The Curmudgeon


Monday, January 31, 2011

Subtle Distinctions

Another policy, another misunderstanding. The British electorate, which cannot grasp the fact that tripling tuition fees means people will pay less; whose trust in British politics has not been restored despite the Herculean moral effort involved in voting in favour of something one has pledged to oppose; which cannot understand why an NHS composed of GPs turned accountants on the say-so of Nestlé and Mars will be the healthiest thing to hit the body politic since the days of the Black Death; which has utterly failed to recognise the stroke of genius that is the privatisation of the nation's chlorophyll; the terminally slow-witted, police-horse baiting and ungrateful British electorate has now forced Theresa May to clarify her policy of moving beyond ASBOs. Like the Government's policy of doing away with control orders, the Government's policy of scrapping ASBOs consists mostly of changing the name. Additional measures include "encouraging communities to act together to deal with unruly behaviour", since cuts in policing levels will necessitate the use of properly controlled and officially sanctioned lynch mobs; and a "criminal behaviour order" which could mean that someone who is convicted of being drunk and disorderly might be banned from a town centre for two years, the ban no doubt being enforced via that infamous surveillance state which somebody or other promised to abolish. The police will get yet more discretion to deal with offenders in their own civil fashion, rather than having to rely on the old-fashioned, time-consuming and evidence-requiring institution of the courts. And yet the public still needs to be told how different it all is from New Labour.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Crispy Munchkins

(Serves 1-43)

2 litres fresh milk
1 dozen eggs
1 half-bucket finest non-stick flour
1 half-bucket sugar and/or salt
1 quarter-bucket baking powder
1 metric tonne best quality munchkins

Tie down munchkins and gag to prevent yellowbricking.

Place milk, flour and baking powder in large bucket and heat gradually but with determination, stirring vindictively. When mixture is bubbling and turning the colour of a celebrity on a desert island, add baking powder and sugar and/or salt to taste.

Carefully untie munchkins and murder according to disposition. Remove eyeballs, bones and medical appliances. For maximum safety it is recommended that this procedure be carried out on one munchkin at a time.

Remove gags last of all and hurl munchkins into bucket. Exchange stirring implement for chopping implement and dismember with sufficient vigour to ensure that all munchkins and (provided you won't be cleaning up) much of the kitchen are thickly coated in mixture. Turn heat up high and club remnants into submission.

When munchkins are thoroughly battered, empty bucket onto large plate or in family trough and serve with green salad and/or custard.

© Wicked West Inc.™ Not in Kansas any more.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Smith Reloaded

It appears that, despite the discipline-and-punish frenzy that was New Labour, the law is still insufficiently harsh to prevent certain criminals from cashing in on their ill-gotten fame. The national disaster area formerly known as Agent Smith, who was so careful with the taxpayers' money that her husband managed to sneak the bill for a couple of porn films onto her claim for parliamentary television-watching expenses, is making a radio documentary about the industry (the pornography industry, not the benefits-claiming one). After it airs, Agent Smith will be taking calls from the public, presumably in the hope of being mistaken for a celebrity.

Agent Smith's other great achievement in office, aside from such routine items as ID cards and detention without trial, was to provoke the ire of the American foam factory Michael Savage, who threatened her with a lawsuit for defamation when she included him on a list of nasty people "seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence". Unfortunately, very little has been heard of this since Agent Smith left office, almost entirely of her own volition, in 2009. If the documentary helps to revive memories of her remarkable comic talent, without the near-crippling disadvantage of having her as Home Secretary, then perhaps just this once we may forgive the moral turpitude involved in a petty crook using their record as a means of self-publicity.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Law and Orde

The president of the Association of Chief Police Officers has warned that protesters may force police to adopt more extreme tactics than mass detention without charge, cavalry attacks against unarmed people, or dragging the disabled out of their wheelchairs. Sir Hugh Orde, who seems to have got his name from a Gothic villain and his brain from a Victorian martinet, proclaimed that kettling was, apparently by definition, done "for the greater good", and that cavalry charges against the unarmed are a "very useful, effective tactic". He ruminated upon a perceptual disorder of certain confined and beaten persons which means that the police are, cruelly, seen as "the physical manifestation of the state"; and he observed with regret that the propensity to violence of such deluded delinquents could increase "the moment the people in a crowd think that we are the state enforcing a certain specific law", rather than just the honest British bobby who would much rather be off clearing the Murdoch name of hackery charges. Orde also appears to have tried to drag British policing into the twenty-first century by conflating demonstrations organised via Twitter and Facebook with "cyber crime", and to have single-handedly re-written the statutes on trespassing and breach of the peace to include people who "walk into Boots and do nothing".

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Grand Alliance

Daveybloke's cuddly coalition of thugs and cranks in Europe looks set for yet another bit of bother. Michal Kaminski, who was made chair of the European Conservative Reformist Fans of the Latvian Waffen-SS as compensation after one of Daveybloke's own minions ran against him for the vice-presidency of the European parliament, has thrown another hissy-fit and resigned from the booby prize. If he can get three others to defect along with him, Daveybloke's cuddly coalition in Europe could be left with as much parliamentary significance as the British National Party.

Indeed, Kaminski is a right-wing charmer of Griffinian stature: he gave an interview to a far-right journal and lied about it later, criticised the Polish president's apology for a wartime massacre of Jews by Polish collaborators, and has expressed views on homosexuality that would make Chris Graybeing or Richard Drax proud to share a bed-and-breakfast with him. Apparently this is why Daveybloke and his Minister for Wogs, Frogs and Huns, Willem den Haag, consider Kaminski a more acceptable face of the foreign-born right wing than Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy or even Silvio Berlusconi.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stormy Weather

As one would expect in the present era of new politics and responsible government, a minority in Daveybloke's Cuddly Cabinet are starting to wonder whether it might be advisable to have some sort of contingency plan should persistent bad weather lead to further delays in the private sector's glorious rescue of the economy. Strategy, it appears, is not something the Fairly Frightfully Dim Party much cares for, preferring instead to plunder public assets, throw money at rich wastrels and punish the poor, or "get out of the way of the private sector" as Britain's leading liberal newspaper hath it. A few ministers have even noticed that the private sector's eagerness to leap into the breach that the Government is so considerately widening has not displayed quite the foaming fervour that was hoped for, and some are even suggesting that the Government should postpone some of the destruction until the last two years of the parliament, presumably on the grounds that, thanks to the greenest government in history, the weather will have warmed up so much by then that nobody will notice.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Transient Discomfort

Cultures stifle. Museums grow staid.
Pundits trifle. Memories fade.
Computers are toys. Volumes rot.
Digits are noise. What was, is not.

with thanks to Giovanni and apologies to Dorothy Parker

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dubious Functions

The Centre for Social Justice, a right-wing think-cistern whose name is apparently what serves Iain Duncan Smith for a sense of humour, is wrinkling its forehead over the Government's destruction of the public sector. The Centre's latest report suggests that the civil service has no incentive to be efficient, only to cut spending (gosh!), that ministers tend to be more interested in making good headlines than in any effect their policies might have (golly!) and that Daveybloke's Cuddly Coalition may not be planning its cuts programme in quite the proper way to minimise inconvenience for the little people (golly gosh with knobs on!). As if all that were not good for sniggers enough in Daveybloke's Cuddly Cabinet, the report defines this culture as a "dysfunction"; which raises serious questions about the sort of judgement being practised at the Centre for Social Justice. There are plenty of people who no longer know the purpose of the Liberal Democrats' existence, and it is perfectly possible that Duncan Smith is stupid enough to imagine that his party is there to get Britain working and feed the proles; but for a think-thingy with a Conservative minister as its patron to have so little idea of what the Conservatives are for is a little too much even for the Not Particularly Bright Party.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Healthy Wholesomeness

The Government's attempts to achieve a balance between mere scientists and people who agree with it have resulted in a slightly embarrassing appointment to the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs. Dr Hans-Christian Raabe is medical co-ordinator of the superbly-named Council for Health and Wholeness, a Christian organisation on whose behalf he has turned out briefing documents in the usual healthy, wholesome Christian style. "Marriage is associated with greater happiness, less depression, less alcohol abuse and less smoking", while "the homosexual lifestyle" leads to disease, drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, suicide, paedophilia and "the movement to make paedophilia acceptable". Remarkably enough, according to the CHW, studies have shown that all these risks, except possibly those associated with paedophilia, can be significantly reduced by "religious commitment, religious involvement or being part of a religious community".

Opiates of the people excepted, Raabe has similarly trenchant views on drugs: "A person who uses cannabis by age 15 has more than a four-fold increased risk of developing schizophrenia symptoms over the next 11 years compared with a person starting to use cannabis by 18". Fortunately, despite the overwhelming evidence of a connection between the horrors of homosexuality and the depravities of drug use, Raabe does not intend to allow his principles to influence his position: "what views I may or may not have on homosexuality are irrelevant".

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Robust Morality

The sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak and his minions have been lecturing Italian officialdom. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the pope's grandissimo pompompolorissimo della teocrazia, said two days ago that public figures outside the church should be "committed to a more robust morality, a sense of justice and lawfulness"; and the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak himself has followed up by telling policemen to "rediscover their spiritual and moral roots", as under Mussolini, presumably. In certain uncharitable quarters, these remarks are being interpreted as referring to the Vicar of Downing Street's second best chum Silvio Berlusconi, who is under investigation for having sex with a juvenile prostitute and then abusing his office to cover it up. Aside from the regrettable fact that the alleged sex was with a teenage female and was so consensual as to have been actually paid for, it hardly seems likely that the Pontiff of Paedophilia would object to this; particularly given Berlusconi's resolutely ethical stance on tax breaks for the Vatican.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Political News in Brief

Alas for the Johnson that falls
When the personal thingummy calls;
For the pipsqueak in charge
Must now place at large
His rampant and rising big Balls.

With brio and bruising and bash,
The Chancellor's in for a smash.
With blink and with smirk,
And sundry foul work,
The two tubby titans will clash.

Will the Bollocks do right by the nation
And stay in his junior station,
Or backstab like Brown
So his leader goes down
With a messy great ejaculation?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Horror as Limited Humanity Granted to Some Offenders

Conservatives are party of law and order up to a point

New Labour's former minister of dawn raids and deportations has teamed up with a hang-'em-and-flog-'em Conservative backbencher to support the Government in its crusade for the rule of law.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Britain's refusal to allow prisoners to vote is illegal, but the Conservative Party has ruled that Jack Straw, David Davis and the 1922 Committee know better.

The Government will attempt to compromise between what is legal and what its Daily Mail subscribers find acceptable by permitting only those prisoners serving one year or less to have human rights.

Previously, the intention had been to grant human rights to those serving less than four years, but this would have included violent criminals and more than a few wogs.

Some Conservatives see the issue as one of principle: that the executive should be able to use the legislature as a means of overruling the courts whenever it should prove expedient.

The Secretary of Justice and Big Tobacco, Ken Clarke, said that it was not the European Convention but the current fashion for judicial review that was eroding Britain's precious tradition of letting ministers do as they like.

According to ministers, more than 2500 prisoners are likely to seek compensation through the courts. The Government will fight these actions, using the taxpayers' money that is in such abundant supply these days.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Equally To Blame

That famous national disaster, the mouth of local impoverishment secretary Eric "Slimline" Pickles, has belched forth more wisdom about the state of the nation. "Local government is a massive part of public expenditure," Pickles observed. "It has lived for years on unsustained growth, unsustainable public finance. People blame the bankers [for the country's economic woes] but I think big government is just as much to blame as the big banks." So all this time we've been mistaken, nay deluded: at least half of the Glorious Successor's quantitative easing was aimed at local government - keeping inefficient hospitals open, forcing unprofitable buses to keep moving, shoring up extravagant libraries, and all those other horrible things. Well, this puts a whole different layer of flab on the matter. This explains why, in Pickles' opinion, "there are too many chiefs, a whole layer of management that needs to go" from local government, as has already happened in the banking sector thanks to the austerity measures imposed on those establishments which are now the taxpayers' property. It does, though, rather leave the question open as to why, if local government and big banks are equally to blame, local authorities are being let off with the worst level of cuts in decades while Daveybloke's chums in the City have to suffer traumatic levels of respectful request.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fury at PFI Horror Report

They're all the bloody same, parliamentary committee concludes

The Prime Minister's claim to be the new Tony Blair was resoundingly confirmed today in a parliamentary report on the New Labour book-keeping trick PFI.

The Private Finance Initiative was conceived as a means of throwing taxpayers' money at profit-making businesses in return for the businesses making a profit.

Anything left over from the profiteering could then be lent back to the public sector in return for more taxpayers' money which would augment the profitability of the profit-making businesses.

New Labour and its successor, New New Labour, often gave administrators no choice other than PFI even when state funding would have been cheaper, the public accounts committee reports.

A spokesbeing for the Conservative Party said: "This shows that New Labour and New New Labour were at least as ideologically hidebound as the Conservatives.

"Except when using it as an excuse for privatising public assets, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were just as uninterested in driving down costs as David Cameron and George Osborne.

"That is why we opposed them so vigorously in opposition, and that is why we shall continue to oppose them vigorously now that their programme has been rejected by the electorate."

Monday, January 17, 2011

I've Lost My Child, Can I Gamble With Yours?

Daveybloke, the Cuddly Conservative, will be waving his dead child around yet again today in order to try and justify Andrew Lansley's twizzlerisation of the NHS. "I don't want anyone to doubt how important this is to me," Daveybloke will burble, because nothing makes an ideological gamble with the nation's health go better than the knowledge that the bloke at the top is all dewy-eyed about it. "The doctors who cared for my eldest son, the maternity nurses who welcomed my youngest daughter into the world, the teachers who are currently inspiring my children, all of them have touched my life, and the life of my family, in an extraordinary way, and I want to do right by them," Daveybloke will burble, because patently the doctors would have done much better had they but had the opportunity to moonlight as accountants, the maternity nurses would have touched his life even more extraordinarily had they been on harsher schedules with fewer rights, and the teachers' inspiration of his children would be yet more inspired if the school were being run by a consortium of Macdonald's, Rupert Murdoch, the Vatican Bank and a few neighbourhood meddlers. "Of course, these changes have to be carefully worked through," Daveybloke will burble; this is, mirabile dictu, "exactly what we have done through our years of preparation in opposition", which explains why the voters before the election heard so much about the chaos to be unleashed, instead of a lot of guff about the NHS being safe in somebody's hands and frontline services being unaffected. "These reforms aren't about theory or ideology, they are about people's lives," Daveybloke will burble, apparently under the impression that whatever affects people's lives cannot be theoretical or ideological, and that those who have spent their entire adult existence in restaurant demolition societies and political sinecures know something about how the little people live. "When we're done with these cuts, spending on public services will actually still be at the same level as it was in 2006. We will still be spending 41% of our GDP on the public sector," Daveybloke will burble, doubtless only moments before he makes clear exactly what percentage of that percentage will be spent on doctors, nurses and teachers.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Restoring a Sense of Decency

Another inspiring example has emerged of how Daveybloke's Cuddly Coalition is dealing with what used to be a moral outrage when somebody else was doing it. A Jamaican woman who went on hunger strike over her detention without charge at Yarl's Wood has been detained without charge in Holloway prison instead. She is considered a troublemaker, apparently because New New Labour deported her brother who was subsequently murdered by gangs, and she wishes to remain in the United Kingdom on the transparently benefit-cadging grounds that her son's welfare would be affected if she too were disposed of in the accepted manner. Daveybloke's Cuddly Coalition has responded by ensuring that her son's welfare is affected by forcibly separating him from his mother. She also claims that she was beaten up by staff at Yarl's Wood, but the embarrassment is minimal as nobody seems to have caught them on video. Nick Clegg, though almost certainly bursting to comment on the moral aspects of the matter, evidently could not be reached.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Swine, Flu

The Turkey Twizzler salesman in charge of the NHS has given a bizarre response to an inquiry by his Labour shadow about the number of expectant mothers who have received seasonal flu vaccinations. Andrew Lansley, whose public health credentials include being an excess expense in the civil service and an office boy to Norman Tebbit, said that less than thirty per cent of pregnant women have received the injection, possibly because the remainder share the two main parties' mistrust of mere science. Lansley came over all coy about the number of pregnant women who have died of the flu this winter, saying only that the figure is "between one and four". He refused to be more specific than that "in order to safeguard the confidentiality of the patients concerned", since patient confidentiality is invariably ruptured when one resorts to integers. Lansley also defended the decision not to mount a national advertising campaign on the grounds that it "would have wastefully focused on the entire population when only at-risk groups are being invited for vaccination", and in these austere times nobody wants to risk wasting the advertising budget on the eyeballs of the non-pregnant. However, by virtue of his access to an alternate universe in which a campaign did take place, Lansley was able to proclaim that "the lack of an advertising campaign this year has had no discernible impact on uptake of flu vaccine".

Friday, January 14, 2011

Eat This

The Government's attempt to whip the nation's flabby juvenile resources into the soldiers, stockbrokers and shelf-stackers of tomorrow has come in for some uncharitable criticism by a children's health group. The Department of Health, which takes advice from the likes of Kellogg's and Nestlé, has been promoting a campaign called Change4Life, whose New Labour roots are evident in its gosh-trendy use of a digit for a word. Supposedly an attempt to incentivise healthy eating, in order that children may grow up to be as fit and self-sufficient as any expenses claimant, the campaign is actually an advertising stunt for the likes of Kellogg's and Nestlé, designed to publicise brand-name junk food while bigger savings and better diet would result from buying something in a less glamorous wrapper. Nevertheless, the Children's Food Campaign has denounced the initiative as "insulting". Evidently, like so many of Britain's charitable resources, the Children's Food Campaign has a long way to go before it truly appreciates what Daveybloke's Big Society thingy is really all about.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Maligned Heroes

The deputy Deputy Prime Minister, Simon Hughes, has responded to the Liberal Democrats' difficulties over tuition fees in true New Labour fashion, with a sincere mea culpa for bad advertising and for failing to couch the betrayal in words of one syllable. Apparently the tuition fee rise is not a rise at all, but a positive gift: "from the beginning, everybody would be paying less and huge numbers of people would be paying nothing, whereas now they are paying something". However, the public, particularly the university-going public, were simply too stupid to understand this: "We were trying to be more sophisticated and too cerebral and not upfront enough". It seems that this sort of thing is the deputy Deputy Prime Minister's idea of how best to win over the voters of Oldham East and Saddleworth. It is certainly a great pity that the Liberal Democrats don't have the electorate they deserve.

Meanwhile, the New Labour cockroach Phil Woolas, whose election-night win in the constituency was overturned because he lied about something other than a policy pledge, has been setting the record straight: "people in the constituency did not like two judges coming up from London and telling them who to vote for. What happened to me will work in Labour's favour". Being dragged kicking and screaming out of Parliament was all part of Phil Woolas' cunning plan to help his party. Gives me a lump, it does.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

There's a Difference Between Sameness and Surrender

Daveybloke's orange muffler, whose word is his bond, has been given permission to assert that he is still the leader of a separate party to Daveybloke, actually. Both Daveybloke and his orange muffler are acutely aware of this fact, which is one more advantage they both have over the rest of us. It would, of course, be uncharitable in the last degree to suggest that Clegg's lurch into pseudo-autonomy is merely a public-relations exercise for the benefit of voters in tomorrow's by-election. Clegg regards the punishment of the poorest and most vulnerable for the derelictions of Daveybloke's chums in the City, and the Liberal Democrat policy of pledging to oppose something and then voting in favour of it, as sacrifices made by the Liberal Democrats, actually: "We are doing a lot of heavy lifting", he said. But that doesn't mean that people shouldn't be reminded now and then that the Liberal Democrats are conniving at the attacks on the poor and vulnerable, and breaking their own election pledges, purely as a matter of expediency, because the Liberal Democrats are, after all, and "will be and always will be", a separate independent party with a separate identity, led by a completely different bland mid-forties privately-schooled white male millionaire, actually.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Austerity Measures

Here is how Daveybloke and his Cuddly Coalition are going to ensure that those who caused the present economic crisis pay their fair share of the debt: they aren't. The Government has politely requested Daveybloke's City chums to pay whatever bonuses they wish, but to exercise "some restraint and some responsibility" in doing so, insofar as such exercise is not incompatible with whatever extravagances and irresponsibilities Daveybloke's City chums may feel entitled, in conscience, to commit. The Government has decided not to tax bonuses any more because bankers would "become more skilled at avoiding the tax", although it is not yet clear whether the Government intends abolishing all our other laws on the grounds that they only serve to make cleverer criminals.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Reassuring Sign of Continuity

Both Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace have expressed concern about a certain aspect of the Government's New Labour policy of privatising the Royal Mail. Of course, there are worries about whether the service will improve in the same way as those services which are occasionally provided by privatised railways and privatised utilities; of course, there are worries about pay, pensions and redundancies; of course, there are worries that the whole thing will turn out to be just another PFI profiteering scam. Fortunately, all these worries are merely the concern of Royal Mail employees and the public. The Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace are much more worried about a matter of genuine national significance; namely, whether the image of a Mrs Elizabeth Windsor of London SW1A, who resides in luxury accommodation at the taxpayers' expense, will remain on the stamps. Ed Davey, the "postal affairs minister" whose Milibloke monicker and smirkogenic job title point up his status as a tuition-fee-debased Liberal Democrat, has reassured all concerned that it will. We can all sleep easy in our beds: the relevant legislation has been amended to prevent whoever buys the Royal Mail from depriving the stamps of their revered eidolon. Ed Davey, who is doubtless, in accordance with the New Politics, assured of a directorship or so in whatever gang of philanthropic efficientisers takes over, said that the amendment is "really a failsafe and I would be astounded if the power ever needs to be used", since the image is "a very valuable and prestigious tradition", and thus will constitute a very valuable and polite façade behind which to carry out the necessary, inevitable, non-ideological and profitable vandalism.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Blinking in the Sudden Dimness of the World

The admirably zetetic BenSix has posted a thoughtful review of my short novel Terminals, a lightly science-fictionalised satire on the reaction to 9/11 and George W Bush's Great Game in Afghanistan. It was also an effort at greater formal discipline after the extravagance of Beelzebub, which I more or less made up as I went along and which nearly killed me in the process. Terminals has been bought, let alone reviewed, even less than the remainder of my oeuvre; which makes it all the more pleasing to read that it may have virtues other than the topical.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Horror at Fury Shortage

Taxpayers' Alliance silent as minor embezzler begins luxury cruise

One of the House of Commons' pettier criminals has begun an eighteen-month sentence with access to free television.

The bile ducts of anonymous penologists from the Taxpayers' Alliance audibly failed to explode as expenses cheater David Chaytor sampled the luxury of life in Wandsworth Prison.

Chaytor "will be strip-searched, photographed, fingerprinted, showered, placed on a bodily orifice scanner", despite the risk that, as a Member of Parliament, he may derive some perverse gratification from the process.

He will also be allowed an hour a day for "exercise", besides receiving toothpaste, soap and shampoo at the taxpayer's expense.

Anonymous experts have so far failed to condemn these procedures as constituting needless mollycoddlying in an age of austerity when a simple hosing down with cold water would be both cheaper and a more effective deterrent.

Medical staff will ask Chaytor if he has a drink or drug problem, and will be compelled to believe his answers thanks to the continuing lack of a proper database state.

The editor of the prisoners' newspaper even recommended that Chaytor keep a diary in order to profit from his party's long record of being soft on crime.

Despite his crimes against autobiography, Tony Blair is still at large.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Accountable Inexpensitivitability, Inexpensive Accountabilitisation

The Minister for Quango-Culling, Francis Maude, has registered irritation at a parliamentary committee's finding that the Government's abolition of two hundred agencies has failed to achieve its two main aims, namely "to improve accountability and reduce spending". Maude extruded a spokesbeing to say that the committee was labouring under a fundamental misunderstanding, which is no doubt perfectly true if the committee actually believes that the Government has much interest in improving accountability or reducing spending, except as a gossamer excuse for merrily clubbing public agencies into oblivion. The Cabinet Secretary, Gussie O'Donnell (that renowned enemy of corruption who thinks Rupert Murdoch's pet Jeremy C Hunt should decide whether Rupert Murdoch should be allowed to own an even bigger chunk of Britain's communications media), was so well briefed about the matter that he was unable to give an estimate of how much the slaughter would save, even after he was given time to go and ask George the Progressively Regressive for a clue. As if this were not indication enough of the importance the Government attaches to openness and efficiency, the committee also found it necessary to note that departmental business plans can "only be useful tools to help the public hold the government to account if the information contained in them is accurate"; which is all the explanation anyone should need for why the information isn't.

As a proud and upstanding member of the cabinet whose ardour in imposing policies for which nobody voted is barely exceeded even by the heat from Clegg's Bonfire of the Pledges, and only a week or two after Daveybloke himself showed his own respect for the public's misgivings by threatening to abolish the expenses watchdog, Maude responded to the committee's findings by wagging his finger at the "meddling and expense created by unaccountable bureaucrats".

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Drill Spill Horror Report Fury

Companies call for government regulation to be tightened in wake of White House commissioner's heresy

The Deepwater Horizon public relations disaster was an avoidable blow-out caused in part by inadequate regulation, the three companies involved have concluded.

A report by the White House oil commission blamed systemic failure, industrial complacency and cost-cutting

In the course of a communistic rant in favour of more government control over business, the commission's co-chairman criticised the companies for not being "guided by an unrelenting commitment to safety first".

However, one of the companies is Halliburton, whose commitment to the safety of the people of Iraq is a matter of extensive public record.

Another is Transocean, which kept the dangers of deep-water drilling secret from its workers but has now tried to compensate by showing a zealous commitment to the safety of its Board of Directors and blaming BP and the federal government.

All three companies agreed that the White House commission report constituted prima facie evidence of the need for government to be more closely regulated by the oil industry.

BP said that it was working with its representatives in the government to ensure that the experience in the Gulf of Mexico led to improved practices where laying blame for future disasters was concerned.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Blessing of Pan

The main theme of Lord Dunsany's 1928 novel The Blessing of Pan is a conflict between Christianity and paganism - a theme also explored in the author's 1933 masterpiece The Curse of the Wise Woman. In the later book, the character most affected by the conflict is the Irish peasant Marlin, who worries that his involuntary longings for the pagan paradise will get him blackballed from the Christian Heaven. In The Blessing of Pan, the population of an entire English village is seduced away from the Christian church by the hypnotic piping of a pudding-faced seventeen-year-old, and the conflict takes place mainly in the mind and heart of the Reverend Elderick Anwrel, the mild-mannered village parson.

Aside from a handful of chapters depicting the villagers' surrender to the pipes - first the girls, then the young men, then almost everybody else - the story is told entirely from Anwrel's point of view. Although, as in The Curse of the Wise Woman, Dunsany is clearly on the side of the pagans (at least when choosing between them and the Christians), his depiction of Anwrel is touching and sympathetic: the vicar is neither a fool nor a bigot, but a gentle and honest man whose agony over what is happening to his flock gives the book an emotional power which the scenes of pagan liberation, effective and joyous as they are, would probably not have attained on their own.

Anwrel is first seen writing to his bishop asking what he should do about the effect of the pipes' music on the village; at this point he has little concrete evidence on which to base his suspicions, and the bishop simply tells him to take a bit of a holiday. Later, when Anwrel sees the bishop in person, the great man takes a moment from his busy schedule - something to do with making the National Anthem more anodyne - for a friendly chat about hobbies. The bishop's assistant advises Anwrel to stem the tide of heresy by getting the village boys interested in cricket; as does the locum vicar who takes over during Anwrel's break, a Greek scholar who is as deaf to the call of the spirit as he is to the music from the pipes.

It is not entirely clear why Pan, king of the Arcadian slopes, should have chosen this particular village for his recrudescence. Dunsany tackles the question at one point with a disquisition on the disappearance of the English countryside - the march of industrial civilisation has left very few such villages in existence, he avers, so this one was as likely as any other. There are hints that Anwrel's predecessor, the Reverend Arthur Davidson, was some sort of avatar of Pan, but Anwrel is not a very determined investigator and not much is made of them. If these are flaws in the book, they are small ones; on the positive side, The Blessing of Pan has all the Dunsanian virtues of limpid prose, compact story-telling, and apt but unobtrusive symbolism; and the satiric portrayal of a toothless, complacent, inward-looking Anglican church, much concerned with trivial worldly matters and utterly inadequate for a fight, has obvious resonance still.

When, after much indecision, Anwrel eventually uses his pulpit to try and lead the villagers back to their old faith, he realises even as he speaks that his appeals to tradition are double-edged. If the Church is ancient, even older are the sacrificial stones on the hill where the villagers are lured by the pipes. Even the local saint seems to have lost her powers of healing, and Anwrel discovers that, thanks to his hobby of collecting eolithic flints, he himself is irrevocably tied to the pre-Christian past. In the end, it is not the church that helps Anwrel, but a self-proclaimed seeker after "illusions" - a nihilistic touch that recalls the philosophical pessimism of Dunsany's early fantasy tales.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Fury at Benefit Horror

Cost of upkeep for half a million malingerers could have been saved, figures show

The vigilance of the Department for Work and Pensions Denial could have saved the taxpayer the cost of supporting more than half a million malingerers, according to research by a researcher.

The Department's own statistics show that 300,000 claimants were initially denied incapacity benefit but were then awarded it on appeal, and a further 200,000 were refused it but ended up back on it.

"Economic crisis encourages a search for scapegoats among the poor and dispossessed. A punitive welfare system is a consequence," said a Labour backbencher, who appeared to consider this a Bad Thing.

"Labour has to change the terms of debate on welfare in this country," he continued, "or we will inexorably head down a dangerous path toward hate politics and social conflict."

The Labour party, in which Phil Woolas once attained considerable prominence, is well known for its aversion to hate politics and social conflict, especially as regards refugees, Muslims and other criminals.

The Government did not comment on the research, but its solution is believed to involve subjecting benefit malingerers to medical tests which take less account of mental illnesses and long-term disabilities.

In this way the coalition hopes to break the iron grip of health and safety which has held the country in its iron grip since 1948.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Purple Rage

Writing in that notable paragon of analytical rigour and cool reason, the Mail on Sunday, the secretary of the 1922 Committee has been foaming about Red fundamentalists who are straining every sinew to supplant the heart and soul of the Conservative party with the Frankenstein horrors of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat merger - a course of action which would, it appears, lead with paralysing inevitability to confusion in the ranks and thence to the apocalyptic horrors of Socialism. The secretary of the 1922 Committee calls upon Daveybloke to squash the plotters, burn the traitors, hunt out and utterly destroy any idea of some sort of back-handed marriage with whatever bruised orange rump may be left around Nick Clegg in five years' time.

Leaving in charitable abeyance the question of whether a party that contains George Osborne and John Redwood can legitimately claim to have a heart or a soul, at first glance it is difficult to see what the fuss is about. The coalition has provided both its members with what would - in a country where the general public had the intelligence of the 1922 Committee - be a moderately convincing excuse for tearing up their manifestos and imposing economic and social measures which few people other than the smirking schoolboys in Downing Street and their chums in the City consider necessary, or even sane. As a result, the next five years will very likely see the de facto demise of several things the Conservatives hate: the National Heath Service, the BBC and any remaining restraints on corporations, landlords and Rupert Murdoch, for a start.

However, the 1922 Committee is made up of backbenchers from the Not Terribly Brainy Party. The Liberal Democrats are providing a pretext for the Conservative Party to do just about everything it has dreamed of doing, in whatever it uses for a heart and soul, during the past eighteen years; but the Conservatives are the party that believed Maastricht was the new Munich, that thought Iain Duncan Smith was the stuff of statesmanship, that still employs ministerial staff who complain that the cowed and grovelling BBC is a hotbed of left-wing subversion. No wonder the prospect of added confusion has caused the 1922 Committee to get their knickers in a twist.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Cold and Dying? Just Fill Out This Form

Britain's six largest energy profiteers will be giving rebates for certain deserving sufferers of fuel poverty. Elderly people with pension credits will receive this bounty automatically; but others will have to apply for it. Among those who will need to apply are families with young children, disabled people and the terminally ill; doubtless the bureaucracy will work at sufficient pace to ensure that members of the latter group are kept waiting long enough to prevent the energy companies being burdened overmuch with their importunities. It is to be hoped that the application process will also be sufficiently rigorous to weed out the single mothers, the non-permanent wheelchair users, the smokers and any others whose condition could be interpreted by the Daily Mail as being all their own fault. As regards economic utility, the timing of the rebate certainly gives grounds for optimism: it will start in April, as soon as the cold weather is out of the way.

Saturday, January 01, 2011


Come in, Latest Year; come ahead.
We acknowledge with loathing and dread
That we must see you through -
With this comfort, it's true:
In a twelvemonth, no more, you'll be dead.