Jun 2008 05

On the back of Stephen Glover’s article in the Daily Mail, Tim Montgomerie at ConservativeHome has an interesting piece about changing the way our politicians interact with the state. He cites Maude’s Law, which lays down that

good policy is 10% brainwave, 10% idea development and 80% implementation

This is a crucial realisation that deserves publicising to those at the helm of the State. No matter how good your idea is, if you don’t have the requisite tools to implement it, it is likely to be doomed to fail.

In the case of the British State, if you have Ministers overseeing vast departments, directly supervising scores of agencies, quangos and other bodies and individually responsible for a mind-boggling range of responsibilities, of course you will run into problems. The problem is arguably exacerbated by Ministers being moved helter skelter from one department to another without the time to build up sector-specific expertise, but some Ministerial positions are beyond the capabilities of any one human being, no matter how experienced.

This argument does not, of course, excuse the bad policies which are all too common, but if we are ever to get services running properly and save taxpayers’ money we must recognise that the current system is liable to bog down a lot of good ideas, too. The current failure is a mixture of bad ideas foundering on their own lack of merit and good ideas being sabotaged by the fundamentally flawed structure of the public sector.

It’s no good just changing the set of politicians and the set of policies – to get the job done, the state must be properly set up and the practitioners must have the right tools.

Jun 2008 05

Blair I attended Tony Blair’s testimony to the International Development Select Committee this morning. He had come to give a disposition on Gaza as the Quartets representative. I entered the room surrounded by assorted representatives of NGOs such as Oxfam and some self appointed human rights monitors. Not the sort of company I revel in. Eavesdropping on their pre event discussion I became aware that the differences between us were as intractable as the conflict itself.

To Oxfam it appears the problem is Israel’s. They are intransigent. If only they opened the border and recognised Hamas and negotiated with them this would all end. Absent from their discussion was any indication that Hamas attacks and the movements refusal to recognise Israel’s right to exist might have something to do with it. I entered the room fearing that Tony Blair may offer this baying mob some meat. He might condemn Israel’s Liberal Democracy for its actions concerning Gaza. Hoping that by playing to the press gallery and assorted great and good he would win support for his role. I was pleasantly surprised.

Throughout, his testimony Tony Blair showed that he was fully aware of the many pressures Israel’s leaders are under and the basic features which need to be present if a lasting peace deal is ever to be concluded. He was strong and resolute in what he believed and gave a vivid account of the situation and thoughtful vision of how both sides could work their way out of the current malaise.

On Israeli security he explained the need to ensure that any peace deal involve Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to security. He outlined the need to build up the Palestinians security capability to ensure that attacks against Israel could be prevented. Some members of the committee needed to be informed that no Israeli administration would sign a deal unless they could be sure that the Palestinian leadership they signed it with were willing and capable of ensuring peace between the two states. Blair stated that Israeli leaders should withdraw from the West Bank but we needed to ensure that if that occurred the militias would not merely move in as with Gaza.

Recognising the need to provide Palestinians with employment Blair revealed how the international aid promised could only be successful if there were peace. Hamas’s refusal to recognise Israel’s right to exist and the rockets attacks were noted as impediments to progress. Given their military grip on Gaza he noted that if Hamas wanted to stop the majority of attacks she could do so. Instead Mr Blair pointed out Hamas were acting hypocritically. They were using the humanitarian situation in Gaza to put pressure on Israel but then attacks were conducted on fuel shipments at the checkpoints. In the process 2 innocent Israeli civilians were murdered. These attacks meant Israel could not open the checkpoints and thereby allow in more humanitarian aid. His solution was for Hamas to call a ceasefire. Only then could progress be made.

Blair was asked if he was the man to perform the role of mediator in this conflict. Blair was accused of a pro Israel bias because of his unwillingness to attack Israel for her actions in Lebanon. There was also the little matter of his leading role in the Iraq war. How could the Arabs trust him? Here Blair showed the skill of a consummate political professional. A deal between Israel and Palestine had to involve Israel. In order to seal this deal Palestine needed someone trusted by Israel to conclude it. Thereby being seen as close to America and Israel was no sin to the Palestinian people because they needed just such a person to conclude for them the deal that would end the occupation. This is probably why no Palestinian leader had ever asked him this kind of question. The answer was pitched perfectly. Its delivery impeccable.

The membership of the committee is by no means favourable to Israel. Committee members Mr Stephen Crabb and Mr Marsha Singh asked intelligent insightful questions offering hope that objective analysis is not entirely absent from the proceedings. However, the opinion of the overwhelming majority of members appears to be that Hamas should be engaged in negotiations regardless of whether they cease attacks and recognise Israel’s right to exist. The Committee opposes the position of the Quartet that makes both these conditions necessary before Hamas can enter talks.

Some Committee members insisted on engaging in a fruitless debate as to whether promoting any economic development in the West Bank merely legitimised the occupation. However, Blair brought the debate back on track by rightly pointing out that most Palestinians were more concerned in getting a job than this kind of legalistic approach. Only by providing the Palestinians –many of which are under 25 – with work could a lasting peace be built. Announcing a plan to sponsor Palestinian mortgages Blair in a nice interplay with Marsha Singh informed him it was no longer his role to propose such things for Britain. At this point a broad grin emerged and you could sense Blair was enjoying himself.

As Anthony Blair stated a series of truisms unlikely to impress the NGOs and their spokesmen on the committee I developed a healthy respect for him. On virtually everything else we are in complete disagreement but on this issue Blair seems to get it. He seems comfortable in his role and optimistic as to the chances of achieving a lasting peace. I watched the testimony in a room dubbed the spill over room (the Boothroyd room). This was a powerful response to any delusions of grandeur politicos such as I may have i.e. being a non pass holder I could only view Blair’s performance on a tv screen. As I left I saw Oxfam guy shake his head. I think Blair did well today and we should all wish him well – in this role – in the future. Hopefully he will provide Oxfam with much to tut tut about in future.

Jun 2008 05

Londonprotest_2 Jacqui Smith believes jihadists are vulnerable sensitive individuals. Smith believes they need counselling, and that it should be provided by the state. That means you, the taxpayer, will pay for it. This is a continuation of the ‘Islamist as victim’ theme that the Government is prone to indulging. However we need not worry because the Government has proposed tough qualifying conditions that any recipient must meet before receiving this aid. The wannabe jihadist must prove that they fit the profile of someone who has been through hard times.

According to the government, any Muslim frustrated due to employment issues who simultaneously joins an extremist group can fit the profile. But what does employment issues mean? Not having a job or merely having a demeaning low paying job? This seems a little wide to me. My job is very enjoyable. However, given my inflated sense of my own abilities I feel I should be governing the known world by now. I am 26 and people are starting to ask questions. Somehow I don’t think it is right for the government to give me a get out of jail free card. Also the kind of counselling I would need would likely to be very expensive and there are probably more deserving cases. British soldiers returning home injured or psychologically scarred defending their country in Iraq and Afghanistan would seem an obvious example. Then again maybe instead of fighting jihadists in Afghanistan these vulnerable individuals also need counselling – Osama on the couch.

But hang on, the Government don’t mean to give everyone freedom to disobey the law. Apparently this licence only applies to Islamists. Islamists alone are to be given special dispensation to commit crimes without being charged. It appears vulnerability has its advantages. Islamists are to be given a licence to disobey British laws. A licence not extended to all citizens. This is being granted on religious/political grounds to a specific minority group. The Government is targeting those who have joined radical terrorist groups but who have not yet enacted the major offences they are planning. Presumably the Government is signalling its intention to not prosecute Islamist offenders for possessing extremist literature and materials. This u-turn comes after 8 years of Government laws to make possession and viewing of such items a crime.

The Government promises that if they have second thoughts they will not be prosecuted. Not prosecuting these offenders is not, in itself, a bad idea. It could have merit. We sometimes give ordinary criminals reduced sentences if they save the taxpayer the costs of proving them guilty by pleading guilty. In exceptional circumstances informants are given pardons for previous misdemeanours in exchange for information that leads to major arrests. However, each of these cases represents a government bribe designed to elicit tangible benefits from the bribed i.e. less costly court proceedings or help in achieving more and bigger arrests. If we are to pardon Islamists for current or past crimes what do we get in exchange? It appears that we get their attendance at expensive counselling session we pay for and their promise not to do it again. This is not enough.

The Government deems the crimes the Islamists have committed as still worthy of being prohibited. They are not proposing legalising such acts for all citizens. Thereby, if anyone is to be given a pardon for the commission of offences they should provide something tangible in return. This could be real actionable intelligence that leads to the conviction of other Islamists. Alternatively these ex Islamists could take a lead role in their communities combating Islamic extremism. An Islamic extremism they have spent years trying to nurture and are responsible for. Hassan Butt appears to be adopting this route at the moment, although the police – in a rare display of crime fighting initiative – have now decided to charge him for the crimes he committed while he was an Islamist. Presumably he refused to attend these counselling sessions.

What form will these counselling sessions take? One hopes they are not group sessions (“jihadist anonymous”). If they are, presumably everyone will get together and discuss the reasons why they were attracted to radical Islamism. Gathering together a series of possible jihadists in a room and getting them to discuss their grievances may not be the best route to convert them to moderation. It could actually reinforce their grievances as they realise how many others share such opinions. They might then meet up with their new associates independently – not for drinks obviously. So previously we had one guy who had read Milestones and felt a bit annoyed about the Iraq war, now there could be ten guys coordinating an attack. The Government will be bringing people together in a spirit of community, but not for the kind of aims we want to promote.

The report states that Islamism feeds off domestic inequalities and racism and that by reducing these inequalities we can undermine the Al-Qaida narrative. The report notes that the promotion of violent extremism “relies on encouraging a sense of victimhood” (p.6). However, it does not realise the government’s acceptance that these communities face racism and economic disadvantage unjustifiably adds credence to the narrative of extremist’s. Britain’s Muslim community enjoys more freedoms of association, speech and worship than their co-religionists enjoy in the regions in which they predominate. The economic situation of poor Muslim citizens is not dissimilar to poor white working class Britons and thereby they do not suffer a profound or distinct disadvantage. Indeed such communities are advantaged because the Government would not ever describe BNP activists as vulnerable and disadvantaged and in need of government grants. With far right extremism the government rightly recognises the views as abhorrent and the movement as something to be taken on and beaten not sponsored.

Jihadists are not victims. Islamists are not vulnerable. They are sane, logical individuals who happen to believe in an ideology which is profoundly evil. They are not subject to a condition from which they need to be cured. They are not planning suicide attacks or helping those who do because they need a hug and a chat. This announcement by the Government completely misreads the motivations and mentality of those we seek to target. It is borne of a Muslim as victim thesis the government’s politically correct mindset cannot admit is false. As my colleague Nicholas Connor has said, the £12.5 million should be spent on re-education classes for Jacqui Smith. Until she abandons her politically correct views on Islamism we, and not the Islamists, are vulnerable.

Jun 2008 05

Stephen Glover, writing for the Mail, laments the grip of inexperienced politicians on our public services:

"The irony is that the professional politician, fixated on power and on a limited but guaranteed financial reward, often turns out not to be a professional at all, but a bumbling amateur who struggles to remain on top of a brief. And that is why it is a certain bet that, with politicians like these, we will continue to read about one Government plan after another going wrong."

The solution isn’t to find politicians with different backgrounds but to avoid relying on them to deliver effective public services.  Instead, we should hand control back to civil society.

Jun 2008 04

The new, activist-run Worcester TaxPayers’ Alliance have made a splash with their very first story about Worcestershire County Council.

Bbc_hereford_worcester_3 The release, about how the county council increased their spending on staff by £44.6M between 1997 and 2007, was the number one headline on this morning’s BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester news bulletin and the Alliance’s Chris Whittington appeared on the breakfast show to put the taxpayers’ view across in the face of defensive and dismissive council opposition.

Chris said: “It’s above and beyond the rate of expansion in the private sector, council tax has doubled nationally in the last ten years and residents want to see the money spent on their frontline services. As stakeholders we’re completely justified in asking how our money is spent. Excessive growth in admin costs and middle management shouldn’t take priority over giving local people value for money.”

We also expect the story to be covered in the Worcester News, putting this local group on the map.

This is a fantastic start to this local campaign and all the activists have made a fantastic combined effort to build-up this momentum!

Worcestershire County Council representatives may well choose to scoff and give every excuse in the book as to why they can’t cut-back their expenditure, but they should bear in mind that they are scoffing at local taxpayers, that’s those who shell out money for services and salaries and – more importantly – vote.

The numbers of supporters in the Worcester area is increasing all the time, and with growing support let’s hope the Worcester TPA can continue to make a big impression and force local bodies to look again at their budgets to review where they can make savings in the interests of local residents.

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