Blue Skies?

The view this morning from outside the office was nothing but uplifting. I think it’s the first blue sky I’ve seen this year!

Unlike some other parts of the country which continue to suffer although real perspective from the media was long since flushed away. Now though, that the pastures of South Western England are more easily identifiable with the paddy fields of South East Asia, and talk on the 06:00hrs from Haslemere is reminiscent of the Blitz, “I see Somerset was hit again last night,” “and they got the Rose & Crown in Chertsey,” it is reassuring that the governmental machine has at last rolled into action. Unfortunately, it again took a media storm and growing political embarrassment to force action to acknowledge the situation that the stoic citizens of the South West and elsewhere find themselves in and past errors of judgement which have exacerbated the problem.

Are not the floods though, another pressing indictment on short duration politics which constantly strive for immediate electoral favour without regard to long term unintended consequences? The paucity of multi decade planning is being laid bare across every part of our society and embrace energy, transport, defence, education and the vexatious issues of long term health and elderly care. We’ll have another opportunity to witness “last safe moment crisis management,” with the next financial crisis which is trundling down the tracks with an arrival time of later this year.

The political establishment would gather much more support if they focused more on doing the right thing, rather than always lurching for the politically expedient path. We’re not as stupid as they evidently think we are. 

A politician trying to look windswept & interesting (click)

Would it be too cynical to reflect that Berkshire and Surrey have been sacrificed to manage the water flow through London? As a plan it does have an economic logic although not for the citizens west of London. The flaw in the plan of course is that such is the weight of water, it’s displaying the temerity to go around the upstream weirs and is now encroaching as far as Richmond. Londoners may be phlegmatic but the floods are worsening, as evidenced by the Navy appearing upstream and not just the Army!  While politicians stare at the floods trying to look windswept and interesting, enquiring minds are left to ponder, what about the moles and is there any truth in the rumour that Somalian pirates have been spotted on the Somerset levels?

Sandbags.jpg

The drafting in of servicemen, if only to reassure citizens, is woefully overdue, even if they don't have the kit, (we sold it all), or training to make a significant difference. As Think Defence points out, using servicemen as general labour to fill sandbags, (probably because it fulfills some hearty belief in that's what soldiers do), is "pure tokenisim." 

There have been some suggestions of remustering the Civil Defence Corp. I think it's a great idea and long advocated here. Call it what you will, but a series of CDC detachments and or TA Royal Engineers stationed up and across the country with dedicated long term depots of food, fuel, light, shelter, pumps, earth moving kit, snow moving kit and so on to support the civil community in times of urgent need is an obvious good. It doesn't matter if they're young reserve soldiers or civilian middle aged and retired specialists, (perhaps a mixture of both), but the poverty of our preparations to deal with disaster is becoming a national embarrassment and a dereliction of duty by HMG. The Americans have FEMA , we've got a bunch of clowns in wellies. Mind you, in the US the Corp of Engineers look after the waterways but then they are almost half the size of the whole British Army.

Why doesn't it happen now? I suspect a mixture of self entitlement, self importance and self preservation from all currently involved. The whole structure, where one exists, needs a shake down.

For the moment, there are no winners. The Environment Agency has let itself and the country down, (even though many planning departments ignore their advice on developing on flood plains), the media are turning the whole thing into a hysterical circus with not even a crumb of scientific analysis, (Charles Glover's piece in the ST about farmers in Somerset putting their topsoil at risk in flooding by over planting with maize is an exception), Westminster have been shown to be the comedy act that they are and some householders have seen a lifetimes endeavor floating away toward the English Channel. All the rest of us, well we'll end up with the bill because we keep electing people with no vision, foresight or appreciation of risk.

Market watchers meanwhile are left to consider the weather impact on food prices. From the drought in California, the snowstorms across southern and eastern US, the hottest December on record in Brazil and our own floods there will be an inflationary impact to come on the High Street. 

"The first such foreign policy defeat since 1782"

Last nights vote against intervention was a victory for Parliament who, for once, listened rather than heard and saw rather than looked. The lack of enthusiasm for catapulting us into conflict without a strong case being made to the country, without limitations and without a clear aim has been greeted with relief. Wisdom and maturity have prevailed.

The problem doesn't go away but there is a clear instruction to the government that having done exhaustive preparatory planning,  they must then engage and explain. We're not going to war off the cuff again. We value our country and the lives of our servicemen somewhat higher than the price of post Prime Ministerial American lecture tours.

The clear loser is David Cameron. The Prime Minister has a reputation in Westminster for being idle. He is thought not to anticipate problems coming down the tracks, (partly through not reading briefs thoroughly). This leads to ill thought out solutions hurriedly thrown together. If he spent more time working hard and less time on the beach, (more holidays than most Prime Ministers in modern times), he might not be so disconnected from the prevailing sentiment of the country, Parliament and indeed his own party. 

As my friend Stephen Lewis, (Chief Economist at Monument Securities), points out, 

"Before Mr Miliband and a number of Tory MP's frustrated his plans,  Cameron argued that any military action against Syria had to be ‘specific’.  ‘This is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war,’ he said.  Whatever the rights and wrongs of Mr Cameron’s stance, one thing is clear.  It would not be for him alone to say whether the outcome would be war.  That would partly depend also on the reaction of Syria and its allies to what they would see as NATO aggression.  One could sympathise with Mr Cameron in the position in which he found himself.  He knows that, to win general support for military action against the Syrian regime, he must at all costs avoid presenting it as the prelude to the kind of adventures Blair initiated in Afghanistan and Iraq.  There is every reason to believe he is sincere in thinking that Syria could be attacked with no further consequences.  Even so, it is disconcerting that he should contemplate action while taking for granted that war will not ensue.  In this, he shares a mindset that has developed within the ruling elite in the developed world.  It does not occur to members of this elite that their decisions might have results other than those they intend.  Consequently, they make no adequate provision for contingencies." 

That he has failed in his first big test creates a pretty big political problem for him. He is not without enemies within his party and many will now be less timid in articulating their concerns. It should be an interesting party season.

Having put a stake in the ground, perhaps the Americans will now prove to be more supportive going forward on issues like the Falklands and Gibraltar

Markets meanwhile, are somewhat relieved that short term uncertainty is removed yet have still to even countenance longer term political change which may result from the events of this week.

Congratulations though, to all those MP's who had the moral courage to stand up for what they believed in. 

Unrest in Libya and Haslemere

Yvonne Fletcher.... murdered

With Gaddafi and his despotic regime on their last legs I shed no tears; but keep a thought for PC Yvonne Fletcher, murdered by his henchmen in St James Square and the many, many soldiers and civilians murdered by the provisionals and INLA with training and weapons supplied by Gaddafi. The brutal murder of 270 innocents on PanAm Flight 103 should have been grounds enough to remove this lunatic almost thirty years ago. Indeed, my old company was dispatched to clear up and the impact of PTSD on those men is still very much a live issue today. I hope the bastard swings.

Tony Blair

Well, it's good to see that appointing Tony Blair as a Middle East peace envoy is going as swimmingly as those of us in this country who know him so well could only expect. So far, we have most of North Africa ablaze, with growing protests as far East as China, (small and known as the Jasmine protests), as far South as Zim, as far West as Wisconsin and as far North as Haslemere when yesterday, as bad luck would have it, Mrs Flashbang went binky bonk Cloud 9 when the washing machine died. Trying to be helpful, I pointed out that "we used to handwash things all the time in the Army," which almost resulted in me going the same way as the LG direct drive washing machine. 
USS Enterprise (CVN 65) transits through the Suez Canal
In response to the turbulence, (in the Middle East; they haven't yet offered assistance to middle aged men in Haslemere under domestic duress), the Americans have sent what appears to be a very large bit of US Navy and parked it close enough for the Iranians to notice, lest the Iranians harbour intentions to exploit the unrest. The Royal Navy, (who's very role in life used to be to send gunboats at the first sign of uppityness), meanwhile has a somewhat smaller presence which probably won't be growing very much given there's not an awful lot of it left, as with yet more inspired planning, we've sold most of our ships to scrap metal dealers in Turkey and to Third World dictators........................ oh dear...
Actually, we don't have much of anything left in the cupboard. If the rumoured new cuts go through, by 2015 the Army will be exactly half the size it was when I joined. Still, we can always enlist the thousands of kids on YOP schemes who work for Tesco's on minimum wages which appears to account for an aspirational career these days,
from Think Defence

 

Nimrod MRA4 v Birdman of Bognor

"My biggest duty as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is to our Armed Forces and to make sure that they have all the equipment and all of the protection that they need to do the absolutely vital job that they are doing"  David Cameron

I've been following the debate on the Nimrod MRA 4, and other "colossal procurement clusterfvcks of our time," over with the well informed team and readers at Think Defence. It's worth a visit.

My own laser like treatment of the governments PR challenge in explaining away how £4bn of aircraft R&D, and the subsequent gaping hole in capability, ends up being gently dismantled by a JCB digger managed to nail the issue pretty well I thought. I reproduce it here with some degree of pride in my two and a half minutes well planned prose........ which would be about the same time the government spent discussing the abandonment of the program.

 Tommy Gunn, Chief Designer, Nimrod MRA4, BAE SystemsAs far as I can recall, this entire sorry project, in all it’s mutations, has been a weapons grade fxck up for what feels like most of my adult life. The aircraft being wrecked look like something a hyperactive three year old would have made with 2 egg cartons, a fairy liquid bottle and glue made from flour and water. That anyone is shocked or surprised that the project is finally getting a headshot is in fact, the only surprise. It’s been so compromised over the years it’s a miracle that we didn’t end up with the sort of contraptions made famous by the Birdmen of Bognor.

Birdmen of Bognor

Not to worry though, I’m pretty confident that BAE Systems will conjure up another wheeze to rape and pillage the taxpayer for the next 30 years, to be announced by another stupid politician with the phrase, “thousands of jobs in high technology,” whilst the urgent search begins to find a new batch of remedial teenagers on YOP schemes to manage it until their eventual retirement from the MOD.

Jerry Thrapper; Head of Procurement; MOD - Air Systems

Bloody Trains Rant

Coalition Transport Spending Plan

I don't believe for a moment that any of us war weary infantry in the trenches are in the least bit surprised in the supposed revelation that Vince Cable believes that he could bring down the coalition at any time of his choosing. The only surprise is that Vince Cable might think that any of us care in the least what he says. We're all just too familiar with the massive egos and arrogance of these people to be surprised which is not news given one of the people who has least earned the right to ego and arrogance is Mr Cable. Greatness doesn't come from just regurgitating the last thing you read on the internet.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, there is indeed no limit to the ego of all these people for they all leave humility at the front door of Westminster the moment they walk inside. The way they like to project their largesse and public spirit is, somewhat tragically for the long suffering taxpayer, by embarking on huge vanity projects at our expense. That we neither need not want them is irrelevant as they seek to concrete themselves in the public conciousness Oh you will lads, but for the wrong reasons.

£800m on the Millennium Dome would be a good place to start in the lesson, "How not to do it," but Westminster missed that and hurtled on to drive a coach and horses through what taxpayers wanted by throwing what will end up costing £20bn to keep Lord bloody Coe quiet on the Olympics. £20bn? Let's just stop for a moment and question this insanity. Yesterday a great big PR fuss was made of the floodlights being switched on and £65m being given to sport for schools. Here's a reality check - for £20 bn we could give every secondary school a top class gymnasium and small stadium. In fact, all our schools could be equipped just like those cutsy American High schools you see in the movies. Instead, we're spending an absolute bloody fortune on a bunch a minority sports that no one ever pays to watch. The utter waste is criminal and the servitude to the IOC is demeaning to every Briton that has ever drawn breath. The Russians got the World Cup; let's just give them the Olympic fools errand too, in fact, we should pay them to take it and retain some dignity and cash flow.

But political vanity projects are the order of the day for every administration and so the Coalition have theirs....... fast trains to bloody Birmingham. Well, that's a good way to spend £34bn isn't it?

Here's a little bit of context for you from our friends at Think Defence; despite all the drum beating about the Military Covenant, this is what the Coalition have achieved to date,

  • Reducing the planned purchase of 22 Chinooks to 12
  • Cancelling Nimrod MRA4
  • Reducing armour and artillery
  • Reducing surface vessels
  • Reducing Tornado
  • Withdrawn Harrier GR9′s
  • Withdrawing Sentinel
  • Slashing allowances and expenses
  • Setting up the armed forces for a post Afghanistan change in terms and conditions of service
  • Implementing a 2 year pay freeze
  • Reducing pensions
  • Reducing service personnel by 17,000
  • Reducing the MoD Civil Service by 25,000 which will likely result in more work for service personnel

Moving swiftly back to the £34bn we're about to hose on getting to Birmingham marginally more quickly than we already do, these people, well the Government I guess, (they could be aliens for all the familiarity they demonstrate to the lives of taxpayers), need a reality check. Obviously, I'd like the reality check to be a swift kick up the rear but instead I'll make this as simple as I can,

"We don't want to travel at 250mph, we simply want to travel at reasonable cost and with a reliable service."

My season ticket costs £5256, plus £800 a year to park my car at the station; that's after tax. Given we subsidise South West Trains anyway,  the true cost to the traveller can only be guessed at. I won't bang on about the wanton exploitation of the travelling public by South West Trains because I've talked before about them stripping out lavatories on trains to cram in more seats, about using small suburban trains for inter city services and that rather special couldn't give a damn attitude to snow clearing on their premises.

The point here, is that the Coalition should stow their egos and focus on just what would help the travelling public and the workforce and it isn't fast trains to Birmingham. Indeed, if I were a betting man I can almost guarantee that it will end up costing £50bn and the rest of us will enjoy fare increases to compensate for their utter stupidity. Muppets.

 As a postscript, I found this comment on a post on Andrew Gilligans blog interesting and exactly the sort of thing the government should be making their business to explore. They won't, it doesn't massage the ego enough and strangely, I can't now find the comment on the blog; here it is anyway:

"My favourite suggestion that went nowhere, was from a South-West Trains driver who had noticed that if you were to build a mile-long spur from a point a mile south-west of Feltham mainline BR station up between the Bedfont Road and the Primary school and past the Clockhouse Roundabout into Terminal 4, you could have a very cheap Heathrow Express, going into the surplus international-spec Eurostar platforms at Waterloo once the cross-channel trains started going into St. Pancras."

Stand up whoever you are and find that bloody driver; we can't afford to let original thinking like that fall by the wayside.

 

Let's Hope They're Not Using Real Guns...

The National Security Strategy document, with the catchy title, "A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty," has just been published.

The document highlights the growing threat from hostile cyber attacks and cyber crime. I do understand and appreciate it would be jolly inconvenient to be standing at the Sainsbury's checkout and suffer a catastrophic "blue screen of death," on the till, a power cut or a surprise bank transfer that catapulted me into the Sunday Times Rich List, but call me old fashioned, the shooty, hurty attacks scare me just a bit more.

Monty over at Think Defence has his own take on things however;

“Cyber attack! What does this mean? Challenger 2 will be replaced by the universal deployment Norton Anti-Virus 9 and random password generators? Will civil servants no longer leave their laptops in pubs? I doubt it. God help us!”

What Election?

 

Way back when in the days when I was young and could muster some enthusiasm for elections, I went out and bought the manifestos for each party and read them with great earnest before deciding who would get my vote. Of course, I was too young to vote at the time and no one else was interested in discussing politics so it was a singular and solitary exercise; unrepeated until today.

No need to spend any money though; we've moved on since those days but it is, nonetheless, of passing interest to try to scratch the surface of the spin, the hype and the poster campaigns and examine what, if anything, the parties have been big enough to commit to print.

My starting point was the good fellows at Think Defence who have listed the future defence policies of each party. All are unremarkable and as yet lack detail yet overflow with flannel.

I have stumbled upon another interesting site though called Vote for Policies. Here, you select the policies which appeal to you without knowing which party they belong to. At the end it tells you which party is most closely aligned with your view. Interesting exercise but somewhat oddly, they don't list defence amongst the available categories.

If you're a news junkie, Politics Home continues to provide the best news summaries available and of course Political Betting is a good resource to keep up to date with where the smart money is going. You'll find all the cynicisim and entertainment you could ever possibly need by following the politics links to the right of this page.

The best election posters by the way............... continue to be generated from a mind that probably needs professional help but are the only thing I'm looking forward to over the coming weeks, hat tip GOT for both in this post.

 

Smell the Coffee Mrs Clinton

 

The Times Online carries a story today that Britain has apparently made a string of protests to America about their recent stance on the Falklands. They report that, "British diplomats have expressed serious concerns to the US State Department at least three times over Washington’s response to the latest dispute over the Falkland Islands." That'll have them worried then.

The Times continues, "Officials said that several phone calls were made and an e-mail was sent after the State Department spokesman called the islands the Malvinas." A bloody email? No doubt that ended up in a spam file along with adverts for blue pills and Russian brides. An email for fvcks sake? The Diplomatic Service wants to wear out some shoe leather and get round to the White House and ask the simple question, "what the fvck is going on?" Can you see this sad and sorry state of affairs becoming apparent if SHE were still here?

The boy Obama would be in for a right old hand bagging.

You see, Mrs Clinton, you don't go toadying up to some South American politician when your best friends on the planet have 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan backing you up................... just as we did in Iraq. 

Friends at Think Defence have written at length on the subject. I'm just left thinking, who are these comedians running America and where is Cap Weinberger and his ilk when you need them?