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"We admire the development of the peace movement around the world in the last few years. We pray to God to empower all those working against war." - Saddam Hussein, February 2003

Saturday, October 26, 2002  

Public wake up early to the dangers of the firemens' strike

PUBLIC SYMPATHY FOR the firemen is already low, suggests a YouGov poll. 76% think the 40% pay demand is unreasonable, 84% supporting a lower increase, and only 12% favouring it. Interestingly, 58% to 36% support Tory calls for strikes by firemen, as with those by nurses, to be banned. If the present talks do not go well, the firemen's strike will now start next month, the October strikes having just been cancelled. We will then see what happens to their already less-than-impressive support.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 16:54 | Permanent Link |

Putin strikes a blow for freedom

THE GRUESOME DEATHS of 37 terrorists in the last day will be little consolation to the relatives of the 67 Russian civilians murdered in that same space of time. But whatever the misery and the difficulties, Vladimir Putin did the right thing. Once one begins to give in to hostage taking and other acts of terror, it sends a message to everyone with a sick cause of their own that all they need to do to do is to hold a few dozen innocent people at gunpoint. By giving in to hostage-taking today, one ensures more civilians will face greater risk in the future. Far better always to storm the theatre or embassy in question and always to kill as many terrorists as possible, ensuring they know that taking hostages will only ever get them killed. President Putin bravely took the unpopular decision, but the right one. All good people should salute him today.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 16:23 | Permanent Link |

Friday, October 25, 2002  

Vicars on strike - it could happen

A CLERGYMAN PUTTING left-wing politics before his faith is hardly a new phenomenon, but I'd hope that most of us would still be somewhat taken aback that Amicus is now recruiting for members in the churches. We have already seen idiots posing as Christians and denying all Christian morality infiltrate the churches, turning away loyal believers. Could we now see this happen directly, with vicars forming a picket line around sacred places of worship to stop people praying on a Sunday while they are on strike? By refusing to offer their services, such Vicars could easily restore those days when we couldn't bury the dead. If this is not the aim of the clergy in question, why exactly do they want to join a union? Why are they willing to divide their congregations on industrial and political matters? I can only hope worthwhile clergymen will stay out of trades unions, ensuring their first loyalty is always to God and his followers.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 06:48 | Permanent Link |

Blair throws Murphy to the wolves and saves John Reid

ON THE SUBJECT of the reshuffle Estelle triggered, I was amused to note that Paul Murphy (who he?) is now Tony Blair's fourth Northern Ireland Secretary. It seems the Prime Minister wanted to get John Reid, articulate academic and new conference darling, out of the rapidly collapsing building that his position was becoming, so that if and when the Good Friday Agreement fails, Reid will be far from harm, and hapless non-entity Murphy will be the loser.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 05:59 | Permanent Link |

It's not that Norris has done more harm than good; it's that he's done no good at all

IN AN AGE when the resignation of a First Minister who has disgraced himself wins a standing ovation in the Scottish Parliament, we shouldn't be too surprised at the outpourings of grief at Estelle Morris coming to see the obvious - that she wasn't up to the job - and resigning. Amusingly, some are saying it shows her skill that the teachers unions expressed regret at her departure. In fact it shows her uselessness. When the militant teaching unions react to a minister the way they did to Chris Woodhead, then you can be pretty sure that minister is doing a good job.

Anyway, I must say the worst response of all was that given by Steve Norris on Wednesday evening's Despatch Box, where he described Tory concern over her failure to meet the commitment to raising reading standards sufficiently as "nonsense", saying that breaking such promises was part and parcel of politics, which any Minister should be able to brush off. He went on to sneer at the idea that Shadow Education Secretary Damien Green, probably the closest Shadow Cabinet member to Norris politically, had helped to show her up as the failure she admitted she had been, describing him as "the most unlikely assassin". I disagree with a lot of Steve Norris' politically correct agenda for the Tory Party, but I accept him as a part of the party as much as anyone else. What I can't understand is why he feels the need to attack his party at every opportunity, describing conservative views and figures in the most virulent terms, or why he is allowed to get away with it. Lord Taylor was reprimanded for saying half as much. What exactly is Steve Norris contributing to the party that gets him these privileges?

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 05:38 | Permanent Link |

How about a new stage of PFI? A Private Fireman Initiative

IN HIS TELEGRAPH and his Spectator column, Boris Johnson tears into those who sympathise with striking firemen:

[T]he 50,000 members of the Fire Brigades Union are not quite as irreplaceable as we are led to believe. When 50 firefighting jobs were advertised recently in Manchester, there were 7,000 applications; as well there might be for a job that is four days on and four days off, no matter how tense and demanding.

... Even in the militant 1970s the firemen demanded only a 30 per cent wage increase, and that was against a backdrop of double-digit inflation. No union of that era would have dared ask for an increase, in real terms, of 38 per cent. Yet that is what the FBU is demanding.

He concludes in The Spectator with an idea I have been considering a lot the last few days.

An over-reliance on the public sector is sustaining monoliths which will always be at the mercy of the unions. Most of the extra billions which Gordon Brown announced for the public sector now look like disappearing into the pockets of existing employees, not providing extra services. Look at the record of the railways: national rail strikes were commonplace before privatisation; yet we have not had a single one since. Perhaps we could do with some private fire-fighting companies.

This would do wonders for ordinary people in a variety of ways. Let's assume there was a private sector alternative to the fire brigade, which put out fires only at those houses that paid through insurance for better protection. Everyone who signed up to it would relieve the burden imposed on the state by having to put out their fires. More lives would be saved because the nationalised fire brigade would be able to concentrate more on the houses that remained. The people who signed up to this insurance scheme would get better funded, more effective workers, committed completely to their safety because the profit motive demands it. Private firemen would face a pressure to serve the customer that by their nature no nationalised industry has ever experienced. The various fire brigades would improve generally, because competition would ensure a certain standard would have to be met. If it takes say ten minutes for a fire engine to arrive at the average burning building, we currently have no idea if that is really an impressive or an excessive great length of time. This way we would. It would also, of course, largely solve the problem of strikes. If a private fire company went on strike, you would simply stop paying insurance premiums and choose another company the way you would start doing your shopping at Asda if Morrisons employees ever went on strike.

Alternatively, fire-fighting as a service could continue to be funded for all British people entirely through taxation, but provided by private companies. Just as rubbish-delivery is now contracted out by local councils to the private company offering the best service, firemen could be employed in the same way, ensuring higher standards of service and lower costs for everyone, more powers to local government and more local control, and again, little or no chance of strikes having any dangerous effect.

It sounds radical, but there is no reason at all why fire-fighting should be a 'public good' the way defence is. Defence is to the general benefit and indivisible; fires generally effect individuals and businesses. All privatisations were unpopular before they took place. But no serious commentator now advocates renationalisation of any of the industries now privately run. Why not try it out with the fire brigades? Perhaps one brave, risk-taking Conservative council leader could try contracting out to a private company the basic fire-fighting role and see how well they perform. We should not let socialist dogma prevent us from examining ways to allow the public a better service. As soon as the general public saw one council providing firemen for its people during a strike, while fires were left to burn around the rest of the country, they would lose any dogmatic objections. Perhaps this coming strike could provide just the wake-up call needed in dealing with this issue.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 04:07 | Permanent Link |

In this clash of Old and New Labour, will Blair emerge a Thatcher or a Callaghan?

PETER OBORNE AND Janet Daley, two commentators of great insight and foresight, both agree that the defeat of the firemen is the real test of Blair's premiership and whether he will be remembered as a Thatcher or a Callaghan.

Rather late in the day No. 10 is starting to appreciate that it must bust the strike. That means less reverence for picket lines, and more of the ruthlessness than took Rupert Murdoch to Wapping and enabled Margaret Thatcher to smash the miners. Anything less will mean compromise, and compromise means victory for the firemen.

I can see it in terms even more significant. If Blair wins, Old Labour may be finished, and Britain will be an essentially conservative country for a generation. If Blair has to compromise significantly, New Labour almost certainly will be finished, with the reform agenda that is proposed left for a future Conservative government to implement - and do properly.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 02:45 | Permanent Link |

'Arrogant, foul-mouthed, barking mad, sexually incontinent, thuggish and ... Christian!'

A FUN PIECE from Rod Liddle on the press attention he was given after his sacking from Radio Four. Of all the scorn poured on him, it was the revelation that he is a regular churchgoer than sparked the most amusement.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 02:12 | Permanent Link |

Thursday, October 24, 2002  

Where Iraq leads, Brussels will follow

EURO-LOVING HUGO YOUNG seems to think that non-voters prove that democracy is a bit of a waste of time, and that Saddam has the right idea:

In a perfect world, perhaps Iraq would be our model, and electoral turnout would clock in at 100%.

... The CAP has existed for 45 years, the centrepiece of the European budget, a focus of controversy and argument at every level of Europe. Yet it turned out that half those polled this year had never even heard of the CAP. That is nobody's fault but their own. It was their declaration of invincible ignorance. Do we need to know what they think about enlargement?

Notice that the shifty way Brussels emerged from the second Nice referendum in the Irish Republic is now shifted by Young onto the voters. It isn't the politicians or the bureaucrats who are to blame when people don't want to support them. Better to blame the people.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 15:36 | Permanent Link |

Tuesday, October 22, 2002  

The danger posed by the militants

THIS WON'T BE an easy strike for the government to beat, George Galloway warns in The Guardian, lending his full support to their demand for a pay increase around twenty times the rate of inflation. I am sure Andy Gilchrist is delighted to join Saddam Hussein a week before strike action even begins. I especially like:

Long-discarded 1970s-style arguments that low-paid women workers lose out from trade union militancy have been dusted down, as if a pay rise rise foregone by firefighters will miraculously turn up in the wage packets of dinner ladies. Such criticisms may help dent support for the union among the public generally. But Labour people, I predict, will remain solid with the strike and see the simple truth: that in periods of trade union militancy, weaker workers gain too, as all boats are lifted on the rising tide.

You'd think from reading this that there was an infinite amount of money in the country. In fact, rapidly rising wages for so many will certainly take jobs from others as employing them becomes unaffordable. A rising tide may help some boats, but it also drowns those at the bottom, trying to cling on as the costs of keeping them on rocket.

Of course, such increases also leave no funding at all for the mythical improvements in the public sector we are supposed to expect. I don't think the state sector's problem is money, but what a waste it would be if £100 billion extra in taxpayers' money, aimed at improving the public services, were simply divided up by the public sector unions, which is certain to happen if the firemen win this strike. If that does happen, next time you hear the same dubious excuses from the unions that the public services are "underfunded", remember that when the money was put in, it was all swallowed up and wasted on topping up their wage packets.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 04:28 | Permanent Link |

Global poverty crowd still don't get it

IF YOU WANT a fourth or fifth opinion on some terrible event, George Monbiot is certainly a good place to start. Whom does he blame for this terrorist atrocity? Not Al-Qaida, obviously. It's those damn ITV and BBC executives.

One of the great ironies of globalisation is that the closer we are brought together, the less we come to know about each other. As our lives become entwined with those of people living in the most distant places on earth, our broadcast media - through which most people in rich countries receive most of their information - are treating the rest of the world as if it is no more than a playground for people like ourselves. Our understanding diminishes correspondingly, until all we know of foreigners is that, for no reason that we can discern, they suddenly attack us. This is a tragedy not only for the people killed and injured in the Sari club; but also for the increasingly misunderstood, and therefore increasingly feared and hated, people of the poor world. [Emphasis mine]

Last year, according to the media pressure group 3WE, the coverage of "hard" issues in the poor world on British television fell to the lowest level it had recorded in 12 years of monitoring. While the broadcast hours of international factual programmes rose slightly, nearly all of them were devoted to travel, "reality" shows, docusoaps, sex, clubbing, surfing and similar mind-numbing cack about Britons making idiots of themselves in exotic places. In the entire year, only four programmes about the politics of the poor world were broadcast on the five main channels, three of them on BBC2. "The international documentary," the report concludes "is virtually dead".

It seems the tragedy is not that two hundred innocent people were murdered, but that they went to their graves not understanding the depravation their killers apparently suffered. Apart from the usual morally repugnant statements you expect from Monbiot, it is interesting that he makes such assumptions for others. Liberals like him seem to believe that just because they don't get it, no one else does either. I bet a number of those victims understood perfectly well what Al-Qaida was about, that it was an evil organisation devoted to exterminating and murdering as much as possible to get its way. They will have understood that there is no reasoning, no concensus possible, between a democratic West and people who state plainly that the only peace they can entertain is the peace that will exist when all the world is Islamic. Poverty is not an issue, here. You don't give up such evil, monstrous convictions as your income rises, and the poor have morals just as do the rest of us. If it were, the answer would still not be appeasement, but the irony here is there is no room even for that. There is nothing much we can give these fanatics - save a bullet to the brain - that will stop them. No amount of debt relief, no amount of concessions or TV documentaries on third world poverty will change that. If ever there was a time to take up arms and fight back, it is now. No other solution is possible.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 03:51 | Permanent Link |

Monday, October 21, 2002  

Further attacks on common sense and employer's freedoms

THE CASE OF the social worker taking his employers to court for making him wear a tie (he claims sex discrimination because women have a different dress code) is just another in a long list of stupid attempts to undermine the rights of most people to do as common sense suggests, all for the benefit of the anti-establishment weirdo. It is time we looked again at legal aid and the way it operates. Originally introduced to prevent poor men who couldn't afford a solicitor from being hanged by default, it now funds the most absurd of cases. Similarly, no-win no-fee offers to clients ensure the worst of all worlds, with people who bring cases against employers who complain that they put too much milk in their coffee or something facing no financial penalty, and those few who have genuine grievances having to cough up too much to compensate for the lost cases.

We must also end this idea that people have special rights in such trivial matters. As Roger Scruton has said, it is acceptable for people, if they desire it, to walk around with a ring through their nose, so long as they realise they cannot then get a job in a merchant bank. But with the idea of rights in such matters, people seriously make challenges to no-nosering and wear-a-tie policies. These 'rights' do not protect anyone from the tyranny of the state or the threat of crime. They simply make life difficult for sensible people and small businesses that cannot afford to fight these cases.

Perhaps on every anti-discrimination panel, there ought to be a common sense sort of chap who can veto silly cases before they get started. Perhaps we should also restrict legal aid to clear cases of criminal behaviour, or of racial and sex discrimination.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 06:03 | Permanent Link |

Sunday, October 20, 2002  

Children are individuals, not commodities

SOON IT WILL be decided whether parents should be able to choose the sex of their children. For ethical reasons, and for the sake of the child, I am strongly opposed. I explained why last month.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 22:00 | Permanent Link |

Is there more to this announcement than there seems?

WITH THE REAL IRA suddenly announcing plans to disband, without anything in return, I can see three possible explanations:

  1. The people who brought you the Omagh bomb have suddenly become nice
  2. They have seen the peace process break down, with the IRA making clear it will not disband to ensure peace, and now see there is no need for dissidents - they can return to the fold
  3. As cynics suggested, Sinn Fein had much control over the Real IRA all along (remember McGuinness refusing to name the Omagh bombers because he was "not an informer"?). They can't disband the IRA, so getting the Real IRA to disband is a more subtle concession that they hope will put pressure on Unionists and the British governnment that there is less of a threat from Republicans.

The first explanation being as unlikely as it is, it seems the more unpalatable options that remain are the most probable.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 16:30 | Permanent Link |
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