Thursday, 27 October 2005

How many more?

For a brief moment one thinks about the person who died and gave George Best their liver and about the person who came second to George Best in the queue for that liver. Did that person survive? If not, would they be angry that they lost to a man who had everything and chose to drink himself into oblivion? I would understand if they were.

It would be easy to blame George and it would be easy to say that he didn't deserve what was coming to him, but it is hard not to overlook the astonishing talent that he gave the 20th Century and understand that in the balance of the human psyche, what one side has in abundance, another will be dangerously lacking. Genius comes at a cost and very few make it to a ripe old age.

So as other young sportsmen are hitting the scene with talent oozing from every pore, we hope that they will listen to the George Best story and chose a better path. Where Owen has succeeded, we hope Rooney will follow. How many more must we lose to the perils of alchohol?

Equally, how many more stunningly good British footballers must we exclude from the world stage through our illogical and stubborn reluctance to play as Britain rather than its constituent parts and how many times might we have won that blessed gold cup had we fielded the finest players from our island in a single team?

Ryan Giggs, Kenny Dalgliesh, George Best and god knows how many more (I am no football expert) have been excluded for no good reason but pride. I am guessing here, but I genuinely believe that Ryan Giggs has been the difference between semi finals and winning in the last three major trophy competitions. You mix together the half decent Scotland and England teams of the late seventies and tell me we wouldn't have won something.

It annoys me to think that such talent never makes it to these great festivals, so sure for the European Cup let's stay as we are, but for the World Cup we must play as Great Britain.

Wednesday, 26 October 2005

Fags 'n' Booze

Much has been said, broadcast and thought about these two issues over the past few days, but in the end they epitomise the battle in today's society between Rights and Responsibilities, liberties and restrictions.

They hold this status because they are individual choices without individual consequences. There can be no-one left in this country who, placed in a non threatening environment, would not admit to knowing they are very bad for you. But everyday millions of people are able to choose to smoke or drink without immediately experiencing the cost of the consequences of their actions. By which I mean of course, that because their health care from cradle to grave is free they are able to deploy that most human of instincts "head in the sand" regardless of how quickly they may be advancing towards the grave.

Only in Britain today could we tie ourselves in knots over such an issue. Only in a Britain that demands its rights without comprehending nor being prepared to accept its responsibilities.

In the Army we had something called "self inflicted injury" - a chargeable offence no less and from which there was no escape. Doing anything, either through ignorance or intention, that rendered one unfit for duty, ranging from sun stroke through inebriation to breaking a leg in a thoughtless or unplanned action, was "self inflicted" and punished. Soldiers (and officers) knew and accepted this and it made for a responsible unit of people (albeit after making your first and only mistake - I for example tried to show off (in front of a girl, now my wife, poor thing!) by climbing a rope in a drunken state and ended up descending so fast I severely burnt my hands. Self inflicted, no sympathy and punished!)

So my first observation is this. If people are to be free to choose to accelerate their demise, they should do so at no cost to to their fellow man. The cost of their inevitable health care should be starkly represented everytime they light a fag or crack open a beer. This can be achieved in any number of ways including raising the price of cigarettes to the degree that you wince when they ring through the till, to insurance based health care with premiums paid according to your CHOSEN lifestyle.

My second observation is more fundamental. The right to choose is crucial to the process of comprehending responsibility and this applies to all spheres in life. Only through the ability to make mistakes can we hope to learn or be motivated into thinking more closely about the decisions we make. Removing choice is a backward step and to be avoided at all cost, especially by Government.

My third would be this. The market place has an astonishing ability to turn trends and fashions into money. So answer me this - if there are many millions more non smokers than smokers, and if the smell of smoke is so distasteful, why has nobody created a chain of non smoking restuarants, cafes and bars? By any measurement clientele would be queuing round the block and applications for employment would take weeks to stack let alone process. Independents would flourish into chains and the concept would in itself regulate smokers into dark and smelly corners. I find it impossible to believe that the market has missed this. In any town or village it is possible for a bar owner to advertise the fact that he is smoke free and reap the apparent reward, so where is the pressure and why don't they?

If societal pressure can make you feel inadequate and wretched just for wearing flared trousers or for accepting hefty fees for speaking at a charity event, I am damn sure it can let you know what it thinks of smoking. My wife and children leave me with no uncertainty whatsoever about what they think of my smoking.

Sadly the reality is that we are Governed by a regime that increasingly wants to regulate society into obeyance and they govern a people who have lost the ability or desire to regulate themselves.

If nicotine and cigarettes are as dangerous as is now commonly asserted they must be classified as a drug along side cannabis and banned outright. If they are not then they must be priced to cover health care costs and left to society at large to determine their acceptability.

Stop nannying us, Blair, and govern us.

Saturday, 15 October 2005

I promise to do my best, to do my duty to...

Yesterday afternoon, my eldest son, Oliver, took his first real steps into civil society. He was invested into the Cub Scouts. Now I am not known for my weepy, effusive fatherhood style but I have to say that watching my son stand tall and confidently belt out the Cub Scout Law, Promise and Motto made me very proud indeed.

Oliver just loves the Cubs. They do exciting and grown-up things. They achieve things and are rewarded for them. They adhere to simple rules of courtescy and discipline. They have lots of fun but balance it with an orderliness and respect that helps children to identify the boundaries between civility and incivility. The supervision of Arkelah is friendly, fun but very firm.

Oliver loves it, and all the children love it, because it is the only place he goes to away from the home that gives him these things and he feels happy and comfortable and safe.

Why does his school fail him in this way? Why does the education system fail all of our children in this way? Why has the nation's most important public service taken the moral cowardice of teachers and an inability to maintain discipline and turned it into a liberal policy of "self expression"? Why are we incapable of seeing the link between this pathetic culture of appeasement and the social malaise that is slowly enveloping our culture. Why do we stand aside and allow ourselves to feel intimidated while our teenagers re-enact Sodom and Gomorrah in all our village, town and city centres each weekend.

Well done Oliver. I am exceptionally proud of you.

Friday, 14 October 2005

Vote Cameron and breathe easy

As you well know, I am a Cameron supporter in the Tory leadership race, but a anti-Cameron debate is raging on Once More concerning his electability, to which I simply respond:

No, no, no!

Firstly, this is a process to win an election to lead the Conservatives and the methods required are different to those needed to win an election to lead the country.
Cameron alone, however, understands that if he is to stand any chance of converting success here into the higher sphere of a general election, then he must set his tone accordingly from the outset. He needs lots of non-Tories to tell their Tory friends that if he were leader they would vote for him in 2009.

Fox and Davis are pitching to the Tories alone and will not recover from the harsh tones they use to win this first small step.

This is the whole point, we Conservatives must look beyond our own ranks for the answers to electoral success.

Secondly, get over the Eton crap. Deep down in places we don't talk about much, everyone wants to look up to their leader. We want them to be different and we want them to convey the authority of Britain and all that that means to us.

I knew Officers in the Army whose entire leadership ethos was about being their soldiers' friend. They wanted to be perceived as being the same as them, and would wear similar clothes and go out drinking with them. But what they were basically saying was "I'm not confident enough to lead you and to take decisions" and the soldiers knew this and would take advantage of it. On Operations at the sharp end, these leaders were f****d. Fox and Davis, Davis especially, want people to think they are the same as them. Council estate born and bred, harsh life etc. It sounds good, but its rubbish because it fails to represent the aspirations of the electorate.

Thirdly, Cameron has fixed on a significant political reality - there is no great political problem in Britain at the moment. The electorate are moaning and whingeing a bit but actually the majority are still pleasantly insulated from politics and well enough off to buy their way out of trouble if they really need or have to. Harsh, bold fighting talk may impress dyed-in-the-wool Tories but it takes the general electorate out of their comfort zone. We can see where things are going but nobody is ready to bring in the Infantry. We are not ready for nor do we have a need for a Churchill or a Thatcher and that is what Davis is trying to be - a man on a mission without a cause.

What people actually want is another, fresh, clean Blair. And don't lets deny that we Tories would all have loved Blair to have been a Tory all these years. If he had had a proper Blue Chancellor behind him, just think where we would be by now.

Pride or Prejudice

I have wanted for some time to unveil my flagship policy, and today’s headlines about prison overcrowding offers that opportunity.

Everyone who comments on the issue of imprisonment appears to see black or white. “Bang ‘em up” or “forgive and forget”. On so many levels I would normally concur, but in my old age I am starting to discern shades of grey.

When I was 21, I was lucky enough to be entrusted with the training of young infantry recruits. We took into our care teenage vagrants and self confessed petty criminals. They slouched and sloped and hid all manner of self hatred and loathing behind a veil of threats and posturing. 26 weeks later they left the Depot with their heads held high and with utter belief and pride in themselves and each other. We had affected this change through a combination of challenge, hardship, punishment, reward and encouragement and by making the length of their training a matter over which they had an element of control. It remains one of the most enjoyable jobs I ever had.

I call this my flagship policy because of all the mad things I have thought up over the years this one continues to stand up to scrutiny (I think!).

Some believe that prison works and some believe it does not, but most people believe that the ideal is a prison that is tough, reforming and deterring, because we want criminals to pay for their crime but we want them to stop doing it when they come out.

Many people understand that prison is great while it lasts. The criminal is out of sight and out of mind. He is off the streets and poses no public danger. But everyone knows that prison is little more than a glorified crime school and that the vast majority of people coming out are better equipped to carry on where they left off.

Currently, we imprison people for a length of time. It is an uninspiring endurance test, its contestants stripped of any responsibility or control. They are clothed, fed and watered, they do nothing for themselves and have no means to do anything purposeful. Sure, they do run lessons in English, Maths and woodwork but most prison lessons differ from school only in the fact that you can’t play truant.

So you see, this is where my idea is a radical departure from the norm and yet starts to address the shades of grey between the throw away the key mob and the community service liberals.

I believe that you can give prisoners a role and responsibility in their punishment and reform by placing the length of term they serve very firmly in their own court. I know of no man or woman who possesses a complete education, so it stands to reason that any convicted criminal being sentenced to prison could be sentenced not to a period of time but to the attainment of the next most appropriate level of education and in an appropriate quantity of subjects.

Think about it just for a moment.

It is important to be clear that I do not propose that all classes of crime are sentenced in this way. Pedophiles, murderers, rapists etc will always attract the harshest time based sentences. But it is other crimes such as burglary, theft, shoplifting, assault, joy riding, fraud, drugs and so on to which this scheme offers so much. They do go to prison, but their relatively short sentence is spent focussed on doing what they have to to get out.

Suddenly you have very different prisoners. Sure, some may spend some time in resolute rebellion, but they do so only to their own disadvantage. But now they can switch the light on at the end of their own tunnel. The focus of their time in prison changes from endurance to attainment and personal advancement. Failure or reticence is punished. Achievement is rewarded and perhaps for the first time in many of their lives, and the launch pad for a new start and a new life is laid.

Some may argue that all you are doing is shifting the responsibilities of education to prison, to which I simply respond “so be it”, after all it is the failure of our schools that sowed these seeds in the first place, it is only right that the education system should continue to play a part for as long as it takes (more on education ideas later).

I propose this because I entirely agree with those who advocate zero tolerance of law breaking and that burglars, thieves and vagabonds should go to prison and that prison should be harsh enough to represent a deterrent to all but the most hardened and insecure.

But I also get the whole reform thing. Not the community service bollocks and the namby –pamby anger management courses and the African safaris etc. But proper reform that alters attitudes and demonstrates the benefits of conforming. What is the point of incarceration if you release someone more capable and more inclined to continue a life of crime. Society takes one pace forward and two paces back.

I propose this idea because it ensures criminals are sent to prison, but it ensures that they are sent to a new and different sort of prison – one which is a damn sight more likely to release a person with pride and integrity rather than a vagrant with envy and spite written all over their face.

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

De-railing Labour

At the end of a reasonable article in the Telegraph today, Alice Thompson quotes a fascinating comment by a Government minister: "If Cameron is a success, we might reconsider our future. He'll make Gordon Brown look very 1990s; maybe we should skip a generation too."

The Tories have failed to match up to Blair, and frankly have failed to even realise that that should have been their primary mission in life. This Government exists only through the domination of that one man.

He has now set the date for his departure and the Tories face two choices. They can lead or be led. They say that in battle, the moment that the initiative changes hands is almost tangible.
Are you feeling what I'm feeling?

Sadly Malcolm Rifkind, lovely chap that he maybe, prefers the status quo. He would be led rather than lead, as today he pulls out of the race and switches his allegience on the basis that "Ken Clarke has the popular appeal, he has the experience, he is an obvious person who can handle Gordon Brown."

Clark vs. Brown - Brown wins.
Even better record as Chancellor. Clark hung by his own tobacco stained petard. Performs marginally better than Howard, but resigns immediately because he can't be arsed.

Fox vs. Brown - Brown wins.
Fox successfully portrayed as extreme right wing and religious zealot. Fox forced back onto Tory heartland and loses seats.

Davis vs. Brown - Brown wins.
If presented with two unappealing men, we'd rather the boring one we know than the one on a mission without a cause. Party divisions caused by Davis's inability to either dominate or make friends, tears Tories apart under pressure.

Cameron vs. Brown - Cameron wins by a metropolitan mile.
Brown appears tired and driven only by personal ambition. Britain has no appetite to be led by a man who thinks it is his just reward. No new ideas, just more control and more tax. Finally people would see that he is the reason they are paying so much tax and getting so little in return.

So what would Labour do? Cameron vs. who? (Thompson suggests that weed Miliband). They would descend into almighty chaos choosing a new leader and probably end up with Brown, only now in a hideously bad mood. Best of all you end up with a divided party that loses whoever leads it.

You see political leaders provide an answer to the problem of the day. Churchill, Thatcher, Blair, MacMillan, Disraeli - they all epitomised the solution to the problems facing the nation. Depression, war, empire, economic failure, sordid sleaze.

So ask yourself - what is the problem to which we seek a solution? That's exactly it. In real terms, for the majority of people, there isn't one. All we want is someone who will hold together our rather lovely, well off, home owning, fun filled, celebrity led, car based, holiday filled lives. We want someone we can trust, who looks good and who isn't even remotely extreme. We haven't yet reached the tipping point beyond which Davis or Fox are the answers, and Ken Clark (and Rifkind) ceased being the answer to anything in 1997 and maybe well before that.

So this is it, boys and girls in Blue. One good decision now, and the polls will shift immediately and the long run in to the next GE will begin on the up. Fuck it up and we flat line until wealth is no longer sufficient protection from the ills of society and the Hamiltons / Archers / Aitkens are six feet under.

Monday, 10 October 2005

A little bit of this and a little bit of that.

I feel like a little miscellany of tit bits to wean me gently back into this blogging. It won't hang together very well, I'm afraid.

I have been very busy creating and establishing my new business.

  • Countryside Communications is going well. The best bit is the feeling of liberation. Decisions can be made quickly and efficiently. Things move from ideas to actions in seconds rather than weeks. Spending of money suddenly becomes interesting and challenging. I'm learning to bargain!
  • You can see what I get up to on my website
  • I miss being in an office. I have always liked ranting and now I have no audience. I need an audience!

Ebay. It's just porn for women!

  • "Marriage in ruins as wife admits to 5 million images of Ebay tat on her computer". "I couldn't help myself" she said, "I just had to keep looking. I started off just looking for curtains, but one thing lead to another and I before I knew it, I was searching for porcelain figurines and Jackie Collins first editions."
The Tory leadership game has come alive.

  • Maude was rightly flattened in his appalling attempt to make the Party look ridiculous, and succeeded only in making himself look ridiculous. I never ever want to see him again. If Howard Flight can be expelled for saying perfectly reasonable things in private, it is hard to see what punishment befits him for saying what he said in public.
  • Davis has obviously built up a terrific stock of thumb screws, looking at the list of MP's propping him up. I do sort of admire them all for trying to create such a swell of support that the leadership election was over before it began. Trouble is - they all got behind the wrong man.
  • Cameron, my preferred candidate since June, has started to gain ground. He looks like a leader, sounds like a leader, acts like a leader. Oratory may be old fashioned but it is the essential skill of any politician or leader. Speech is the oldest and most basic means of human communication and is the means by which 95% of our perceptions are derived, consciously or unconsciously. It cannot be overlooked or under-estimated. Davis has all the communication skills and popular appeal of a hooded yoof. He will NOT win a general election. Cameron will. Throw off the screws and jump ship, y'all.
  • I absolutely despise Ken Clark. Not just, as you might suppose, because he is pro-Europe and is fundamentally un-Conservative, but because he is arrogant and self serving to the most damning extremes. He contributes the square root of jack shit over the last decade or so, loafing around selling tobacco and making piles of cash out of third world misery and then has the nerve to suggest that we have "kept him waiting". He genuinely believes that time has just stood still and that his experience of failure in the Nineties is just what everyone needs now. You epitomise everything that is wrong with the Tories these past ten years, Ken. Please go away forever and take all your aged, loser supporters with you.
  • I still think my way of choosing a leader is best. The list of candidates should go to the membership first. Members would then send the most popular two back for the final selection by MP's. However, only members under 45 years of age get to vote in the first round. This achieves two things: firstly the MP's don't spend an embarrassing few months manoevering sychophantically around the favourite; and the ordinary members with most to lose and gain from the nomination hold the aces. Now that's radical.
The English football team continue to amuse.

  • Since the last time we spoke, England have been beaten by Northern Ireland and scraped a win against Austria. I will be glued to my seat on Wednesday. Beckham was just great. On being sent off, he decided to seek out his bete-noir and shake his hand. Now either this was an act of cynical petulance or he genuinely thought he would look good in apologising. Sorry, David, you just looked like a bloke who lost his temper and committed three fouls in one minute. Leading by example as always!
Time to honour my pledge.

  • I did promise myself a long time ago, that I would use this site to think through and write down some positive policy ideas for the primary aspects of Government. Annoyingly, had I kept my promise a bit earlier, I might now be in the proud position of pointing to previous posts and claiming "Here, that's where Cameron got his ideas from!!" Well at the very least I hope that on Dec 7th, I will have called it right since June.
We have finally caved in and got Sky TV. So that's where all the Big Brother contestants end up!