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If News International had employed Savile how different things would be

By Angela Harbutt
October 22nd, 2012 at 6:44 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

I see that Tory MP Philip Davies wrote a few days ago to Ofcom boss Ed Richards demanding that the BBC face a “Murdoch style” investigation “the BBC (should) face the test into their probity following the Jimmy Savile sex abuse revelations and the subsequent cover up that has emerged in the last few weeks“.

Spot on.

Given how (a) tardy and (b) inaccurate the BBC has been in supplying information to date on this issue and (c) the scale of the News International inquiry, we should all be demanding that the BBC should NOT be allowed to run its own “independent” reviews. If News International had been the orgnisation at the centre of this scandal we would rightly expect that any investigation be conducted, and overseen, by an arms length organisation. Indeed there would already be further widespread calls to investigate whether Sky/News International were “fit and proper” to hold a broadcasting license. We should expect no less a standard of scrutiny of a state broadcaster.

Phone hacking is a considerably lesser crime than any of the following (a) failing to take all available steps to protect children in your care, (b) failing to investigate thoroughly suspicions of abuse of minors by your staff, (c) failing to forward such serious suspicions to the police for investigation. These appear to be the very accusations that have already been laid at BBCs door.

Add to that, the deeply worrying incident of a Newsnight item on Savile being pulled. It has been said by the editor that the reason for not broadcasting the item was based purely on their belief that they had insufficient evidence to broadcast the item. Now we learn however, that the BBC has been forced to issue an embarrassingly lengthy correction to his blog saying it was “inaccurate or incomplete in some respects”.

Frankly, anyone who has ever worked in broadcast journalism will have already raised an eyebrow at the suggestion that an item had actually filmed before the decision was taken that there was insufficient evidence to broadcast.   There is also the serious question as to why they did not pass their files to the police? And we have yet to find out just how much George Entwistle (recently appointed Director General) knew of the Newsnight item. Maybe the BBCs Panorama documentary tonight will shed further light on the matter? Although I for one do not wish to be told by BBC journalists what actually occurred on Newsnight (and certainly not one as inept as this) any more than I want BBC appointees to tell me what occurred elsewhere.

All of this just feels too cosy for my liking. Who is willing to bet that we will see little more than a couple of token hacks hung out to dry (i.e. pensioned off),  much hand-wringing and an assurance that current  child protection and whistle-blowing policies are fit for purpose.

Not good enough in my opinion. We cannot have one rule for the state (broadcaster) and one rule for everyone else.  If phone hacking deserves a Leveson inquiry, then unchecked wholesale child abuse and journalistic cover ups deserves Leveson++.

In a shockingly lame reply to a question in the House last week, Nick Clegg said

“I certainly accept there may be a case for an inquiry and if an inquiry were to be held which is as broad ranging as you suggest it should be, it should be independent to look at the full range of the shocking revelations as they have come to light”

Not good enough Nick. Nowhere near good enough. What are you waiting for?

UPDATE: Excellent post here from Liberal England on how the BBC lied, and lied, and lied.

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Battle of Ideas: a day well spent

By Angela Harbutt
October 22nd, 2012 at 2:08 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized


H/T  I was at the excellent “Battle of Ideas 2012” event at the Barbican on Sunday. I was going to write up my thoughts on the sessions I attended, but then read this excellent summary of events over on The Last Ditch.

I came away from the day realising that there is a very clear split between those working in, or at least receiving funds from, the state, who unapologetically kneel before the god that is regulation, and those that live in the real world, dismayed at the stifling effect over-regulation can have on every aspect of our lives – our spirit of adventure, individuality, personal responsibility and enterprise.

One academic (and former special advisor to Gordon Brown) stated with a totally straight face that “all the regulation over the last 50 years were necessary and had been effective” (what planet has he been living on I wonder) .

Meanwhile a certain Dr Michael Nelson, director of research and nutrition at the Children’s Food Trust, announced in a later session that parents simply could not be trusted to make the right choices on food for their children ” …we know from experience (parents) do not themselves have the the power of executive decision when it comes to their own diet…” I suppose that, by now, I should be getting used to the high and mighty in academia looking down their noses at the rest of us and tut tutting at our dreadful parenting skills, appalling nutritional choices, refusal to keep to the “safe” number of units of alcohol etc . But there is something extremely chilling, hearing them say such things out loud, and knowing that it is almost always they, rather the the electorate, that the politicians actually listen to.

On the upside we were thoroughly entertained by Mark Littlewood’s wit and innovative solutions to the problems of over regulation; humbled by Josie Appleton’s knowledge of, and fight against, the regulation that is eating away at the heart of civil society; uplifted by Chris Snowdon’s probing questions on where the assault on smoking, drinking and eating would actually end; and found ourselves cheering on Christine Thompson from SABMiller who asked in a simple heartfelt way that we don’t always focus on the negatives of alcohol, but remember the many more times alcohol forms part of a happy family event, gathering of friends, or celebration.  Her commonsense, down to earth, balanced view of life was a timely reminder that if left to our own devices we don’t always turn into a pack of savage animals destined for a late night visit to A&E.

On that note a large group of us headed to the pub to engage in what can only be described as a session of binge drinking -or in old language – had a few pints and a jolly good natter with some old, and several new, friends.

Speaking of which, if you can spare the time, do head over to The Last Ditch to read his superb and much fuller review of the day.

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Tackling the Shiraz riots of 2012

By Angela Harbutt
October 20th, 2012 at 1:38 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Nannying, Nudge Dredd, Personal Freedom


The Telegraph is carrying the stark warning today that the government is set to outlaw the discounting of bulk deals on wine by supermarkets, as part of a review on alcohol pricing. Ministers, they say, believe such promotions give customers a financial incentive to purchase more alcohol than they intended to buy and should be banned. It is said this is another measure being championed by the PM himself.

When this whole alcohol review was launched, the alcohol review was billed as all about trouble-making youths and other anti-social drinkers. 

The availability of cheap alcohol has been a key contributing factor in the development of this country’s binge-drinking culture. The government will no longer tolerate the sale of heavily discounted alcohol which leads to irresponsible behaviour and unacceptable levels of crime and health harms.”

To be clear I am totally against minimum pricing of alcohol, it is regressive, nannying, unfair and won’t work.  We have laws to deal with “anti-social” behaviour and crime. But this latest proposal really is paternalism gone mad. Who, I wonder “preloads” with bottles of Merlot before hitting the night clubs? Since when did Chardonnay drinkers hang around the city centre on a Saturday night hurling abuse at passers by? I don’t know and I bet the government doesn’t know either.

So what business is it of government if a shop offers me a deal, that incentivises me to buy 2 botttles of wine rather than 1, indeed 24 bottles of wine instead of 12? Isn’t that between me and the shop? It doesn’t mean I have to drink it all in one session. I frequently buy 24 toilet rolls in one session. I probably only intended to buy 4, but the shop “incentivised” me. I have also been known to buy as many as 36 cans of Coke in one go because the price was great and frankly it is more convenient for me to buy in bulk and saves me precious time and money.  I don’t rush home and consume them all at once, but even if I did whose business is it? Certainly not the government’s.

Bizarrely the Government appears to be leaving wine clubs untouched. It seems it is OK to plan to buy case loads of wine, just unacceptable to pick up a bargain whilst doing the weekly shop. Perhaps supermarkets have been added to the list of sinners, including bankers and energy companies on David Cameron’s hit list. Or maybe it is that wine clubs are the preserves of the rich middle classes who can be relied upon to decant their wine, sniff and sip, and behave in an altogether more refined manner.

I doubt there will be Shiraz riots any time soon. To be frank the supermarkets will just cut the bottle price rather than offer multi-buy discounts and life will go on. For now.

But the language being used here “the government will not tolerate ….” is very worrying. So too is the assault on the right of socially responsible people to buy a legal product in the quantities, and at the price, they choose without interference from government. Banning people from purchasing discounted wine from Waitrose or Tescos is clearly not about binge-drinking, anti-social behaviour or criminal activity – so why is this particularly bizarre proposal being seemingly led by the Home Office?

It is hard to tell how far the creeping influence of health lobby groups has actually reached – but it seems even to the Home Office. That combined with the paternalistic nature of a certain number of those in power, (Mr Cameron at the top of that list) who seem to say one thing (“individual responsibility”) but do something very different, has led us to this place.

There is a meeting scheduled next week between Mr Cameron and the Home Office. Here is hoping the likes of Damian Green and Jeremy Browne can remind the PM of what he said back in 2010

“…all these insights lead to one conclusion that is central to Conservatism: the more responsibility we give people, the more likely they are to make ethical decisions. “

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The Government energy gaff: anything but funny

By Angela Harbutt
October 20th, 2012 at 10:00 am | 1 Comment | Posted in Uncategorized

I might be the only person in the country actually feeling a bit sorry for the energy companies. I am not saying that they are the good guys – I complain like the rest of us when I see the bill. But I do look at what has happened over the past few months and I have to feel a bit of sympathy for their situation and a large amount of dread for the rest of us. Of course bankers will already know about confusing government messages – being told simultaneously to hold larger reserves and lend more. But if anything the energy companies plight is worse – and if we don’t want brown outs in the next few years we really need to get a grip on this now.

Good job the impressive Angela Knight has moved from banks to energy in recent months – she must feel right at home.

First a quick rewind to April 2011. Back then the government introduced a scheme called “midata”, as part of the Government’s “consumer empowerment strategy” ,  “Better Choices: Better Deals”. Midata was created as a “partnership” between the UK government, consumer groups and major businesses, aimed at giving consumers access to the data created through their household utility use, banking, internet transactions and high street loyalty cards. (I always read “partnership” as “government says play with us and if you don’t we will clobber you with legislation”. I am usually right too).

I wont go into the complexities, or rights and wrongs of the Government decision this summer to move from “playing nicely”, to forcing companies to join the Orwellian-sounding “midata vision” – suffice it to say it is yet another wet dream for all those huge IT giants, rubbing their hands at the prospect of all that lovely lolly (just like IDS smart cards).  Another disproportionate technological answer to a problem that almost certainly doesn’t exist and will probably be met with total public apathy.

The consultation closed last month – but in reviewing it , I noticed at that it was the energy companies that were said to have “led the way in the midata initiative“, “with a number of suppliers already giving their customers access to transaction data”.

So in August the energy companies were being praised or their boldness in embracing “the midata vision”, they were indeed responding to the governments desire to “empower the consumer” with more information.

Roll onto October (and presumably the latest set of focus group reports showing the price of gas and electricity is high on the list of concerns of would-be voters) and David Cameron has a eureka moment – force all companies to offer everyone the cheap fuel!

Yet another ill-conceived, knee jerk idea that has more holes in it than a swiss cheese. Not least the fact that would if companies are forced to offer everyone their lowest tariff then companies will simply raise the price of the lowest tariff.  Why would people pay more ? And if everyone elects to pay the lowest price, where is the profit for the developments that the Government and Ofgem say are needed, unless erm, the lowest price is higher than currently offered.

Another policy that benefits the idle that do nothing and penalises the financially prudent who have taken the effort to seek out the better deal. A deal that doubtless will no longer be available to them if Mr Cameron’s scheme comes into play. No worries people, you sit on your sofa and scoff your pies, Government will do everything for you.

If Mr Cameron really wants to see lower energy prices, how about cutting the accelerating social and environmental charges (5-10%) on our bills for useless green energies that all too often just don’t work. Or cutting back costly hyper regulation costs or dubious government initiatives such as “midata” that simply ad to company overheads.  Energy company profits are between 5 – 9% depending on who you listen to. That is not excessive. Government profits from energy are as high as 15% (5% VAT, 5-10% green charges).

It is all too clear that Cameron’s announcement on legislation to force energy companies to give the lowest tariff to all their customers’ came as surprise to everyone.

Junior minister John Hayes admitted in the Commons he had no idea how the PM’s promise might work in practice, then seemed to later backtrack on Cameron’s pledge, saying the government was only considering introducing such a law. Meanwhile Energy Secretary Ed Davey was talking about a totally different approach to cutting bills yesterday morning – promoting competition between energy companies.

It’s like the Thick of It – but not as funny.

Ofgems timely announcement may just have saved Mr Cameron’s bacon with an announcement that tariff complexity, poor supplier behaviour and a lack of transparency and competition in a market  are the main issues in need of addressing. We almost certainly do need simplifcation of the tariff system encouraging savvier customers to switch supplier to get the best deal. That in turn will encourage much-needed competition (something Ed Davey is clear he wants to see).

So what the energy companies might expect from the upcoming energy bill is anybody’s guess but I reckon they are hoping for no more unhelpful off-the-cuff remarks from the PM any time soon. The energy market is in enough turmoil already. I will sign off with wise words from Angela Knight

“As Ofgem’s proposals and the Energy Bill are debated, clarity of plans and certainty of proposals will be essential, as well as open consultation and decision-making that is grounded in facts and evidence”. 

Listen up Mr Cameron, that “clarity of plans” and “certainty of proposals” bit is aimed at you.

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Liberals should say no to IDS smart cards for the feckless

By Angela Harbutt
October 14th, 2012 at 9:00 am | 11 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

The Telegraph reports today Iain Duncan Smith has asked his officials to see if so-called ‘problem’ families should receive their welfare payments on smart cards, rather than in cash.

The cards would only be able to pay for “priority” items such as food, housing, clothing, education and health care (though I am not sure what “health care” those issued with smart cards would be expected to pay for). The Telegraph reports he wants to “stop parents who are alcoholics or who are on drugs from using welfare payments to fuel their addictions”. A team of civil servants in his department have been asked to come up with proposals by the end of this month.

I worry deeply about this proposal, and on so many levels, not least that once this has been trialled on “some” of  the 120,000  or so “problem” families, it is almost certain to be rolled out to others. The Daily Mail (quoting a senior official) says smart “cards would not be for everyone claiming benefits but they could be used for extreme cases where people are not good at managing their lives..“.

How long before smart cards are deemed necessary for other benefit claimants “not good at managing their lives”; young mothers with a nicotine habit; parents who spend more on fast food than “they should”; families whose kids arrive at school with a bag of crisps instead of hallowed carrot sticks in their lunch box. And there is no need to limit the smart card scheme to benefit claimants with children, how about smart cards for the obese?  Indeed I am sure that some sneery bureaucrat or earnest health advocate could find a pretty good reason to put most benefit claimants on the smart card scheme.   Sounds ridiculous right now, but name me a Government plan that doesn’t have mission creep?

Who really believes that any Government would actually invest the time and effort required introducing a smart card system if this was in reality destined for just for those children whose parents are suffering from alcohol or drug addiction?

This measure is downright insidious. It will say that those on smart cards are feckless, irresponsible, selfish or just too stupid to know what is best for their children. It says they are bad parents, stigmatising and humiliating  them every time they visit an “approved store”.  Why not force them  to walk the streets wearing orange jackets and  hats saying “bad parent” and be done with it.

But it is worse than that. A smart card scheme will almost certainly require smart card readers and/or “approved outlets” where these cards can be used.  No point in a smart card system if the shop can sell you anything it has on its shelves. Either the stores will need to be on a Government “approved list” and agree not to sell a list of forbidden items to the card holders, or at the very least the purchases made will have to have a bar code such that information is somehow be fed back down the line to Big Mother (and the computer says no).

Whilst I am sure that Asda, Tescos, other large retail outlets  (and indeed the IT giants behind the Smart card system) will all bend over backwards to facilitate this scheme, what of the small independent shop keeper of market trader? They almost certainly have neither the time, wherewithal,  or language skills to go through the bureaucratic nightmare that will almost certainly be entailed in complying with this scheme.  And I don’t know about your local market, but at mine only 2 out of about 30 of the stalls even have credit card machines.

The consequence of this scheme will be to place a huge number of outlets off limits to those forced to use such cards for at least part of their purchases.  Rich and middle income parents are able to call into the market at the end of the day to pick up the fresh fruit and veg bargains, but the poor who have used all their cash* and left only with their smart cards til the end of the week will effectively be barred.  I can pop into my local (Polish) shop to grab a bottle of wine but my neighbour forced to use a smart card can’t go to the same shop to buy some potatoes for supper because our shop is not part of the scheme or the potatoes are not bar coded?

(* Undoubtedly the scheme would have to have some split of cash to card ratio, so that not all benefits would be via the smart card scheme. But all of the above becomes an issue as soon as the cash has been spent).

We have laws , and child protection agencies, to deal with neglect. These are surely more than enough to tackle child malnutrition/abuse. And where there are parents spending benefits on their addiction rather than putting food on their kids plates, the idea that a smart card will solve this problem is just naivety. What is to stop them buying food on a smart card and selling it at a loss for cash to others to feed their habits? Desperate people do desperate things – and if they do simply buy food on a smart card to sell it at a loss – that simply means less money left over to feed and clothe their children. The answer has to be to assist with the underlying problems of the addiction not seek to outwit them with how you deliver them their benefits. You will never outwit an addict.

Sadly I do not think this is even about outwitting the addict in order to improve the lives of their children. And if it was a “smart” card would not be the answer to the deeply complex issues surrounding addiction.

This has all the hallmarks of Victorian paternalistic disapproval from the high and mighty about how those below them live their lives. It is a punishment for bad behaviour, not a solution to a problem. And when they have finished with addicts, other people perceived as “not good at managing their lives”  will face the same scorn, oppression and humiliation if they do not comply.

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