Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Olympic fail

Apologies for the long lacuna – life has been a bit hectic.

Here at the Observatory, we thought the Olympics coming to London was an embuggerance that could only have been surpassed by the Olympics coming to our own much fairer city. Howsomever, our electorally anointed ones (of all flavours) have pushed on with the idea, so we have to make the best of the multi-billion shindig.

When it comes to the engineering and construction side, we seem to have done pretty well. Very well, in fact. It's some of the soft stuff that's going pear-shaped. I give you, exempli gratia, the question of security personnel. The Guvmint having pimped itself once again to G4S for £300 million ("thanks, darling, same time next year?"), it seems there won't be enough trained personnel on hand. G4S have, it seems, "... encountered some issues in relation to workforce supply". Despite enormously high unemployment, and notoriously low pay for security staff, G4S have managed not to be able to fulfil this contracted undertaking. So the armed forces will have to step in. Well, it's not as if they have anything to do, there being only a couple of wars on. So that's all right.

Moving swiftly to Heathrow. OK, that's just my little joke – as if anyone could move swiftly to or from Heathrow – but moving on. Will we be able to get our foreign friends into the country to see the Olympics?

It seems that today a long queue waiting to get through border control at Heathrow started a slow hand-clap by way of weary comment at the more than two hour delay. Your man on the BBC report appeared to be American. Well, we accept his point; that kind of wait isn't acceptable, and it all bodes ill for the Olympic influx. That said, trying to enter America has become notoriously difficult even for people who don't look swarthy and have beards. Let's imagine the chances of anyone starting a slow hand-clap in the border control queue getting into the US of A? Lightning would strike first, I suggest.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Police and Crime Commissioners

I must apologise for the lack of recent activity. My analysis of who really runs the world evidently ruffled a few feathers – or should I say 'antennae' – and I had to spend the whole of February avoiding several large and threatening prawns. Fortunately for me, Mrs QO's countering tactics involving a wok and some hoi-sin sauce seemed to deter them, and I think I can safely put my head above the parapet to discuss the question of who will, after 25 November, really run your local police force.

If you haven't really noticed that in November you will be offered the chance to vote for a Police and Crime Commissioner, you aren't alone – some three-quarters of the electorate haven't twigged either. Your PCC will have the power to hire and fire the Chief Constable, set the police precept (a lovely word, isn't it? Much nicer than 'tax') and generally throw his or her weight around, setting policing priorities for the area. And receive between £60,000 and £100,000 a year, depending on the size of the local police force. And have a nice office, staff and an expense account.

Now, you may think this is A Good Thing. Popular accountability, my chance to influence policing in my patch, the democratic Dibble at last... well, that's certainly the Conservative line. They were hoping that some splendid candidates would spring forward, giants of community leadership, famous faces, big beasts of entrepreneurship, "... those who have built and led large organisations" as Nick Herbert MP said. And the cost of this bright new policing world is surely a snip at a mere £75 million.

Well, now. The Conservatives and Labour are intending to field party candidates in most if not all areas. So they'll be 'acceptable' politically, i.e., won't have an original thought in their head, will be great at kissing babies and doing the rubber chicken circuit, and won't have a proper big job to do anywhere else. The vast majority of candidates so far are local councillors, the lads and lasses with dodgy dress style who've been on the old-fashioned police authorities all these years, salivating at the thought of a much bigger payoff. Genuinely able independents are either busy running their large organisations, or appalled at the thought of having to kiss babies and do the rubber chicken circuit rather than get the job on merit, and are probably earning a sight more than is on offer. You can see who's up for it here, if you're interested. But I'm guessing mostly you're not.

But perhaps you should be. Policing in the UK is in something of a crisis. Morale is low among rank and file officers, resources are being significantly cut (except among Diversity Managers and PR departments), there's still a huge target culture despite what Kitten Heels says, and to this already toxic mix the Government is introducing political control and increased privatisation. Does that sound promising to you?

It may help if I summarise your options:
1. You get what you've already got, only it'll cost more.
2. You get something radically different which will probably be worse.

In either event, as far as the Guvmint is concerned, it will be your fault. You voted for the twat.

So have a think about your options come November, and have a look at your candidates. The good people of Humberside, by the way, have as one of their candidates one of the very few big names to have emerged so far, and I show him below discussing local affairs with a member of the public. Yeah, it's a cheap shot, I know, but it just seems emblematic of how this bright idea is likely to pan out.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Scottish independence – the way forward

As we're nearly at Burns Night, some thoughts on Scottish independence. Having read a good deal of argument on either side, part of the interest for me has been seeing the panic among some Scots at the notion of not being part of the UK, and another part has been the amount of enthusiasm for the idea among the English. Cynics might say that the latter is partly out of jealousy – sod off with your better healthcare, your free university places, and so on – and partly due to the perception that money is currently flowing from England to Scotland, and it would help England to stop this transfer.

I don't think Alex Salmond is thinking big enough.

Here's what he – and Scotland – should be arguing for: not just independence for Scotland as it currently stands, but an independent and enlarged Scotland. Here's the map as I would suggest it.

Note that the new border runs roughly from the Mersey to the Wash, such that the new most southerly Scottish cities would be Stoke, Derby and Nottingham. To the existing Scottish economy would be added a good number of people and the great cities mentioned above along with Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle... and of course Carlisle and Berwick-upon-Tweed would return once more to the motherland.

The character and temperament of these parts of England would fit much better with Scotland than with the Shires and the Home Counties. All of the areas going to Scotland under my modest proposal are marked by their citizens being stroppy, argumentative, up for a drink and a ruck (or either), and distrustful of politicians, especially Oxbridge toffs who've never been north of Watford Gap. The blood flowing in the veins of the 'English' above the new border is a heady mix of the ancient British, the Anglo-Saxons and the Scandinavian invaders; by contrast the Southron Londoners (and they're all Londoners up as far as Leicester, let's face it) are mostly French types and therefore only fit for sitting around in poncey winebars talking bolleaux.

Clearly there would be some adjustments to make for we 'New Scottish', but I already like whisky, so I'm not too concerned. I haven't been in the habit of drinking it much before lunch, I must admit, but this would be a small price to pay for the benefits of belonging to a new, forward-looking and dynamic Greater Scotland.

So, Mr Salmond, there you have it. Think big. Be bold. Dream of a new Hadrian's Wall along the Trent. You know it makes sense.