, this "would increase awareness of the sheer scale of the EU's regulatory machine and make it impossible for the Government or Whitehall to smuggle through their own unpopular policies in the guise of EU requirements."

The next stunning idea from the TPA is that there should be "regulatory sunset clauses" to ensure that all regulation expires after a certain time period, unless Parliament voted to renew it. This, they say, would cut out regulatory dead wood and avoid unnecessary regulations lingering on after they have become useless or counter-productive.

And then for a finale, they would have "more powerful Parliamentary scrutiny of EU legislation." British Parliamentary scrutiny of EU laws, they say, is extremely weak and ineffective, particularly when compared to the successful, stronger powers of other countries such as the Danish Parliament. The UK should adopt the Danish system of a Parliamentary committee with the power to scrutinise every single EU law.

Forgive the tone, verging on the sarcastic, but this is garbage. Taking the last of the TPA trio, the authors are in the land of the fairies arguing that scrutiny is "extremely weak and ineffective", as if scrutiny was the problem. As my co-editor has written many times, such as here and, more recently, here, scrutiny is not the same as "holding to account". "Scrutiny", she wrote,

… even if there were time to do it thoroughly, without the right of rejection or amendment is not legislation. It is akin to rearranging those famous deckchairs on the Titanic.
Even more recently, I wrote of the complexity of modern government, and the fact that there were so many diffuse and anonymous sources of laws, then declaring:

With all these organisations dipping their nibs into the legislative pot, however, there is one notable and glaring exception - the British Parliament. As thousands – quite literally thousands – of rules burst upon our shores, the one institution which supposedly governs us, has … nothing whatever to do with the process. That is, until it is too late to do anything about it.
What is the point – just what is the point of stepping up scrutiny at the final stages of this long and tortuous legislative process when with the best will in the world, there is absolutely nothing Parliament can do? Horrible phrase, it might be, but the TPA is indulging in intellectual masturbation.

Turning to the second of their stunning ideas, the "regulatory sunset clauses", what is the point of that? If we are obliged to implement EU law, and we do so, what on earth use is there then to bring it back before Parliament again, when the EU law itself has not expired, when all that Parliament can do is re-enact exactly the same law, untouched?

That, of course, begs the question of "negative assent", the procedure used to implement most Statutory Instruments (SIs), where they are "laid before Parliament" and there is no vote at all. Does the TPA want these Instruments laid again before Parliament, to pass by default in exactly the same way? And if it does, what is the point of that?

Then, what about the thousands of EU Regulations, which have immediate effect without being enacted into UK law – which go nowhere near Parliament, but come into force after they have been, as the signature block states, "done at Brussels".

So to the first of the TPA's brainwaves: forcing Ministers to declare to Parliament which new laws are derived from EU laws. Ostensibly a good idea, it nevertheless seems to have escaped the TPA's notice that, where SIs implement EU law, a note to that effect is already included in the explanatory note.

As for Acts, in the main, these are few and far between and are largely these days enabling acts – the description being largely self-explanatory. They do not, themselves, implement EU law. That comes later, through the SI process.

Then, if it a matter of smoking out the "elephant", what price the latest plans to introduce random breath tests which, as we reported, is EU "inspired" but you will not find the EU’s fingerprints on it. And how do you deal with the opposition’s insistence on making proposals which simply would not be permitted under EU law?

If this is not bad enough, when you look at the wider issues, the puerility of the TPA's case really becomes apparent. As we noted recently, the Lord Pearson elicited from the government the admission that, even had the EU not passed its own tranche of law on waste management, the UK government would have done something very similar. What does the TPA have to say about that?

And, of all the law that is passed, it is not the quantity per se - most of which is very trivial - but the quality, the main problem being the regulatory philosophy.

This is a far more complex and serious issue than playing the facile numbers game in which the TPA is indulging, them offering nothing serious or substantive to resolve such issues.

Earlier, however, when we dismissed the TPA as children at play, they took their bat home because we were "nasty" to them, hiding in their own little corner with their fingers in their ears. We, it seems, have taken over the mantle from the Tories to become the "nasty party" and they don't want to listen.

Actually, the Tories never were "nasty". What they were was arrogant, and there nothing has changed. But we are nasty – at least when presented with such childish, superficial, pathetically inadequate work. And we can get a whole lot nastier. Like the man said, this is not a game.


Invisible government

One of the reasons I rail against "personality politics", and the baying of the "Tory mob" which would lay every sin and every failure at the door of "McStalin Broon", is that so much of what he is accused he had nothing to do with, or over which he had little or no control.

Kenneth Clarke – God bless his silken socks – alluded to this in his evidence to the public administration committee last week, when he noted that the constant intervention of the government into wider and wider areas of our lives had led to an "infantalisation of the public, who are led to believe that any problem that they face is the fault of their political masters who are expected to sort it out in the next two or three weeks."

Part of this is the fault of the politicians who accept responsibility for things for which they are not responsible. This is sometimes ego-driven, the macho culture from the "Jim'll fix it" era, where politicians genuinely believe they can fix it. But, more often than not, it stems from a profound ignorance of how government works or, more commonly now, how it doesn't work.

What brings this to mind is a piece in the online edition of The Daily Telegraph heralding the dire news that a "Rat infestation threatens UK", a story that was also run by The Daily Mirror.

This newspaper ran the headline, "Boom time rats: Recycle or risk being overrun by a rising rat population." Both it and the Telegraph pick on "councils axing weekly bin collections," as well as "mild winters and last year's floods" as the cause of the growing infestations.

Up to a point, Lord Copper and, in due course, when or if there is an epidemic of rat-borne disease – of which both papers are warning – the prime minister of the day will be called to the despatch box to answer questions on the hystérie du jour, whence he, in the style of Clarke, will be "expected to sort it out in the next two or three weeks."

But while the particular focus of attention is on the move to fortnightly bin collection, this can only be one part of the problem. Possibly, it is only a small part. Rat populations in the UK have been increasing for some considerable period and this current small spate of reports is only one of many over the decades. What is going on?

Well, here we have an example of "invisible government" at work – or not working, representing a series of failure that span thirty years.

However, to represent them as "failures" does not do justice to the phenomenon. What we have seen over term is a slow, insidious degradation of multifarious, often informal systems of government, the nature of which most people are entirely unaware. And because so few people even know of them, or understand why they were there, or what they were there for, they have been allowed to decay to the point where the system no longer works any more.

Because so few people actually knew the systems were in place, much less understood them, their decline and disappearance has not been noticed, leading to the current situation where, when we start seeing the results of that decline, no one really knows why it is happening. Thus, in way of our modern world, we get the blame (partially) focused on the hystérie du jour, in this case the fortnightly bin collections.

The last thing you want from me, however, is to be regaled by long turgid explanations of how the system has broken down, so I will confine myself to just one small example (of dozens) of how the real world used to work, but does no longer.

Here though is the real bind – the devil is in the detail. When we have a population with the attention spans of gnats, and MPs with endemic attention deficit disorder, who can only absorb briefings of one page length, set out in bullet-point order, and a media that can't even look at the bullet points unless they have pictures with them, therein lies our problem.

So the example: demolitions. When you have existing buildings, they have drains. The drains connect to the sewers and in the sewers live rats. They always have, always will and you can never eliminate them completely – you keep the numbers down and contain them (that's another story which, you will be pleased to learn, I won't tell, but it's another bloody disaster).

The problem with demolitions is that, if you tear down the building but leave the old drains in place, they become refuges – harbourage – for rats. You have given them, free, gratis and for nothing, a highly desirable des res, which can provide a nesting site and support a sizeable population. And, because the building connections are demolished, all the inbuilt barriers are gone, which thus gives the rats break-out access into the wider environment.

To avoid this, there is provision in law, handed down by our wise and far-seeing MPs of old, to require contractors to grub up the old drains and seal off the connections with the sewers.

That is all very well in theory but, in many old buildings – with alterations over the years – very often no one actually knows where all the drains are or where the connections are. The plans are often of little help and the records are frequently inaccurate. Furthermore, when a building is dropped, the drains tend to be buried under the debris, intact but unreachable. Sorting that out is time-consuming and expensive, so people would rather not do it.

As with all laws, therefore, if they are to work properly, they must be enforced properly. This is something our current generation of MPs seem to have a little difficulty understanding.

What used to happen was that, the moment a local authority was notified of a planned demolition, an anonymous – and usually underpaid - official (like me) was despatched to the site to survey the drain system and draw an up-to-date plan of it, complete with locations of the all-important sewer connections. Difficult, often dirty work it was, requiring some skill, and great fun. (How do you find a manhole cover in a yard that has been concreted over? We knew how, tricks of the trade passed down word of mouth by generations of inspectors.)

Then, when the contractors started the demolition, you got yourself down to the site and stood over the buggers, making sure they grubbed up the drains properly – all of them – and then made proper seals at the sewer junctions, not a bodge job with a couple of bricks jammed in the stub of the barrel.

Some little time ago, I regaled a band of local authority officers with tales of past exploits in this area (including the day I spent sitting in the middle of the London to Brighton road – the famous A23 – watching a pioneering experiment using a remote TV camera, sealing a sewer junction without digging up the road). As I unfolded the tales though, I perceived nothing but blank stares. This job, which took a great deal of our departmental time and resources, is not done any more. No one in the room had any experience of it.

Talk to any field officer in local government, the old hands, and they will have their tales to tell. Things that were done – part of that invisible but vital fabric of a sophisticated government machine – are not done any more. They have been wiped out by accountants because they are no longer recognised "cost centres", eliminated by "efficiency experts" who did not see the need for them, or simply, they have lapsed because the institutional memory has gone and there is no one left who knows what should be done, or how to do it.

But, when you face the ongoing deterioration of society, it is not just in the big things that you measure it. It is also in the hundreds and thousands of small things that used to be done that are not done any more. That is where the real breakdown is at its most damaging.

This is not hankering after some rosy vision of days gone past. These things were important and they still are. They were put into Acts of Parliament for a reason, by people who knew what they were talking about. They were not secreted into the system in some bureaucratic, EU-derived regulation. They were debated and approved in a proper manner by real MPs and became the law of the land. They still are the law and that law should be obeyed. But it is not. And no one seems to care any more.

To repeat that central message, the tragedy is that, because it was "invisible government", when it disappeared, no one realised it had gone, because so few knew it was there in the first place. Think about that when you next see an excitable journalist hyperventilating about rat-borne "epidemics". They don't know the half of it.


So nice to know he cares

Astute readers might have noticed that John Redwood MP gave us the benefit of his advice yesterday in The Sunday Telegraph.

"We can all unite in condemning those senior bankers who expanded too much and paid themselves handsomely for the mistake," he writes. Warming to his theme, he tells us:

We need more action to stimulate the private sector, which is crashing downwards rapidly. It means working with the energy, water and transport industries to see which larger investment projects can be brought forward to provide some work for the construction industry. It means redoubling efforts to help people back into work who lose their jobs as the redundancies build up this winter. It means developing the packages designed by both main parties to ease and help company cash flow.
Mr Redwood would, of course, be quite interested in "company cash flow", and dead keen on "stimulating the private sector" - given his directorship in the investment company, Audley European Opportunities Master Fund Ltd and its feeder funds, to say nothing of his position as non-executive chairman of Evercore Pan-Asset Capital Management Ltd, an investment advisory company.

In that latter role, it is encouraging to learn that he was on the ball last July when he was writing to his clients telling them that, while oil was widely expected to go up in value over the longer term, "this trend may soon be disturbed."

"Now was the right time to sell and take profits on oil," he said. "While the long term case is apparent, commodities rarely go up continuously in a straight line, and there are now some really good profits on oil. In the short term there are reasons to worry about the downside for energy prices."

Interestingly, that was just at the time we were commenting on the recent "eye-watering increases in gas (and electricity) prices," and the prospect of people going to jail because they could not pay their energy bills.

Still, now that Mr Redwood's clients – and himself no doubt – have happily taken their "really good profits" on oil, it is good to know that Mr Redwood himself has some time to spare to do his day job – for a small fee of course, paid by The Sunday Telegraph.

Surprisingly, while the paper was quick to tell us that John Redwood is chairman of the Conservative Party's economic competitiveness commission, it somehow omitted the small details of his other paid employment.

Funny old world, isn't it?


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Give them a stick …

… and they will unfailingly grab the wrong end of it.

"Where have all the parliamentary orators gone?" asks Andrew Roberts in The Sunday Telegraph, complaining that: "Parliament used to be the best show in the West End," but was "No longer." In a lengthy dissertation, he then notes:

The fact that so many of our day-to-day laws come from Brussels today, rather than being originated at Westminster, has also impoverished political discourse. There is less of substance over which to argue, when the regulations by which we live cannot genuinely be affected by the outcome of our debates. As the Westminster parliament moves seemingly inexorably towards what the EU always intended it to be, a county council with Pugin architectural embellishments, so the quality of the debates held there declines.
To be brutally frank, who gives a flying tinker's %&*£<”$ about the oratory? What about the power?

As so often, we did it earlier, and better.


More on that elephant

From Helen over at the Bruges Group blog. Even our local government can't make up its mind.

Arctic ice melting "even in winter"

Yes, The Sunday Times did print this tosh as a headline. It even quoted Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, saying: "This is one of the most serious problems the world has ever faced."

This is the same Prof. Wadhams who told the Telegraph, last week: "The warmer temperatures will also take longer to dissipate, the autumn freeze will take longer, meaning thinner ice."

Booker, in this week's column has reported that the Arctic ice cover is 31 percent up on last year, while Anthony Watts reports "sea ice area approaching the edge of normal standard deviation".

But there is no end to the tosh these warmists and their fellow travellers dribble out. Two weeks ago, the girlie environment correspondent, Louise Gray was writing in The Daily Telegraph that a "Green Christmas [was] more likely than a white one".

"Christmas will be green, rather than white this year as changes in the climate mean that leaves are staying on the trees right into the winter," she drivelled. "In the 1940s traditional English trees used to shed their leaves in early November. But now they are keeping their greenery well into December."

Today, without so much as a blush, we get Richard Gray, science correspondent of The Sunday Telegraph telling us that, "Britain is experiencing its best display of autumn colours for years due to the ideal weather conditions."

Gray quotes Tony Kirkham, head of arboretum at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, who says the return to more typical autumn conditions was a relief as it would allow Britain's trees a chance to recover from the strains of growing and pests during the summer. He adds: "We are experiencing a return to the traditional British autumn. Cold nights and warm days are all conducive to good autumn colour."

Yet, a couple of years ago this same Mr Kirkham was telling us that the quintessential English garden was under threat from climate change.

Gardeners had to adapt or see their plots wither and die from the effects of hotter summers and dry winters. New types of drought-resistant Mediterranean plants, restricted water use and imaginative garden design would all have to become part of the gardens of the future.

Since then, of course, we have had two of the wettest summers on record which, according to the dismal little hacks, Nick Allen and Laura Clout of The Daily Telegraph, was also down to "global warming".

Not only do these people have no brains, they have no shame either.


Confusion reigns

To use the vernacular, these figures on electricity supply and consumption "do your head in" - what with kilo- mega- and gigawatts as units of capacity and megawatt hours, etc., as units of production.

Then, as everybody knows – when you are trying to work out delivered capacity – you take the former, multiply the figures by 8,760 to give the latter and then divide by the load factors. Simple really.

In doing his sums for this week's column, Booker alerted me to the fact that he had got the arithmetic wrong. I should have picked it up, but there you go.

Anyhow, in taking Gordon Brown apart on his claims last week that, "We are now getting 3 gigawatts of our electricity capacity from wind power, enough to power more than 1.5 million homes," Booker asserted that, "This deliberately perpetuates the central confidence trick practised by the wind industry."

It confuses, he writes, "capacity" with the actual amount of electricity wind produces. In fact, as the Government's own figures show, wind turbines generate on average only 27 to 28 per cent, barely a quarter, of their "capacity". This means that, far from producing those "3 gigawatts", the 2,000 turbines already built actually contributed - again on official figures - an average of only 694 megawatts (MW) last year.

That is, as Booker rightly notes, less than the output of a single medium-size conventional power station. But then he goes somewhat astray arguing that, far from producing "enough to power more than 1.5 million homes", it is enough to power barely a sixth of that number, representing only 1.3 per cent of all the electricity we use.

Unfortunately, if you take 694 megawatts, multiply it by 8760 to give annual megawatt hours, and then divide it by 3380 kilowatt hours – the annual electricity consumption of the average home (although there are higher figures) – you get, near enough, 1.8 million. By "conventional" accounting, that is the number of homes supplied. Gordon Brown has been conservative in his claim.

In reality, though, that figure also is fiction. The point about wind power is that it is intermittent. For, say, ten percent of the time, the whole estate will produce 100 percent of its capacity. That means, rather than 1.8 million homes, it will be able to serve well over 5 million homes. For rather more than fifty percent of the time, however, the estate will be generating no usable electricity which means – a rather easy sum to work out – it will be serving no homes at all.

But even those calculations are fiction. The figure of annual household consumption, at 3380 kilowatt hours, does not reflect diurnal or seasonal variations. In the summer, in the wee small hours, consumption will be next to nothing. On a cold winter evening, demand will be massively higher than the nine kilowatt hour per day average.

Therein lies one of the many complications. The art of electricity production is matching supply with demand and if you have an intermittent supply – which is also unpredictable – then you can (and will) get a situation when electricity is produced when you do not need it, and cannot use it, while at other times you will be crying out for electricity and the system is idle. You could, therefore, end up with the wind farms churning out power when no one wants it and idle when power is desperately needed. Number of homes served, etc., in this context, are meaningless.

However much you mess about with the statistics, you cannot overcome those very simple facts: that wind is both intermittent and unpredictable. The bigger the wind estate becomes, the more significant those problems become, and the more expensive their resolution. Not least, you have to maintain a huge back-up supply, produced by conventional (fossil fuel) power stations, as insurance against a loss of wind capacity.

As to the costs, should the government actually reach its target of 25GW renewable power, the cost of the hidden subsidy (the Renewable Obligation) will be in the order of £6 billion a year, at today's prices. That will, as Booker correctly noted, add 25 percent to the cost of the average electricity bill – again at today's prices. Also, in getting there, we will have spent £100 billion, the price of 37 nuclear power stations, capable of producing nearly ten times as much electricity.

The more realistic scenario – again pointed out by Booker – is that there is not the remotest chance of achieving the renewable target. Thus he writes, "what is dangerous is that even contemplating such a mad waste of resources is diverting attention from the genuine need to build enough proper, grown-up power stations to keep our lights on."

"For that the time is fast running out, if it hasn't done so already," he warns. "It is on that Mr Brown should be concentrating, not on trying to pull the wool over our eyes with such infantile deceits."


A bucket of hot soapy water

In The Sunday Times, we find a feature-length story on Nouriel Roubini, the man dubbed "Dr Doom" after he addressed a meeting of the International Monetary Fund in September 2006. The paper picks up the story:

Roubini told an audience of fellow economists that a generational crisis was coming. A once-in-a-lifetime housing bust would lay waste to the US economy as oil prices soared, consumers stopped shopping and the country went into a deep recession.

The collapse of the mortgage market would trigger a global meltdown, as trillions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities unravelled. The shockwaves would destroy banks and other big financial institutions such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, America's largest home loan lenders.

"I think perhaps we will need a stiff drink after that," the moderator said. Members of the audience laughed.

Economics is not called the dismal science for nothing. While the public might be impressed by Nostradamus-like predictions, economists want figures and equations. Anirvan Banerji, economist with the New York-based Economic Cycle Research Institute, summed up the feeling of many of those at the IMF meeting when he delivered his response to Roubini's talk.

Banerji questioned Roubini's assumptions, said they were not based on mathematical models and dismissed his hunches as those of a Cassandra.
Ah! Those famous "mathematical models" – on which the warmists so often rely. Without them, there is no reality.

This brings to mind my own encounter with this animal. We had purchased a vacuum chiller (don't ask) for a large hospital kitchen, capable of cooling 200 gallons of soup or glutinous stew down to 5°C in less than 20 minutes. It really was a superb bit of kit.

The only problem though was how to clean it – particularly the maze of pipework which delivered the produce from the cookers to the chiller, and thence to the storage vats.

We had a highly complex, computer-controlled "clean-in-place" system (CIP) which delivered doses of hot water, cleaning fluid and disinfectant, in a pre-programmed cycle that would (supposedly) flush the equipment, clean it and leave it ready for use.

We had various mathematical models to predict the performance of this system but the standard models assumed laminar flow of water through the system.

With pump speed, water-flow models, and with knowing T1 and T2 (input and output temperatures) we could calculate dwell time and contact periods. Plotted against thermal death times for our target microorganisms, on a notional log 6 reduction (once we got over the stupidity of the lab asking for log 10, which I thought was OTT) we could assess what setting would be successful.

However, there was a problem. The model assumed laminar flow within the system and uniform thermal conductivity of the materials. But either was far from the case. In the all-important discharge valves, the outlets of which were at right angles to the water flow, we had turbulent conditions which, as you all know, is a chaotic system.

Furthermore, the neoprene seals had vastly different thermal characteristics to the stainless steel housings, and we could not be assured that the uplift in temperature would be sufficient to ensure a log 6 kill, especially if you took into account the possibility of microfilm shrouding. And if you want to make a food technologist go white, talk to him about microfilms.

It was back to the lab with ever more complex computer models and results which were becoming increasingly difficult to interpret. Furthermore, the delays were starting to cost us, as we had to hold back the opening of the unit – and the troops were beginning to grumble. The trouble is, if you get it wrong, you kill people.

Anyhow, I was getting a bit fed up with this, so took the problem into my own hands. With a deft flick of the wrist on the quick-release coupling, the offending discharge valve housing was removed and placed in a bucket of hot, soapy water – with a smidgin of bleach* – and left to soak for 20 minutes. It worked perfectly.

Methinks I would rather trust Nouriel Roubini with his "hunches" than all the "mathematical models" the IMF could throw at me.

* I have been asked by a reader to explain what a "smidgin" is. As anyone who has worked in the cleaning industry will know, this is a standard unit of measurement. It is approximately twice a demi-smidgin and around one-tenth of a mega-smidgin. In practice, it works out at nearly 100th of the more standard unit - used widely in contract cleaning, especially when the client is paying on a "cost plus" basis - the "whole f*****g bottle". That latter amount, of course, depends on the size of the bottles, the volumes of which are always a mystery as no one, but no one ever reads the labels. Another common unit of measurement is the "glug" - as in a "couple of glugs".

** Sigh! Some people are never satisfied. Now he wants to know what a "glug" is!

As everybody knows, a "glug" is the sound made by a liquid as it is poured from a bottle. Thus, a "glug" is the amount of fluid poured before the sound is heard. As a unit of measurement, it is highly variable. It will depend on the density and viscosity of the fluid, the size of the bottle opening and, to an extent, the flexibility of the container - and how full the container was when you started pouring. A "near-empty glug" is usually more than a "full glug".

If you want to be pedantic, it will also vary with temperature and atmospheric pressure. Presumably, high altitude "glugs" are less than "glugs" at sea-level (or vice-versa). The "glug" - like the bushel - therefore, tends to be a product-specific rather than a generic measurement.