Student riots are back – and they’re infecting the Left

Posted on March 25, 2013

The anti-everything student movement has plenty of practice at shooting itself in the foot. Attacking war memorials, smashing up taxpayers’ property, even burning down Christmas trees – you name it, they can turn it into an incident which discredits their already confused message.

It might have seemed reasonable to hope that after it turned out rioting wasn’t a good way to get Middle England on their side, they might have changed tactics.

Not a bit of it.

Occupy Sussex, the Sussex University branch of the Occupy Movement, are up in arms about plans to outsource 10% of the University’s admin. While their issue of choice isn’t exactly the moral equivalent of Tsarist serfdom in Russia, it doesn’t seem to have stopped the usual suspects rushing to rally against outsourcing and for “communism” instead. Eevidently the fresh air of Sussex is a febrile, revolutionary atmosphere.

For some reason, this has turned into a national student demonstration, held today. The ever-sharp Chris Snowdon raised the first concerns over the weekend that perhaps it wasn’t set to be the most productive event humanity has yet seen:

And, lo, it came to pass. What started with the usual pompous slogans…

…moved on to smashing up University buildings…

…burning files from Barclays…

  ….and, inevitably, trite comparisons between themselves and Martin Luther King…

All in all, an impressive way to discredit their own argument, waste taxpayers’ money and divert the police and fire brigade from what they are meant to be doing. This trend of legitimate (if wrong-headed) lefty protests turning violent is a serious problem for so-called “progressive” campaigners.

Owen Jones wrote this morning  that the Left needs a group as effective as the TaxPayers’ Alliance – which is why he is launching the People’s Assembly this week. Owen may be wrong about almost everything (apart from the TPA’s effectiveness), but he’s not stupid – he’s already declared his new movement will be mainstream, and reject the malign influence of the cult which is the Socialist Workers Party. He wants to build a hard-hitting but respectable movement.

His problem is that almost the whole of the Left has now been to some extent infected by the unattractive attitudes and behaviour on display at Sussex University today. For example, here is a paid campaigner from Unite – one of the main backers of Owen’s new gang – inviting the Occupy Sussex rioters to speak from the People’s Assembly platform:


This just isn’t going to go away. Unless he and other prominent left-wingers denounce the violence and the burning that a growing number of lefties seem to fetishise, I suspect Owen’s bid to make socialism mainstream and acceptable will never leave the runway.

PCS boasts reveal the true victims of their strike – the public

Posted on March 21, 2013

Yesterday, the civil service PCS union went on strike – in a predictable, if unsuccessful, attempt to hijack Budget day for their own publicity.

The slogans were hackneyed, the reasons were predictable. “Get the Tories out”, “General Strike Now” declared the placards while PCS leader Mark Serwotka proclaimed that they were starting a fightback to get more pay and preserve gold-plated pensions, regardless of the fiscal mess the country is in.

Strangely, Serwotka didn’t seem keen to discuss his own pay (£88,675) or pension (£26,159 in annual contributions, the same as the average British worker’s annual wage).

Hypocrisy at the top wasn’t the only travesty, though. Despite all the rhetoric about striking against Government policies, or to “get the Tories out”, the PCS’ own website revealed who the union was really hitting: the public.

Their live blog of the strike openly crows about their success in letting down the 99% whom they claim to have solidarity with. Here are just a few extracts:

09.13 Business in the [Welsh] National Assembly has been severely curtailed today because of the effects of the strike.

09.45…we’ve had some superb strike news from DWP Jobcentre members across the country.

  • 75% out at Horsham JCP
  • 85% out at Haywards Heath JCP
  • 90% members out at Watercourt site in Nottingham
  • 100 Members on strike at Airdrie JCP, Lanarkshire. Signs up to say the office is closed.
  • 97% members of Brighton out on strike. 20 on picket and more joining all the time. Supported by Caroline Lucas MP, various councillors, Socialist Party Brighton Benefits Campaign and unemployed centres.
  • 95% are on strike and ten pickets in place at Folkestone Jobcentre.

10:15 Some news from HMRC offices around the country:

  • 90% support for strike at Dorchester House, Belfast. Support from NIPSA staff and Socialist Party.
  • 85% out at Dorset Harbourside Branch
  • 80% on strike in Greater Manchester
  • 70% on strike at Ralli Quays
  • Over 80% out at Merry Hill contact centre

11.13 Strikers celebrating a very succesful morning at the National Gallery which has resulted in a number of galleries and rooms having to close.

Rep Candy Udwin said: “Large school parties have been turned away because they don’t have enough staff to keep them open.”

11.43 Three out of 14 court rooms open at Preston Crown Court.

12.30 The Tate in Livepool has been closed by the strike

12.48 HMRC – 92% out at Portmadog so the office is closed and there is no Welsh language service today.

15.13 ARMs member David W took part in a ‘Guinness Book of Records’ challenge to see how many HMRC Offices he could phone in two, one-hour sessions (AM and PM) following a suggestion made by one of the group members.

“I reckon it could be fun and of course when I am asked what my enquiry is I shall say something like: “Why are you working while your colleagues are out on strike fighting your battle for you?”

Given that only three days ago MPs criticised HMRC for letting down the public by failing to answer 80% of calls promptly, it’s surely wrong that the PCS – who claim to be on the side of ordinary people – are urging anti-cuts activists to clog the lines with prank calls attacking the workers who actually turned up to serve the public.

By my count, the above list shows the people actually affected by this strike were: unemployed jobseekers, victims of crime, schoolkids hoping to learn about art and taxpayers phoning HMRC to resolve their problems.

It might be great fun for Serwotka and his mates to have a day off and do some shouting, but I doubt the ordinary people let down by them agree the strike action is “superb”.

EU Budget: How did British MEPs vote?

Posted on March 15, 2013

The EU Budget negotiations have not run as smoothly as in previous years. In the past, the process was simple: everyone sits down, agrees to pay more cash to Brussels then off for champagne and canapes.

Then David Cameron shook things up a bit, pressing for an EU budget cut given the austerity member states are implementing. He secured an agreement with the other national leaders – which should have gone further, but was still an improvement on what went before.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted against the proposal. It wasn’t the final vote, but it was intended as a blocking measure to force the collected national governments to rethink their decision. The fact that various federalists in the Parliament tried to make the ballot secret – a scandalous attempt to avoid public scrutiny – shows that they know how unpopular that step is.

You would be hard-pressed in Britain to find anyone who thinks that while we are trying to save money at home, we should be paying even more to wasteful, undemocratic EU institutions. So how did British MEPs vote in our name?

Voted for the budget cut

Conservatives: Marta Andreasen, Richard Ashworth, Robert Atkins, Philip Bradbourn, Martin Callanan, Giles Chichester, Nirj Deva, Vicky Ford, Jacqueline Foster, Ashley Fox, Julie Girling, Daniel Hannan, Malcolm Harbour, Syed Kamall, Sajjad Karim, Timothy Kirkhope, Emma McClarkin, Anthea McIntyre, Jim Nicholson, Struan Stevenson, Robert Sturdy, Kay Swinburne, Charles Tannock, Geoffrey van Orden and Marina Yannakoudakis.

Labour: Michael Cashman, Mary Honeyball, David Martin, Linda McAvan, Arlene McCarthy, Brian Simpson, Catherine Stihler, and Glenis Wilmott

DUP: Diane Dodds

Ex-BNP: Andrew Brons

Voted against the budget cut

Liberal Democrats: Catherine Bearder, Philip Bennion, Chris Davies, Andrew Duff, Fiona Hall, Sarah Ludford, Edward McMillan-Scott, Rebecca Taylor and Graham Watson

UKIP: Stuart Agnew, Gerard Batten, Godfrey Bloom, Derek Clark, Nigel Farage, Roger Helmer and Mike Nattrass

Labour: Claude Moraes, Peter Skinner

Greens: Jean Lambert and Keith Taylor

Plaid Cymru: Jill Evans

BNP: Nick Griffin

So there we have it. I imagine that the Lib Dems are going to have some explaining to do, voting against the deal that their own party supported in Westminster.

As for UKIP, they are trying to rationalise away voting against a measure to save British taxpayers’ money by explaining that they want there to be no EU budget at all. That’s fine, but it isn’t a justification for voting for a bigger, more expensive Brussels right now.

As a Tory source points out, if UKIP vote this way in the final budget ballot then they may well be lining up with federalists to deliver an EU budget that grows every year…probably not the story they want to tell back home.

UK Uncut have made a fatal error

Posted on December 10, 2012

UK Uncut has a pretty simple mission. They think corporate taxes should be higher than they are. Therefore they protest at the shops and outlets of the brands they have judged are not paying enough. The objective is to force the companies to cough up over and above their legal requirements out of a combination of shame and commercial inconvenience.

It’s a pretty messy approach, catching customers and ordinary staff in slanging matches which should really be between activists and Chief Executives. It has also led to UK Uncutters getting remarkably outraged about the idea that a company might have the right to not allow them on their property.

Last week, the movement had its first major victory. Starbuck’s buckled under the pressure and agreed to pay £20 million to the taxman which it does not legally owe. It was a jubilant moment for the high tax pressure group, but within days they have managed to turn their first victory into what may very possibly be their last.

Successful political campaigning is about stick and carrot, pleasure and pain. I want you to change your position, and to persuade you to do so I need to do two things: 1) make your current position extremely uncomfortable and 2) make the new position I am proposing much more attractive.

UK Uncut have done the first thing pretty well. Aided by the Guardian, which itself uses some complex but entirely legal jiggery pokery to keep its tax bill at a minimum, they have driven large amounts of negative media exposure for the firms they target at the same time as besieging their shops and cafes until they are forced to close. Like the Sith, they may be using their powers in the pursuit of the wrong ends, but you can’t deny their Force is strong.

So, having hammered Starbucks into submission and extracted voluntary payments into the Exchequer as planned, the next step would naturally be to congratulate them. End the boycott and move on to other targets, now the precedent has been set, proving to others that doing what you ask will bring rewards.

But, instead, on Saturday HMRC’s little helpers were back at Starbucks’ door – shouting at customers, grappling with police and making a general nuisance of themselves. Just as they did before the baristas opened their wallet.

This is a fatal error. The message UK Uncut have sent is that if you do what they ask in response to their beating you with the stick, they will put the carrot away and hit you some more.

Other UK Uncut targets will have been watching closely. When Starbucks took the plunge, they will have wondered if they should follow suit – particularly if it would be worthwhile to save them the disruption caused by these fiscal versions of Mary Whitehouse.

The lesson they will take now is precisely the opposite. Why bother bowing to UK Uncut’s demands if your reward is more punishment, more heckling and more trouble? Unless their tactics change, I suspect we won’t see anyone else do what UK Uncut want for quite some time to come.

We should elect the BBC Director General

Posted on November 11, 2012

The scandal rushing through the offices and studios of the BBC has many sources – horrifying historic sex offences on a staggering scale, poor journalism making it to air due to an apparent panic within Newsnight and a disastrous failure of management at the very top have all played their part.

The results of the crisis are clear to see. The Director General has gone under the professional guillotine. Newsnight’s future is in doubt. Less than half of the public, who fund the Corporation, now think it is trustworthy (according to a ComRes poll carried out before the erroneous report aired and Entwhistle resigned). Infighting has gone public, with various famous faces slugging it out in the press.

The question now is how to solve this mess.

Simply hoping that the next DG, and all of his or her successors, will have a better approach to crisis management than the beleaguered George Entwhistle, is not enough. As the misappointment of “Incurious George” showed, the current system cannot guarantee it will always pick the right candidate.

Not only is the appointment process flawed. Entwhistle’s flailing attempts to hide behind protocol and process rather than step up and deal with the scandal showed that the position itself has a fatal lack of legitimacy and authority.

The next Director General must be selected through a process which is transparent, which openly tests their abilities and policies, and which confers on the winner a genuine authority and legitimacy. In short, the Director General of the BBC should be elected by the licence fee paying public – an electorate who, through a recall power, should also be able to sack them if they so wish.

Only that way will we end the oddity of the people’s broadcaster (and its multi-billion pound budget) being run by an anonymous suit anointed by Lord Patten for reasons unknown. Only that way will we prevent a re-run of the farce in which the Editor-In-Chief of a publicly-owned Corporation seems surprised that the public expect him to answer to them when things go wrong. Only that way will the people be willing to place their trust once more in the BBC’s discredited leadership.

The outfit selling Thatcher death t-shirts is taxpayer-funded

Posted on September 12, 2012

There was understandable anger at the news this week that t-shirts urging people to dance on Margaret Thatcher’s grave were on sale at the TUC Congress. While disgusting, sadly it’s nothing new that the hard left have some pretty unpleasant opinions – as I’ve reported on this blog in the past.

What is more worrying is that the organisation selling the t-shirts, the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centre, is apparently taxpayer-funded and closely tied to parts of the political establishment – far from being the independent loons the media reports have so far portrayed them as.

Take the following items as evidence:

- According to the DUWC 2011 Annual Report,  their Chairman is Cllr Graham Baxter MBE, the Leader of North East Derbyshire Council, who uses his introduction to the report to rail in a partisan way against the “Tory County Council”

- On page 8 of the same report, the “Fundraising” section lists money received from Bolsover District Council, North East Derbyshire District Council and Chesterfield Borough Council, as well as grants from no less than 11 County Councillors

- The Summer 2012 edition of their “Solidarity” newsletter headlines on a new campaign launch attended by Dennis Skinner MP and Natascha Engel MP, and thanks 5 County Councillors for the allocation of their 2012 taxpayer-funded grants

The DUWC may well do a lot of valuable work – certainly you can see the potential for an organisation offering impartial advice to jobseekers. However, it seems they’ve crossed a line a long time ago from helping unemployed workers to campaigning on a party political basis in a rather unpleasant way.

Until they go back to focusing their efforts on their proper, worthwhile mission, it is surely inappropriate for them to be using taxpayers’ money for partisan campaigns.

The case against squatting

Posted on August 31, 2012

Tomorrow, at long last, squatting becomes a criminal offence – at least in residential properties.

For libertarians, who are not normally quick to welcome the creation of new crimes given the glut of absurd and oppressive laws introduced in recent years, this is a rare bit of good news. Property rights are one of the essential foundations of a free society – the law should protect anyone’s right to gain or create property, to do with it as they wish and to sell it if they so choose.

Squatting, by contrast, is an outright assault on property rights. Someone who doesn’t own the house in question enters it, take up residence, feels unrestrained in making changes or causing damage without the owner’s consent and, under some circmstances, can even apply to seize legal ownership after a long enough stay. The law as it used to be told homeowners they had no right to enter and evict squatters, and in some circumstances the only thing the police would do was to prevent them reasserting their right to their own property.

We rightly treat burglary, theft and robbery as crimes, and we should treat the non-consensual occupation of someone’s fixed property as a crime as well. I’m glad the Government have acted to change the law.

But, as ever, there are loud voices making the opposite case – in fact, the BBC helpfully top their online article with just such an individual. There are a number of flawed arguments the squatters are putting across, and I thought it would be helpful to rebut them.

There is a homelessness problem in the UK

That’s absolutely true. Homelessness is an incredibly complex issue – there are those who due to financial problems find themselves losing their house, there are those who suffer mental health or substance absue issues and many other causes. Each of those needs a multiplicity of solutions – but stealing other people’s property isn’t one of them. If having lax laws that allowed mass squatting was a solution to the homelessness problem, then after decades of having exactly such lax laws we would have solved it. We clearly haven’t.

There’s also a false assumption that all squatters are impoverished and homeless against their will. This isn’t always the case – indeed, the pro-squatting Advisory Service for Squatters said in 2003 that “many have full time work”. This is at least in part because of a rarely mentioned but major element of squatting: those who do it out of a political ideology which opposes property rights.

Squatters aren’t breaking in

It has always been illegal to break into a building – which is why squatters are advised to say that they found an already-open route in. I say “advised to say” because it’s widely known that many squatters do break in anyway, claiming someone else conveniently came by with a crowbar ten minutes earlier and broke the locks off the property. As the ASFS says, the police “would only be able to do anything if there were witnesses”.

Morally, this is besides the point. Taking or using someone’s property without their permission is wrong in and of itself. You might be stupid to leave the keys in your car ignition and the door wide open, but it is still wrong for someone to get in and drive off.

Ludicrously, a squatter on the Today Programme this morning claimed squatting was “not taking the property off the owner” because if they wanted to they were entitled to “take us to court”. The victims of the Bernard Madoff will, I’m sure, be delighted to know they weren’t really deprived of anything because they, too, had the opportunity to go to court.

The idea that squatters would just merrily move out if someone wanted their house back is also ludicrous – they regularly force homeowners to fight lengthy legal battles through the civil courts to regain access to their property. Locks are changed, access is denied and barricades are even put up to prevent legal entry.

These buildings are permanently empty

Well, some of them are, but far from all of them. Janice Mason in Walthamstow was about to sell her house when she found it had been occupied. Peter Nahum was restoring a listed building before moving his family into it. Dr Oliver Cockerell and his wife had just gone on their summer holiday. It’s clear that this isn’t some clean dividing line between occupied homes and permanently empty houses.

In fact, this is often simply an arrogant and self-serving assumption on the squatters’ part. They look at a house and decide on limited information that it is permanently empty – when the owner may well be saving to repair it, applying for planning permission, selling their own home elsewhere and so on. A survey by the Empty Homes Agency found that in the East Midlands just 13% of the owners of empty homes planned for them still to be empty 12 months later. 42% said their home was on the market for let or sale, and 63% said it was currently being improved or repaired.

Again, even if it was the case, it wouldn’t be ok to seize them from their rightful owners. A key part of property rights and a free society is being able to do what you choose with your own property.

There are huge numbers of empty houses in Britain

This is also true – but again it is no reason to just hijack them as you see fit. There are plenty of things other than squatting that we could and should be doing to bring them back into use, often from a state of severe disrepair.

For example, despite the social goods that come about as a result of repairing such houses, doing so is still taxed at full rate VAT (this also applies to a landlord  upgrading their properties, a family making their house more energy efficient and so on). The Cut the VAT campaign, which I’ve long supported, is pressing the Government to reduce this from 20% VAT to 5%. A 12.5% fall in the overall cost of repairing such houses would make a sizeable difference to the number coming back into use.

Scandalously, tens of thousands of the empty houses in the UK are in fact part of the council-owned social housing stock. These are owned by the people with the express purpose of using them to alleviate homelessness, and yet many councils don’t do anything with them. Given the fiscal situation they may well have some trouble getting the cash together to repair them all – but the policy solution for that is to sell some of the empty houses and use the capital to bring the others back into use.

Of course, we can predict the people who would vocally oppose such tax-cutting, market-based solutions to the housing shortage. They would be the same commentators on the Left who stand up for squatters’ right to occupy other people’s private property – it seems they might not want the real problems fixing after all.

The real problem with Laurie Penny

Posted on April 30, 2012

It can’t be easy being Laurie Penny.

For a start, being the self-appointed voice of the young must be a heavy responsibility – particularly when so many of the young keep thinking things you don’t agree with.

Then there’s the difficulty of carving out a media career in New York, a place somewhat less vulnerable to the British Left’s obsession with appointing new Messiahs of the Media every 6 months or so.

Even when you give in to the temptation to abandon your RiotGrrl anti-paternalism and write a traffic-hunting piece swooning over a Hollywood star who, you claim, saved you from death-by-traffic, irritating bloggers crop up pointing out that your story bears remarkable similarities to the plot of a Natalie Portman film.

Now, having inherited the seat left vacant by Johann Hari’s ignominious demise as the previous pen-wielding star of the young left, people start snooping around suggesting you have perhaps polished reality or even made things up to fit your articles. There’s even a hashtag, #pennygate, set up a couple of weeks ago by the guy who brought Hari down.

I must confess that as all of these things pile up, I can’t get too excited about whether Laurie is the new Johann or not. There is speculation, there are undoubtedly people hunting through her past works for fabrications or plagiarism, and who knows if they will find anything.

It’s true that Laurie is almost unique among journalists in always happening to overhear the quote that perfectly and precisely proves her point, regardless of whether she’s in the middle of a riot, trapped in an alley by the EDL or having her bum pinched on a sweaty dance floor. Indeed, I questioned a couple of years ago whether all of her quotes, which tend to read like a poor Grange Hill script, are genuine. Maybe she’s just immensely lucky, all the time; maybe she has remarkable hearing superior to that of ordinary humans; or maybe there’s something more scandalous to it.

It would be interesting to know, but even if the worst was proved it would not be the most fundamental problem with her journalism.

The problem with Laurie is far more important than that.

Laurie’s journalism is flawed because of her worldview.

There’s nothing wrong with biased journalism. Whether you read the original gonzo journalists or, you believe truly balanced journalism is an impossibility, bias has plenty going for it. It is human nature.

Laurie’s worldview suffers not because it is biased, but because it is so hypocritical and so inconsistent.

For an investigative commentator who paints a picture of herself as a kind of war correspondent on the streets of London and New York, she has a remarkable dedication to double think. On Planet Penny, everything is a bit topsy turvy.

Those who loot shops are excused, having been forced into their crime by a wicked society; those who go to work or stay at home watching TV are bad, and by daring to enjoy the fruits of their own labour are personally responsible for forcing those looters to nick flat screen TVs.

Those who use violence against the police are protecting themselves and epitomising the beautiful flame of youthful rebellion; those policemen who hit back are not protecting themselves or others, they are simply autobots carrying out the personal orders of David Cameron/Rupert Murdoch/Andy Coulson to smash what is beautiful.

Those who are on the Left are well informed, have made their own minds up and base everything on evidence; those on the Right just think what they are told by their parents and have obviously never read any history. At worst, the Left are just keen on serving good; at best, the Right are genetically incapable of disobeying the master class.

Those are just some of the peculiar distortions that she embeds in her work. We can also consider the factual distortions inherent in her argument.

Take, for example, the idea that the West is at war with itself. To read Laurie’s work, you’d think every family is riven by violent generational hatred, every student is planning the downfall of the state, every relationship is one of power struggles, and every Primark lies empty because its ethos is so corrosive to the human soul that anyone entering a shop immediately tears at the hair and vomits uncontrollably.

This is, put simply, balls.

But you knew that, because you only need to hold up Laurie’s picture of the world next to the reality that you see every day to realise there is a remarkable discrepancy between the two. As much as she may hate the idea, most families are pretty happy, most people would like a successful career, most consumers enjoy the ability to buy new ipods or to prettify their house. Whisper it, most people are even willing to believe that their partners really do love them, rather than viewing them as foreign ambassadors negotiating a temporary inter-gender armistice.

I suppose it must be deeply frustrating to have to struggle every day to uphold an ideology that, no matter how strongly you promote it, keeps running up against inconvenient fundamental human emotions like aspiration, pleasure, loving one’s family and that kind of thing. Laurie has let that frustration disconnect her writing from reality.

In short, the problem with Laurie isn’t that some of her reported quotes or experiences may (allegedly) be untrue. It’s that all the things she asserts so strongly about human nature are untrue – and no journalism course can set that right.

EXCLUSIVE LEAK: Phillip Blond donor dissects ResPublica’s unpublishable and inadequate work

Posted on March 14, 2012

Last year, this blog exclusively revealed the financial troubles being faced by the notorious ResPublica think tank, run by Phillip Blond, the self-proclaimed guru of Red Toryism and supposed architect of the Big Society concept. As the story was picked up by the national press, a bizarre picture emerged of an organisation in a state of deranged chaos – staff locked out due to unpaid rent, company-funded Regency chairs decorated with 80s-style soft-porn and all sorts of other oddities.

All this raised the question that if Phillip Blond can’t run his own little empire, why on earth should anyone think his ideas of how to run Britain should be considered for even a second?

In a new exclusive, I can reveal that it’s not just Blond’s financial management that has proved dubious. The supposedly “academic” work his outfit has produced is grievously lacking – even according to one of his own major donors.

Two letters have been leaked to me that were sent to Blond by Stian Westlake, Executive Director of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. NESTA – an endowment fund formed of taxpayers’ money – was a ResPublica donor, having signed a contract to fund a series of six reports on a characteristically Blondian unfocused range of topics, from Lombardy Capitalism to the use of social capital to combat obesity, The money involved was sizeable –  at least £200,000 flowed from NESTA to ResPublica, which is a private company owned by Blond himself.

The first letter, sent to terminate NESTA’s contract with ResPublica, reveals a shocking story of woefully inadequate research being produced by Phillip Blond’s think tank. The full documents are below, but here are some choice quotes, detailing the lateness of the work:

…you then failed to deliver any of the five remaining reports and associated events by the respective milestone dates set out in the Agreement. The second report, due on 15 November 2009, was finally submitted 12 months late in November 2010.

its overall inadequacy:

…despite the extremely generous extensions of time given by NESTA to enable you to complete the reports, none of the reports are of a sufficient quality to be published by NESTA or satisfactory in terms of content or thoroughness… there are some positive elements in the reports, but each of them has significant weaknesses which mean that they are not suitable for publication, fit for our purposes or satisfactory to us as required by the Agreement.

and many specific failings, which the letter lays out in excruciating detail:

…poorly structured……contains no account of sources or bibliography……contains a large number of typos…

…lack of originality…

…poorly thought through…

…several of the recommendations appear either too vague to be useful…or questionable…

…unsubstantiated recommendation…

…vague or difficult to act on…

In short, the letter is a detailed and brutally honest dissection of the lightweight nature of Phillip Blond and his operation – written by one of his own donors. What people have long suspected – that Blond is essentially all long words, and philosophical pretensions, but no practical use – is illustrated by NESTA’s unfortunate experience.

It is hard to see anyone now being willing to hand over cash to ResPublica, or to give Phillip Blond any influence over public policy, given the mounting evidence that he has little clue what to do with either.

There are questions here for NESTA, too. Remarkably, the second letter shows that having already paid ResPublica over £128,000 before deciding to terminate their Agreement with such an incompetent outfit, NESTA still decided to pay a further £85,714.50 of taxpayers’ money, which they were not contractually obliged to, in order “to remain on amicable terms”. In what way is this a justifiable “commercial decision”? What value did taxpayers get from this wholesale handover of their money in return for apparently unpublishable work?

Here are the leaked letters in full:

NESTA ResPublica Phillip Blond Letter 1//

NESTA ResPublica Phillip Blond Letter 2

EXCLUSIVE: TFL 2012 staff trained on where Wembley and Stratford are

Posted on March 01, 2012

Giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on 24th January, Jeremy Hunt said that:

There is a huge amount of work going on, right down to training Tube drivers to make sure that we make Tube passengers feel particularly welcome in this special period for London

I was intrigued at what kind of training was being given to Transport for London staff – possibly “striking is a pain in the backside” would be a good start? So I made a Freedom of Information request to find out the details of the course.

Almost a week later than the legal deadline, and accompanied by a threatening note claiming that I’m not allowed to publish the information they’ve sent me (which I’m ignoring for obvious reasons centred around the words “freedom” and “information”), they’ve responded.

Given that the 9,600 people they are training all work on the London Underground, I was slightly surprised to say the least that part of the course is a Powerpoint presentation (screenshot below) teaching staff where in London the Olympic venues actually are.

Shouldn’t the staff for London’s transport system already know where, err, Stratford and Wembley are located?