Wednesday, April 25, 2007

How hard it is to be middle class

Good lord...apparently Nick is writing an entire book on the plight of households with an income of more than £100,000 a year but less than 'the rich' get...

Evening Standard (London); Mar 15, 2007; p. 15

Cohen revealed that he is writing a new book. "I'm working on how hard it is to be middle class in London these days."


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Football Fans

I imagine it's only a small minority [1], but there is a small minority that seem remarkably unpleasant. And vocal. At tonight's Manchester United game, one of the supposedly more decent (small d) set of football fans seemed keen on booing someone who was clearly injured as he was stretchered off. Why would you do something like that?

[1] I was once in a pub that was attacked and trashed by a bunch of football fans. That wasn't too nice either.


Monday, April 23, 2007

The super-rich and the Conservatives?

Nick Cohen in his latest Observer column argues that Gordon Brown's lax taxation of the super-rich is driving the middle class, who he alleges are left paying too much tax [1], away from Labour and ... well I guess into the arms of the Conservatives given the opinion polls, but that seems an odd reaction.

The column focuses on Ronald Cohen (no relation), whom Nick describes as "Brown's Lord Levy". Nick continues:

What's novel is the strong element of resentment of the rich, particularly in London and the south east, where the middle classes compete with the likes of Sir Ronald for decent homes and places in good schools.

Is this true? Nick's definition of the middle classes are, as we have seen, those on household incomes of £100,000 a year, and I presume the 'rich' are those on, say, £500,000 a year and above. It all seems a very small segment of the population to be driving major electoral shifts, though I suppose (particularly in local elections) their turnout might be high enough to make them a factor.

[1] I can't find the figures now, but when I last looked I think the top 20% of the income distribution pay a higher proportion of tax now than in 1997, but not by much. However I can't confirm or reject Nick Cohen's argument, as the distribution of taxes amongst the top 1% as opposed to the top 2-5% (what I think is Nick's middle class) is not easily available, if it is at all.


Shame on the No.6 bus

You've all been on a bus when a bunch of 'hoodies' (or whatever teenagers are called nowadays) get on and start playing music very loudly out of their mobile phones. Well the fightback has started here, with me. On the no.6 bus winding its way through the mean streets of Kensal Rise, I was trying to get my new mobile phone to play a soundclip I had downloaded. I didn't have the Nokia headphones with me, but I thought maybe you could play it through the speaker on the phone you listen to when having a normal phone call.

You can't. And also pressing 'clear' which usually stops any function, doesn't (I suppose for obvious reasons) stop the background player. And then you have to go through about five menu options to find the player to stop it again.

So there I was, on the no.6 bus with teenagers and grannies, and my phone on full volume blasting out through its stereo speakers..."Welcome to today's Daily Telegraph podcast. Britain's best-selling quality newspaper".

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Stephen Pollard

Following on from the last post, I wonder about Oliver's views on Stephen Pollard' blog. Oliver said:

The blogosphere, in short, is a reliable vehicle for the coagulation of opinion and the poisoning of debate

and of course Stephen Pollard, in his infamous Maida Vale Manifesto, which only appeared in blog format, said:[1]

The mainstream Left has demonstrated clearly which side of the battle to preserve Western civilisation and freedom it is on. The Left, in any recognisable form, is now the enemy.

Coagulation and poisoning of debate. Is there a better example?

[1] This was a competitor to the Euston Manifesto. That has about 3000 signatories, a year on. The Maida Vale manifesto has less than 6 in the same time period.

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Not this year thanks

I don't really understand Oliver's point here. Is he really going to turn down any offered pay rise from The Times and his other employers for the good of the country?

Update: Bizarrely, for someone who I tend to agree with, I find his next two posts hard to understand. First, in a piece about blogging, he says that a serious argument in defence of blogging is this by Stephen Pollard (a man who wants the US Marines to invade Spain because they wouldn't invite George Bush to a parade), in which he says that "I do think the fact that without blogging we would not have beeen able to access the opinions of writers...Scott Burgess is a strong positive in favour of the medium itself". What can you say?

Second, Oliver links to this Marcus Linklater article. He says:

Would gun control in America have prevented the carnage at Virginia Tech university? Probably, yes. Does that mean that tighter controls will reduce gun crime? Almost certainly, not.

Well ignoring one's view on gun control, this doesn't make sense. If (as he does in the article that follows) you believe that gun control would stop these kind of massacres, and have no other impact, then by definition it would cut gun crime.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Useless cycle lanes

Originally uploaded by mjtphotos.
I remember somewhere there's a website dedicated to useless cycle lanes, and here's my entry. It's on the rather nice Hamilton Terrace in St John's Wood. The lane is actually in the middle of the road, and is about three feet long. There is no cycle lane before the bollard, so it's not as if the bollard has been plonked into the middle of the lane - what you can see is the entire thing.

Update: Here it is on google maps satellite image. It's in the centre, pointing at 11 o'clock.


Monday, April 16, 2007


As readers will be well aware, this blog played a key role in inflicting one of the few defeats Tesco suffered in recent years - the removal of that stupid lower case 'e' on their Express stores' frontage.

I don't, however, think I can summon the energy or time to join sum of the people of Sheringham, Norfolk, a place I have been on summer holidays, in their campaign against a Tesco opening. In fact, as the article says, public opinion appears to be in favour of getting a Tesco supermarket - the only indicator of opposition is 'letters to the council' which is not a particularly reliable one. There are issues about traffic, apparently, but they sound a bit bolted on, and furthermore if traffic to the supermarket is going to be so high, it's hard to say it's not necessary.

This is unfortunately the position in which I find myself - desiring high streets full of local shops, but unable to find any reason to oppose Tesco opening up in every town.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Advice on avoding burglaries

This is mostly sensible stuff. But the last one:

If you can hear them [burglars] in another part of the house, break the window of the room you are in: the noise will terrify them as they'll know they've been spotted.

This strikes me as daft. One of the annoying things about being a victim of crime is the sheer amount of time it takes to put things right. When my car window was broken I had to spend two hours when I was meant to be on a train to the airport trying to find an emergency glazer (I failed and had to leave it for three days with a cardboard window on Kensington Park Road). On my return I had to take an afternoon of work to drive it across West London to the windscreen repair place to get a temporary plastic window fitted. I then three weeks later had to drive it back there to get the real one fitted - another half day of work. So breaking your own window, apart from the danger and potential cost in doing so, is ludicrous. It guarantees to turn a situation that might be resolved with reasonably little damage into one that is guaranteed to be a disaster. Shout, or throw something heavy if you want to make a noise.


Man proposes four minutes after meeting girl

Is this news? It probably happened about 25,000 times last night.


The heir to the heir to the Throne's love life

Note: This blog post makes the assumption - that has held good now for at least 15 years - that anything written in the newspapers about the Royal Family is true, and indeed probably came directly from them.

The Sunday Mirror's James Whitaker explains the reason why Miss Middleton would not do - it was her Mother, or more specifically, her Mother's lack of breeding:

As they went on to the parade ground they did not do so discreetly. It was a triumphal arrival. And then, Kate's mother, Carole, proceeded to chew gum non-stop.

I was shocked enough. Goodness knows what the Queen and the rest of the Royal Family thought.

Then a few weeks ago I spoke to a close relative of HM who had spent the day with Kate. She said that although Kate was "a delight" there was great uncertainty about the mother. I was told: "The Queen couldn't believe it when, on introduction, Carole actually said 'Pleased to meet you'." Ugh!

Additionally, Mrs Middleton used the word "toilet" rather than lavatory and also "pardon" rather than "I beg your pardon" or even the more socially acceptable "what?"

These may be minor faux pas but they were indicative of Kate's upbringing. Solidly middleclass but lacking in the sort of breeding (what a revoltingly snobby word) so necessary in becoming a King's consort.

The News of the World, however, has a different angle, which is that the Family decided at a top-level conference, led by Prince Phillip, that the risk of "another Diana" was too high. Now Prince Phillip is my favourite member of the Royal Family, but I'm not entirely sure he has grasped the fact that family conferences on who younger members of the Royal Family should date/marry is exactly the kind of behaviour that got them into the Diana mess in the first place.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Himmler's sexist attitudes

I'll edit it if I have the time (it'll take some doing) but this is just to note that at present the Wikipedia entry for Heinrich Himmler lists under the sub-heading Controversial Speeches, just:

In 1939, Himmler spoke of how it would be useful if every man (even if he was married) had a mistress. He said this because he believed that the nation would need more people as many men would be killed in War.

Well yes, that was the most infamous one.


Airline food

It's a clear sign I am getting old, but I can remember articles such as this bemoaning the state of airline food and saying how celebrity chefs are going to improve it, appearing every year since I was about 10. I'm not much of an expert on food or airlines, but it seems to me that overly complex celebrity chef food is the last thing that's going to work well on an airline.


Paul Wolfowitz

As Nick Cohen noted, there is no quicker way of silencing a London literary dinner party than telling a story about Paul Wolfowitz. Unlike Nick's story, however, the one in which Wolfowitz became the boss of his girlfriend at the World Bank and then got her repeated pay rises is true.

I think I was vaguely in favour of Wolfowitz's World Bank appointment, on the grounds at least it meant the Bush Administration would take it seriously. It has not, however, been particularly distinguished, and I can't see any reason he has for staying in the position. First, this matter concerns him directly - it is not as if he is being asked to take responsibility for the organisation's failings. Second, his defence seems incredible. He correctly noted the relationship to the board, and so her supervision was moved away from him. But then he interfered directly, in her pay - anyone, without knowledge of any rules, would see that was improper. Finally, the World Bank needs to be tough on corruption, and it is hard to do that when you are compromised in this way at the top.

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Nick Cohen on Welfare

Sadly I will be mowing the lawn, and so unable to tune in, but I would be intrigued to hear Nick Cohen's views on welfare (he shares a panel with, in addition to Oliver Kamm, Charles Murray and Fraser Nelson[1]).

I'm not aware of much Nick Cohen has written on welfare in recent years, except for his article in the Evening Standard in January this year in which he bemoaned the situation of a 'standard young couple' on "£100,000 a year", whose 'modest ambition to live an ordinary life' is now beyond them. This couple, part of the "less fortunate", find Council Tax to fall on them "with all its weight".

From this article I think we can see the seeds of what Nick Cohen's reform of welfare would be like. A primary responsibility of welfare is to help those who are 'less fortunate'. So presumably income support would be set at a higher level than £100,000 a year per household, as that is not enough money to live on (after tax it's about £200 a day). Council Tax benefit would also be given to those earning £100,000 or less. All that seems the logical outcome of his stated views. More fancifully, will he advocate subsidised Prosecco? Grants to renovate period houses in Islington? Free holidays in India for hard-pressed writers? To find out, and also how a man with such a ridiculous sense of who are the 'less fortunate' and who aren't will square the circles, I think you'll need to tune in.

[1] Fraser Nelson has been featured on this blog before. He made a breathless argument that New Orleans was a richer city per capita than inner London, an argument made entirely on the wrong assumption that a household is the same as an individual.

Update: I've listened to it. Cohen was a bit out of his depth, and I thought Charles Murray was impressive, although I think his assumptions that someone can put £2k a year into a pension fund and it will grow to £250k over 45 years could be optimistic if the funds grow as large as he thinks, as returns are likely to be much smaller. Simon's (in the comments) summary of John Rentoul's views is totally accurate. What I find most strange is there was no dicussion (I expect no-one really knew) of who this 10% below the poverty line actually are.


Monday, April 09, 2007

April 9th

It's April 9th, so that means it is 15 years since the last Conservative General Election victory, and 15 years and one day since I passed my driving test. On that subject, isn't the photocard driving licence silly? It's not valid unless you have the paper bit, which apparently isn't a 'paper licence' as if you say on the DVLA's incomprehensible D6 form that you have a photocard and paper licence they tell you that you have marked it wrongly.

Anyway, back to John Major. Not only is it 15 years since his most famous moment, but it's 37 years since he met Norma. I would say 'ah', but the Edwina Currie revelations have rather soured that one.


Communication problems

Originally uploaded by mjtphotos.
I was disappointed to see that neither Colin Fry or Tony Stockwell, the best of Britain's mediums, let the organisers of their stage show know in advance that the number of dates they had arranged would not be sufficient to meet the demand for tickets.

Oliver on blogging

Oliver has another go at political blogging (which of course is a very small subset of blogs, but the one we tend to concern ourselves with), partly because it narrows the amount of comment available.

If, say, Polly Toynbee or Nick Cohen did not exist, a significant part of the blogosphere (a grimly pretentious neologism) would have no purpose and nothing to react to.

Modesty and realism, alas, make me assume this is not a dig at this blog, but I do think this is very unfair on Oliver's friends over at Harry's Place. I think there is a case to be made that Nick Cohen has relied on blogs, in particularly the Harry's Place blog, for many of his columns and that book, just as much as they have relied on him.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Nick Cohen was wrong about Iraq war

He's hinted at it before, but apparently to a New Zealand journalist Nick Cohen said:

“You never get it from the reviews, but I say in the book, opposition to American policy and George Bush is entirely justified. The protestors were more right than most of the so-called intelligent people in government.”

But, naturally:

Now he wants people to stop fixating on why it was wrong to go to war. They need to move on.

This remarkable view, suggests the Euston Manifesto's demand that critics stop "picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention" (yes, those are the words) was written by Nick Cohen. He also declares of Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

"She was driven out of Holland. By the left.” I don't think this is entirely accurate either.


Snigger, snigger

The interview of Alan Rusbridger by Piers Morgan was quite funny, one must admit. Unfortunately this old media event has brought out the worst in the 'new' media. Guido Fawkes, who we last saw in the shadows on Newsnight, tells us that "Strangely they didn't discuss Rusbridger's private life in much detail, which is odd when you consider what him and Piers have in common.". This apparently follows on from Guido's Mini-Me, Tory Mayoral candidate (did I dream that, or read it somewhere?) Iain Dale, who asks "What do Piers Morgan & Alan Rusbridger Have in Common?". Tim Worstall, the blog book writer and spammer [1], is so excited by the hints contained in those posts that he makes a rare appearance on the Harry's Place comments board, to tell us what the point of those comments was. [2].

[1] See here
[2] Those comments are also notable for this Brownie comment (I assume it is genuine, though it is possible it is not) "Jim Rockford, Yeah, I know, I know. Your GIs are so tough. Nobody messes with you. Especially the 30 UK service personnel your boys have killed in friendly fire incidents these last 20 years. D'oh! Posted by Brownie at April 8, 2007 08:56 AM".


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Matt T Blog - Scottish Edition

Is "wilful neglect of duty" a criminal offence only if you are a Police Officer? Anyway it looks like I am in trouble.


Martin Amis - the official angle

Regular readers will known that Martin Amis has some wacky views on Muslims and people who 'look like they're from the Middle East or from Pakistan'. In short he has an urge to curtail their freedoms, have them strip-searched...well read it all

Here’s a definite urge—don’t you have it?—to say, “The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.” What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation—further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan. . . . Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children. . . . They hate us for letting our children have sex and take drugs—well, they’ve got to stop their children killing people.

When I last wrote about his repugnant views, I expressed scepticism that it was possible to 'deport' a British Muslim citizen, as they are after all British, and there is nowhere to deport them to. However Amis is a celebrated novelist, and so presumably had some grounds for suggesting that, so I asked the Border & Immigration Agency whether it was possible. A very kind spokesman, called Ms Newman, has replied:

Please be advised that it is not possible to deport a British Citizen
from the UK.

So this confirms the difficulty in what Amis is suggesting. There seems a number of options. It could be that he is unaware that deportation of British citizens from Britain is not possible, but that seems unlikely. It could be that he is talking of only those Muslims who live here but are not British citizens, but that doesn't fit in well with the mention of the 'Muslim community' or that they have children. I suppose he could be demanding an Act of Parliament, though the practical difficulties of the deportation (to where?) suggest this too is not what he meant.

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The "pensions scandal"

I find some of the critcism of the government here strange, not in the grand scheme of things, as I tend to believe in tax incentives for saving. More, instead, my confusion is do with the normal economic views of those it is mainly coming from. First, given the focus purely on the removal of the dividend tax credit and not other changes in the budget, it seems to imply a strange faith in the power of government to completely change behaviour on specific issues. The assumption is that when £5bn a year less comes from the government, £5bn a year less goes into saving for retirement. There is zero offsetting behaviour by individuals or companies. [1] Second, the assumpton that pensions should gain large tax relief seems now to be universally held. Yet all the "flat tax" proposals I have seen have involved removing that relief, and putting pension saving (and income) on the same lines as any other. Thus given tax relief currently is in the order of £20bn a year, this would mean a 'raid on pension funds' or a 'tax grab' of around £400bn[2].

[1] Maybe they bought property? Between 1997 and 2003 (latest data, I'm afraid) the value of private pension funds went from £1,164bn to £1,330bn (up? yes. And 2003 was the low point in the stock market so it'll be higher now). The value of housing rose from £1,100bn in 1996 to £3,300bn in 2006.
[2] But, I hear you cry, taxes would be lower, people would save more in different forms. Indeed, I imagine that is true, but it is an argument we are not allowed to consider, it seems.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Falklands War

There's a good BBC Parliament special on the Falklands War, with original footage being shown in chronological order. At the moment a young looking Roy Hattersley is arguing with an alive-looking Alan Clark.

Update: The QE2 and the Canberra were requistioned for carrying troops into the conflict zone (the QE2 to the edge, the Canberra faced an even greater danger). What are the grounds for the Government being able to requisition a ship? Cunard is now owned by the American Carnival Corporation, as are P&O Cruises, who I presume are the heirs of the Canberra type ships (P&O is of course also foreign-owned, but by Dubai Ports Worlds, not Carnival). I assume the Government can't requisition foreign-owned ships, unless they were in UK waters at the time, and even then it might be considered strange. Or if they are still registered in the UK, would that make a difference?


Iran crisis

The Telegraph has an opinion poll, which it doesn't seem to refer to much, but which has some interesting findings:

66% trust Blair and Beckett to resolve the crisis, as opposed to 28 who don't.

45% think the crisis has been handled well by the Government, and 41 don't.

On what course of action should be taken next, 40% say there should be no apology but diplomacy must continue, 26% say we should apologise and ask for captives back, 17% want full sanctions, and 7% want preparation for military action.

If diplomacy fails, 44% back military action, and 48% oppose it.

Over at the Telegraph the commenters are less unsure of the correct action (these are the top three at 17:47) - I can't tell if they are entirely seriously:

nuke the hole [sic] country. you wont have that kind of problem any more. the leaders of our country have to stand up for what is wright [sic].
Posted by roger oppelt on April 1, 2007 3:54 PM
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I'm a british muslim and even i have to join the band wagon of - NUKE EM!!
NUKE EM good
Posted by mohammed akbar on April 1, 2007 3:39 PM
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I think we should take 15 major cities in iran, one for each captured sailor, and push the red button and teach those rogue nations what could become of them.Then turn any other nation into a glass desert if they dont like it..
Posted by F. Parsons on April 1, 2007 3:37 PM