Four articles worth a gander

Want to know when the latest post has been published? There’s an RSS link on the right hand side of this page, or alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter. Here’s the latest four articles worth a gander:

At number one, it’s Lewis Page writing in Prospect Magazine. He thinks that we should concentrate our limited resources on providing our armed forces with the best equipment, rather than always sourcing British equipment and propping up our arms trade. The Gray Report last week found that the MOD had serious problems with long term procurement. If we bought for our troops on the basis of merit, not merely provenance (a little something called free trade), surely this would increase the value and quality of equipment.

At number two, its Michael Clemens & David McKenzie writing in Foreign Policy. They say that the movement of skilled workers from poor countries to rich ones is a good thing for both countries.

As an aside, this is an argument against the BNP’s policy suggestion to prevent the NHS from hiring foreign workers (yes, including doctors and nurses), purportedly because it hurts other countries. I doubt that’s why they really want to bring about the policy but it would be fascinating to give Griffin a grilling on it.

At number three, it’s D.D. Gutenplan blogging for The Nation. He’s an American blogger for a big left wing magazine (but there is a left wing US governement …), writing about little old Kaminski and the Tories’ EU allies. It shows that the story about their new EU allies has legs. Oh, whilst I’m at it, here’s another interesting US take on the same issue by Roger Cohen of the New York Times.

At number four, it’s George Alagiah’s speech to media think tank POLIS. In the same week that the BNP appeared on Question Time and the coverage of it went on and on and on, Mr Alagiah stood up and gave a very sensible speech on his experience as an immigrant and how he thinks the balance in some areas has shifted, so that white working class people feel like outsiders. It’s sensible and thought provoking.

Runners up:

Last week was dominated by discussion of free speech, not just the BNP either. Regardless of whether she should have written it (yeuk, of course she shouldn’t), should Jan Moir have the right to infer that Stephen Gately’s untimely death was shady without any evidence? What about stating that this and the death of another homosexual shows that civil partnerships do not work? Many complained to the PPC, perhaps because they thought she didn’t. Matthew Parris wrote in The Times that he thought she did (he also wrote something similar in The Spectator, but they’ve sadly gone and put up a paywall).

And again in the name of free speech, the Spectator published something (falsely) denying that HIV lead to AIDs, and that in part it was due to nutrition, sexual promiscuity, and general well-being. They also wanted to show a generally ridiculed piece of pseudo-scientific propaganda that suggested broadly the same thing, although they’ve cancelled it now. Over to you, Ben Goldacre. PS. Read the free chapter of his book Bad Science on the problems caused by absurd statements on HIV.

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It’s not “Taxpayers’ money”, it’s “public money”

Nearly every political interview in this country seems to bring up Government use of “taxpayers’ money”. Personally, I deeply resent and regret this trend – I think it breeds a NIBMY, us-and-them approach to politics. But political opinions aside, it is an intrinsically political term and so is not a suitable expression for any impartial interviewer.

I don’t want to slam the Taypayers’ Alliance (which taxpayers?), much as I can’t help feeling their rent-a-quote ubiquity is possibly to the dentriment of sensible debate on the role of Government. I just want to be clear: it’s not “taypayers’ money”, it’s public money.

What’s the difference? “Taxpayers’ money” implies it should be in the hands of the individual: the taxpayer. It doesn’t take into account that there’s a valid and influential political belief that money should be redistributed to ensure an equal society. “Taxpayers’ money” is a conservative term, it argues for the individual against the state. Use it if you believe that – but interviewers shouldn’t try to persuade us of the validity of their beliefs; they provide an independent, equal platform for others to present theirs. Loaded terms don’t help anyone.

Public money on the other hand doesn’t discuss the source of the money – how it got there, it only describes its use. “Public money” means that, for better or worse, money has been taken from somewhere and is now ready to be spent. It doesn’t even imply it should be spent, perhaps it might be given back to the public (made up of individuals but without highlighting that). It does mean however, that if the money is to be spent, it should be for a good reason. I’ve no problem with an interviewer saying that.

Question Time is a chance for our politicians, not for Griffin, to gain legitimacy

It’s right to get Nick Griffin on the BBC, but are politicians the people to take him on? BNP leader Nick Griffin has been given the biggest moment of his political life – he has a platform to talk to millions. The obstacle facing him is the opposition of MPs from the major political parties.

But this is a time when the profession is almost totally devalued, a time when Tom Harris MP joked to John Pienaar last week that their popularity is on parr with “Gary Glitter’s tour guide”. It’s not much better for the Lords following scandal after scandal for the upper house too.

I’ve thought for some time that Nick Griffin must be taken on publicly. His fallacies are easily exposed, although I think many of his supporters are not swayed by argument but by crude posturing. The BNP switch positions on almost all their beliefs and policies – they used to support fundamental Islamism, for example. And, as I’ve said before, in the European elections they had the best political conditions they could have hoped for – and still gained fewer votes in the seats they won then in 2004. If that’s the best they can do with the expenses scandal in full flow and the economy tanking, there’s no chance of them becoming a serious force in British politics. But they have won power, and need to be taken on. Are politicians really the people to do so?

Hopefully, they are. This is a chance not just for Nick Griffin. Our representatives can show that they are in Parliament for more than the expenses. They are there because of their principles, their policies, and their ability to present their case. The parties have chosen their champions, this is their moment: I hope they, not Griffin, take it.

Sketch: Harriet Harman’s Chicken Run

At a committee today, Harriet Harman questioned why “if you buy an egg in a supermarket, you can know whether a chicken has had a happy life, but you can’t know whether an employee is being treated correctly”. Quite right, Ms Harman, quite right. Quite what this had to do with flexible working rights is beside the point, perhaps why the committee seemed bemused.

But Ms Harman’s hit on a very important point. We have just as much right to know what goes into those who make our food as the food itself. Where are the labels informing us that Jeff, 34, packed your value chicken breast, and was able himself to graze free in the fields?

Finally, a government in favour of real transparency. But how far will they go?

Will this Government have the guts to publish the medical records of all those involved in the food chain? The farmer had irritable bowel syndrome? Hmm, best steer clear of those chicken wings.

Now Harriet Harman came to the committee to discuss her equality bill, and press the case for equality in the workplace. But the press got distracted by Dave Cameron’s own principled stand/gaffe (delete as applicable).

Yes, the Tories are revolting, but Ms Harman already knew that no doubt. David Cameron said to a committee that not only did he want to get more women MPs into a Parliament, but he was going to actively change the selection system to achieve this. That’s not Conservatism, Cameron!

Cue the sqwaking of a grassroots rebellion, the Tory hens are hatching a plan, perhaps a coup (groan). Female candidates should be selected on merit alone they say … just like Julie Kirkbride (that lady who double claimed £170,000 with her hubbie, among other things)*

So I’ll say this: any system which has selected many current MPs who ruthlessly plundered parliamentary allowances, shouldn’t stay. So even if it is skewed to select only women, chances are the current system would select the wrong one. Open primaries are the way forwards, as long as parties can figure out how to pay for them (perhaps do more online?). But the current system mustn’t stay, as sure as eggs is eggs.

*I find I classify most MPs now by their expenses, e.g. Gordon Brown (“£12 grand for cleaning”), David Cameron (“wisteria chap”), Nick Clegg (“who?”, “you know, the Lib Dem guy”, “thought that was still Paddy Ashdown”).

I’m terribly sorry, but …

I’m a big fan of both Iain Dale and Paul Waugh, but this morning I read their immediate attacks on the PM for dithering – relying on a tweet by Eric Pickles as evidence – and realised I’d have to take issue.

Sky news report that “The committee questioning the leaders – the Speaker’s Conference – said it had “concluded that the most effective way to interview the three party leaders is to call them to the table individually”.

I’m more willing to believe their reporting than the Tory chairman tweeting that “PM has pulled out of first Leaders TV debate – now Party Leaders will speak separately to Speaker’s Conference on diversity in Parliament”

It’s also been reported that it was David Cameron most recently has raised issues with the leaders TV debate, not the PM. Given that one half of this tweet quite probably contains spin, surely it’s likely the other half might too?

Now the PM has made it particularly easy for himself to be attacked for dithering; Iain has written a tidy list of examples. But he also showed leadership by pressing for bank bailouts and part-nationalisation, an example swiftly followed by other world leaders. He has also called on President Obama to come to the Copenhagen Climate summit, which shows that occasionally he’s prepared to make things difficult for a close ally – and, unlike Lockerbie, for the right reasons.

I don’t expect bloggers to give Brown an easy ride, but inference alone shouldn’t be used to gladly relay a line straight from CCHQ. There’s no evidence that the PM made this call, especially as it’s reported that the Committee made the decision. Personally I can understand their decision too: rather than the meeting becoming a jostling match for position between the party leaders, MPs will be able to give each in turn a grilling.

Update 20 October: Mr Waugh has provided a “further update” on his blog, explaining that his source has given no explanation for the change of format. No explanation – no proof.

Oh dear, what a pickle!

Boris, that loveable rogue, put up tube and bus fares today. Times are tough, everyone’s got to do their bit. The Mayor himself even chipped in £1,266 for – whoops – accidentally benefitting from claiming too much for his council tax. Oh dear, what a pickle!

I tried to write that as breezily as I could but the fact remains, on the same day, the very same day, that fares go up for people who can’t claim travel expenses or hop into a chauffeur driven car, the man in charge of the price-hike paid back money for profligacy on the public account.

The expenses scandal has tarred all those who got near it, no matter how chirpy and rogueish they remain. The headlines don’t tie Mr Johnson’s expenses in with the price hike but they don’t need to, this issue will not go away.

And for all the talk of austerity – of tax-hiking, cost-cutting, togetherness – the rift between public figures and the public finances they bloated and broke remains, and will do until this Parliament is over (sorry Boris).

Over in City Hall (and CCHQ and Cowley Street and Downing Street too), honesty may just be a buzz word or may be a very real public-spirited desire. The question remains: how will these public figures ever look honest, no matter how real their need to make spending cuts or how genuine their desire?

Party leaders want and need to make a clean break. Inquiries have been called and it appears another one will be. They do not do enough. Yet even if that were the panacea to the rot in public life and almost total mistrust of public figures, it would be weakened again and again by angry mutterings in the Westminster tea-room. Sorry folks, it ain’t the media’s fault, blame your colleagues! Why is it that MPs can’t come together to sort out the deficit but they can put aside party rivalries to sort out their own purses? Oh, and before I forget (I won’t for a while), Sir Thomas Legg hasn’t brought this back up again because people never forgot it.

Those who showed no ability to discern where their private spending was unregulated, showed no ability to discern where public spending was out of control. When you think of one, you think of the other.

You think of (some) public figures’ greed when you think of public spending cuts and tax-hikes. Yes, there was a lot of waste in public spending, but it wasn’t done by the people who’ll be hit by the consequences. Oh dear, what a pickle.