Archive for the ‘Blair’ Category

While we’re back on the Murdoch trail, readers have probably seen this story, in which the police have taken steps to keep Rebekah Brooks’ personal assistant from fleeing the country. And of course this bit:

Ms Carter was also a beauty editor for The Sun and is a partner in a cosmetics business with former model and celebrity make-up artist Sue Moxley, and has also offered beauty tips on the website Thinkingslimmer.com.

That’s putting it mildly – the website mostly exists to sell something called a “Slimpod” described as follows:

A Slimpod is a 10-minute recording of the voice of Trevor Silvester, creator of a technique known as WordWeaving which uses language in a special way to gently retune your unconscious mind to think differently about food and exercise and the way you feel about yourself. For many people it is having a remarkable effect on their eating habits and their confidence and self-esteem.

Why is the unconscious mind important? Because it is responsible for most of what you do and feel every day. Listening to a Slimpod works like a guidance mechanism, retuning your unconscious mind to change your habits….It’s a bit like retuning a TV so that it no longer picks up the fat channel because it’s tuned to “slim” TV.

A lot of money has been spent on discovering how to influence our unconscious – mainly by advertisers wanting you to buy things. Now Thinking Slimmer’s experts have taken their specialist knowledge of the science of unconscious persuasion and are using it for your benefit.

Rated by the Sun as a Top Weight Loss Trend for 2012, apparently. Fuck the unconscious, it’s the cross-promotion that does it, to say nothing of the ferocious devotion to looking after your pals.

Thinkingslimmer.com’s WHOIS record lists one Sandra Roycroft-Davis as its administrative contact, who is none other than Chris Roycroft-Davis’s wife. Chris Roycroft-Davis? Who he? The former executive editor of the Sun, seen excelling in the aspirational job dismissal industry here, who also acted as its chief leader writer (‘cos words of one syllabub take the cake) and David Cameron’s speech writer, as well as being an editor of the Daily Diana Tits and a contributor to The Times‘s Thunderer column, and playing some part in the launch of Sky TV.

He’s now available for media training, consultancies, and as an after-dinner speaker. No word on weddings or barmitzvahs, but if you’re really unlucky he might be on the same bill as Smash It! That’s if he’s not editing his own wikipedia article. Someone who only ever edits his page, in a favourable sense, and uses the word “insuperior” to boot is still at it.

Chris, having been sued by the queen at least 3 times, being one of the co-owners of sky and being on first name terms with several prime ministers, has now settled down in Pinner with his family. Perhaps most notably his son, James, a notorious womanizer, much like his father, who prides himself to be a saracens-level rugby player who’s rugby skill, until fairly recently, was insuperior to that of his 9 year old brother.

Meanwhile, who is this Silvester character? He turns out to be a former Metropolitan policeman according to his website.

We were Police Officers for many years before finding a fascinating new way of helping people. While trainers at the Metropolitan Police Training School in Hendon, we pioneered the use of NLP and hypnosis in a unit dedicated to improving the performance of students who were failing their training. Over a three year period we developed a learning system based on NLP principles that could guarantee an improvement of 10-30% with only two and a half hours of coaching. Simultaneously I (Trevor) was establishing a hypnotherapy clinic that I ran in the evenings and weekends – a busy three years!

Scroll down to the dog, it’s worth it in a vomity sort of way. And what is it with News International and moonlighting coppers? Anyway, apparently Carole Caplin’s phone was tapped, but in the light of all this one can only conclude they were after some kind of trade secret in the crystals-and-guff game, perhaps the patent formula for Peter Foster’s famous slimming tea. That’s cheap snark, of course, but it is telling that the Blair-Caplin-Foster pattern was closely mirrored among News International types.

End note: The company, Thinkingslimmer Ltd., changed its name from Jenstar UK Ltd in 2010. The trademarks are registered to this company, but Sandra Roycroft-Davis’s Linkedin profile describes it as a “celebrity management” company.

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I know, but I don’t know.

I am reliably informed that an individual who was a member of Tony Blair’s 10 Downing Street staff, and then one of the Tony Blair foundations (I’m not sure which one – the Faith, or the Sports, or just the Tony Blair Associates commercial version?), is now a scriptwriter for Simon Cowell on the American version of the X Factor. John someone, apparently.

Thinking about the political castration of Ken Clarke and the fact that not even the Treasury in its most R.G. Hawtrey-esque mood seems to be able to stop the expansion of the prison industry, it struck me that the political class’s attitude towards the public service known as justice is fundamentally different to its attitude to all the others, including defence and policing.

Since the mid-1980s and the rise of the New Public Management – possibly an even more pernicious intellectual phenomenon than New Classical economics – it’s been a universal establishment consensus, shared by all parties, that any public service can be improved by giving bits of it a pseudo-budget to spend in a pseudo-market. Playing at shops is the defining pattern language of post-80s public administration. (This chap wrote at the time that the whole thing was remarkably like the 1960s Kosygin reforms in the Soviet Union, and perhaps we can induce him to post it up on his blog!)

For example, the 1990s Tory government wanted “fundholder” GPs to buy hospital services in an NHS internal market. Now they want to do something similar again, but more, faster, and worse. All sorts of local government services were put through a similar process. Central government agencies were ordered to bill each other for services vital to their operations. The Ministry of Defence was ordered to pay the Treasury 6% a year of the value of all its capital assets, such as the Army’s tank park, reserve stocks of ammunition, uniforms, etc. As a result, the MOD sold as many vehicles as possible and had to buy them back expensively through Urgent Operational Requirements when they had to fight a war. Supposedly, some vehicles were sold off after Kosovo, re-bought for Afghanistan in 2001, sold again, re-bought for Iraq in 2003, sold again, and UORd in a panic in 2006.

(Off topic, if you’re either a reporter hunting a story or a dealer in secondhand military vehicles, watch closely what happens to the fleet acquired under UORs for Afghanistan in the next few months.)

But there is one public service where the internal market is unknown. I refer, of course, to criminal justice. For some reason, it is considered to be normal to let magistrates and judges dispense incarceration, one of the most expensive products of the state, as if it were as free as air. The Ministry of Justice is simply asked to predict-and-provide sufficient prisons, like the Department for Transport used to do with motorways. Like motorways, somehow, however hard the bulldozers and cranes are driven, it never seems to be enough, and the prison system operates in a state of permanent overcrowding. Interestingly, the overcrowding seems to prevent the rehabilitative services from working, thus contributing to the re-offending rate, and ensuring both the expansion of the prison industry and the maintenance of permanent overcrowding.

The new public managers bitch endlessly about “producer interests” – they mean minimum-wage hospital cleaners, but somehow never GPs – but you never hear a peep about our bloated and wasteful criminal justice system. In fact, now that we have private jails, this producer interest is vastly more powerful as it has access to the corporate lobbying system and a profit motive.

Clearly, the problem here is that the gatekeepers to the system – the courts – have no incentive to use taxpayers’ money wisely, as they face neither a budget constraint nor competition. There is a rhyme with the fact that a British Army company commander in Afghanistan has a budget for reconstruction of $4,000 a month, which he must account for meticulously to the Civil Secretariat to the Helmand Task Force, but in each section of ten riflemen under his command, at least one of them can spend $100,000 on destruction at any moment, by firing off a Javelin anti-tank missile, every time he goes outside the wire. As once the thing is fired, he no longer needs to tote the fucker any further, you can see that a lot more is spent on Javelin rounds than reconstruction, and indeed the task force was getting through 254 of them a month at one point.

But it’s not a precise match. The military do, indeed, have to worry about their resources, as do the police. Only the courts can dispense public money without limit.

What if we were to give every magistrates’ court a Single Offender Management Budget, out of which it could buy imprisonment, probation, community service, electronic tagging, etc in an internal market? This would make it obvious to the magistrate how much cheaper non-custodial interventions are than jail. It would force them to resist the temptation to jail everybody out of risk-aversion or political pressure. If a court was to start off the year handing down 16-month sentences for stealing a packet of fags, and end up in queer street by Christmas, well, that will teach them to waste taxpayers’ money.

In fact, we could go further. Foundation courts would be able to borrow, if necessary, to tide themselves over to the end of the year, although of course they would have to make efficiency gains next year to repay it. It would be possible for a foundation court to go bankrupt and close. This, of course, will drive up standards. Perhaps we could even introduce an element of choice, letting defendants choose which jurisdiction they are prosecuted in.

I am, of course, joking. But not entirely.

I bet you thought I was kidding. But try this lede:

Taped to the inside of a Sainsbury’s window in King’s Lynn, a printout of a map reminds teenagers of the town’s restrictions. Next to it, a notice on Norfolk Constabulary headed paper spells out the terms of a dispersal order: within the marked area, groups of two or more youngsters can be broken up by police not only if they have caused intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress to members of the public but also if their behaviour is deemed likely to do so. Initially, the order focused mainly on the area around the supermarket and adjacent bus station, but when groups of young people who were deemed to be behaving antisocially relocated, it was extended to cover most of the town centre. Drinking in groups, verbal abuse and reckless or dangerous cycling are among the antisocial activities listed.

It must be deeply weird to grow up with this stuff. Years ago I blogged that in the future, the government would introduce universal ASBO conscription – everyone would be given an ASBO at birth, and the restrictions would be removed progressively as they demonstrated that they could behave responsibly, in a manner that balanced the rights they were granted.

But in this case, they’ve implemented pretty much that. Of course some idiot will show up to say that they shouldn’t misbehave, but note that the terms of the order give the police essentially total discretion. After all, if you can’t think of a reason off the top of your head why three young people might not potentially, at some point in the indefinite future, annoy any hypothetical citizen, you simply lack imagination and you’ve got no business being on the force.

PS, what would we say if, say, a government in central Europe declared a “Roma dispersal zone” across one of its cities? Probably not much, although the EU was in fact pretty aggressive about it during the accession process and British representatives in it were no different. But you see what I mean.

I don’t quite know what to make of this:


Q What other sites, remember any particular internet sites you looked at?

A When I was doing research about MPs, I looked at one called theyworkforyou.com and I think another one was called publicwhips [publicwhip.org.uk].

Q So, have you carried out any research to … about Stephen Timms.

A Yeah, on … I looked up, I found, I Googled him, I found out he had a website, I found a page about him on theyworkforyou.com … if you follow that link it shows information about how he voted on different things related to the Iraq war and the build up towards it. I found out that … he very strongly agreed with the invasion of Iraq and they said very strongly because they worked out all his votes for everything related to that and it came up to something like 99.9% support or something like that.

Q How does that make you feel?

A That made me feel angry because the whole Iraq war is just based on lies and he just voted strongly for everything as though he had no mercy. As though he felt no doubts that what he was doing was right, even though it was such an arrogant thing to do and I just felt like if he could treat the Iraqi people so mercilessly, then why should I show him any mercy?

Q What, what makes you think that it’s your place to go and stab him?..

spiritual healer

Patrick “unseasonably mild” Wintour’s predictably friendly piece on Blair going before the Iraq inquiry is unintentionally disturbing:

No prime minister is indifferent to his or her legacy, and however much he feels stale controversies are being aired with little new public evidence, he knows tomorrow will be important for him, and his future public life as world statesman, Middle East envoy, spiritual healer and businessman.

Spiritual healer? As if the “world statesman” bit wasn’t hilarious enough, or the “businessman”, bit as opposed to “boardroom table ornament”. The whole piece is sourced to “friends”, British newspaper and especially Blairite code for “his PR people wanted to get this out”, so presumably he actually believes this or at least tolerates his media advisers saying it.

Meanwhile, in his defence, he argues that Iraq was already a regime that had used WMD, and therefore we can’t permit a regime like Iran from having them (around 10:11). The rest is here; if you care for a trip down memory lane. Alternatively, you could just vote Conservative.

If it’s possible to get Americans to start a string of minor riots in order not to have at least $80bn worth of national healthcare, surely it must be possible to start a good row about whatever it is the Conservatives have in store for us? We stand to lose at least that and more. I ask in the light of this post at Bickerstaffe Record, which suggests, not stupidly, that making an Aunt Sally of the credit rating agencies might be a good idea for a demo.

After all, it’s very true that they played a key role in the great crash, and before that in the post-dotcom Enron/telecoms fraudfest. As Eavis & McLean point out in The Smartest Guys in the Room, the rating agencies were in the best possible position to work out just how much debt Enron had hidden down rabbit holes and in other people’s wheely bins – because every time Enron pulled another fancy dan financing, they had the ratings agencies rate the bonds that came out of it.

We rate every deal. It could be structured by cows and we would rate it.

And, strategically, this is always going to be a problem, because unlike all other forms of credit risk assessment, the agencies make their money from the party issuing the debt, so it’s always in their interest to be optimistic. (Similarities with this little beauty of a deal are entirely appropriate.) When they are dealing with private clients, that is; if it’s Argentina or Britain involved, they just go ahead and shoot. John Quiggin has an excellent post on their failure and their role in pushing PFI in Australia.

But I have my doubts that any such action will change their opinion; in fact, it wouldn’t be the aim of such an action. The point would be rather to render their opinion less relevant and alter the conditions under which it is formed. However, I have just ordered the domain name standardispoor.com, and I welcome suggestions for what we might do with it.

More broadly, what worries me is that the Tories will pull some horror out of their back pocket in the financial year 2010-2011, and by the time it’s passing through the House, we’ll just have started getting angry. This is one of the historical lessons of On Roads; if you really want to stop something, you need to start earlier than you think.

This is why, by the way, projects like FreeOurBills are important. If there’s no point protesting about a road project after it gets into the national programme, the answer is to shorten the feedback loop and react quicker. This is much more interesting and important – real citizen technology – than Twittering for Iran, DDOSing low value Russian Web sites, or any of the other manifestations of the fake version.

So this is one of the few good features of open primaries I can think of; they provide an opportunity to put together an organisation early in the game, which is roughly how Obama dunnit. In a parliamentary system, though, this is much less important.

Shouldn’t we be getting our lists together now, rather than waiting for the Tories? I agree that this implies giving up on the elections, but then, who wouldn’t, and who doesn’t suspect that a surviving Labour government wouldn’t be just as bad?

Does anyone actually imagine that Blairites are interested in the ideas of Amartya Sen? I ask chiefly for information.

After all, they often do things that look superficially like engaging intellectually with new ideas from the Left; writing articles about Sen or Etzioni or whoever in journals like Progress or Renewal, taking part in seminars at the IPPR or RSA. But then, you look at the outputs, both in terms of policy and of rhetoric. There’s clearly a big gap here. Do they really think about Sen and decide to let bouncers in Norwich collect fines? Surely no process of cogitation, however twisted, would come up with this stuff? It’s obvious that there must be some other level of thought that determines their actions.

There is of course an alternative explanation. What if the whole fuss was entirely divorced from the content of politics? What if it was a kind of sport, pursued for the challenge of it, for the mental exercise, the status that accrues to winners, and perhaps its abstract beauty? It’s quite possible for this to be true even if the participants fool themselves that it affects the content of their thinking on actual, operational matters.

Indeed, quite possibly, they accept the operational code that governs the daily conduct of politics because they fool themselves that they are really influenced by Sen, or whoever is fashionable in these circles this week.

What is the legacy of the so-called “loony left”? The conventional wisdom is clear; it was all their fault, for panicking the swing voters and preventing a sensible, Newish Labour solution emerging earlier. Well, how did that work out?

And it has always seemed disingenuous for the Labour Party establishment to blame local councillors for a period when the party’s central institutions were regularly totally out of contact with the public mood and spectacularly incompetent; it certainly serves the interests of the top officials and MPs to push responsibility onto an amorphous and vague stereotype essentially based on hostile newspapers’ take on the 1980s. Arguably, believing hostile newspapers’ take on itself has been the fundamental mistake of the Left since about 1987; the entire Decent Left phenomenon, after all, was all about demonising anyone who was right about Iraq in identical terms. Does anyone imagine that the Sun in the Kelvin McFuck era wouldn’t have savaged and libelled any non-Tory power holders?

In a comment at Dunc’s, Paul “Bickerstaffe Record” says:

I want to kick off a bottom up meets top down economic analysis of how Labour /Left leaning local authorities should now be challenging the Thatcherite orthodoxies of cost control/rate capping in a sort of ‘1980s no cuts militant’ meets 2000s grassroots-dictated economic policy. The institutional/legal framework has of course changed out of recognition since 1984, but heh, that’s a challenge rather than an insurmountable problem

He has a point. Consider the position; it’s still conceivable that Labour might luck into a hung parliament next year, cue Liberal and Nationalist (of various types) rejoicing, but any realistic planning has to include a high probability of a fairly rabid Tory government in the near future. Further, the financial position is not great – it’s nowhere near as bad as Gideon Osborne makes out, as a look at the gilt rates shows, but it’s very far from ideal.

So whoever is in charge will be looking for cuts, and it is a reliable principle of Whitehall politics that one of the best ways to get a policy implemented that you want for your own ideological aims is to attach it to a supposed saving. Only the special relationship and the police-media complex can beat this principle as all-purpose justifiers.

The possibility space includes a Labour government in coalition or under a toleration agreement with the Liberals, which is likely to still be strongly influenced by the Blairite stay-behind agents, a Conservative government heavily influenced by products of 80s Tory culture (the mirror image of the London Labour party in the same period), and some sort of grand-coalition slugthing. It is clear that the balance of risks is towards an effort to legitimise a lot of ugly hard-right baggage through an appeal to cuts.

The Tories are planning to make all spending departments justify their budgets at line item level to none other than William “Annington Homes” Hague; it’s certainly a first in British history that the Foreign Secretary will control the public spending settlement, if of course he finds the time to show up.

Therefore, even though there is a need to steer the public finances back towards balance once the recession is clearly looking over, there is a strategic imperative to push back and push back hard against the agendas the cross-party Right will try to smuggle through. After all, the nonsense industry is already cranking up.

Which brings me back to the importance of being loonies, and a bit of politics by walking around. One thing that strikes me about North London is how much stuff in the way of public services here was visibly built in the late 70s and the 1980s; there is a reason why Ken Livingstone hopped right back into the Mayor’s office. Despite all their best efforts, the Thatcherites were never quite able to shake the core welfare state; was it, in part, because down on the front line people were still pushing out its frontiers and changing its quality?

A lot of ideas (service-user activism, notably, environmentalism, a renewed concern for architecture and urbanism, and the whole identity-politics package) that were considered highly loony back then are now entirely orthodox and are likely to stay that way, especially given the main parties’ obsession with putting taxpayer funds into the “third sector”.

I fully expect that anyone who talks a good game about making black schoolboys click their heels in front of teacher – you know the stuff they like – will be able to secure reliable venture capital funding in the million class from a Cameron government, just as they have been able to from Boris Johnson’s City Hall, with remarkably little monitoring. William Hague will be snarky. Let him. Nobody cares what the Foreign Secretary has to say.

This creates both opportunities for action – perhaps someone should prepare a Creative Commons or GPL toolkit for citizen-initiated delivery quangos and thinktanks – and also targets for ruthless mockery, when the Tories’ preferred third sector entities fuck up. We’ve already had some very fine examples of this courtesy of Boris Johnson. Clearly, the only rational response to the times is to go mad.

Shorter Martin Kettle:

Both the state Tony Blair left the Labour Party in and the failure of European centre-left parties that adopted a Blairite compromise with neo-liberalism show that we need still more Blairite compromising with neo-liberalism

Jesus wept. I am not joking. Meanwhile, I wasn’t aware of this:

Martin Kettle & Lucy Hodges (1982) Uprising!: Police, the People and the Riots in Britain’s Cities ISBN 0-330-26845-7 Macmillan

Every cheap hood makes a bargain with the world…