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.

Stop Funding Argentina

Posted on June 11, 2012

The new campaign from my former colleagues at the TaxPayers’ Alliance looks good:

As someone once said, there’s no money left – so personally I struggle to see why we are lending billions to a serial-defaulting country that seems intent on undermining our sovereign territory and trade?

I’ve signed the TPA’s Argentina petition, and I hope you will do the same here.

Finally the Barnett Formula comes in handy – for allocating Scotland’s national debt

Posted on January 25, 2012

A lot of thought’s being put into the practical implications of Scottish independence – I suspect that if the country doesn’t become independent this time (which more English voters support than Scottish voters), it probably will in the next decade or two.

It’s the practical ramifications which are increasingly causing Alex Salmond touble. The problem being that the SNP likes to have its cake and eat it, too. Take fiscal devolution – when the TaxPayers’ Alliance proposed full fiscal devolution to the Scottish Parliament (an SNP manifesto policy), SNP spokesmen blew their lid because the report also called for an end to English Barnett Formula subsidies for Scotland.

So it has been with Alex Salmond’s plan for full independence – he wants to take as many powers and assets as possible, but leave the nation’s debts squarely on the shoulders of English taxpayers.

For example, he thinks that North Sea oil and gas should be allocated geographically (giving the Scots over 80% of the revenue) but national debt should be allocated on a per capita basis only (giving the Scots just over 8% of the total bill). This is particularly relevant when you start to consider where the debt and liability for RBS would fall in you took a geographical approach to where debt should be allocated.

Happily, someone on the Government E-petitions site has come up with an elegant solution. When we calculate the share of the national debt to be allocated to an independent Scotland, why not use the Barnett Formula?

Yes, is means each Scottish person would have 22% more debt than each English person, but if it’s fair for dishing the cash out then surely it’s fair for sharing the burden of our debts, too?

I’ve signed the e-petition here – I hope you will, too.

Taxpayer-funded striking union sponsors Ice Hockey team

Posted on November 17, 2011

The Trade Unions are large-scale consumers of taxpayers’ money. They eat tens of millions of pounds on the supposed basis that they are strapped for cash and ordinary taxpayers somehow have a responsibility to pay for their political campaigning and fat cat bosses. In 2009/10 their subsidies totalled a remarkable £85.8 million of taxpayers’ money.

But are they really so hard-up that they need the public to be forced to bolster their funding?

The GMB, for one, apparently has plenty of cash going spare. It turns out that they sponsor their own, err, Ice Hockey team – the Nottingham Panthers. Or, to give them their full and official title the GMB Nottingham Panthers.

What public good does it serve for the GMB to splash cash in this way? For that matter, how does it serve their members to dish out sports sponsorhip?

If they can afford to become the name and shirt sponsor for a sports team, then they clearly don’t need so much support from the ordinary taxpayers of this country.

Of course, in return for their subsidy from hard-working taxpayers, the GMB is repaying us by going on strike on 30th November.

Any GMB members unsure to do with this extra day off need not worry, though – they can always go to see their pet team the GMB Nottingham Panthers play away against Cardiff Devils on the same day…

Blogger-Bashing Barnet Seeks Secret State

Posted on November 14, 2011

The ever-tenacious David Hencke has a report of some worrying attempts by Barnet Council to muzzle local bloggers.

Wasting goodness knows how much taxpayers’ money, the local authority has now twice tried to secure rulings that would mean in effect that no blogger may write about public officials.

A local blogger, Mr Mustard, identified a £50,000-a-year (plus perks) non-job, Barnet’s new “Change and Innovation Manager“. He was doing a good public service by spotting a wasteful post stuffed full of management-speak twaddle – taking up the charge much as the TaxPayers’ Alliance has encouraged people to do for some years now.

To properly investigate how this money was being spent, Mr Mustard investigated the public blog of the person appointed to the post – a Jonathan Tunde-Wright. This was perfectly reasonable – particularly when it turns out Mr Tunde-Wright appears to be a big fan of management mantras, such as:

I am persuaded that organisational culture eats strategy for breakfast.

All in a day’s work for a blogger scrutinising public spending. But that’s not how Barnet Council saw it.

Barnet have now twice tried to secure a ruling from the Information Commissioner that Mr Mustard was in breach of the Data Protection Act by daring to blog about someone who was not part of his own family or household. If successful, they could have had him slapped with a £5,000 fine – and, of course, silenced.

Mercifully, the ICO ruled against Barnet both times – but the fact they even tried to go down this route is disturbibg.

On the surface this attempt to silence a blogger in this way is pure aggression and censorship from a public body. They wanted to shut him up regardless of the fundamental right to free speech or the entirely positive influence of bloggers and the transparency agenda because they thought it would be better that way for Barnet Council.

Look deeper than that and it gets more concerning. Numerous times in my years at the TPA we encountered attempts by public bodies to draw a false distinction between public roles and the people who occupy them. We could, we were told, talk about a job title and the associated salary, but criticising the actual public servant was not allowed.

During the compilation of the annual Public Sector and Town Hall Rich Lists we regularly got FOI responses that refused to name even a council’s Chief Executive. Tellingly, Tunde-Wright repeats this mantra in David Hencke’s article:

I also do feel that by going beyond the Post to naming the Post Holder, referencing my personal blog and making particular comments, the said blogger may have crossed the line and placed myself and my family in this uncomfortable place of feeling harassed online.

This is a pernicious attack on transparency and accountability. The Post and the Post Holder should be open to scrutiny by the public who fund both of them. The existence of a job is only one element of public spending and administration – how well the person who holds the post actually does the job is equally  important.

Barnet’s argument effectively means individual incompetence or other personal failings would be beyond the realm of public scrutiny. It would be like saying no-one could cover the Liam Fox scandal because talking about him as an individual was beyond the pale, and as everyone would accept the need for a Defence Secretary then he should have stayed in post.

It is good that the ICO was robust in defence of the free speech of bloggers – but appalling that a local authority would think public scrutiny is a bad thing and then try to use legal intimidation funded by taxpayers to silence their critics.

We clearly still have a long way to go until we have a proper transparency culture.

Never trust a Government database

Posted on July 07, 2011

I’ve written before about my dislike of the Database State, and a new report released today by my former stablemates at Big Brother Watch reinforces exactly why they’re so dangerous. Next time someone says “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear”, make the point to them that over 900 police officers and staff were disciplined for breaching the Data Protection Act between 2007 and 2010.

That’s almost one breach every single day of the last three years. With so many bad apples in the barrel, why should we trust them with the crucial details of our identity and our private lives?

Notorious council fatcat becomes a hunt saboteur

Posted on July 04, 2011

You could be forgiven for having missed the news that the League Against Cruel Sports – aka the country’s leading mob of hunt saboteurs – have appointed a new Chief Executive. Like most people, my initial reaction was “who cares”, until the name of their new Chief Exec leaped out from the page: Joe Duckworth.

Mr Duckworth, better known to readers of Private Eye as “Vera” Duckworth, hasn’t always been a professional fox-hugger. The animal lovers should like him, though – until recently he was one of the most notorious fatcats in local government.

The LACS say he had “a long and distinguished career in local government” – and they’re right, if they mean it was distinguished by earning huge amounts of money and demonstratingremarkably little improvement for the people he was meant to be serving.

In 2006 and 2007 he was the Chief Executive of Isle of White council, cashing in a hefty £150,000 a year – almost twice the amount paid to his predecessor on the basis that he would turn the council round. According to sources quoted in the Telegraph at the time, his reign over the island was characterised by an “atmosphere of fear” due to his behaviour, and his departure was greeted with “a sigh of relief”.

And what did taxpayers get for their money? Nada. As one councillor said, “When he arrived we were a two-star council, and we are still a two-star council now he has gone.”.

After a failure like that, you’d assume he’d have disappeared into anonymity, but no. Vera’s next job was as Chief Executive of Newham – one of the UK’s poorest boroughs, where he raked in £280,000 in 2009-10 (according to the TaxPayers’ Alliance’s Town Hall Rich List).

The obscenity of anyone – particularly someone with a dismal track record in their previous job – cashing in so heavily at the expense of some of the poorest residents of any Borough in the country is plain to see. As for his output in Newham, safe to say it was less than stellar.

And now he’s joined the League Against Cruel Sports. Two questions face them: first, how can a small outfit with only 3-4,000 members afford someone with Joe “Vera” Duckworth’s expensive tastes? Second, event if they can afford the pay packet, can they afford to have someone so ineffective at the helm?

Awkward HS2 moments at the water cooler

Posted on May 19, 2011

Today’s PR Week reports that the backers of the HS2 High Speed Rail project have engaged the Westbourne Communications agency to make their case.

What no-one seems to have noticed yet is that this could lead to more than a few awkward moments at the water cooler. Westbourne are based on the top floor of 55 Tufton Street – the second floor of which is home to the TaxPayers’ Alliance, vocal opponents of the HS2 plans. What will happen next time Westbourne want to borrow a cup of milk?

Five lessons from the AV referendum

Posted on May 09, 2011

The dust has settled, the fog of war has dissipated, and every other introductory cliche in the book has been used. What have we really learned about British politics from the crushing victory of the No2AV campaign? There are five implications that I can see for the practice and principle of politics. Here they are, in no particular order:

1) Combat Campaigning is here to stay. For several years now there have been signs that the methods and style of political campaigning have been evolving in Britain.As the old party system has become weaker, there were two voices vying to be its heir: on one side there was combative, streetfighting campaigning built on the belief that a proper dust-up interests people and produces the best ideas; on the other side was a consensus model, founded on the idea that no-one liked a nasty argument and it was much better to build a cosy centrist consensus.

Not only did the two sides in the AV referendum employ these two competing models – with No going combative and Yes opting for cuddles and herbal tea – but their beliefs aligned with them as well. AV is a system founded on the idea that politicians should share body warmth smack in the centre, whilst First Past the Post is about the battle of ideas.

The fact that No won bears out both the model of campaigning they employed and the belief that they were fighting for – people are more interested in a boxing match than a singalong. While Yes tried to argue that real life is preferential and consensual, voters thought otherwise. The campaigning style espoused by No, and pioneered in the UK by the TaxPayers’ Alliance, is successful and on that basis it here to stay.

2) The “Progressive Majority” doesn’t exist…except in the minds of Islingtonians who can’t bear to imagine that anyone might disagree with them. Whether it’s LeftFootForward, Laurie Penny, Polly Toynbee or Liberal Conspiracy there’s an in-built smug sense of virtue to the new British Left – they think something, they know they’re the most compassionate and sensible people on the block, so therefore everyone must think the same, right? I mean, almost every TV comedian does, so obviously the rest of the population are on board too? Nope. It turns out that only Islington, Camden, Hackney, Cambridge, Oxford and part of Glasgow supported AV, the “Progressive Majority’s” new favourite child – and nationally on 6.1 million people even support AV, never mind the Progressives’ supposed vision of Britain. The referendum proved that those who shout loudest are not automatically the most numerous.

3) There is no such thing as Progressive. Not only is there no majority in favour of it, there is actually no such thing as Progressivism. In effect it could be defined accurately as: Progressive, noun, Someone nice, ie in agreement with me.

The really notable thing about this referendum is the way that it split the Left. The Lib Dems and the self-declared “Progressive Majority” – a broadly young rump of Labour, the NUS and the SWP’s twitterati and commentariat – divided from the mass base that they normally assume they can ignore and still gain funding from.

I’m only an outsider looking in on the Left, but if you viewed yourself as “Progressive” before the referendum, only to be told that if you voted No then you weren’t in the club any more, you’d now be reassessing whether you’re a “Progressive” any more.

4) No-one likes a whinger. Someone – I can’t remember who – once said that “It isn’t fair” is the most powerful message in British politics.

They were right, but the Yes camp ably demonstrated that this is only true when your situation genuinely isn’t fair. It’s not fair that if you join the Army you end up buying your own kit. It’s not fair that if you save all your life and provide for your kids you get hammered with extra taxes while others get a subsidy at your expense. It’s not fair that the Gurkhas risked their lives for this nation then told them to do a running jump.

When your opponents in a referendum campaign starting hitting you hard by digging up quotes that prove you’ve done an about-face or talking about Nick Clegg, that certainly is fair. You’re not going to gain any fans by trying to get judges to enforce Marquess of Queensberry Rules – in fact, you’re going to make people think you’re a bit of a wet blanket and don’t deserve their vote. So don’t moan, fight back.

5) People want more power. In the run-up to the referendum, everyone was saying that turnout would be apocalyptically low, threatening the idea that people wanted to be allowed to vote on important matters. It’s understandable why they thought people might not turnout – AV was a proposal hardly anyone had heard of previously and even fewer people actually liked (including most of the Yes campaign).

But that’s not how it turned out. Even on a boring proposal which had been brought forward as a result of political shenanigans in Whitehall back-offices, more than 40% turned out. That’s not bad given the topic. Imagine how many would turn out to vote in a referendum on, say, EU membership?