The Snow In The Summer or So-So

07/12/2004 - 07/18/2004

Mon 12 Jul 2004

That Spending Review In Full

First, let's ask what the blazes is going on. In July 2002, then-finance minister Gordon Brown announced his spending plans for the next three years. Since when does 2002 + 3 = 2004? I think we should be told.

The headline-grabber, announced by current finance minister Gordon Brown, is a massive cut in civil service jobs. 84,150 civil service jobs would go in England; a further 20,000 officials in the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales, and the Northern Ireland Office also face the chop. Civil service unions are predictably unimpressed, using the word "devastating" with feeling.

Other winners include defence - up from £29.7 milliard (109 pounds) to £33.4 milliard, a real terms increase of 1.4%. It's the longest period of growth in twenty years, and we can't help but wonder if all of it would be necessary had the government followed a more measured policy. Spending on what Mr Brown called "homeland security" will double from £1 milliard to £2.1 milliard over the period of the review, and much of that is a direct consequence of Rev Blair's Folly.

You can tell there's an election looming, with all the extra money for everything, especially education. 120,000 childcare places, pilot tests on extending nursery education to two-year-olds, £100 million in building children's centres.

The figures: health service from 69 to 92 milliard (a 7.1% increase); education from 63 to 77 milliard 3.9%). Gordon claims that "procurement" and "efficiency" savings will increase income by 27.5 milliard - on past evidence, we reckon that he'll be doing very well to net more than 20% of that figure. Privatisation will bring in a similar figure, 30 milliard.

Overseas aid gets a 9.2% increase, including 1.5 milliard to tackle AIDS in Africa, 150 million to Sudan - we reckon this will nudge the UK towards giving 0.5% of GDP by 2010. The council tax revolt is slightly headed off - councils will be given three-year settlements, seeing their annual grants rise by 2.7%, slightly ahead of inflation, and each extra three pounds of settlement knocks a pound off the council tax bill.

Not mentioned: any specific transport projects - though the department gets an extra 4.4% to a total of 12.8 milliard, the future of Crossrail and its ilk are for Alistair "Luvvie" Darling.

The initial reaction: there is going to be hell to pay over the civil service reforms, and we don't believe those efficiency savings. With the civil service cuts meant to saving 21 milliard, but probably about half that, there's a shortfall of perhaps 30 milliard in Brown's figures. If the hole really is that large, it would tilt the budget past Brown's own golden rule of not borrowing over the course of the economic cycle. Colour us deeply sceptical.

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posted 12 Jul 2004, 20.33 +0100

With friends like these...

Traditionally, the headline "Italian government in crisis" has been a bit like "Pope believed to be Catholic." It's always true. However, in the past ten years, Italy has had an unusual period of stable government, mostly under the leadership of Sr Silvio Berlusconi.

The second Berlusconi government is in crisis. The finance minister has resigned, and the coalition partner Christian Democrats are threatening to resign over the general corruptness of the country. Independent media voices have been all but outlawed, and the government could fall as soon as Friday.

Running through the Top Five Willing:

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posted 12 Jul 2004, 20.39 +0100


Tue 13 Jul 2004


The European Court of Justice has imposed some sense on the EU council of finance ministers. Last year, the Council ignored a European Commission recommendation to punish France and Germany for failing to reduce public deficits, an action that had brought the eurozone's Stability and Growth Pact, and acted against the strength of the single currency. It's the first time the Commission sought legal action against EU governments for violating their own rules.

Commissioners had advised that more stringent budgetary measures be brought against France and Germany after their public deficits repeatedly breached the stability pact's ceiling of three percent of gross domestic product. The council of EU finance ministers decided not to press for a strict application of rules, ironically designed at Germany's behest to underpin the EU's single currency.

A clutch of member states that have worked hard to remedy their own finances - including Austria, the Netherlands, Finland and Spain - had voted against the council's decision, arguing that letting Berlin and Paris off the hook would sound the death knell for the rules. Dutch finance minister Gerrit Zalm, one the fiercest advocates of budgetary discipline, said after he and fellow ministers were overruled: "The pact is not dead but it's in the refrigerator."

The court's verdict represents a tactical victory for the European Commission, which had feared that its authority would be undermined if the council of ministers was allowed to bypass the Commission and set its own agenda without reprimands.

The court in Luxembourg noted that "responsibility for making the member states observe budgetary discipline lies essentially" with the council of ministers from the EU governments. But it said once a disciplinary procedure has been implemented and the ministers have adopted recommendations for a country to correct its deficit problem, the ministers "cannot modify them without being prompted again by the Commission, which has a right of initiative."

Following the court's ruling, excessive deficit procedures may now be restarted against Germany and France but they need not fear fines, the ultimate sanction in the budget disciplinary procedure. The Stability Pact itself has repeatedly come under question and even in the Commission the rule have met with criticism. Later this year the EU executive is expected to propose reforms to make the guidelines more flexible.

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posted 13 Jul 2004, 20.15 +0100


Contradicting their report of last week, the pro-Labour Evening Mail reports that "just 300" people have registered for postal votes at this week's by-election. However, if we count in the people who had previously requested a Permanent Postal Vote, the total is 3,679 out of 53,000. On the other hand, the constituency had 7,546 postal votes in last month's council elections.

In the campaign, Charles Kennedy (LD, HIGNFY and Brown Suit) has gone negative on Labour for going negative. In his fourth (count 'em!) visit in two weeks, the party's spokesman on chat shows laughed at the ludicrous Labour activists who targeted his visits with demonstrations and a Wild West-style "Not Wanted" poster of the LD candidate. "The stunts are a sure sign that Labour fears losing its safe seat," said Chuck, with good reason.

While the activists are writing off Leicester South as a foregone conclusion, the Birmingham seat is still up for grabs. The LDs are 1.45 with the bookies in Leicester, while both main parties are around 1.90 in Birmingham.

The Hodge Hill candidates are, from left to right:
John Rees (Respect), Nicola Davies (Liberal Democrat), Liam Byrne (Labour), Stephen Eyre (Conservative), James Hargreaves (Operation Christian Vote Proclaiming Christ's Lordship), Mark Wheatley (English Democrats), James Starkey (National Front Protect Our Children's Future).

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posted 13 Jul 2004, 20.34 +0100


So, just clicking around the bands, expecting to find something completely unlistenable on Kerrang Radio (the station that thinks that brodacasting in crackly AM-quality mono is so alternative.) Chance upon a naggingly familiar piano piece.

So I've mistuned. And I'm hearing On A Bus To St Cloud.

So what. It's a station playing Gretchen Peters.

I'm happy. And it's not Radio 2, but Saga Effem (a station that does actually broadcast in stereo.) I'm very happy.

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posted 13 Jul 2004, 21.50 +0100


Wed 14 Jul 2004

A little case of history repeating itself...

Last week, the Senate of the PDRUP reported on the march to war. Its report stated: "there was no good intelligence to back up the administration’s assertion that Iraq posed a direct and immediate threat."

To-day, the parallel Butler report published its works in the UK. Its report stated, to paraphrase, "there was no good intelligence to back up the administration’s assertion that Iraq posed a direct and immediate threat."

As expected, the Butler report flatly contradicted the most ludicrous claims of the Hutton report. The claim that Iraqi chemical weapons could be readied in 45 minutes was shorn of its caveats and promoted beyond its reliability. The Butler report calls this claim "eye-catching," a term only a split hair away from "sexed-up." We look forward to Ali Campbell apologising to the BBC in general, and to Greg Duk and Gavin "Tiny" Davis in particular.

Mr Blair's statement to the Commons on the dossier may have "reinforced the impression" that there was "fuller and firmer" intelligence behind the assessments in the dossier than was actually the case.

Throughout the report, we get the impression that the government had selected the intelligence reports that might prove most useful to its case, regardless of how reliable they were. The government then hyped up these reports, stripped them of their qualifications (the mays and possiblys and coulds) taking them "to the outer limits of intelligence," and pooh-poohed those who suggested there might actually be something different there. If that's not an abuse of intelligence information, I don't know what is.

The Butler report concludes that Iraq almost certainly did not possess viable stocks of chemical, biological,or nuclear weapons before the invasion. Blair's decision to support the war hinged almost entirely on his inaccurate claim that Saddam's stockpiles of illegal weapons posed an immediate threat to the West.

Mr Blair's style of government also came in for criticism, with the report saying that its "informality and circumscribed character" shut much of his cabinet out of the decision-making process. "We do not suggest that there is or should be an ideal or unchangeable system of collective government, still less that procedures are in aggregate any less effective now than in earlier times. However, we are concerned that the informality and circumscribed character of the government's procedures which we saw in the context of policy-making towards Iraq risks reducing the scope for informed collective political judgment." In short: Blair's a megalomaniac who can't govern properly.

However, in spite of his common sense findings - they told us absolutely nothing new - Butler's report did not conclude that Mr Blair deliberately exaggerated the case for war. There was, according to Butler, "no deliberate attempt on the part of the Government to mislead." This lack-of-finding flies into the face of the report, and shows that Mr Butler - like Mr Hutton before him - has kow-towed to the establishment.

Speaking in the Commons, Blair tried to make himself look a little better. He failed. "Everyone genuinely tried to do their best in good faith for the country in circumstances of acute difficulty. That issue of good faith should now be at an end." Indeed it is. Mr Blair never showed good faith, never attempted to show good faith, and acted to curry favour with a fellow religious zealot in Occupied Washington.

Michael Howaerd, for the opposition, muttered something about Mr Blair having no integrity, while Chas HIGNFY was completely not surprised. Speaking on the radio, Patty Hewitt waffled on about Tony's other wars and attacked the interviewer rather than answer the question, a backbencher said "If I'd known that then, I'd not have backed the war," and Jack Straw was boring.

Het Grauniad sums it up as follows: "We are told that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. On that information, we invade said clear and present threat. Then we fail to find any WMDs, and discover that much of our intelligence was "seriously flawed". But nobody is to blame." John Pienaar on the BBC said that this was a crucial day for democracy, perhaps the day when the rocket of spin reached its apogee and began its firey fall down to earth.

Watch it burn. Watch New Labour burn. Watch Tony burn.

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posted 14 Jul 2004, 21.13 +0100

Voter "oui"!

France will hold a referendum on the European Constitution, confirmed President Chirac to-day. "The French people are concerned directly and will therefore be consulted directly, and so there will be a referendum."

France joins the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Luxembourg, Spain, the Czech Republic and Denmark in holding plebiscites on the proposed change. The last French referendum - on the Maastricht treaty - was passed by a whisker, and the convulsions before the vote caused the pound to fall out of the ERM.

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posted 14 Jul 2004, 21.16 +0100


Thu 15 Jul 2004

Just plain wrong

The ICC has made a quite bizarre ruling. According to the sport's governing council, play in an international (Test or one-day, or presumably twenty20 match) begins with the toss. This directly contradicts law 16.1: "The umpire at the bowler's end shall call 'Play' at the start of the match and on the resumption of play after any interval or interruption."

Where there's a clash between the laws of the world's greatest game and the mere mortals who oversee it at present, then the laws must take precedence, and I'll be quietly sweeping this ruling under the carpet and taking it out with the dustbin on Wednesday.

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posted 15 Jul 2004, 20.29 +0100

One up, one down

Good: Alistair Luvvie announces the end of the Strategic Rail Authority, and the effective re-nationalisation of the railways. The government will take control of the purse strings, and only punctuality and reliability of the trains will count for subsity.

Bad: In yet another New Labour attack on democratic accountability, the Rail Passengers' Committees will be abolished. There's no need to get rid of them, other than they've been a thorn in the side of most privatised companies, and threaten Labour's luvvie-in with train operators like the Bearded Blunder, Farce Grope, and Arrivalate.

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posted 15 Jul 2004, 20.33 +0100


Not that we're suggesting the Evening Mail is in any way biassed, or is showing anything other than truly independent coverage. Oh no. It's just that the headline and the first line of the article don't quite go together.

Too close to call!

Labour is set to hold on to Birmingham's fiercely contested Hodge Hill seat in today's crunch city by-election.

A straw poll of voters carried out by the Evening Mail suggests Labour's Liam Byrne will edge to victory to become the city's newest MP. But a cautious Labour team today dismissed the figures and insisted "it's too close to call".

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posted 15 Jul 2004, 20.38 +0100


Fri 16 Jul 2004

X+1: The by-election results

Those by-election results in full!

Birmingham Hodge Hill

Result declared at 0114, following a re-count at 0031.

Liam Dominic BYRNE                      Lab                      7,451
Miss Nicola Sian DAVIES                 L Dem                    6,991
Stephen John Arthur EYRE                C                        3,543
Rev. (James) George HARGREAVES          Ind - Christian Vote        90
John William REES                       RU                       1,282
James William STARKEY                   NF                         805
Mark Kenneth WHEATLEY                   EDP                        277

Turnout: 37.89%
Lab majority: 460

Butler +12.2
Lab-LD -26.8

Leicester South

Result declared at 0139.

Jitendra (Jiten) Jewl Nim BARDWAJ       Ind - Yoga & Meditation      36
Alan Gordon BARRETT                     Ind C                        25
Mark Edwin BENSON                       Ind UKIP                     55
Parmjit Singh GILL                      L Dem                    10,274
Christopher HEATON-HARRIS               C                         5,796
Patrick Joseph KENNEDY                  Ind - Save Our Schools      204
Paul Anthony LORD                       Ind                         186
Miss Yvonne Anne RIDLEY                 RU                        3,724
David (Dave) Paul ROBERTS               S Lab P                     263
R.U. SEERIUS (Jon Brewer)               MRLP                        225
Sir Peter Alfred SOULSBY                Lab                       8,620

Tunout: 41.6%
Lib Dem majority 1,654

Butler +10.9
Lab-LD -21.5

A note regarding swings: the "Butler" swing is the straight swing from Labour to Conservatives - a positive swing is a swing to the Conservatives. I cite this swing on the grounds that only Labour and the Conservatives can realistically claim to form the next government.

The "Lab-LD" swing is the swing from the Liberal Democrats to Labour - a negative swing is towards the LDs. I cite this swing because it's the one the BBC has quoted as "the" swing.

For completeness, these figures allow one to work out the "Con-LD" swing, from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives, simply by summing the other two swings. Again, a negative swing is towards the Lib Dems.

The magnitude of the largest swing will always equal the sum of the magnitude of the other two swings, even where there's an established fourth party (such as the nationalists). I leave it as an exercise for the reader to establish why this holds.

What does this mean?

If we were to apply the Butler result nationally, an 11.5% swing from Labour to the Conservatives would result in a workable Conservative majority of about 40, still only on a par with the 1979 result. On the other hand, if we were to scale all the swings nationally, then we enter a land where Chas Cheese has 600 MPs, an overall majority of over 500, the Conservatives are reduced to one seat (Rochford and Southend East, which means the de facto leader of the party is Teddy Taylor), Labour to a rump of fifteen (including such household names as Clare Short, Paul Boateng, Peter Kilfoyle, Yvette Cooper, Tony Banks, and David Plunkett - the leadership contest would be quite the bloody battle, and I'd pick Clare to win it), pigs regularly take to the air, and most clouds are shaped like cuckoos.

Slightly more realistically, if we halve these swings, then we get to the general council by-election picture from the Midlands this year. A Butler swing of +6%, a Lab-LD swing of around -12%. That's roughly in line with the Midlands' contribution to the national picture, which in turn shows a Butler swing of +6%, and a Lab-LD swing of -6.5%, and that's giving small parliamentary majorities to Labour, but not always enough to run for a full term.

What else can we learn? It's now 22 years since the Tories last won a by-election from an opponent, and that was caused by a defector to the Esdipi resigning his seat. However, in the past two parliaments, they've not had a by-election in any of the seats they won in 1979 or 1992 but Labour won in 1997. A crack at somewhere like Reading East or Stafford would be interesting.

John "Oh fuck not health" Read was his usual combative self. The man whose interview on the Today programme last June 4 single-handedly turned the Gilligan affair into a matter of state claimed to have had a "score draw" against the Lib Dems. Er, no, bearing in mind that his defence of the indefensible was the kick-off, then the Lib Dems have a 2:1 lead early in the second half. Chas Cheese noted the anti-war card, while not noting that RESPECT had almost exactly retained its cross-Birmingham share from last month's Euro-elections. For the Tories, Dr Fox played forty records and talked to Britney Spears.

But perhaps the main observation comes in Leicester, where the Unitedkingdom Independence Party's non-candidate fell beneath the Monster Raving Loony party. Said one berk: "We, we, we, we, we."

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posted 16 Jul 2004, 21.09 +0100

Where's Bobby?

Chess genius Bobby Fischer has been arrested in Japan. Fischer is wanted in his native New Amsterdam for sanctions-busting - he played a tournament against Boris Spassky in Formeryugoslavia during 1992, and has been wanted ever since.

Bobby Fischer is pretty much the dictionary definition of twisted genius. His antics and paranoia during his 1972 match against Spassky in Iceland have become the stuff of legend, while his later life has turned into what we might politely term a bit of a mess.

But why Mr Fischer, and why now? After all, if New Amsterdam and the other provinces are going to start enforcing all UN resolutions, then they'll be bombing Israel before sunset. This actually links in with Mr Fischer's remarks on 12 Sept 2001. He blamed "Israel and the Jews" for the previous day's outrages in New Amsterdam, and finished a vitriolic rampage thus:

"This is all wonderful news. It is time to finish off the US once and for all. I was happy and could not believe what was happening. All the crimes the US has committed in the world. This just shows, what goes around comes around, even to the US. I applaud the act. The US and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians for years. Now it is coming back at the US."

Readers may insert the note that Mr Fischer has blamed "the Jews and Israel" for just about everything over the years, and much of his argument appears from here to be a prolonged psychological rebellion against his (Jewish) mother. Treat with caution.

If anyone's after a bit of a conspiracy, note that Mr Fischer was arrested for trying to leave Japan without a valid passport. He had a passport, but it wasn't valid because the rebel PDRUP government had revoked it. Was this arrest a set-up?

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posted 16 Jul 2004, 21.13 +0100


Sat 17 Jul 2004

Not lying, just misleading

A year ago to-day, David Kelly took that fateful walk in an Oxfordshire wood. The Hutton inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his death heard many amazing details about the way government operates (we don't say "work" for obvious reasons.) But it didn't hear this.

Downing Street embarked on an unprecedented cover-up after MI6 withdrew intelligence supporting the Government's dossier on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction because it was unreliable. Tony Blair's official liarman said MI6 decided not to tell the Hutton inquiry that crucial intelligence on Saddam's chemical and biological weapons was unsound. The security services, he said, felt it was "too sensitive'' to be made public. The head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, also decided not to tell Mr Blair. The Prime Minister's spokesman said Mr Blair only became aware of the withdrawal of the intelligence as a result of the Butler inquiry.

The intelligence was withdrawn in July last year, in the short period between Dr Kelly's death and the start of Hutton hearings.

The Hutton inquiry was unaware that crucial intelligence had been withdrawn, and had this been known, a number of government witnesses would have faced questions about the matter. The sources insisted that the fact that intelligence had been withdrawn by MI6 was not revealed to Lord Hutton either orally or in written evidence.

When setting up the inquiry last year, Blair's office said: "The important point is that we have said that he will have whatever papers and people he needs." This would turn out to be a lie.

In their evidence, Tony Blair, Sir Richard Dearlove of MI6, and John Scarlett of the Joint Intelligence Committee, all failed to mention the withdrawal of intelligence. All three insisted that intelligence from agents in Iraq was believed to be reliable.

Downing Street's comments have all the hallmarks of a damage limitation exercise, and Blair now faces fresh allegations of misleading Parliament on Tuesday when he opens a debate on the Butler report. How do we know it's a damage limitation exercise? Easy, Downing Street is telling us...

Downing Street gave three reasons for not telling the Hutton inquiry: it was not relevant to the investigation into Dr Kelly's death; it was only one element in the chemical and biological weapons "picture"; and, because validation of the intelligence and its source was continuing, it was too sensitive to make public. "Lord Hutton was not misled. He saw everything that was relevant to his picture," said Mr Blair's spokesman.

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posted 17 Jul 2004, 10.19 +0100


Sun 18 Jul 2004

Not lying, just, er, not revealing the full actualité

We read the Sunday press so you don't have to. Actually, we don't read all the Sunday press, we can't be bothered to learn which Big Brawling contestant once stubbed their toe on a paving slab in Catford, and nor do we much care to be honest. Anyway, here's the choice cuts.

Tony Blair was warned before the Iraq war by the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, that a UN court could rule Britain's invasion unlawful.

Michael Howard has suggested that if he had known then what the Butler report has since revealed about the preparations for war, he might have voted against it. Speaking in the Sunset Times: "It is difficult for someone, knowing everything that we know now, to have voted for that resolution." Former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind, "I think there's a case to answer. I think it's hugely difficult to argue that when the Security Council refuses to pass a resolution you can simply unilaterally use a previous resolution as a case for going to war."

Blair intends to carry on says Jonathan Freedland. The accompanying picture prompts this faux-letter. "Sir, Until I saw the picture of the prime minister on page 25, I never knew the meaning of the phrase 'swivel-eyed loon'. Yours etc..."

Not on the web: an Obs report that Iraqi mass graves contained slightly fewer bodies than St Tony claimed. "At least 400,000 bodies have been recovered," he said last December. The true figure, according to the UN: 5000. Compare and contrast against the civilian death toll - according to Iraq Body Count this morning, the total is at least 10,254, and possibly half as high again.

Benneton in trouble for throwing a farmer off his land. A sad tale of the power and hypocricy of the multi-national crap clothes merchant.

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posted 18 Jul 2004, 12.55 +0100

Weather in week 29

The after-effects of last week's cold snap continued, but there was far less rain - only showers from Thursday, though the showers tended to be sharp. The heat returned when a front crossed to the north on Wednesday and Thursday. Three degree cooling days this week, the summer's total is 63.

The outlook: showers are possible all week, with temperatures staying in the low 20s. In short: average.

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posted 18 Jul 2004, 18.19 +0100


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