Monday, 17 August 2009

Sir John Gieve and jobs for the boys

On my morning walk into work I happened to tune into a radio 4 program by Robert Peston called Peston and the Money Men in which he talks to four key individuals who were in the eye of the storm of the global financial meltdown. Today's episode featured Sir John Gieve who was Deputy Governor for Financial Stability before and during the financial crisis.

Clearly his time at the Bank was not a roaring success as the one thing he certainly did not ensure was financial stability. However the question that immediately popped into my head was how he was offered the job in the first place.

Before taking his place at the Bank he had been Permanent Secretary at the Home Office (for those not in the know this means he was the non-political civil service head and "accounting officer" of the Home Office, in effect the Chief Executive) and his time at the Home Office was pretty much an unmitigated disaster, with crisis and failures including:

The lost prisoner scandal, where it emerged that more than 1,000 foreign national had been released from British prisons without being considered for deportation.

The Blunkett nannygate scandal where Gieve and other civil servants were criticise for failing to recall how the visa for Mr Blunkett's ex-lover's nanny came to be fast-tracked.

and most damningly the 2006 National Audit Office's report, Home Office: 2004-05 Resource Account which was highly critical of Home Office’s accounts during the period of Gieve's tenure; the accompanying press release stated that:

“Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported to Parliament today that the Home Office had not maintained proper financial books and records for the financial year ending 31 March 2005. Sir John Bourn therefore concluded that, because the Home Office failed to deliver its accounts for audit by the statutory timetable, and because of the fundamental nature of the problems encountered, he could not reach an opinion on the truth and fairness of the Home Office’s accounts.”

Shortly after Gieve left the home office in 2006, Charles Clarke was dismissed as Home Secretary and replaced by John Reid, who after his appointment made a statement to Parliament in which he described the Home Office as "unfit for purpose". While a succession of incompetent Labour politicians certainly share some of the blame for this, particularly on the policy side, the man responsible for the day to day running must surely foot the majority of the blame for any operational failings within the department.

Knowing that Gieve had failed totally to run a department of state with anything approaching competency, one would assume he would have been retired off or demoted to the level of his competency, but as we know this was not the case. Instead he received another top job at The Bank of England charged with maintaining Financial Stability. To give Gieve is due credit he was certainly consistent over seeing the near total melt down of the financial system.

Gieve's ability to obtain a top job after his abject failure at the Home Office brings me to my last point, the worrying fact of the top jobs being dished out to a small number of people with experience in top jobs, whether or not they have be competent in previous jobs. Examples include:

Andy Hornby, who as CEO of HBOS led the bank to near bankruptcy and the its eventual take over by Lloyds TSB. Mr Hornby is now happily the boss of Alliance Boots on around £1 million a year. I am sure the investors in Boots are very happy.

James Crosby, who just happened to be Hornby's mentor and who had an equal hand in the near collapse of HBOS and of course now is Chairman of a leading multinational software company,Misys. Of even more concern with Crosby was his appointment to the FSA initially as a non-Executive Director in 2004, while still running HBOS. After stepping down from HBOS he was made Deputy Chair of the FSA in 2007. Clearly, even if all else was equal there was already the potential for a serious conflict of interest with Crosby's role at the FSA even after his resignation from HBOS. However all else was not equal and the FSA has admitted that is had worries about the HBOS business model (In other words Crosby's business model for HSBO) at the time of Crosby's appointment. If the FSA had worries how did they allow the Treasury to appointment such a man to the FSA.

With both these cases it can be seen that the mere ability to obtain a top job seems in and of itself a qualification for any other top job that comes along whether or not you have shown any competency or integrity in your previous positions.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The Counter-Terrorism Bill: Some Thoughts

The BBC website published an article summarising the Governments latest Counter-Terrorism Bill.
Three of the points raised caused me particular concern. Below I have included the BBC's summary of these three points along with my comment.

A little noticed clause of the bill gives the Home Secretary a new power to ban the public from a coroner's inquest in the interests of national security. Coroners rule on most deaths that come before them - but must call upon a jury if a death has occurred in controversial circumstances, particularly where it involves the police or other agents of the state. An example would be the forthcoming inquest relating to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. If the proposal becomes law, inquests in some controversial circumstances involving what the government says are important issues of national security would be held behind closed doors on public interest grounds.

The main point that stood out to me was: Coroner inquests could be held in secret if the government deems the issues involved are matters of national security.

Now this is clearly going to breed distrust and most modern of phenomenon, the conspiracy theory. Every time an inquest is held behind closed doors, on public interest grounds, surely the suspicion will be that the government or security services had had an involvement with the death. (Just as an aside, how exactly is excluding the public from any decision making process and particularly from the inquest process in the public interest? Another seemingly common tactic of the government is the habit of equating the Labour party/ Governments interests with the public interest.)

Imagine the impression if either the Jean Charles DeMenezes' or Dr David Kelly's inquests were to have been held behind closed doors. Already with some public scrutiny there is more than a whiff of a cover up.

In a time of growing public disaffection with politicians and public bodies this move will surely further foster pubic distrust and could easily be seen as a charter for cover ups and a dangerous step towards enabling a future ever greater state power.

The bill changes some of the rules surrounding the use of the security services' "intercept material" - intelligence gathered in secret operations like phone taps which cannot currently be used as court evidence. A Privy Council committee is debating whether intercept material can be used in prosecutions, with the security services worried that it has the danger of compromising their methods. But the bill would allow the use of intercept material in cases where the authorities want to freeze the assets of a suspected terrorist. Inquests would also be able to turn to intercept evidence - but only if the Home Secretary has already banned the public from attending.

I have a fundamental distrust of intercept evidence by the very fact that one should be able to expect private communications to be just that, private.

The advocacy of the use of such intercept evidence by the current political class seems stunningly hypocritical in light of MPs tenacious refusal to publish full expense accounts on the grounds of privacy and security.

These general misgivings are not specific worry that has been raised by the BBC summary. Rather it was the last sentence of the summary that stood out to me. “Inquests would also be able to turn to intercept evidence - but only if the Home Secretary has already banned the public from attending.”

This provision appears to be just another example policy whose primary result will the breeding of mistrust between the Government and the people. One really feels that we no longer have a government of the people but a government to rule the people from a misguided patriarchal idea that only the ruling classes knows what is best for us.

Police will be able to remove documents from a property search to decide whether or not they need to be legally seized as part of an investigation. The idea behind this power is to allow detectives to take documents, discs and so on which may need translating into English before they can decide whether or not they constitute possible evidence.The bill allows greater use of DNA samples taken by the police to be used in terrorism investigations, in particular for cross-checking against material held by the security services. The legislation also allows the police to take the fingerprints or DNA of someone subject to a control order. These orders are not criminal offences - they are civil restraints against an individual because of what the security services think that suspect may do in the future.

Again one sentence really worries me. “ control orders.... are civil restraints against an individual because of what the security services think that suspect may do in the future.”

This smacks of another move to criminalise and marginalise people without the recourse to a fair hearing or trial by jury, in the same way that the breech of an ASBO can lead to prison time with no trial.

Giving the state the power to criminalise people only on the word of secret evidence worryingly smacks of a step towards authoritarianism.

Monday, 17 March 2008

How this government has undermined society

Below you will find a small portion of a very thought provoking article from The Observer which reproduced the testimony of Henry Porter to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on Britain's need for a Bill of Rights. The full article can be found on the The Guardian website. As always from an editorial by Henry Porter we get a very interesting article bringing to our attention the continued erosion of civil liberties by the present government.
It is interesting that Britain's need for a Bill of Rights really has only been apparent since the current Labour government has been in power, whether it has been there gradual attacks on civil liberties, their accepting information obtained under torture ( The Independent) or their contempt for the practices and standards of government that have in the past acted as the checks and balances of our governmental system.
I have mentioned in a previous blog entry of the Labour Party's historic paternalistic tendencies and maybe this retreat from civil society is just an extension of our leaders (I use that word advisedly) truly believing they know best and can be trusted to make these difficult complex
moral decisions. Even if you are one of the few people who do believe our leaders have this moral authority, let alone the wisdom, to make these decisions it is clear that with each loss of a safeguard to our rights and privacy the ability to monitor and control the population is increased.

Please read the below bullet points and the whole article and let people know and make them understand what we are losing.


· Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2002), government agencies make 500,000 secret interceptions of email, internet connections and standard mail.
· Since summer 2007, the government and some 700 agencies have had access to all landline and mobile phone records.


· Police build network of ANPR cameras on motorways and in town centres. Data stored for two years.
· The National Identity Register will store details of every verification made by ID card holder. Data used without knowledge of citizens.
· ID card enrolment will require biometric details and large amount of personal data.
· The Home Office plans to take 19 pieces of information from anyone travelling abroad. No statutory basis.

Free expressions

· Public-order laws have been used to curtail free expression.
· The Race and Religious Hatred Act (2006) bans incitement of hatred on religious grounds.
· Terror laws are used to ban freedom of expression in some areas.

The courts

· Asbo legislation introduces hearsay evidence which can result in jail sentence.
· The Criminal Justice Act (2003) attacks jury trial.
· Admissibility of bad character, previous convictions and acquittals.
· The Proceeds of Crime Act (2002) allows confiscation of assets without prosecution.
· Special Immigration Appeals Court hearings held in secret.

Terror laws

· Terror laws used to stop and search. Current rate is 50,000 per annum.
· A maximum of 28 days detention without charge.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Thought of the Day

When did the people of Britain and the World stop being citizens and start being suspects?

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Thought of the Day

Socialism and the blind pursuit of equality breeds mediocrity. Surely a government should aim to provide equality of opportunity rather the equality of outcome.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Bottled Water Tax

I stumbled across an interesting blog posting today on discussing a proposed new 'Green' tax Chicago is attempting to introduce this year. The basics of this tax are rather simple and I would say an obvious way to tackle this most wasteful of western habits, the massive amount of bottled water we drink. And this simple tax? 5 cents per bottle.

The modern obsession with bottled water is not only an obvious disaster for the environment but also one of the great triumphs of marketing over common sense. For instance take the two American bottled waters Pepsi's Aquafina and Coca-Cola's Dasani which in the States sell for about $1 a 20 fluid oz bottle which equates to about 5 cents per fluid oz. Remember these two waters are basically filtered tap water. Now compare that to the price of petrol last year in the States which was around $3 a gallon or about 2 cent per fluid oz. Really how can filter tap water cost more the petrol?!? So unsurprisingly the bottled water manufacturers are up in arms over this tax. Anyway the blog is worth a read and remember if you want a drink of water that is what the tap is for.

Thank you to for the facts and figures of Petrol and water prices.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Oxford Union, Fascists and Free Speech?

A story in The Independent (Monday 19 November 2007 pg 5) about a controversy at the Oxford Union revolving around a upcoming debate entitled'A Night of Discussion on the Limits of Free Speech' caught my attention and to some degree disturbed me. A number of high profile guests, including The Defense Secretary Des Browne, Labour MP's Chris Bryant and Austen Mitchell as well TV presenter June Sarprong, have cancelled there appearances in protest to inclusion of Nick Griffin (leader of the BNP) and the well known Holocaust denying historian David Irvin on the speakers list.
Now I can see why sharing a building let alone a podium with Nick Griffin would not be a pleasant experience. (My knowledge of of David Irvin is limited to his Holocaust denial and histories of rather dubious merit. However the from the little research I have done he seems to be very much of the same nasty ilk of Nick Griffin, with an academic veneer). However what I do not understand that attitude of these labour MPs. They are not being asked to speak at a BNP rally but instead are being asked to discuss freedom of speech. Surely one of the central tenets of the principle of freedom of speech is that we allow both the speech with which we agree and the views which we find morally reprehensible. Events like the above offer the perfect opportunity to argue against these racist and anti-Semitic views. Simply banning or ignoring views we disagree with or find evil will not result in their disappearing or becoming less prevalent, the only way for this to happen is to debate the issues openly and show the stupidity of both the views and those the hold them.
This banning of views and opinions that are clearly intolerant is a worrying trend for the Labour government, which has made a habit of criminalising speech likely to incite hatreds of various types, while at the same time banning certain rights of protests. Maybe this is simply a continuation long held paternalistic attitudes of the Labour party, the current government certainly gives the impression of not trusting the judgement of the people.
To me one of the the things that makes Britain, Britain and one of the things that makes me proud to be British is our long history of freedom of speech and accepting dissension. Despite or maybe because of this tolerance and all views and peoples Britain did not fall pray to any of the forms of extremism of the last century. One can only hope that this new found enthusiasm for banning and refusing to intelligently refute the intolerant views of others does not open our society to the very forms of extremism we are hoping to defend against.