Thursday, November 29, 2007

Harriet Harman's Turn

Ms Harman will be facing MPs today over Donorgate and after yesterday's PMQs, she's probably trying to book a root canal instead.

But there is one question she needs to answer, without hiding behind Labour rhetoric.

Brown said in PMQs that there was not one "iota" of evidence that she knew about the 3rd party donations before the weekend (which I believe) but if Brown and Hilary Benn had refused donations from Janet Kidd, it's the fact that she didn't know that beggars belief.

We all live life under the caveat that ignorance of the law is no excuse: As Leader of the House, not knowing about it is as embarassing as accepting the donation in the first place.


At the reception on Tuesday evening, David Cameron gave us a preview of the next day's PMQs. But the evening was light-hearted and amongst friends, and although we knew that Brown was going to get yet another inevitable battering - the ferocity of the barrage was quite spectacular to watch.

"Does he really expect us to believe that someone who even his own side say is a control freak was preparing for an election, sorting out the finances and sitting round a table with everyone caught up in this scandal and yet didn’t have the first idea what was going on?"

"We have had 155 days of his government. We have had disaster after disaster: a run on a bank, half the country's details lost in the post and now this. His excuses go from incompetence to complacency."

"Aren't people rightly now asking: Is this man simply not cut out for the job?"

Brown looked visibly shaken (yet again) but the line that twisted the knife came from the extremely able Vincent Cable: "The house has noticed the Prime Minister's remarkable transformation in the last few weeks from Stalin to Mr Bean, creating chaos out of order and order out of chaos."

If I were Brown, I'd start taking the odd duvet day for the next few Wednesdays.

Here's the full PMQs if you missed it:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Reception with David Cameron

Last night, the CWO hosted a reception with David Cameron at the beautiful Fleming Collection in Berkeley Street (well worth a visit).

The location was perfect, the food and drink were plentiful and the guest of honour was just as he should be.

He must do hundreds of these every year - probably one of the worse parts of the job - but it is so much appreciated by both the guests and especially the CWO, who added to its much needed fighting fund.

[ADVERT ALERT]We're always looking for more donations, so please consider becoming a Friend of the CWO, if you're not already![END ADVERT]

The auction was a huge success with prizes such as tea with Boris, holidays in Morocco and helicopter flights vigourously bidded on.

The evening was superbly organised by Sallie Hendry (pictured left), Fiona, Eve Burt, Elaine & Barbara at the office and so many other people. Also a special mention to all of the people who donated prizes to the auction.

A fantastic evening that I look forward to becoming an annual event.

Reception Photo Gallery

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cameron's CBI Speech

It is a shame that Cameron's speech at the CBI was largely overshadowed in the news by the extremely dodgy donorgate affair.

In contradiction to Brown, Cameron's speech just made sense.

A single CGT level of 18%, thereby removing taper relief, will stunt new investment into small businesses. Wht can't Brown see that?

Brown Darling may have thought it sounded like a good plan to get more dosh from the private equity firms but it was yet another ill-thought out idea, which doesn't take into account who else it affects.

I have slogged away with my small business for 6 years, with ever increasing red tape, tax bills and a distinct lack of incentive to expand in the UK over outsourcing abroad. Brown doesn't understand the backbone of the UK economy - the SMBs.

The Independent Poll

One thing that is a little disconcerting in the Independent poll below, is that although support among men is holding steady, Conservative support amongst women has fallen back from 41 to 37.

Saying that, this is after a 22% swing of women voters towards the Conservatives in early October.

Swings and roundabouts it maybe but it is vital that we gain and retain the women's vote if the Conservatives are to win the next election.

Things are getting better worse

According to The Independent this morning, the Conservatives have opened up a massive 13 point lead over Labour (Cons: 40, Lab: 27, LibDems: 18).

The Conservatives haven't had a lead of that proportion since 1988 but it only translates to a Conservative majority of 58.

Remember Sloane Rangers, huge mobile phones, city boys in striped suits, champagne lunches? These were the times of the late 80s when everyone aspired and many succeeded.

The only difference now is that the nation's aspirations are being drowned in a sea of incompetence, people are starting to seriously worry about their own future financial security and we all know that this is all going to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better.

And we've got at least another 18 months of this.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

10-Year Apathy

If you think this is about Labour, you'd be half right - except it's about the Labor Party in Australia winning yesterday's general election.

NB: It's not a typo - they lost the 'u' from Labor about 20 years ago, even though labour [to toil] is still spelt with a 'u' - go figure.

Michael Howard, the ex-PM and leader of the Liberal i.e. Conservative Party (more confusion) lost in such a landslide that it looks like he won't even keep his own seat.

Australia must be in a real economic pickle for something like that to happen. Or maybe there's a Spring of Discontent going on. If not, then millions thousands must be out on the streets protesting against the war.

Or not it seems. Yes, there's a bit of inflation. Yes, house prices are rising rapidly. Yes, people don't like some new labour laws but Michael Howard made two mistakes in a country that's generally doing not too bad at all:

1) He announced that he wouldn't run again after the next election (didn't he learn anything from Tony?)
2) Nobody liked his Treasurer, Peter Costello, who would have succeeded him (see note above)

Apparently, Howard suffered a landslide defeat because the electorate was just bored of him.

We've had Brown for less than 6 months and we're already bored with him.

Fortress Britain

While I was away, I heard about the 53 questions that I may be asked if I wanted to repeat my trip in the future. Actually, I heard about it on CNN and the anchor actually questioned whether 53 was the correct number.

I like travelling, so I decided to look into this a bit more and found out that everything is not quite what it seems. Out of the 53 recommended "questions", most are data (e.g. booking reference number), not questions and the vast majority are already taken, or given to you, when you book now or anytime since you could book online.

Click here to open up the full list and try and spot any which aren't already kept on a database during your travels, whether it's your agents, the airlines, immigration or hotel.

The only additions I can see are 45) Any other biographical information 35) No show history and 22) & 28) yours and other passengers itineraries. The itineraries actually make sense if someone needed to contact you urgently or a local consulate needed to check who was in the area in the case of a disaster.

So the only one I can see to be worrying is the "any other biographical information": For which the only solution must be to carry a recent CV with you.

The French on Strike

"French strikes" are as commonplace as "M25 congestion" or "Labour mis-management" and if the current round of strikes surprises anyone who voted for Sarkozy, then I think his "work more, earn more" election policy would have given the game away.

It is good to hear, though, that the vast majority of the French don't want Sarkozy to back down, although you don't know how long that support will last.

I lived in Nice in the mid-90s, so am quite used to the weekly 24 hour strikes in the weeks that there isn't a saints day holiday. The strike that affected me the most, though, was the postal strike. Some international post got through from Monaco but most was stored in a hanger at Nice Airport.

When the strike finally ended 3 months later, management started discussions with the unions about the overtime needed to clear the hangar of the backlog. An agreement couldn't be reached, so they went on strike again. The management's solution? They burned all the mail in the hangar.

Fait accompli!

Throw-away Society

I am all for Rebecca Hosking's campaign to ban the plastic bag. Londoners alone apparently get through 1.6 billion a year, lasting an average of 20 minutes before being thrown away.

I will admit to recycling mine as small bin liners but at the same time have about 8 reusable bags from various supermarkets - none of which manage to end up in the supermarket with me when I go shopping. Banning plastic bags would indeed improve my memory.

However, alongside bags and the eternal fight against over-indulgent packaging, we also are guilty of throwing away too much food - about 7 million tonnes of it a year.

I was guilty of this. The night before the bins were emptied, I cleared out my 'fridge of out of date food and was surprised every week on how much there was.

This, though, was not entirely my fault. I would have loved to pop down my local greengrocer, butcher, baker, etc and buy only what I needed for a few days; eliminating any waste and ensuring a fresh, local supply of food. But I couldn't because they all went out of business after the out of town supermarkets appeared. And to fight through the supermarket crowds, out of control children and long checkout lines every few days would have driven me to madness - it's why it's called the 'weekly' shop.

The good news, though, is that I've recently moved to a largish village and what I love about it more than anything is that there is a greengrocer, a butcher, a baker and, wait for it, even a Post Office. I'm eating healthier, I get some exercise walking down the shops and pay less at the end of the day, as I'm not tempted by the million different products available on the shelves, which end up in the bin 7 days later.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Brown Tuesday

We've had Black Wednesday (and a few other colourful days of the week) but I've never seen a government trying to fail as spectacularly as the current administration, since the late 70s.

I arrived back home on Wednesday after a week away and a long flight, switched on Sky News, to be greeted by blanket coverage of the HMRC CD-Rom debacle. By then, the story was 18 hours old and Alistair Darling was about to make his embarassed announcement to Parliament, followed by yet another pitiful performance by Brown at PMQs. I was hooked all day, giving me the best prescription for avoiding jet lag!

If I understand this right, every family with children, will have the details of their names, partner's name, address, bank account and NI details lost somewhere in the UK.

And they're blaming it on a junior official?! How is a junior official allowed access to all this information?

Apart from the obvious mis-management of highly sensitive data, the continual worry for nearly half the population and the refusal of any senior official to be accountable, hopefully this will see the end of ID Cards once and for all.

Brown now says that he'll review security procedures before ID cards are issued - but which one of the 25 million potential fraud victims are going to believe him? He was in charge of HMRC for 10 years after all.

The most surprising thing to me isn't that the goverment lost the data - their past incomptences confirm that - what I am surprised is that the data wasn't printed on paper and left in a supermarket. In this day and age why would government departments ever think of sharing information along secure data lines, removing the need to transfer data out of its control?

Wasn't there supposed to be a £5.4 billion computer system that might solve this? Oops - I forgot that it went way over budget and didn't work - preferring to protect our identities using 3 systems instead. Chalk up another joke.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Saudi Rape Victim is Punished

I could hardly believe my ears after hearing the news that a gang rape victim in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to 6 months in prison and 200 lashes.

If this had happened in Iraq, there would be international condemnation and probably a commando unit sent to save her.

But this happened in Saudi Arabia, a nation that can unite around our shared values, according to Foreign Office minister Kim Howells, before the Saudi King's visit last month.

Human rights weren't discussed when King Abdullah met with Gordon Brown and the continual protests during his visit fell on deaf ears in the Foreign Office, wanting to avoid the embarassment that might accompany a few contracts being torn up.

For any continued semblance of shared values, King Abdullah must intercede before anymore harm is done to this poor girl.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Full of Eastern Promise - or not

I'm off to Hong Kong this week and as I haven't visited it for 15 years, I'll be interested to see how it's changed - epsecially the attitude of women - since it's return to Chinese control.

Even under British control, Hong Kong was a Far Eastern territory trying to become Westernised, except it never really worked - especially when it came to the sexes.

Hong Kong was always a male dominated country and when a quarter of Hong Kong women believe that they should not be more successful than their husbands, it's not something that's going to change in the short term.

Women are still paid lower rates than their male counterparts and are more likely to be in a clerical position than any other; a fifth still believe that they will get more respect from their friends if they bear their husband a son and 9% of women aged between 18 and 27 wish to have a sex change (for economical reasons no doubt). Since 1997, the suicide rate for women in Hong Kong has also doubled.

I still can't forgive Maggie for giving it all back (even the bits we didn't need to) and hope we got a really good deal in return, because I doubt the women of Hong Kong have.


Parents and War
No parent
should have to bury a son
This reverses natural law
But it is common
for sons who go to war,
and often more so
for those
who are their victims

David Roberts - 21 April 2003

In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McRae - May 1915

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Last Straw for Blair

Yet another Blair is being called on to resign by the Conservative front bench – this time it's Sir Ian Blair over the Stockwell tube shooting.

In July 2005, I was full of sympathy for the family of Jean Charles de Menezes but (like many others) was debating the “if” question – IF he had been a terrorist, then they’d be heroes now. The police are human and mistakes are made. The public couldn’t possibly ask for people to be brought to account for such an act, however horrific.

But now we’re hearing a different story. Commissioner Sir Ian Blair tried to prevent an IPC investigation; massive communication breakdowns; multiple inconsistencies; lack of contingency planning; misidentification; and unbelievably, that Blair went to sleep that night not knowing that they had shot the “wrong” man.

For once we have to look to the US to see accountability in action: The resignations of the CEOs of both Citigroup and Merrill Lynch show a respect for the people they serve.

Maybe Sir Ian Blair should think more about accountability before refusing point blank to take any responsibility for what happened: Sorry, sometimes, just isn't enough.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Time to Ban Personal Fireworks?

I have to admit up front that I’m a cat owner, so the 2 (or more usually 4-6) weeks around the 5th November means keeping the curtains drawn and the television volume up high, to reduce the stress that the annual round of bangs and whizzes produces.

This year though, it went further. I found an upright stick firmly embedded in my back garden with the remnants of a fireworks rocket – the spent rocket was lying by my back door. I had been out the previous evening and as my garden is entirely closed in and locked from the road, I am left to wonder what exactly happened.

Other than a total waste of money for the perpetrators (as I wasn’t in to see my own private display), it isn’t a comfortable feeling to know that someone has been clambering walls down the road and lighting rockets in people’s gardens.

I’m seriously starting to think that Firework Day should only be the weekend closest to the 5th November and all fireworks should only be sold to licensed displays.

OK, I’m not that mean – I don't mind a few sparklers...

Deaths and injuries would be reduced, stress on pets confined to one weekend and hopefully less people traipsing through my garden. Am I worryingly starting to sound old, or do I have a point?