The database state


dataConnectivity is a company which has just launched a new mobile phone directory service. They claim to have 16m of mobile phone numbers in their database. They won't give them out to you, but you call 118800 or go onto their website and say who you want to call, and for £1 they will send that person a text asking if they'll take your call.

The interesting question is where Connectivity laid its hands on 16m of our numbers. It's coy, but the answer is market research companies, online businesses that we buy things from, and brokers who sell lists of numbers.

Actually, I'll find it quite useful to be able to look up people's mobile numbers. But grasping the obvious benefits is how we lose our liberties. Most people want more CCTV, for example, because they think it prevents crime. But when you have millions of them tracking your every move, what it starts to prevent is free movement. And the worrying thing about this 118800 initiative is just how easily new databases of our information can be compiled. Click a mouse, text a friend, use your credit cards, sign up for a storecard, pay your car tax or buy a TV licence, walk in the street under the gaze of CCTV, apply for social benefits, forget to tick the box on that says 'we'd like to share your information with...' and your ID cat is out of the bag, floating around between – well, who knows who?

That's why the proposed National Identity Register is so dangerous. And the NHS patient records system too. Tens of millions of our records, all accessible to whichever of 400,000 civil servants happens to have the right security code. The late lamented Jacqui Smith wanted to keep a note of all our email and phone chats, while the lamentable Jack Straw wanted to share all our information between government departments. They both had to publicly backtrack. But I'm under no illusion that these things are going to happen, or are happening, anyway.

Germany’s European election results: A threat to UK new nuclear-build?


nuclearIn the UK, Labour’s disastrous European Election results, allied to a good performance by UKIP, dominated headlines domestically.

But for those presiding over UK energy policy, the results in Germany were seriously disconcerting.

The combined vote of the CDU and the Bavarian-based CSU was just below 38%. Moreover, the FDP secured a 10% share so that this trio fell just short of 50%. The main left-wing party, the SPD, polled less than 21%.

Germany is currently governed by a Grand Coalition led by Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, whose own standing remains impressive. Hence, she is well-placed to secure an overall majority – in league with the CSU and the FDP – in September’s general election.

A CDU-led government, especially with a decent majority, may well decide to scrap Germany’s nuclear phase-out policy that was controversially enacted in 2001.

Germany’s top two energy companies, E.On and RWE, strongly support such a marked policy shift. Undoubtedly, it would materially boost their cash flows: most of their nuclear stations could continue generating power - at low marginal cost - for many years.

E.On and RWE may also undertake upgrades to their existing nuclear plants. And, in time, new nuclear-build may become feasible in Germany, which would require massive investment by both E.On and RWE.

Along with France’s EdF, where net debt reduction is now a priority, E.On and RWE are key to new nuclear-build in the UK. However, a major change in the German energy landscape may cause their investment focus to become more domestically-orientated.

In any event, with nearly £40 billion of net debt, E.On’s own investment plans are being cut back.

Worrying times then for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) – a reversal of Germany’s nuclear phase-out policy would certainly not be helpful for the prospects of new nuclear-build in the UK.

Battling the BNP


Yesterday dozens of protesters from the group ‘Unite Against Fascism’ swarmed on Nick Griffin’s European Election victory speech outside the House of Lords. They threw eggs, hit him and his supporters with placards and umbrellas and kicked his car as he drove away. As a result of the protest two people were taken to hospital.

Clearly there should be no place for the likes of the BNP and Nick Griffin in British politics – he’s a racist and a holocaust deniers. But they are now in a democratically elected public office and we cannot ‘blame’ or punish Nick Griffin for being democratically elected.

‘Unite Against Fascism’ are not a credible force to combat extremism in Britain. They seem to undermine themselves. The protest organiser is quoted as saying ‘I support freedom of speech but not for fascists’. Something doesn’t quite add up. You cannot support freedom of speech only when it suits you, and by campaigning to stump the free speech of the BNP, ‘Unite Against Fascism’ are becoming slightly fascist themselves.

If we are really to stop this rise in fascism we need to look at the root causes of its growth. People are voting for the BNP because they feel disenfranchised by the major political parties. They feel the BNP will be more responsive to their individual needs.

There are two ways to start to reverse the growth of the BNP. Firstly, we need to bring people like Griffin into the open. Let him give news interviews in the mainstream media. This way people will see what he a fool he is with his claims that he can ‘just see if somebody is British’. We also need a reform of Westminster that emphasises MPs and parties working for the people rather than themselves, a point the BNP played on with their focus on local tensions.

Blog Review 878


Just how much money is it that we owe given Gordon's financial inventiveness?

Quite why there was all that excitement over Gordon's possible resignation is difficult to understand. There's almost no way of forcing him to.

It just isn't true that train travel is necessarily less carbon emittive than car travel.

Are there limits to the amount of wealth that we can create?

Hey, maybe it's all over! Paul Krugman seems to think so.

A very weird idea of how to make the political system work better. Weird, but perhaps sufficiently so to actually work.

And finally, what we've escaped with the sexual revolution.

The pathetic nature of British politics


westminster_at_nightThe irony of ironies was delivered over the weekend, sixty five years after the brave men and women of the Allied armies successfully breached the Atlantic Wall to fight national socialism, the UK decided the time was right to send national socialists to represent them in the European Parliament. The two regions, Yorkshire & Humber, and the North West, were those that 'successfully' elected MEPs from the British National Party despite the party actually losing voters in these two regions. (In Yorkshire & Humber their vote fell by 5.1% and in the North West by 2.1%). They were of course supported via a substantial drop in core Labour voters who decided that their non-appearance in the booths would show the party leadership in Westminster exactly what they thought of them.

The whole political system is to blame for this debacle. The destruction that has been wrought throughout the latter part of the 20th century by Westminster and Strasbourg/Brussels has allowed for the BNP to establish a firm foothold on the political ladder. The creation of the nationalized industries, the centralization of power firstly in Westminster and then to a lesser extent in the European parliament, the stripping of power at the local level and the end to oppositional politics has meant that the rise of smaller parties was inevitable. This has lead to apathetic voters who wish to protest at how they feel forgotten by those they traditionally vote for and also to political minorities across the whole spectrum choosing to vote for seemingly extreme/single issue political organizations.

The rise of groups such as UKIP, BNP, Plaid Cymru, SNP and the Greens is merely reflective of how out of touch Westminster and the parties have become. The fault for the election of the BNP lies squarely with the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems. Voters may not fully understand what/who they vote for but they will vote for someone who listens to them. That is all the BNP did in this campaign. In these enlightened times it is difficult to believe that there are nearly 3 million racists in Great Britain, as this Channel 4 survey shows .

Mr Right


buckleyThere is an excellent program on Radio four narrated by Michael Portillo on the late and great ‘Mr Right’: Bill Buckley. It is worth an hour of your time and in between the wit of Buckley, Michael Portillo throws up some interesting points about the difference between the Conservative movements in the US and the UK.

There are some great archival highlights, such as a few snippets of his famous 1965 Cambridge debate with the novelist and civil right’s activist James Baldwin, as well as many other peaks into the plethora of his adversarial battles on the iconic Firing Line, a show that was to run for thirty-three years.

A key point for Portillo is his argument that US Conservatism as influenced by Buckley is more ideological as distinct from its UK variety. Here Portillo uses the word ideological precluding the often negative connotations that surround the word, instead taking it to mean the thought necessary to construct the ideas. This was Buckley’s genius, to be the voice of thoughtful Conservativism, with power enough through the arguments contained in The National Review to convert Ronald Reagan from an instinctive Democrat to a Republican bibliophage.

As the right sorely misses the ideas of Buckley in the US, we are the worse for having lacked the public intellectuals with the spirit and brilliance to ignite a similar passion in this country. Listening to the Reith Lectures yesterday morning with the engaging statist political philosopher Michael Sandel discuss markets and morality, one can only imagine the battle Buckley would have fought with him over Sandel's ideas, which as things stand would sit so comfortably in the unthinking minds and unchallenged mouths of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians of this country.

Blog Review 877


Once again we come up against that old distinction, between positive and negative rights.

Another story from the front lines of how all that extra public spending is actually being spent. Not well.

Here's fighting words. Macroeconomics is mostly ex-post storytelling.

The joys of the private sector: being able to tell the government where to go.

One view of the recent election of the BNP.

Another, lighter view.

And finally, not even the paparazzi papers are interested in a story about Mel Who?



Fascists in Europe


There is much discussion as to exactly what kind of people have voted for the BNP at the European elections. Much of the discussion surrounding this has been either naïve or disingenuous; many people who voted for the BNP are indeed racist and there are still plenty more rascists besides who voted for other parties or did not bother going to the ballot box at all. Racism is still common in this country and unless this is accepted the wrong conclusions from the BNP’s assent will be drawn.

So what are we to do about the BNP? Well, firstly ignoring them hasn’t worked; in fact quite the opposite. Ian Dale is spot on in tackling them head-on and Nick Griffin showed himself to a fool when quizzed by Adam Boulton on Sky. This is a good start but it is not enough.

We also need to see the depoliticization of European politics in favour of free trade and strong diplomatic relations. The European polity is a shambles and it is little surprise that the fascists have been voted into its realm by a number of European countries. As rotten as our national politics is, at least these BNP voters will mostly be voting Labour at the next general election; in 2005 the BNP received 192,746 votes, a lot, but nothing like the 943,598 votes they just got in the European elections. After all, even racists have priorities.

UK government says ‘No’ to volunteer labor


One of the many consequences of the new points-based system for UK visa distribution is the limitation imposed on non-EU student interns. The current migration regulations bar non-EU students from undertaking fulltime internships in the UK, effectively pronouncing a death sentence on thousands of UK internship programmes at universities around the world.

The objective of this new policy is simple, to protect UK jobs. The government assumes that a drastic reduction in free student labor will compel UK employers to pay EU citizens to do the work formerly done by non-EU interns. If the volunteer labor supply is depleted, organizations with internship programmes will be forced either to increase their expenses by hiring additional employees or do less work because they cannot afford to pay new staff. The points based system ensures that intern-dependent employers reduce either net profitability or productivity.

I grant that this is an oversimplification. It is possible that organizations that previously relied on non-EU interns might maintain their productivity levels by working more efficiently. It could also be argued that the time spent training interns diminishes organizational efficiency. Astute observers may even point out that intern-dependent employers represent a miniscule percentage of UK employers, so the impact on the economy will also be negligible.

Efficiency is a hallmark of free market economies, but it must be worked out in an unfettered marketplace not artificially imposed by regulation. Although the collective economy will notice little effects from the elimination of interns, market sectors containing an abundance of resource poor, intern-dependent organizations – unregistered charities in particular – will feel the effects of the points-based system most acutely.

The anti-intern policy is far from the top of the list of ill-advised policies set forth by the current regime (see capital gains tax reform, non-dom tax, et al.). Nonetheless, the policy is yet another example of regulation that obstructs free enterprise. Hopefully it will follow many of its poorly conceived counterparts to the policy graveyard.