In Your Face

In Your Face
Thought provoking opinions on topical issues.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

How to Waste Tax Payers' Money

I am told that Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, has sent every councillor in the Greater London area a Christmas card.

Call me an old Scrooge, but what a waste of the tax payers' money.

On that seasonal note, festive greetings to you all.


Wednesday, December 17, 2003

WMD Found in Tikrit

You can buy one of my T shirts with this design from The Emporium

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Signs of Life

Back in mid October 2003 I wrote an article, “The Only Party in Town”, which castigated the disunity of the UK Conservative Party and the fact that there was no credible opposition to Tony Blair.

I forwarded it to Central Office and my local Conservative Association, I heard nothing.

Since then the Party has changed leader, and seems to have “pulled itself” together. Evidence of this renewal came to me on Sunday; in the form a belated response to the article, from my local Association.

Whilst this response may be some weeks late, and events have moved on since the article was written; it does give me hope that there are signs of recovery in the Conservatives.

This bodes well for the UK, whatever one’s political persuasion, as the current Administration most definitely needs a credible and visible opposition in Parliament.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

What’s Your Definition of Freshness?

Those of you who are familiar with my website and background know that I have a passion for good, wholesome, fresh, unpretentious food.

I endorse the saying that “you are what you eat”; those of you who choose to live entirely on junk food are, in my opinion, doing yourselves no favours size wise or health wise.

However, there are occasions when the hapless gourmet has no option but to eat what is presented to them; eg when travelling by plane or train.

As a result of a recent trip to Sweden I awarded the British Airways Ham and Cheese Bloomer my prestigious “Worse Than Worthless” award.

However, I made a return journey via BA last week and was pleased to note that BA have taken my advice; they have replaced their bloomer with a hot sandwich. I noted in their in flight magazine that they have launched a new series of menus; and that the new food service is another aspect that sets it apart from other no frills airlines.

The photo in their magazine showed a plump, succulent croissant stuffed to the gunnels with bacon and cheese. It looked very appetising.

The reality was slightly different, the two options on offer were cheese and ham or cheese and tomato. I opted for the cheese and ham. This was a hot olive and tomato ciabatta; containing a modest portion of bland melted cheese, and a small slice of ham. I would like to note that it was a considerable improvement on the bloomer.

However, there is one aspect of this improvement that I would like to query. The onboard meal package comes under the title “All Day Deli”. Yet when I examined the plastic wrapping of the hot part of the meal, I noted that the expiry date was in May 2004 (some six months into the future). That’s quite a lengthy “day”.

I raised a query with one of the hostesses; she didn’t know about the date, and asked if she could take the wrapping. I chose instead to keep it as a souvenir!

However, on my return flight the same expiry date was on the hot food. I asked again, and got the same response. This time I gave the hostess my wrapper, she was still unable to provide an answer; I didn’t get the wrapper back either.

I assume that the ciabattas are frozen, and reheated on demand; ie proper health and hygiene procedures are being followed. However, it is sad to see that the impression of “freshly prepared on the day” is being given; when in fact the food being presented may well be up to 6 months old.

Maybe the use of the phrase “All Day Deli”, and its connotations with freshness, could be construed as a tad misleading? I suppose it all depends on your definition of freshness.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The Pentagon Boeing Affair

The Pentagon announced yesterday that it was putting its £16BN contract with Boeing on hold; whilst it investigates possible links between one of its former procurement officers, who now works for Boeing. It is alleged that the procurement officer was involved in the awarding of the contract to Boeing.

There may, of course, be nothing more to this than a simple internal review of the tendering process. However, it highlights an issue that is often overlooked by companies with respect to their internal controls and codes of conduct.

It is often assumed, falsely, that fraud and malpractice mainly occurs in the sales, stock and cash control areas of the business. Not so, my involvement over the years in fraud investigations (see my resume) proved, more often than not, that a prime area susceptible to fraud and malpractice would be the procurement and purchasing department.

Whether it involves the purchase of a few items of furniture, supplies for the canteen or a multi billion dollar contract; the procurement procedure may be open to abuse if there are weak internal controls eg:

 There is no tendering process, and quotes are only obtained from one supplier.

 The tendering process is not on the basis of sealed bids; this can allow one of the suppliers to find out the quotes of the others, and undercut them.

 The relationship between the supplier and the procurement officer is not “arms length”, and a “deal” is done between them.

 The staff in the procurement office have been in the same position for a number of years, forming close relationships with key suppliers.

Where the above scenarios occur the company, at the very least, runs the risk of paying more than it needs to for the product or service.

I would advise companies to take heed from the Boeing/Pentagon scenario, and review their procurement procedures.

Monday, December 01, 2003

The Light of Perverted Science

We live in an age where, at least in the Western World, technology affects and influences every aspect of our lives. Cars, planes, consumer electronics, the internet, pc’s and mobile phones; are but a few of the myriad of scientific wonders that were designed, and marketed, to improve the quality of our daily lives.

Little more than a century ago our grandfathers could have only dreamed of the power, and the uses, of technology that we now take for granted. Yet are we the masters of this technology, or are we adapting our lives to suit the technology?

This thought struck me the other day as I was leaving a hotel lobby, and walking into the windy wet London street outside. There, sheltering against the side of the hotel, were two businessmen earnestly talking into their mobiles which were pressed to their ears. They looked cold and wet; yet, presumably so that they could talk away from prying ears, they stood outside in the damp and wet.

The question arose in my mind; why not make/take the call at a more convenient time, and location? I suspect that like many others who possess a mobile; instead of using it only when they want, and turning it off when not required, they had become slaves to the idea that it must be left on at all times just in case it rings.

We have all seen fellow airline passengers who, when boarding a plane, have to be reminded to turn their mobiles off. The palpable look of relief on their faces when they disembark, and can reconnect to the ether, is enhanced by the cacophony of bleeping and shrill ring tones emitted by the dozens of mobiles that have all been switched on at precisely the same moment by the other disembarking passengers.

What is so urgent that they cannot wait for the privacy of their car, or home, before reconnecting? The prime example of addiction comes in the form of the gormless teenagers who walk around with mobile phones perpetually glued to their ears, discussing events of mind boggling insignificance; whilst they run up a phone bill of three digits or more.

The reason for this phenomenon is that people have lost sight of the original concept of the technology that they use. Namely, that it was designed to make their lives easier by working for people; not the other way around. People have instead adapted their lives to work for the technology.

I will give you five random examples of other technological innovations, introduced in the last 100 or so years, that we now serve instead of vice versa:

 The car, originally designed to improve the speed and comfort of travel for the individual, is now a hindrance to convenient travel and a blight on the environment. The road network in many Western countries is now so jammed, and the air so polluted, that congestion charging is being introduced to place a limit on the number of cars. Indeed in London, the speed of travel of the average car is in fact slower that that of the Victorian horse and carriage that it replaced.

 The television is a source of entertainment and information, it is now so popular that almost every household in the West has at least one TV set. Yet instead of entertaining and stimulating, it more often than not anaesthetises the viewer. The television age has seen an increase in obesity brought about by the “couch potato” syndrome; as people place themselves in front of the set for a solid four to five hours per day. Social interaction, eg eating together and going out, has declined; as people now order takeaways, and eat in front of the television in silence. Educational experts have noted that the TV generation of children are less adept at social and communication skills; as their parents use the TV as a form of childcare, rather than interact directly with them.

 Email was designed to eradicate the need for “snail mail”, and bring individuals written communication at the speed of light. The problem is, as with mobile phones, people have become addicted to the need to check their mailbox; witness the withdrawal symptoms of the executive away on holiday without twenty four hour direct access to his/her mailbox. The chances are that you will find them surreptitiously sneaking off to the hotel’s pc, and logging in to get their “email fix”. I would also point out that all of us with email are now inundated with spam offering us unwanted garbage, ranging from penis enlargements to Nigerian scam letters .

 Ready to eat meals were designed for the busy person, who does not have time to cook every day. The reality is that these culinary abominations were created (and marketed on television) so that people could spend even more time in front of the television, instead of devoting a little creative energy and thought to the preparation of a home cooked meal. Aside from the obvious stress reducing advantages of preparing food, I would suggest that the ready made meal has a number of disadvantages. It is more expensive than home cooking, it contains more sugar, salt and other nefarious chemicals than are good for you; and it simply does not taste like home cooking.

 Breast enhancements were designed to improve the psychological well being of those women who were seriously affected by their self perceived modest bust size. Now breast enhancement is a multi million dollar industry. Having a “boob job” is a must for every talentless model and actress; as they aspire to the plastic perfection of their childhood dolls.

Like anyone brought up with servants, we have become dependant on the technology that was designed to free us; take it away, and we show withdrawal symptoms. Our lives, as Winston Churchill once warned, are being illuminated by the light of perverted science.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The Role of the Non-Executive Director

We have seen a plethora of high profile corporate scandals over the past few years; Enron, WorldCom and the current SEC investigation into foreign exchange dealings to name but a few. The US administration took fright, and introduced the Sarbanes-Oxley rules; which, in very simplistic terms, mean that executives have to sign in blood as to the accuracy of their accounts. These rules apply to all US listed companies, their non resident subsidiaries and those non US companies that have listings (eg via ADR’s) in the USA.

The UK, knowing that whatever happens in the USA eventually happens here, commissioned Derek Higgs to review the role and effectiveness of non-executive directors and Sir Robert Smith to review audit committees.

These two reports were “morphed” into the Combined Code, which applies to all reporting years beginning/after 1 November 2003. In the usual British manner, unlike Sarbanes-Oxley (which is mandatory), the Combined Code allows companies to depart from its provisions; so long as they explain why.

Disregarding this opt out clause; in my view the Combined Code is a welcome clarification as to the role, and duties, of the non-executive director. There has been a feeling within the UK that the role of the non-executive director has not been clearly defined; and as such neither the Board (both executive and non-executive), nor the investor fully understand as what the non-executive should do and can do. Additionally, it has been felt that some non-executive directors take up too many positions at the same time, as a way of making an easy living; secure in the belief that only the executive directors are responsible for the strategy and management of the company.

Here is a brief overview as to the main points in the Combined Code, relevant to non-executive directors (NED’s):

 NED’s are the custodians of governance, they should challenge strategy and scrutinise performance.

 NED’s should have job descriptions, these should be prepared by the Nomination Committee.

 Appointments need to be justified.

 One of the NED’s should be available to interact with shareholders, and should attend meetings between management and major investors.

 Remuneration should be commensurate with the position, and be designed to attract the best candidates.

 The Nomination Committee should be responsible for appointing NED’s, its terms of reference should be published in the annual report.

 The training needs of current and future directors should be addressed by the Chairman.

 NED’s should be appointed from a wider range of backgrounds, based on merit.

 NED’s should be independent, and challenge the company orthodoxy.

 The performance of the Board should be reviewed annually.

 NED’s should serve two three year terms.

 Executives should hold only one NED position.

I shall watch with interest to see which companies embrace the code, and which use the op out clause.

Those of you who wish to study the subject of corporate governance in detail, should find the following links to be relevant:

The Combined Code (2003)
The Higgs Review (2003)
The Turnbull Report (Internal Control) 1999
The Cadbury report (1992), Greenbury Report (1995) and Hampel Report (1998)
The Financial Services Authority’s Listing Rules (2002)
Corporate governance codes in other countries
Information on the Company Law Review (2001)
The Myners Report on Institutional Investment in the UK
The Tyson report on the recruitment and development of non-executive directors (2003)
The responsibilities of institutional shareholders and agents-statement of principles (2002)

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Identity Theft

Yesterday I found out, by chance, that someone had been using my address to falsely obtain credit. This particular nefarious individual had clocked up a £15K debt, claiming that my home address was his. I discovered this quite by chance, as a letter from the debt collection agency arrived threatening him with a personal visit by debt collectors, and a county court judgement (CCJ).

I rang the agency, and pointed out that I had never met or heard of the individual. I confirmed with them that no CCJ would be issued against my address. Note, if that had happened that would have negatively affected my ability to raise credit or increase my mortgage in the future; adverse credit records, even incorrect ones, stick to people like chewing gum on the sole of a shoe. I followed up the call with a letter, requesting that the agency confirm in writing the key points of our conversation. The agency are now in the process of tracking down this miscreant, and extracting the £15K from him.

This incident is the third time, in eight years, that someone has succeeded in using my identity/personal details to falsely obtain credit. The previous two occasions involved the fraudulent use of my credit card. One of which apparently involved me buying several thousand pounds worth of ladies lingerie in Harrods; if you want the full story behind that one, you can read it in my book “Accountants Can Cook”.

However, identity theft is no laughing matter for those who find their credit record besmirched and their bank accounts emptied by impostors. In fact identity theft is on the increase; witness the regular stories in the newspapers of people who find that their bank accounts and credit cards have had large sums falsely extracted, or the countless “Nigerian Scam” letters (which are a ruse to get the bank account details of the greedy and stupid) clogging up peoples’ email boxes. With regard to the latter, I now receive so many of these that I have dedicated part of my website to exposing this unpleasant practice; go to Stupid Punts! to read more on the subject.

As a victim, I thought it may be helpful to list a few hints and tips gained from my own experiences. Note, as with any issues involving money you should always seek the advice of an independent suitably qualified financial adviser and/or lawyer.

In order to minimise the chances of you becoming a victim here are a few tips; note, they are not exhaustive:

 Do not give out details of your bank account/credit card to strangers.

 Do not disclose passwords/pin numbers.

 Do not respond to “Nigerian Scam” letters.

 Do not let your credit card out of your sight, even when in a restaurant and you are paying the bill (the unscrupulous can copy the card details manually and electronically).

 If you lose your credit card, phone the card company immediately and cancel the card.

 Check your bank and credit card statements regularly; query any amounts that do not look correct.

In the event that you are unfortunate enough to become victim to an identity theft, here are a few steps (again not exhaustive) that you should take:

 Depending on the circumstances, inform the police and your insurance company.

 Contact the organisation from where the money was taken/attempted to be taken immediately. Explain the issues clearly and concisely.

 Confirm that any monies taken will be repaid.

 Ensure that they confirm that there will be no CCJ issued against you, or your property.

 Write a letter confirming the conversation, and ensure that they respond in writing.

 Where the identity theft involves a credit card, or bank account, change the account and relevant passwords immediately.

Please feel free to let me know if you have had the misfortune to have had your identity falsely used.

I await the next theft of my identity!

Sunday, November 16, 2003

President Bush’s State Visit to Britain

President Bush is coming to London this week, for a three day State visit. This visit, to put it mildly, has caused quite a stir.

At the operational level, security forces (both British and the 700 US imports) and the British police will be on their highest level of alert; it is likely that there may be one or two “traffic jams” as the Presidential motorcade sweeps through a “cordon sanitaire”.

Political groups, non affiliated political groups and individuals are busy co-ordinating their protests covering all manner of issues; ranging from the war in Iraq, to general anti American hostility (which has been prevalent in mainland Europe for the past fifty years or so).

Anarchist groups are, so we are told, formulating plans to storm Buckingham Palace (some chance!); in the forlorn hope that there will be some form of popular uprising.

Added to this are the politicians, and media pundits, who are saying that it is disgraceful that President Bush should be invited here. Their reasons being that, in their opinion, the invasion of Iraq was wrong; and that the troops still occupying Iraq should be brought home.

Let me chip in my “two pennies” of thought into this morass of invective and emotion:

 People have the right to demonstrate, in a peaceful manner, in the UK. That is the benefit of living in a democracy, something that many people in the world do no have. The agitators who wish for violence would do well to remember that Bush was elected democratically; by people who live in a democracy, which was founded on the principles of liberty and justice over two hundred years ago.

 The timing of the invasion of Iraq is open to question and debate. However, the deed is done. To pull the troops out now, before initiating a road map to self government; would consign the Iraqi people to chaos, anarchy and a return to dictatorship. Therefore to demand withdrawal at this stage, on the grounds of decency, peace and anti imperialist sentiment is an absurd contradiction of logic; it shows a scant disregard for the wellbeing of the Iraqi people.

 Those that say that Bush should not have been invited imply that he is a war monger and dictator. As noted, the USA is a democracy; should we now stop inviting leaders of democratic countries where we disagree with their choice of leader and policies they implement? To my view, the people who follow this argument are displaying a stupefying level of arrogance.

 The visit will give our government the chance to raise matters of concern, such as steel tariffs and the treatment of the POW’s, in a constructive face to face manner. This surely is to the UK’s benefit.

Therefore demonstrate peacefully, by all means, but remember you are able to do so because you live in a democracy; which is hosting the President of another democracy.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Post Script to My Article on Britain’s Libel Laws

In my earlier article on the subject of Britain’s libel laws, I noted how ineffective the injunction would be in burying the allegations against Prince Charles; as the story was then published in the foreign press.

As if to rub salt into the wounds, the allegations were printed in a Scottish newspaper this Sunday. Scholars of geography will note that Scotland is physically attached to England.

How could the story be published in Scotland, when there is an injunction forbidding it? Simple, the injunction only applies in England and Wales!

As I said earlier, welcome to “lah-lah land”.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Britain’s Libel Laws, Welcome to “Lah-Lah Land”

This week has been remarkable, even by British standards, for showing how unrealistic our laws relating to libel wrt what may (or may not) be published in the press are.

It has been widely known within the journalistic community, royal family and certain other areas of “the establishment” that there has been a story circulating for over a year; concerning an alleged incident (of a compromising nature), between a senior royal and another individual.

Matters came to a head when a British Sunday newspaper was issued with a “gagging order”, raised by a former royal servant, preventing it from printing a story concerning the allegations; made by another former royal servant, relating to the above.

This was followed by an extraordinary statement issued by Prince Charles The Prince of Wales, on Thursday, denying that he had been involved in any sexual incident. Note this was despite the fact that the name of the senior royal, or the nature of the compromising incident, had not been published.

Needless to say this gave the story wings. I think it fair to say that the majority of the British people had been unaware of the allegations, or hint of allegations, before this; now of course they are fully aware. Human nature being what it is, many in Britain are now very interested to know precisely what the allegations are; especially since the British people are not allowed to be told by their own “free press”. Forbidden fruit can be very appealing!

At the time of writing the press and TV can, and are, reporting the statement by Prince Charles; and the fact that there are unspecified allegations by an unnamed former servant, concerning a senior member of the royal family. However, each report is tagged with the bye-line; that owing to the libel laws they cannot name the parties involved, or discuss the precise nature of the allegations.

It may be that this method for hushing up a story could have worked over 100 years ago; before the advent of telephones, TV and the internet. However, in the first decade of the 21st Century this approach is simply risible. The British are told by their “free press” that the story (with the details that the British are not allowed to know) is being widely reported in the foreign media and, of course, on the internet. There has now been an unseemly scramble by many British citizens to surf the net; in order to read the story, about their royal family, which they have been denied access to in their “democracy”.

In the thirties a very similar situation arose with regard to the affair between Mrs Wallace Simpson and the future Edward VIII. The British press knew of the story, but could not report it owing to the libel laws. However, the American press reported it freely; British citizens who travelled to America at that time were surprised to read about something that they had no inkling of. They, naturally, brought copies of the papers back to Britain; and shared the story with their friends. Eventually the story broke in Britain, and the resulting abdication crisis caused a change of King (and history) before he was crowned.

I would have thought that the lesson learnt, some seventy years ago (before TV and the internet), should have been taken on board by the legislative authorities by now. However, it has clearly not been taken on board. We wait for the inevitable leak and consequent media frenzy; which will have been stoked up by the gagging order.

The libel laws in Britain belong to a bygone age; those that seek to maintain them, and use them in this manner, truly live in “lah-lah land”.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

A Note of Optimism for the Future of Relations with North Korea

I would like to put my head above the parapet, so to speak, and make a radical suggestion; contrary to the pessimism in the Western media, there may be hope for better times ahead in respect of the West's (ie the USA's) relationship with North Korea.

The sour relationship between the USA and North Korea stems from the unresolved debris of the Korean war; which was fought in the 1950's between UN troops and the forces of North Korea, who were attempting to overthrow the pro Western regime in the South.

The world was on the brink of nuclear conflict; as China sent her troops in to push the US troops back from the border, and General MacArthur threatened to use nuclear weapons on mainland China. Truman, rather wisely, pointed out that as President that decision was down to him; and consequently sacked MacArthur.

After a bloody campaign, the war was brought to a close by an armistice that divided the country into two. The North ended up being ruled by the world's last remaining Stalinist regime, and the South entered a period of democracy in the 1990’s.

As we know in Europe, armistice's are messy things; the rise of Nazi Germany and the Second World War were a direct result of the unresolved issues between the European powers emanating from the First World War armistice.

The armistice of the Korean war has left a heavy military presence of US troops in the South; whilst the North maintains an army of a million or more and seeks, so they say, nuclear weapons. The two sides glare at each other across the demilitarised zone at Panmunjon, this is one of the most dangerous borders in the world.

Whilst the South has become one of Asia Pacific's economic success stories, the North has declined and its people starve; as the USA has imposed an economic blockade for the past forty or so years.

The Western media portray North Korea in, to put it mildly, a very negative light; common stories include:

 The "Dear Leader" is an erratic, paranoid autocrat; who has a penchant for fine brandy and Marilyn Monroe films.

 North Korea already has a significant nuclear arsenal, which it will use in a first strike against the South.

 North Korea believes that the USA is ready, and willing, to invade.

 The citizens of North Korea are starving; as the harvest has failed, and what little food remains is diverted to the army.

 North Korea is a rogue state selling WMD, and associated technology, to anyone with the money to pay for them.

 The existence of the current regime in North Korea is a threat to the peace and stability of the Asia Pacific region; which has been a beacon of peace and prosperity, aided of course by the pacifying presence of American troops in many of the countries there.

 North Korea will implode economically and politically if the current situation is not resolved. Therefore, do nothing.

Now, elements of the above may or may not be true. However, there is usually more to an issue (especially one as complex as this). I would like to venture a few observations:

 The "Dear Leader" may have an eccentric taste in clothes (eg Mao style boiler suit, elevated shoes and exaggerated hairstyle), that does not necessarily mean that he is mad. On a trip to Russia by train a few years ago, the senior Russian official accompanying him had good opportunity to talk to him and observe him. He reported that the "Dear Leader" had a sound grasp of world events, and was perfectly lucid and rational.

 North Korea has had several crop failures, and its people are starving. However, this situation could be alleviated if it were allowed to trade freely with the world.

 The economic disparity between the North and the South is due, in no small part, to the fact that the North has endured an economic blockade for the past forty years. Free trade equates to prosperity, and greater understanding between countries and peoples. If you isolate a country, not only do you stifle its economic growth, you also stifle its intellectual and political development.

 Given the lack of trading partners, the economic blockade and the hostility of the USA; North Korea has been forced to adopt a siege mentality. It is highly likely that it genuinely believes that it may be invaded; it has taken the decision that the only way it can defend itself is to maintain a large army and indeed (as abhorrent and risky as it is), build up a stockpile of WMD.

 President Bush is known to totally despise the leader of North Korea; that in itself, from most peoples’ perspectives, would make it prone to a pre-emptive strike by the USA.

I am no lover of dictatorships,my articles clearly demonstrate this. However, you have to work with what ther eis, not with what you would like to be there.

I am tilting in favour of optimism with regard to the future of this area:

 The USA has, after forty years of blockade, finally started to engage in discussions with the North. Albeit diffident and via third parties, such as China. This indicates an acknowledgement, a reluctant one admittedly, that the policy of blockade has not worked.

 The situation in Iraq, which was an easy military victory, shows that winning the peace; and forcing a regime change, against the wishes of the locals, is no easy task. Defeating the North Korean army would be a very different prospect; Seoul would very likely be obliterated in the first two days of any offensive, and the level of resistance by the North Koreans would make the Iraq situation look like a Sunday picnic. I believe that the USA would be very reluctant, to put it mildly, to take military action unless forced to do so.

 The same can be said of North Korea, it would not be logical to consign oneself to the dustbin of history; without good reason. The fact that they are trying to engage in direct negotiations with the USA indicates that they wish to improve the situation, rather than worsen it.

 There are the signs, albeit very small shoots akin to a rare and beautiful orchid protruding from the earth, that North Korea wishes to emulate the Chinese in their movement to a Western style free market economy. This is a strong indicator that they wish to engage with the rest of the world, and not remain isolated.

 North Korea has brandished its nuclear threat, in my opinion, to gain the attention of the USA; in order for it to be treated as an equal in discussions, and not be ignored as it has been in the past. It should be remembered that "loss of face" in this area of the world is unacceptable. I think it fair to say that it now has the attention of the USA.

In my view, pragmatic engagement with the North can do both the North Korean people and the region nothing but good. There are some very real risks ahead. However, if both sides keep level heads there is real hope for a breakthrough; and the normalisation of relations.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Lancing The Boil

I am glad to see that the UK Conservative Party has finally plucked up the courage to resolve the question that has been dogging them for some months now. Namely, do they wish Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) to remain in the position of leader?

I noted in an earlier article, entitled “The Only Party In Town” , that the ongoing whispering campaign against IDS was doing considerable damage to the reputation and “life force” of the party. The Conservative Party was in fact in danger of being consigned to the “dustbin of history”.

Finally the Chief Whip has collected 25 letters from Conservative MP’s, asking for a vote of confidence to be called on the subject of IDS leading the party. This will be taken this afternoon (Wednesday 29 October 2003), and the result will be declared in the early evening.

The result will either be an endorsement for his leadership, in which case there will be no more challenges until after the general election; or he will be removed from office, and a new leader selected.

Either way, the end result will mean that the Conservative Party will then be able to focus on the more crucial task of forming a credible opposition; to allay the descent of Britain into a one party state.

David Mellor (an ex member of the Party and ex Cabinet Minister) put it rather succinctly, the vote of confidence will be rather like being sick; unpleasant up until the moment that it happens, but afterwards you feel great.

The “boil”, that was undermining the leadership and destroying the life force of the Party, will have finally been lanced. I am glad that the Party took my advice. The next step is to remove the power of the ageing constituency party membership to have a say in the election of the leader.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Less is More

I understand that Denis MacShane the British Minister for Europe (no, I’ve never heard of him either) has stated, on, that the UK has too few Members of Parliament (MP’s).

He believes that the current malaise that afflicts the British electorate, as reflected by poor voter turnout and increasing cynicism about the effectiveness and honesty of our elected politicians, could be cured; by raising the number of MP’s from the current 1 per 1800 voters to 1 per 300, as in the USA. That would be a six fold increase in the number of MP’s!

This, in my view, is one proposal that should be swiftly consigned to the dustbin of history. An increase in the number of MP’s will have the following consequences:

 The costs of government will rise; more MP’s means more salaries, more accommodation costs, more support services and more government departments.

 Taxes will rise to fund the increase in government costs, ie we the voters will have to pay.

 More MP’s equates to more talk, and less action.

 The larger the machinery of government, the more greedy it becomes to take on more powers to justify its existence; and the more likely it is to interfere in, and over-regulate, peoples’ lives.

 Britain, as a result of an ineffective emasculated opposition party (more intent on its own self destruction), is ruled by the diktat of a Prime Minister who shows utter contempt for the parliamentary process. More MP’s will not change this disgraceful situation.

The malaise of the voters would, as a result of the above, simply increase further; democracy would be further eroded.

In my view, given the inverse relationship between the size of the government machine and its effectiveness; “less is more”.

I therefore propose that we, the voters, press for a reduction in the size of parliament and the machinery of government.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

The Only Party In Town

I must confess to more than a degree of “surprise” and despair (to put it mildly), as to how one of the oldest (in historical terms) political parties in the UK can put so much public effort into consigning itself to the dustbin of history.

The recent party conference, instead of being used to showcase intelligent new policies that would form the skeleton of the future manifesto, degenerated into a well publicised “whispering” campaign about the poor leadership of Iain Duncan Smith (IDS).

This disarray was further compounded by the squalid and nasty “Betsygate” affair, whereby a journalist has submitted a dossier to the parliamentary watchdog about the alleged misuse of public money to pay for IDS’s wife to work for him in the Conservative Party. The allegation being, that she did not work as hard as she should have done to justify the salary she was paid.

Whatever the truth in this particularly personal and unpleasant allegation; it is clear to me, and the electorate, that the Party has lost the will to fight and win a general election. Much like the parrot in the Monty Python sketch, I fear that the Party has “ceased to be”.

I can personally attest to this lack of “life force”. Some months ago I wrote an open letter to Croydon Council (my local authority, Labour controlled); castigating them for the 26% rise in council tax that they imposed upon the hapless residents of Croydon. I posted this to the “Worse Than Worthless” section of my website, and emailed a copy to my local Conservative Association.

I naively assumed that my local Association might be able to use this, in some form or other, to raise public awareness of the council tax issue; and to improve their own standing in the polls. How wrong I was, they did nothing:

 No leaflet drops
 No letters to the local paper
 No evidence of life stirring within the local Conservative Association bunker at all.

They did not even have the courtesy to acknowledge receipt, or thank me for my interest in the Party.

Note to my local Party: “When something is handed to you on a plate, you do at least say thank you!”

Note to the national Party, using the vernacular of the under 60’s; “sorry guys, but what the hell are you doing?

Here, is my prescription for restoring the body of the Party to some form of health:

 Decide now, not tomorrow or next week, as to whether you intend IDS to lead you through the next general election. If you want him to go, then for God’s sake put him and the rest of us out of our misery. If you want him to stay, then unite or die!

 Change the rules for electing the leader, the current situation whereby the constituency parties have a say does not work. The leader has to lead the MP’s, without their respect and loyalty he/she will be isolated and impotent. The constituency parties are a hindrance, not a help, in the selection process.

 Change the rules for selecting parliamentary candidates, at the moment the constituency parties hold the whip hand. This is evidenced by the debacle of the recent selection in Windsor; whereby a man of Malcolm Rifkind’s experience did not even make the short list, because the local party went into a sulk about an interview he gave (see my article “The Sulking Conservatives”).

 For goodness sake try to encourage people under the age of 60 to join the Party. At the moment the demographic skew in the Party is so heavily weighted to the over 60’s, that the “connectivity” between the Party and the real population of the UK is non existent.

 When people try to help you, even if that help cannot be used, at least show them the courtesy of thanking them. You won’t get votes, or members, unless people feel that you listen to them.

In my opinion, until these remedies are effectuated vigorously, and without mercy, Tony Blair’s recent comment will stand; namely:

“The Labour Party is the only party in town”.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Most Demanding Role

I see that the voters of California have recalled Gray Davis (the Governor); and placed the Governorship in the hands of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Hollywood star famous for a string of tough guy movies (which included the Terminator series).

Mr Schwarzenegger faces quite a number of pressing problems, off the top of my head, the following top the list:

 The fact that Mr Davis (a Democrat) was recalled, as a result of Republican agitation, and then beaten by Mr Schwarzenegger (a Republican) will mean that the Democrats will be champing at the bit to “return the favour”.

 California is on the verge of bankruptcy; Mr Schwarzenegger will need to demonstrate, very quickly, that he can turn this situation around.

 The personal attacks made against Mr Schwarzenegger in relation to his alleged “groping” of women and alleged support for Hitler will, in this age of trial by media, stick to him like mud on a bear’s backside; and be difficult to shake off.

 California allows voters to pass “propositions” which, amongst other things, can determine the allocation of the state’s revenue. In other words, voters can tie the Governor’s hands before he even takes office.

Taking the above points into account, I would say that California is bordering on being ungovernable. Mr Schwarzenegger will need all the resilience and indestructible characteristics of his Terminator character, if he is to succeed in his latest role.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The Myth of Fast Food Addiction

There is a theory that is being expounded by certain experts that fast food, because of its alleged high fat content, is addictive.

This, they say, accounts for the increasing quantities of fast food eaten; coupled with the rise in obesity in the Western world.

Needless to say, lawyers are rubbing their hands at the thought of the fees that they will earn from the forthcoming litigation. This will doubtless follow, as people sue the fast food companies for their inability to lose weight; which they blame on their insatiable appetite for fries, burgers and fried chicken.


People are eating more fast food, and putting weight on, for the simple reason that they are too lazy to exercise or cook for themselves.

My message to them is “don’t blame others for your own indolence”.

Friday, September 26, 2003

The Stench of Corruption in the EU

An internal report recently shown, in secret, to the members of the European Parliament; has detailed the corruption, and lack of financial controls, that pervade the EU’s infrastructure.

The EU Commission, led by Romano Prodi, is so concerned about the potential political fallout; that it made the members of the European Parliament sign a declaration of secrecy with respect to the contents of the report.

Needless to say it leaked! Politicians are not good at keeping their mouths shut.

The report, by all accounts, reveals that amongst others the European Statistical Agency (Eurostat) has been falsifying accounts. It is estimated that Eurostat has lost £3M of public money, via off record bank accounts and false accounting.

I have run international audit departments, and headed the fraud investigation department of one of the world’s largest multinationals. In my experience, fraud and corruption in an organisation can only be rooted out if my “five principles of good governance” are followed:

1. Those responsible for fraud and corruption are fired, and prosecuted with the full force of the law. Note that this applies to all levels up to, and including, the CEO/President.

2. Senior management are seen to be “whiter than white”; corporate ethics are disseminated top down, not bottom up.

3. There is transparency with respect to the reporting of fraud and corruption.

4. Effective financial controls are in place.

5. There is an independent organisation that reviews and reports on controls, on a regular basis.

It would seem that the actions, or should we say inactions, of Prodi and his team go contrary to every one of my principles.

There is, in my professional opinion, the unpalatable stench of corruption permeating from the EU bunker.

When something stinks, you open the window and throw it out.

I would suggest, Signor Prodi, that you act quickly and embed my five principles of good governance in the EU infrastructure; otherwise the voters of Europe may soon wake up and realise that this stench is coming from you.

PS: Signor Prodi, should you need to "bone up" on the basics of fraud, corruption and ethics; here are three articles that you should read:

Codes of Conducts and Ethical Principles of Companies
Ten Reasons Frauds Occur
Ten Types of Fraud

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Putting the Genie Back into the Bottle

MSN have announced that they will be shutting down their chat rooms. This, they say, is being done to protect children from paedophiles.

I have a number of observations:

 Whilst, at first sight, their action seems very laudable; MSN have been running chat rooms for a number of years (I don’t not know their cost/revenue stream). Shutting them down now has given them a good day’s publicity.

 There are countless other companies running chat rooms on the net. The chatters and paedophiles will simply go elsewhere.

 Aside from the internet, there are also chat rooms run by phone companies. Chatters and paedophiles can use these as well.

 Adults teach children to be wary of strangers, and not to talk to them when they are out in public. However, the very rationale of the chat room (set up and marketed by adults) is that it is a place where strangers can come together and get to know each other. This double standard is, I suspect, not lost on children.

In short, the genie is out of the bottle; you are unlikely

Monday, September 15, 2003

Pass the Sickbag

I see from reports that Carole Caplin, Cherie Blair’s “lifestyle guru”, is miffed at the way No 10 has treated her.

Caplin whose only claim to fame, prior to being involved with the Blairs, was being a topless model; had been involved with the alleged con man Foster, who handled Cherie’s purchase of an apartment for her son.

The resulting media frenzy, dubbed “Cheriegate”, caused Tony Blair to feel the need to distance himself and his wife from Caplin; lest it diminish their “brand value”.

This need was intensified when the BBC showed a fly on the wall documentary, made with Caplin’s permission, filmed during Cheriegate.

The recent magazine spread showing Caplin applying lipstick to Cherie, whilst she sat on the marital bed in No 10, did nothing to enhance Caplin’s reputation in No 10.

Caplin is now reported to be considering publishing details of life in No 10. She believes, so it is reported, that she is a victim of dirty tricks; and it is claimed that she understands how Dr Kelly felt.

Pass the sickbag!

Friday, September 05, 2003

The Sulking Conservatives

The local Conservative association in Windsor is currently in the process of selecting their prospective parliamentary candidate; after their sitting MP (a Conservative) was expelled for having improperly claimed £90K in expenses.

During the initial stages of the selection process the association has to decide who, out of the people who have put their names forward, should go through to the next stage.

The association received a large number of applications including one from Sir Malcolm Rifkind; who was a cabinet minister during past Conservative administrations, and an MP until losing his seat at the last election.

He is a most capable politician, and has a keen intellect (a rarity amongst the political classes). He is, to my view, exactly the sort of man that the Conservative Party should be desperate to employ on their lack lustre front bench.

The Windsor Conservatives selected 46 candidates to go forward to the next stage of the selection process, Sir Malcolm’s name did not appear on the list.

Why did this happen?

Were there 46 candidates who outshone Sir Malcolm? Indeed, if this were the case, the Conservatives should consider themselves truly blessed.

Unfortunately, if reports are to be believed, Sir Malcolm’s exclusion was not based on a hard nosed assessment of his abilities; but in fact the good old fashioned pomposity, and pig-headedness, of the selection committee.

It appears that during an interview with a local paper, Sir Malcolm had said that he hadn’t yet decided if he would move to Windsor. The committee, instead of talking this through with him during the selection process, gave way to the knee jerk reaction of wounded pride and, like a sulking teenager, turned their back on him.

This sorry little tale shows that the Conservative Party is still in massive sulk about losing the last two elections. It has not grasped the fundamental point, that they need to field quality candidates in the next election; not second raters who acquiesce to the single issue prejudices of the over sixties, who run the local associations.

There are two solutions:

 Lessen the power of the local associations in the selection process.

 Wait for the local membership to die of old age.

I suspect that the latter is more likely to happen, rather than the former.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

The Chinese Civil Service Exam

The current round of final school year exams have now been sat, and the results dispensed to eager sweaty students. As with each exam round there has been the usual chorus of hubris and backslapping by ministers over the improvement in the pass rates, and criticism from educational experts and industry leaders that the exams are too easy and that standards are slipping.

Oxford, faced with only being able to offer a few hundred places to the several thousand medical students who have met the exam grade requirements, is to reintroduce an entrance exam; designed to test candidates’ reasoning and practical application of knowledge.

This exam has in the past provided some fine examples of applied knowledge, no matter how limited that knowledge was.

In one year the question was asked; “write all you know about the role that Sir Thomas Fairfax played during the Civil War”. One hapless candidate, who felt that his knowledge was somewhat lacking in this area, wrote nothing. He was awarded 100%, and offered a place; he had answered the question with precise accuracy and written all that he knew, nothing!

I would like to offer my own solution to the problem of selecting the best candidates. This method was used by the Chinese Civil Service, several thousand years ago, when selecting candidates.

Place the candidate in a room for 24 hours; with a desk, pen and an unlimited supply of paper. Ask them to write all they know about everything.

Now that should produce some interesting answers.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Number 10 Blunders Again

The comments made by Mr Kelly (one of Number 10’s spin team) about the late Dr Kelly being a “Walter Mitty”, have plumbed new lows even by this sorry tale of character assassination.

Number 10 at first tried to cover it up. However, finally realising their “goose was cooked”; John Prescott admitted this comment came from the spin bunker, and issued a written apology to the family of Dr Kelly.

This “off record” character assassination raises a number of serious issues about the competence, and “game plan”, of the Number 10 spin bunker:

 To comment in the way Mr Kelly did was insensitive, and stupid. Even the most foolhardy of politicians (and goodness knows there are a few of them!) would know that the press would pick this up and shake it like a dog does a rag doll.

 The Walter Mitty slur is insulting. Dr Kelly, from what his friends, colleagues and journalists who knew him say was no fantasist.

 There is a possibility, only mooted quietly at this stage (but it may come out in the Hutton enquiry), that Dr Kelly was in fact working for the intelligence services. This raises an added question mark over his death, and the circumstances leading up to his public humiliation by the select committee.

 It is possible he had a very serious story to tell, and the smearing of his name by this remark and the other leaks over the last week; which have implied he was a serial leaker seem to be designed to undermine his reputation.

I believe the truth will come out, the government may find the coming weeks distinctly uncomfortable.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

The “Road to Nowhere”- The Delusion of the Burgeoning Public Sector

Since the election of the Labour government in 1997, the UK has experienced a decline in the levels of employment in the private sector and a massive increase in the levels of employment in the public sector. Apparently, over 40% of those employed in the UK now work in the public sector.

At first glance this may not seem to be too troubling, jobs lost in the private sector being replaced by state sector jobs; the latter deemed by many to be worthy, and necessary, for the social well being of the country. Indeed Keynes expounded the view that it was better to employ a man digging a hole, rather than to let him idle away his time.

However, this rise of the state sector gives rise to serious concerns about the future economic prosperity of the UK:

 The jobs being created in the state sector are not “front line” jobs such as; nurses, doctors or teachers. They are newly invented bureaucratic creations; risk officers, empowerment managers etc. None of these positions actually “adds value” to the quality of life in the UK.

 A private sector job, more than likely, adds economic value by directly or indirectly producing a product or service that earns money from abroad. State sector jobs, more than likely, do not. In essence we are merely passing money between ourselves, like an enclosed game of “pass the parcel”.

 The quality of the state sector, despite having billions of pounds thrown at it, has not in the opinion of any front end users improved “one jot”. Ask any parent if they feel that the quality of teaching, and the level of resources available at their child’s school has improved.

 The state, unlike the private sector which is not shielded from economic reality, is inherently wasteful. A report issued in the last few days highlighted the fact that the state sector wastes £70BN a year; that is the equivalent of over 10p in the rate of income tax! On a personal level I can attest to this waste; on applying for a senior position recently in the state I was sent by post an information pack exceeding 200 pages, no private sector employer would ever dream of being so wasteful.

It is a matter of great concern to me and should be to the citizens of the UK that the Chancellor, despite being an intelligent individual, appears to be possessed by the old socialist disease of political dogma; namely:

“State good, private bad”.

This disease is clearly deadening his ability to see that the current path that the UK is taking, in building up the state at the expense of the private sector, is in fact the “road to nowhere”.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Dockers, Dinosaurs and Disputes

My father was a captain in the Merchant Navy. He told me story about working practices in the docks in the 1950’s, which I will relate to you.

Dockyard practices were rigidly applied, and were based on agreements between the powerful dockers’ unions and management of the docks. Should you wish to unload your cargo on a Saturday the rules were particularly inflexible.

Primarily the dockers were only on duty for 3 hours on Saturday, for which they naturally received double time. Time and motion studies had concluded that it took 30 minutes for the average docker to walk to the ship, and a further 30 minutes to walk back. This of course counted as part of the working day, and so only 2 hours were left for the docker to actually “work”.

Time and motion had also dictated that it took 45 minutes to open the cargo holds, and another 45 minutes to close them. This left some 30 minutes in which the cargo could be unloaded.

However, no doubt exhausted by the gruelling schedule, our hardworking dockers needed a break. Therefore two tea breaks, of 15 minutes each, were built into the day. The result, dockers were paid double time not to come to work.

Needless to say working practices like that ensured the destruction of the once thriving dockyards in the UK (something that Hitler had failed to achieve); as container ships moved to unload their cargoes on mainland Europe.

The power of the union dinosaurs was effectively castrated by the Thatcher governments of the 1980’s. However, their rotting corpses still occasionally twitch. Currently we are seeing such a spasm in the dispute over swipe cards between BA and three unions.

These three unions, who are also engaging in a public spat amongst themselves as to who is “head dinosaur”, brought Heathrow to a standstill last week. They are threatening to do so again.

This is sheer folly, BA like other airlines is in a parlous financial situation. Further days of lost revenue will more than likely push it to the edge of bankruptcy. The people whom the unions claim they represent, ie the members, will find themselves out of a job much like the dockers. All of this allegedly over a change in working practices.

The dockers once thought, as they gazed out to sea at the long line of ships queuing to unload their cargoes, that they had a job for life. How wrong they were. I suggest the staff of BA take heed from this, they could ask a docker (if they could find one) what their advice would be.

By the way, my father managed to circumnavigate the intransigent dinosaur; and managed to get his ship unloaded on a Saturday. How? Simple, he opened the cargo holds whilst still at sea.

Maybe the management of BA could come up with a similarly imaginative method for side-stepping the rotting corpses of union intransigence?

Saturday, July 26, 2003

The Emperor’s Clothes

In 1997 Tony Blair won a sweeping election victory, he was elected Prime Minister; as the British people had finally tired of 18 years of rule by the Conservative Party. The promise of a fresh approach to the governing of the UK gave people hope that “things could only get better”. This fresh approach was emphasised by Tony Blair’s well spun phrase “trust me, I’m a straightforward kind of a guy”.

It has taken some 6 years, but now the British people have seen that the spin manufactured by New Labour adds as little value to effective, honest government and to the quality of their lives; as the emperor’s clothes did for his dignity and protection against the elements.

In a poll carried out this week, the majority of those questioned stated that they didn’t believe a single word the Prime Minister said.

Whilst politicians are known to tell the “odd porky”, it is a disgrace of the highest magnitude to find oneself governed by a Prime Minister whose every word is greeted with disbelief by the citizens of the UK.

This situation, in effect, makes the country ungovernable. Tony Blair, were he a man of honour and principle would at this point step down. However, it is evident that he is bereft of both of these qualities necessary in a leader.

With the imminent departure of Alastair Campbell (the Prime Minister’s master of spin), the situation for Blair and Labour will worsen. What little protection the spin once provided will now be removed (there will be no effective replacement for Campbell). The court of Blair, and his own peculiar personality traits (we are assured he is not psychotic), will be exposed to the glare of public scrutiny; without the distractions and deflections of spin.

Additionally, the forthcoming enquiry in to the death of Dr Kelly will be the closest the UK has come to the Watergate hearings in the USA.

Mr Blair deludes himself if he thinks he can ride this one out:

 The country doesn’t trust him.

 The Labour Party despises him.

 He will soon have no spin master.

This will turn very ugly indeed.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

The Wages of Spin

As I write this, the body found in the woods has not yet been formally identified. However, it is taken as a certainty that it is Dr Kelly.

Dr Kelly was a respected professional scientist in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), who found himself thrust into the public eye as a result of the ongoing fight between the BBC and No 10; over the “dodgy dossier” on WMD, allegedly “sexed up” by No 10.

Dr Kelly had to endure a number of humiliations:

 Being named by No 10 as the source of the BBC’s story on the “dodgy dossier”; he denied this.

 Being publicly cross examined in a brusque, and patronising way by the Commons Select Committee; made up of second rate politicians, who clearly relished their opportunity to kick around someone who was not at ease with politicians or the media.

 Being put under siege by the media, who encamped outside his house.

This tragedy could have been prevented if any one of the following events had happened:

 Alastair Campbell (spin master to Tony Blair) had called off his personal vendetta against the BBC. He is now reported to believe that something has gone very wrong with the way politics and the media conduct themselves; well spotted Alastair.

 The BBC had made a statement confirming, or denying, that Dr Kelly was their source. Since the tragedy they have now offered their condolences, possibly tinged with guilt?

 The Chairman of the select Committee, Donald Anderson, had exercised some control over its members; and made them treat Dr Kelly with the respect that he deserved. Since the tragedy members of the committee have appeared on TV denying, in the weasel manner of the guilty, that they were too harsh with Dr Kelly.

 The MoD had publicly backed Dr Kelly.

 No 10 had not named Dr Kelly as the mole. Tony Blair of course now expresses public sympathy, and requests that restraint be shown. Where was that last week Tony?

None of the above happened. Demonstrating that those organisations have no feelings or respect for the rights, feelings or dignity of the individual citizen. Their only concern is their self perpetuation at whatever cost.

Tony Blair made much in his speech to Congress, about the Iraq war, over the fact that history will judge.

Very true Tony, but it won’t judge in your favour. I believe that this tragedy will be a watershed; the current Administration is finished, and will be history by Q4 2003.

In the meantime should anyone of the following people have a shred of decency, they should take my advice and resign:

 Tony Blair, for presiding over and encouraging the spin culture that corrodes government in the UK; this corrosion has now claimed a life.

 Donald Anderson, for presiding over the “witch finder” star chamber that humiliated Dr Kelly.

 Alastair Campbell, for pursuing a private vendetta against the BBC and for naming Dr Kelly.

 Geoff Hoon, Secretary of State for Defence, for abandoning a respected member of staff.

 Greg Dyke, head of the BBC, who chose not to confirm or deny that Dr Kelly was the mole.

I doubt very much that any of the above will resign voluntarily; accepting responsibility for events is not the “done thing” anymore in the UK.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The Lesson of The Million Dollar Biro

Let me tell you a little story about the space race, when the competition between the USA and Soviet Block was at its height. It was discovered that the normal biro would not work in “zero G”.

Therefore the USA, as is its won’t, spent vast sums of money (several million dollars) on research to develop a pen that would work in “zero G”. Success, they achieved their objective; and could proudly boast that they had beaten the Soviets, in this most important of technical breakthroughs.

However, over in Moscow the wily old guardians of Lenin’s legacy afforded themselves a wry smile. They had also managed to solve the problem, at zero cost in fact. The solution, well simple really; they used pencils in space.

The moral from this story is that, throwing money at something is not always the best way to resolve a problem.

I would ask that Tony Blair (UK Prime Minister, at the time that this article is being written) and his Chancellor (Gordon Brown) heed the above, and revise downwards their current multi billion pound “spending splurge” on public services.

This spending, which was announced with fanfares and the usual hubris of the government spin machine in a previous budget, is not achieving the stated aim of improving public services.

Instead it is creating a vast layer of bureaucracy, and strange titled meaningless jobs, as government departments struggle to spend what they are given within each fiscal year.

Naturally, the poor tax payer is required to foot the bill for this ill thought out largess. There have, in fact, been some 60 tax rises since labour took power in 1997.

My message to the Blair and chums is this; governments are not efficient allocators of resources, do us all a favour and cut back your spending and taxation plans.

This will allow the people at the “sharp end”, ie we the voters, more resources with which to better manage and improve our lives.

Monday, July 07, 2003

A Poll Tax by Any Other Name

The UK government intends to introduce a national identity card for every adult living in the UK. The rationale, it argues, is the increase in perceived security threats to the UK since 9/11.

The government argues that is has strong public support for this, well it would wouldn’t it?

We are told that the cards will contain details of individuals; including a unique identifier, such as finger prints.

We are assured that our civil liberties will not be threatened, and that the card will not have to be carried 24 hours a day. That argument fails, by default; commercial enterprises, banks, airports, local government and other areas of daily life that an individual comes into contact with will all require the card as a proof of identity.

The introduction and administration of this scheme will naturally cost money; we are advised that a charge of £39 per head will cover these costs.

I don’t doubt that there will now be a spirited debate about the civil liberty implications of this scheme. I don’t intend to cover those issues in this article; save for the following observations:

 The UK is currently governed by a party with no core ideology, save the pursuit of power for its own sake.

 The government is obsessed by spin and presentation. Any criticism of it is robustly crushed, witness the current campaign against the BBC.

 There is no effective political opposition, save for the media.

The above points raise serious concerns about the future of democracy within the UK. I would venture to suggest that given these issues; any proposal, by this government, to introduce a national identity card should be viewed with great suspicion.

However, let us not ignore the other aspect of the proposal; the charge of £39. As I have noted in another article (
The Illusion of Increasing Property Values), this government is revenue greedy. This charge is another neat “stealth tax”.

Indeed since it will be levied on every adult (save for a few means tested exceptions), it is in fact the purest form of regressive poll tax that can be created.

The last time a poll tax was introduced in the UK, in the early nineties, the charge was based on the cost base of the citizen’s local council. Theoretically, the citizen could reduce the size of the poll tax by voting for a lower spending council. In reality, it didn’t work; poll tax bills soared, and Margaret Thatcher was ousted from office. The tax was repealed.

The version now being proposed offers no opportunity for electoral input. It is in effect taxation without representation.

In my opinion, this proposal must be resisted at all costs.

Monday, June 30, 2003

The Illusion of Increasing Property Values

The UK has, over the last decade, experienced an unparalleled growth in the value of domestic property; fuelled by low interest rates and demand exceeding supply. Some areas of the country have experienced annual increases of over 20%.

This growth has led to a feeling of smug self satisfaction among those who own property, and has underpinned a consumer boom; as people release the perceived excess equity in their homes, and use it to satisfy short term desires and whims.

However, the perceived increase in personal wealth has a number of drawbacks:

 The growth in prices is slowing down, and in some parts of the country gone into reverse. This has placed some of those who have borrowed heavily in the uncomfortable position of having negative equity; they have become financial prisoners within their own homes.

 The increase in prices has made it more difficult for first time buyers to fund the purchase of their first home; without borrowing excessive multiples of income, sometimes up to five times their annual salary.

 A house is a lifetime commitment, the debt that goes with it usually takes twenty five years to pay off. I know of no one who can, with certainty, look twenty five years into the future; and guarantee that income, taxes and other issues will not conspire against them to impede their ability to pay off the debt.

 The feeling of greater wealth, that increases in property values brings about, is illusory. You have to live somewhere, if your home has risen by 20% then others have done so as well. Should you wish to move to a larger property, in a few years time, the ongoing increases in prices make that more difficult.

Take the following example:

Property A is worth £100K

Property B is worth £200K

The net difference is £100K

After one year prices have risen by 20%.

A is now worth £120K and B £240K, the net difference is now £120K.

In one year it is now £20K more expensive for the owner of A to sell and buy B.

The only way to benefit from a rising market is to downgrade, and buy a smaller property or live in a cheaper area.

 Finally I would caution all to be very wary of the current Administration’s greed for tax revenue. It is eyeing the rise in property values with great avarice. It will most definitely find a way to grasp an undeserved slice of these gains for itself.

In short, don’t be seduced by the rises; you are probably worse off.

Monday, June 16, 2003

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

Prime Minister Blair last week accepted the “retirement” of Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor; and promptly announced that the position of Lord Chancellor would be abolished.

The role will be replaced by a Supreme Court, and a Minister for Constitutional Affairs.

In my opinion, there are a number of problems with this course of action:

 The post of Lord Chancellor has been in existence for 1400 years. Its primary role has been to appoint the judiciary, and oversee the efficient and impartial operations of the judicial process. Its independence, and probity, has not been questioned before; yet the “rationale” for the change is to improve judicial independence. The reality belies the spin.

 It is an ill kept secret that the Home Office has become increasingly exasperated by judges who exercise their independence, when interpreting the law. The nature of the current Administration is skewed towards centralisation and government control; they dislike independent thought. Therefore, I very much suspect that the government would prefer a politicisation of the judiciary.

 Two weeks before making the announcement, Blair was pushing the idea of an Orwellian sounding “Ministry of Justice”. However, after lobbying from the Home Secretary (who feared the erosion of his role) the idea was dropped; and the Supreme Court suggestion was “cobbled together”. The idea has clearly not been thought through.

 The man appointed to design and guide the constitutional changes is Blair’s friend, and former flat mate, Lord Falconer. This is the same man who deserves full credit for mis-managing the Dome fiasco. Scarcely someone to have confidence in with respect to a major “change management” project of this size and complexity.

 The day after being appointed, Lord Falconer was seen in the House of Lords wearing the wig and robes of the office of Lord Chancellor (a position that had been abolished some 24 hours earlier). It appears that there is a procedural requirement, laid down in 1660, that requires the Lord Chancellor to be present when the House of Lords is sitting. It transpires that no one had thought of this when putting together these “plans”.

 The judiciary needs to be politically independent if a democracy is to flourish and thrive. A State appointed Supreme Court is not independent. This idea undermines democracy.

In short, replacing a 1400 year old institution with an ill thought out “rag tag” bag of ideas; put together in a rush, is wrong. Act in haste, repent at your leisure!

The maxim, as invoked by Lord Hailsham a previous Lord Chancellor, applies:

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Counter Points To Militant Vegetarianism

I fully endorse the principles of freedom of speech, thought and belief; so long as one person’s beliefs do not attempt to ride “rough shod” over another’s.

To this end, although I eat meat, I am perfectly happy to accept that others may choose a way of life that eschews meat eating in favour of a vegetarian diet; indeed I support their right to do so.

However, I do not support “diet dictators” who spend their lives telling others how and what eat; and who enhance their practical dietary advice with a relentless bombastic lecture on the unhealthy, and immoral, aspects of the diets of those who do not acquiesce to their views.

“Diet dictators” are not confined to any one group, and can include the following:

 The anti fat lobby

 Those who eschew carbohydrates

 The organic brigade

 The GM lobby (pro and anti)

 Vegetarians

On a personal level, I have been fortunate enough to only have rare encounters with “diet dictators”. However, some people are not so fortunate; and find themselves confronted on a very personal level by these intolerant people.

Militant vegetarians seem to be the more prevalent, and vociferous, in Western society. Therefore I have put together four simple counter points, that can be used by anyone when confronted by a militant vegetarian:

 Mankind’s brain size and power increased as a direct result of the protein being ingested from meat eating.

 We have incisors for tearing flesh.

 Herbivores (such as sheep) eat by grinding their jaws in a “side to side” motion, the resultant wear on their teeth is counteracted by the fact that their teeth are continually growing. Human jaws work in an “up and down” motion and our teeth, once fully formed, stop growing.

 Hitler was a vegetarian.

Point taken?

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Does Anyone Really Care Anymore?

The Western world claims to live by the mantra “The Customer is Always Right”; companies and governments have become obsessed with building targets into almost every facet of commercial and governmental enterprise, examples of these targets include:

 Call answering time

 Complaint response time

 Outstanding corrective actions

 Customer satisfaction

 Hospital waiting lists

 Exam pass rates

 Brand awareness etc

However, it is my experience as evidenced in the
“Worse Than Worthless” and “The Endowment Diary” sections of my website; that many organisations merely pay lip service to these “ideals”. When “push comes to shove”, individuals are left to fight the lengthy battle for justice alone; with whatever means they have at their disposal.

As you can see from my own experiences on my website; one often has to cajole the organisation and publicise the problem to as wider audience as possible, before any semblance of action is taken to address the issues raised.

Those of us who use the UK’s “beloved” rail network know that we are no longer referred to as passengers, but as customers. A sign, we are told, that the rail companies recognise our importance. Has that improved the quality of service? NO!

Rail operators, in fact, in order to meet their much heralded punctuality targets are changing timetables and reducing the number of trains running; in order to be able to claim to be improving.

Hospital waiting list targets, by all accounts, are now being met because the statistics are being adjusted.

Exam results improve each year because the papers being set, and the exam marking standards, are becoming less demanding.

This sorry state of affairs was predicted in Orwell’s 1984. In one passage, Winston Smith (the hero) noted that the Ministry of Truth recently announced figures about shoe production showed an increase on the previous year. However, no one knew if the numbers being quoted referred to the number of pairs of shoes, the number of left footed shoes or the number of right footed shoes.

Moreover, no one even knew if the figures were correct; and indeed, at the end of the day, did anyone really care?

Cynicism, lethargy and apathy have allowed commercial organisations and government to wear us down with meaningless targets and statistics; these are the real “Weapons of Mass Destruction”.

It is up to the individuals in society to neutralise these self induced “WMD”; and force political and business leaders to respect them as individuals and serve their needs once again.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

What Use Is Religion?

Mankind throughout the millennia has believed in one, or many, omnipotent beings; who have the power to influence events on earth, and create a spiritual paradise or hell in the supposed afterlife.

These omnipotent beings have been given many names including; Allah, Apollo, God, Osiris and Zeus to name but a few.

The one strand of commonality that links them is that they all, according to those who believe in them, require to be acknowledged and worshipped; thereby necessitating the creation of religions, designed and instigated by mankind.

These religions, by the very fact that they are human creations, contain all the faults and weaknesses of the human character including; vanity, aggression, pride, greed, lust and envy.

Many religions claim to be tolerant; yet their actions, in asserting their own dominance, belie this assertion. Taking three “mainstream” religions as an example; Christianity has throughout the centuries sought to convert the heathen, extreme Islam seeks to eliminate the infidel and fanatical Judaism seeks sole occupancy for those of the Jewish faith of the land in and around Israel.

Throughout mankind’s history, wars have been fought in the name of whatever omnipotent being of the day was believed to be in charge.

In short organised religion, because it is organised by humans, is used as a means to extend the baser instincts and desires of human nature.

There are individuals, such as rabbis, priests and mullahs who seek to do good and to comfort those in distress. However, they do this out of their own inherent sense of decency and affection for their fellow man; not because of the decency of their particular organised religion.

Even those who claim to believe in the same omnipotent being, such as Christians, manage to find ways to use religion against each other. A fine example of this is the animosity between catholics and protestants in Northern Ireland; they so loath each other that they choose to live apart in segregated areas of their cities.

Mankind will always look for ways to factionalise itself, and fight one another; religion has given it another means to do this.

Should an omnipotent being exist, I doubt very much that he/she would wish to be associated with this.

Therefore I ask, “What use is religion?”

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Euroland’s Descent Into Chaos

The European hegemony, and by that I mean those countries that eschew the Anglo Saxon principles of free markets and flexibility of employment, faces a decade of civil, political and economic chaos; as the economic reality of the global economy hits home.

The critical issues facing Euroland include:

 The overvalued Euro.

 The lack of mobility of labour between member states, due to language and bureaucratic barriers.

 The excessively high interest rates being maintained by the unelected, and unaccountable, members of the ECB.

 The self delusion of the occupants of Euroland with regard to their overpaying themselves, relative to the rest of the world, in terms of salary, benefits and pensions.

These issues, unchecked, will have the following consequences:

 Investment from the rest of the world will decline; as companies seek more flexible, business friendly economies to invest in.

 The overvalued Euro will suck in imports and suppress exports; further eroding the job market, and standard of living of Euroland.

 The high interest rates will cause the European economies to stagnate, causing job losses and reduced tax revenues.

 The level of salaries and benefits, which are unsustainable, will be forcibly corrected; either by cuts in salary/benefits or job losses.

 There will be a knee jerk reaction to non Euroland products, ideas and capital flows; causing a rise in protectionism, and the consequential worsening of the Euroland economy.

 The downturn in the Euroland economy will see a rise in racism and attacks on “non Euro” residents.

The situation that Euroland faces, with respect to its rigid inflexible working practices and economic stagnation, is similar to the situation that the UK faced in the 1970’s. The corrective actions effectuated by Margaret Thatcher, and her cabinet, in the 1980’s gave the British economy the flexibility and strength that it needed to survive the economic globalisation of the 21st century.

However, the changes pushed through the British economy in the 1980’s came at a very high price; with job losses in the traditional heavy industries and significant social unrest. The UK, as a society, managed to navigate its way through this period of social upheaval by being fortunate enough to have a Prime Minister and cabinet that had the clarity of vision and strength of purpose to maintain a course of action that they believed to be right.

Euroland, in my opinion, does not have access to such a leader; nor indeed do its political parties have the backbone to present to their voters the unpalatable truth about the situation that they are facing.

The result will be an inevitable economic decline, with Europe spiralling into a decade of social, political and economic chaos. The straws in the wind are already evident; with yet another air traffic controllers strike in France, and the recent demonstrations in Germany and France about public sector benefits and pensions.

My advice to the UK is to avoid further integration with Euroland, as the UK will only be sucked into this impending chaos.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Get Off Your Backsides

Statistics show that for the first time in history, the number of people who are overweight exceed those who are undernourished.

The ignorant amongst you may feel that this is a cause for celebration, proof that mankind is within reach of eliminating hunger.

Let us not delude ourselves, this is nothing to be proud of. The number of under nourished people in the world exceeds 1 billion, and is unlikely to fall below this in the near future.

Those that are overweight are increasing in number (and size) and, aside from the aesthetic issues associated with obesity, face a myriad of serious health issues arising from their bulk. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

 Heart disease

 High blood pressure

 Diabetes

 Cancer

We should be ashamed of ourselves. Where over 1 billion people go hungry another billion, or so, stuff their faces like pigs at a trough.

There are a number of causes of this epidemic of obesity, including:

 The increased slothfulness and sedentary nature of peoples’ lifestyles.

 The abundance of cheap food in the West, pushing the daily calorie intake ever higher each year.

 The increased consumption of fast food and prepared food that is high in sugar and fat.

 Ignorance as to the difference between wholesome nourishment and junk stodge.

 Laziness on the part of parents who, instead of educating and disciplining their children with respect to healthy eating allow them to gorge on crisps, sweets and fries.

I enjoy food and drink, as you will read in my book “Accountants Can Cook”. However, you will see that I use only fresh ingredients; which contain a good balance of protein, fibre and vitamins.

My recommendations for reducing this obscenity of gluttony are:

 Eat less, exercise more.

 Cut out the junk food.

 Cook food from fresh ingredients.

 Learn to say no to your children when they demand junk food.

 Exercise self discipline.

To those of you who say they neither have the time, ability or inclination to follow these recommendations, my answer is simple; “Bullshit”.

Mankind has survived, and flourished, for millennia without junk food; and managed to cook and eat food prepared from fresh ingredients.

Get off your backsides and improve your lives!