Thanks, Brian, but no thanks

Posted on November 28, 2012

It would be in my interests for Brian Leveson to support statutory regulation of the press tomorrow.

As Guido Fawkes writes in the Wall Street Journal today, putting a legislative leash around the neck of the mainstream media will only have one effect – to drive a truth-hungry public to online outlets and blogs for real news and honest insight.

This has always happened. When the Warsaw Pact countries and the Soviet Union censored what could be published, people shipped in or built their own presses and produced samizdat – illicit, underground news-sheets and books that circulated in secret. It is notable that the Russian word “samizdat” literally means “self-published”.

Samizdats were never expected to be subject to balance, they were explicitly written from a particular perspective and, most of all, they gloried in saying whatever they wanted – not saying what others demanded they say.

If, 50 years ago, people’s hunger for a free speaking press was sufficient that they were willing to transport and conceal large pieces of industrial machinery, the internet will have a far easier job of it.

Information is a commodity in its own right. It can be bought and sold, it can be given away or stolen, its price can be increased or devalued. And just the same as any other commodity, the one thing that cannot be done to it is successful prohibition.

The problem – and those who dislike our free press do view it as a problem – is the twin, trickster forces of supply and demand. The more people are interested in something, the higher its price rises and the harder it is to keep secret. The harder you try to keep it secret, the larger the incentive becomes to leak it – be it for cash or cachet.

This is what happened with MPs’ expenses. Yes, Heather Brooke fought a brilliant legal battle for the public’s right to know, but the scandal really broke when the censorship practiced by Commons authorities created such a high-paying Black Market that an insider was willing to sell the data to the Daily Telegraph.

These forces are inevitable, irresistible and they won’t be changed by legislating to make our press unfree. If the Daily Telegraph hadn’t been in a position to buy and publish MPs’ expenses, then someone else would have done so – on the internet, offshore and out of reach of the fat, black marker pens of Westminster’s quiet censors.

For goodness’ sake, the net filtering out forbidden commodities isn’t even tight enough to catch guns, grenades and tonnes of drugs – can anyone really believe it could be made tight enough to catch something as small and as fleet of foot as knowledge?

So I, and Guido, and a thousand other blogs yet to be born would be in a pretty good position should Brian Leveson persuade the Government to end three hundred years of British press freedom. Advertising would increase, traffic would boom, and everyone would be able to feel every shade of smug about their latest Google Analytics numbers.

But you won’t find me cheering for it. What would be the attraction of being a more widely read, or even a richer, libertarian in a country that has become less free? No, I’d rather miss out on the opportunity, thank you very much, Brian.

EU propaganda videos get racist – again

Posted on November 19, 2012

Six months ago, the EU was forced to withdraw a racist video using stereotyped foreigners to portray international trading partners as a violent threat to Europe’s safety. Today, in a video highlighted by the Telegraph’s Bruno Waterfield, they’ve repeated their mistake in a clear sign that Brussels hasn’t learned a thing.

This time the topic is the energy markets, and your friends in the European Union are claiming credit for the, ahem, innovation that you can change supplier. Having had to apologise for protecting you from kung-fu fighting Chinese people and sword wielding Indians back in March, now they are the only thing that stands betwen you and greedy, fez-wearing Arabs.

How long will it be before Brussels apologises for this new racist piece of propaganda?

Brussels resurrects the rhetoric of “yellow peril”

Posted on March 05, 2012

Dan Hannan MEP draws attention to the latest propaganda video from the European Union:

As he points out, there are some pretty dubious racial undertones in the way that the non-European blocs are represented.

But there are other insights into the Brussels mindset here, too.

The first is the EU’s view of trade. When these snarling attackers advance on the innocent white young lady representing the EU,  they are waving swords, spinning roundhouse kicks and yelling. They are, of course, meant to represent China, India and Africa’s economic growth. That’s right – far from viewing the rise in prosperity and the improvement in industrialisation in the developing world as an opportunity to trade, share innovations and collaborate, the EU views them as a threat.

When Brussels sees the rest of the world as would-be assailants rather than a route to further prosperity, it is small wonder that a protectionist Fortress Europe has been constructed, to our great cost.

The second is the shift in the way the EU is trying to make its case to the disengaged and unenthused peoples of Europe. Ten years ago, the EU’s propaganda was all sweetness and light, absurdly saccharine promises of the sunlit uplands of federalism. Now, as I predicted back in December, they are shifting their rhetoric to one of fear and scaremongering.

Fundamentally, this is because people have realised there is little to love about the EU project. Endemic corruption, overbearing regulation, arrogant and out of touch technocrats and – worst of all in these tough times – devastating economic harm done to member states and ordinary citizens, all these factors have dispelled the myths the EU elites once peddled.

All Brussels is left with is a message of fear. Internationally, that means videos like this, stirring up fear of the foreigner in a return to the loathsome “yellow peril” rhetoric of a century ago. Domestically, it will mean predictions of civil war and a return to genocide in Europe if anyone dares to question why Brussels should be so powerful despite its lack of democratic mandate.

When a political movement – and the EU, for all its pretensions to superhuman impartiality, is a political movement – resorts to lashing out like this, it is a sign that it is in its death throes. The worrying question is how much harm it will do to all of us before it finally expires.

“Filthy rich” Mandelson pulls up the ladder on aspiration

Posted on January 26, 2012

Famously, Peter Mandelson once said he was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes” – the phrase summed up the embracing of aspiration which proved to be one of New Labour’s key steps to electoral success.

So it’s interesting that he has now apparently abandoned his state of intense relaxation and is instead jumping on the bandwagon of being twitchy about income inequality and critical of the aspiration which he once embraced.

It’s convenient for him that this change of heart has come about in 2012 – long after he himself became “filthy rich”.

No-one knows quite how much he earns, though high six figures or even seven figures a year are often touted. We do know that his latest house is worth £8 million – more than enough to count as filthy, one would have thought.

His spin today is that this is because economic and political circumstances have changed. But isn’t it really just the same old story, that he’s the kind of person who embraces aspiration when he himself is aspirant, but promptly does his damnedest to pull up the ladder once he’s at the top of the pile?

The master strategist was part of the group around Tony Blair who recognised that being tough on crime, welcoming towards aspiration and positive about enterprise is the foundation of electoral success in Britain. If even he is abandoning that thinking – largely because he is now rich enough to afford to – then the Opposition are in real trouble.

Ed Miliband trapped in a Final Destination film

Posted on July 01, 2011

In the Final Destination films, whenever someone cheats death the universe immediately starts trying to correct their lucky escape by killing them off. It know seems increasingly likely that this is happening to Ed Miliband – fate clearly never meant him to become Labour leader, he beat David by accident and now the universe is trying to set its mistake right.

A few weeks ago the Today Programme mixed the two up, and I noted that no less an authority than the internet has no idea who Ed is. Yesterday, the Independent revealed that millions of voters shown a photo of Ed would identify it as David Miliband.

Now even the Telegraph has started doing it, reporting in its coverage of the Inverclyde by-election that:

The Labour leader, David Miliband echoed Mr McKenzie’s sentiments and went further saying that the Labour win showed how disillusioned the public were about the coalition government’s handling of the economy.

How long can it be before the forces of fate and nature set right this mistake and put David Miliband in charge? When will Ed reach his Final Destination?

Profiling Ed Balls’ personality through his pig doodle

Posted on June 12, 2011

There’s a simple personality profiling test called the Pig Test. You draw a doodle of a pig, and the way you do so is used to give a sketch outline of your personality type. (If you want to take the test yourself, please draw a pig now, because the details in the rest of this post will otherwise influence your results). It’s not perfect, but it’s an amusing little way to give a broadbrush insight into what you or your friends are like.

How convenient, then, that the Ed Balls Files released by the Telegraph this week feature a doodle of a pig drawn by Ed Balls himself:

So according to the rules of the Pig Test, what does it tell us about Ed Balls’ personality?

First, the doodle is located at the top of the page, which apparently should mean “you are perceived as a positive
and optimistic person by others.” (I did say it wasn’t perfect).

Next, we look at the direction the pig is facing – Ed’s piggywig is looking out of the page directly at us, indicating “you are a direct person; [you] neither fear nor avoid discussion and enjoy “stirring the pot” to promote change.”

The doodle also has more detail than you would normally expect in a picture of a cartoon pig, which means “you see yourself as analytical and cautious. Others must work hard to earn your trust and to keep it.”

The fact the pig has two rather than four legs indicates a sense of insecurity, that “you are living through a period of major change in your life”.

The pig’s ears aren’t unusually large or unusually small, so far as I can see that means Ed is a fairly good listener.

Finally, and most tellingly, there’s the tail. According to the rules of the Pig Test, “the longer the pig’s tail that you have drawn (including loops) the more satisfied you are with the quality of your personal relationships”.

It speaks for itself that Ed Balls’ pig has no tail at all.

It’s Vince Cable’s website that’s the true sage

Posted on December 21, 2010

On Vince Cable’s website he is admirably clear about the responsibilities and powers of an MP. For constituents wanting to get in touch with him or come to a surgery he explains:

“I can’t promise to help you with…personal or business disputes”

Though it seems that if you’re a constituent, you can expect to hear a lot about his personal views on business disputes…

Catch a leaker? Djanogly was wasting his time

Posted on September 10, 2010

Jonathan Djanogly has got himself into some trouble today for hiring private investigators to snoop on his own colleagues and constituency party officials. Reportedly, he was trying to find out who was leaking information about his dubious use of expenses.

This was an error in general terms, particularly given the Conservatives’ pitch against snooping and widely publicised conversion to expenses transparency. It doesn’t look good that while he was saying he “completely understood” the public’s concern about his expenses, he was also seeking to prevent taxpayers finding anything more out about them.

More specifically, he was simply wasting his time and money trying to catch the leaker(s). In the modern age they are increasingly difficult to track down, due to a combination of technical and human failsafes that you can use to protect their identities. Having handled a fair number of leaks from official bodies, political parties and elsewhere in my time I thought it be useful to provide a brief guide to why his attempts were futile.

For a start, the kind of information that was coming out about Djanogly seems to have been human intelligence, which doesn’t require a documentary trail. The Telegraph’s initial story about allegations surrounding his cleaner/au pair does not contain any new information – rather, it means someone rang the Telegraph up and talked them through the expenses documents they already had. That suggests it was someone who was acquainted with the Djanogly family, or a contact of someone who was.

Furthermore, even if there were documents being leaked they are very hard to trace back to anyone. In the rare cases where leakers are identified it tends to be when the material involved had a very limited circulation list, allowing investigators to deduce the identity of the leaker by a process of elimination (or entrapment).This seems to be what happened to Chris Galley, who was leaking very high level information to Damian Green.

There are always rumours of computer programmes that insert deliberate errors or graphics in documents on larger circulation lists, allowing you to identify the leaker from the code hidden in their document. However, doing so is complex and too costly for the limited benefit. Even then, any would-be leaker is likely to protect against digital records by photocopying the document and then rescanning it or simply transcribing the information by hand, trading the quality of the documents in return for some added security.

The final and biggest challenge for Jonathan Djanogly is that judging by the findings of his own investigators, there were a lot of people around him who weren’t his biggest fans. If the PIs had found everyone loved him except one obviously grudge-bearing individual, then they might have got their guy. Even then, most leakers are too savvy to go round drawing suspicion by making their dislike or resentment publicly known. As it happened, it seems that most of his constituency party were happy to slag him off even to someone whom they thought was a journalist.

In that situation, he should have realised that the leaker was the least of his problems.

Breaking: John Prescott joins the TaxPayers’ Alliance

Posted on July 29, 2010

It’s all very well for an Opposition to oppose, but doing so in direct contravention of things you yourself actually did in Government has a remarkable capacity to make you look stupid. I was going to write about this in hypothetical terms, but happily John Prescott has kindly stepped in to provide a perfect case study.

You’d have been forgiven for thinking when he was sworn in as Lord Prescott that it was the pinnacle of political hypocrisy. Well, it seems that was actually just a dry run for the things he intended to say once he was snugly in the ermine.

Yesterday, his Lordship posted a withering attack on Twitter:

“Con Dems slash housing benefit for poor but happy to pay £30,000 a year private school fees for diplomats – £15m a year”

This got up my nose a bit. After all, he seemed to have no problem paying these fees when he was in Government – and whilst they are excessive their existence doesn’t magically invalidate any other spending cuts.

Furthermore, when he was in power I vividly remember them scrapping Assisted Places, removing the only opportunity for bright kids who couldn’t afford the fees to get into private schools. Didn’t he do that, I pointed out, whilst at the same time paying the exact same fees for diplomats’ kids that he is now criticising?

Cue awkward silence. Eventually, the best Lord Prescott could muster was a complaint that the TaxPayers’ Alliance had given “no quote” on the topic.

Unfortunately for him, the Daily Telegraph, Sky News, the Metro,  and even his favourite The Mirror record in black and white that the TPA has criticised this spending for years. I should know – I wrote the quotes and gave the TV interviews!

The question for John Prescott is this: he didn’t lose a minute’s sleep about these school fees when he was in power, so why is he suddenly howling about them in Opposition? What changed?

It couldn’t be that his Party lost the election, could it? No, a man of principle like Lord P would never bend in the political wind of base tribalism. The more charitable answer is surely that he was persuaded by the arguments of the TaxPayers’ Alliance and changed his mind. Nice to see you joining the programme, John.

PS To be absolutely clear, I do understand why the children of diplomats (and members of the Forces) may need to be sent to boarding school when their parents are abroad. I just think we could save money by sending them to one of the many excellent state boarding schools, rather than Eton.