The Professors passion for "The Science of Deceit" started here...

Employed by the Ministry (in a covert capacity) to help introduce the law ending dishonest politics, you can see his hand all over the posts of past.

Current political circumstances have forced him to reveal himself and as we speak, MPs are signing up to re-introduce The Elected Representatives (Prohibition of Deception) Bill for debate with over 80,000 voters supporting them.

Posts before Jan '08 are purely for the record (with hindsight they make fascinating reading). Posts after May 13th mark the Professor's return.

Meet the Professor

Monday, November 30, 2009

SAY YES academy splits Cabinet

The government have set up a "SAY YES" foundation/academy/joint private partnership trust thing in a last ditch attempt to leave something tangible behind as far as ideology goes.

The academy's has been a long time coming but that's no surprise - the long-established school of thought behind the academy runs along the lines of, "Say Yes, do nothing." has been central to it's implementation. As Peter Mandelson pointed out at the opening ceremony, "promises for the academy have been manifest since "Yes Minister" was first aired. That delay is itself a testament to the enduring strength of virtual positivity. In many ways, we've been waiting for technology to catch up with us. Now that we have virtual worlds, it finally feels like the public are ready to understand the benefits of the virtual positive".

Despite general approval from Whitehall, rumours persist of a cabinet split over particular strands of the philosophy to be taught. Much dissent is said to have come from the complete silence/lack of teaching for the acknowledged sister strand - "Say Yes, do something else".

Final implementation of the school is said to have been prompted by concerns that recent job losses in the private sector will lead to a huge number of unemployed without sufficient skills to enter public service.

A hostile press at the opening ceremony pointed out the taxpayer had had quite enough of time-wasting, "We're now on our third enquiry into Iraq - what the hell do you think you're playing at ?". Lord Mandelson was visibly moved and brought close to tears of joy at the opportunity to address the complaint, "You are of course completely right, and it's with great pride I can announce forthwith an inquiry into this disgraceful waste of resources.".

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Murdoch's Nemesis

There's much to grumble about the BBC - the profligacy, over-management etc. etc...  Murdoch Jnr, despite the backlash had some points in his September attack and there are plenty like Guido witholding their license fee on a matter of free market principal - but we should be careful what we wish for.

Sir Michael Lyons announcement yesterday that the Beeb have no intention of charging for on-line news represents a decent hole in the pay wall Murdoch wants to erect around his papers' on-line offering. Don't underestimate the impact of Lyons' statement - battle lines are being drawn...

The Murdoch press has not been shy to have a go at Auntie - mainly on management pay scales and their expenses. This shouldn't be confused with cutting the organisation's ability to inform whatever the delivery medium. The taxpayer has created an outstanding resource, it's current shortcomings are obvious - the real question is whether they're addressed through free-market principles or transparency and accountability.

Give us the choice to pay our license fee or subscribe to Sky and you could find the BBC crippled before the free market decides it doesn't want news from News International. Talk of a Murdoch pact deal with Cameron & Co is rife and the implications for the BBC with Tories in control are significant. Today we have a right to demand transparency and accountability from the Beeb, that could be lost in the free market.

Our commercial terrestrial stations were happy to take the money and run when a broadcasting license was a license to print money and before the on-line advertising gold rush left them at the starting line. Now things aren't looking rosy they want some of the license fee cash. Free market principles should have driven them to invest in digital delivery - instead they chose to vote dividends. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for voting dividends, but the free market led them to the wrong choice. They won't be the first media industry to find themselves in a critical condition because they were too slow to adopt digital technology. Witness the crumbling record industry after it's spent years fighting digital distribution and effectively preventing customers from cheap, convenient, legal access to their product. The result is a generation of listeners believing they're entitled to free music. The same is happening with video, film, news and information - monetising these things will be a tricky business with casualties along the way.

The same license fee that allows the BBC to quickly adopt an on-line future gives us the right to stomp about a bit if we think they're failing to deliver. The obligation to pay it further legitimises our stamping and shouting, in fact, drives us to it. Without that obligation - the free market simply dictates a don't bother watching and don't pay response - much easier than enforcing transparency, impartiality etc. in quality programming - if you've ever had the pleasure of watching US news (check out the Daily Show on More 4) you'll know how crap, biased unspeakably bad it can be.

Now that Mark Thompson is publishing their expenses, it'll mean big earners at the Beeb should police themselves. Hopefully this will be the first step for streamlining the organisation, making it more accountable, transparent - we shall see. Private corporations have no such obligations - especially if the shareholders are happy. When they're unhappy, we've seen how quickly they turn to the license fee when the free market stops delivering returns - "if you're gonna make us produce balanced news to the regions for a broadcasting license we want some of the fee.".

Murdoch's nemesis isn't ours - if we don't focus our criticism of the BBC, we could well be cutting off our nose to spite our face and .

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

MPs Expenses - Arresting developments

Files on six MPs have been passed by the police to the CPS.

We've been here before of course - the police get a case together, hand evidence over to the Crown Prosecution service and....   hmmm. They decide whether to press charges based on whether there's enough evidence to mount a successful prosecution and it serves the public interest. It'll be interesting to see  how this pans out timing-wise with the run up to the election.

Money at Ministry Towers is on Elliot Morely MP taking the fall. The face fits and if you can measure a mans character in numbers - they don't look good as far as integrity goes. In this government he's voted 0.6% of the time against his party (3 of those were MP's home address related issues). Nor does it help that 3 out of the last 7 years he's come joint 1st for claims of the Additional Cost Allowance. He's also voted against capping MPs pay increases at 2.3%, pretty consistently against strengthening the Freedom of Information Act, for the Iraq war but against any subsequent inquiries and of course, was for student top-up fees.

He's been the MP for Scunthorpe since 1987 - the constituents must be delighted with their local party's choice of candidate.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dismal Dismore MP punishing intentions

Longest-standing member of the Parliamentary Standards and Privileges Committee, Andrew Dismore MP  is the latest to have his expenses questioned. He is not unknown to us.

A constituent asked him to support our "Elected Representatives (Prohibition of Deception) Bill" and he was good enough to answer via e-mail, "Frankly, I think that it is a rather silly Bill, because I do not know of any elected representatives who would knowing make a false statement..."

Good to know the Committee and it's members had it's finger on the pulse then.

His "shock and horror" in the October 2009 letter to constituents isn't entirely unpredictable, "May I firstly start by saying that I have been as shocked and horrified as the public has been, over some of the claims put forward by some MPs."

A little more surprising was his hypocritical assessment of our intentions and our use of the legislative process when referring to our proposed law...

"the Bill has no prospect of proceeding and I think it is simply being promoted as a publicity stunt".

Hmmm. In the letter to constituents of October 2009 you'll find that apparently, we are all indebted to the Labour Party for the uncovery of the expenses scandal - without them, it would never have been brought to light...

"It is only because of the Freedom of Information Act, brought in by the Labour Government, that we are now aware of what was happening."

Er ???  That'd be the same Labour Government which fought tooth and nail through the courts to prevent the Freedom of Information Act being used to disclose the expenses scandal by the Telegraph.

Andrew was gracious enough to forego his secondary home allowance this year and opted to bag the London weighting allowance instead. Using the same cynics measure of our "publicity stunt" intentions to criminalise political deception, we would like to stress that this has no connection to the fact that his transparent and honest secondary home claims would amount to less than his London weighting allowance.

There you go - Andrew's expenses may well be with the public interest at heart, but no good deed shall go unpunished and lest we forget... the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Feel free to e-mail Andrew at to ask him whether he's changed his mind on criminalising political deception.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gordon admits election defeat

Here's the thing...

If you announce legislation requiring gov't to half the budget deficit and the following day OECD figures say spiraling UK debt is increasing interest payments and the budget deficit... doesn't that mean you're about to pass a law you're going to break ?

Doesn't that mean Gordon's knows full well he's not going to be in government once his "Fiscal Responsibility" Bill is on the statute books ?

Answers on a postcard please.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Brown Love Law

You've got to hand it to Brown, as lawmaking goes, yesterday was something of a high water mark.

How do you square the proposed "Fiscal Responsibility Bill" - a legal obligation for the government to halve the deficit with, for example, the "Children, Schools and Families Bill" which obliges councils to pay for extra tuition when a child falls behind. How do you pay for the latter when legally obliged to do the former.

Answer : "We don't have to."

The clue was in culture secretary Ben Bradshaw's rebuff to criticisms that there was no mention of expenses or a parliamentary clean-up in the Queens speech. Bradshaw simply said government had " legislated to set up an independent regulator... given control of the process away". In other words, it's no longer this government's or Parliament's responsibility.

When the council comes, cap in hand Bradshaw can tell them, "Sorry, we're legally obliged to halve the deficit - you guys are legally obliged to fund the tuition. That's the law. It's out of our hands".

Which all begs the question, what happens if they don't halve the deficit, if the council can't fund additional school tuition, who do you take to court ? Who pays the legal fees ? Where does the money come from to pay damages ?

That'll be the taxpayer then.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Queen Farts

I used to have a female acquaintance who could break wind on demand. Shameless with it. So shameless she could keep a perfectly straight face. Every time some hapless poor sod (for some reason they were always Parliamentary researchers or junior civil servants) tried to chat her up, after he'd finished his riveting tale of Parliamentary intrigue she'd briefly pause, smile sweetly and proceed to fart so loudly it was impossible to pretend you hadn't heard it.

I share this with you because the Queen, at approximately 11.30am today, will do roughly the same thing. If you're not too squeamish you can even watch it on TV. It's called "The State Opening of Parliament" and Her Majesty will be laying out the legislation her government intends to pass...   except it isn't. Everybody knows it, including her. On average, it takes 124 days to get a piece of legislation onto the statute books. There has to be a general election before June, which leaves 70 sitting days of Parliament. Nick Clegg said "It is a waste of everyone's time, and should be cancelled in favour of an emergency programme of political reform. That is the only job this rump of a Parliament is fit for." ? Cameron called it the "most divisive, short-termist, shamelessly self-serving" Queen's Speech "in living memory".

Whatever it is the Queen's going to say..."a legal obligation to halve the budget deficit..."  all of it, aside from being even more meaningless than the raft of message-based legislation we've endured, is...  well... meaningless. Designed purely as puff-piece manifesto-making. The real question is, can she keep a straight face ?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

MPs table motion - no retrospective expense claim repayments

For some reason, it seems some MPs are a little concerned about what the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) will demand of them in the way of re-paying expenses and tabled a motion to the house, led by Graham Allen MP.

“This House notes the appointment of Sir Ian Kennedy as Chair of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) and hopes he carries out his duties in line with natural justice, including adherence to the concepts of reasonableness and proportionality, and without retrospectivity.”

The punchline - "without retrospectivity" is of particular interest. The honourable Mr Allen came joint 1st in 06/07 and 02/03 league table for Aditional Costs allowance claims. Better still, in 07/08, despite spending £800 more than his 1st place for 06/07, 200 MPs managed to spend more than him, resulting in a disappointing 201st place. Despite this, he still managed a very respectable joint 13th place last year for overall costs.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Baby P / Told you so

Don't say we didn't tell you so.

This Baby P/Shoesmith/Balls and OFSTED thing is going to be interesting. Turns out that OFSTED ("We inspect and regulate to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people") hid crucial evidence from the court.

Shoesmith accused Ed Balls, OFSTED & Co of all kinds of irregular (lack of) procedure in making her the scapegoat and deflecting blame from the government. This isn't the first civil servant to point a finger at the government, but this is the first on such an emotive issue. Between the lines, Shoesmith's saying the gov and it's regulatory bodies are bent incompetent and social workers are fighting an uphill struggle to perform a half decent job.

Days after Baby P died, OFSTED had issued Haringay 3 stars in an inspection report on its performance, then, completely reversed their findings. Balls based his sacking of Shoesmith on the second, damning report.

Shoesmith was prevented from seeing OFSTED's report before it was published - unlike Balls who insisted on seeing it and was briefed the same morning. Shoesmith was also prevented from addressing any of it's findings. When her lawyers requested the notes and early drafts were disclosed for the court hearing, OFSTED couldn't find them, then said they didn't exist and then had to eat their words. A hapless new lawyer at OFSTED's legal department responded to a Freedom of Information request for the documents with a cheery "here they are."

Straight out of "In the thick of it".

The judge is so pissed off he's ordered OFSTED to pay all of Shoesmith's additional legal fees at a punitive rate. Nice to know the taxpayer will be footing all the bills then.

Bottom line, at least on the surface of it, is that OFSTED, safeguarder of children, is at least as crap as Haringay and we suspect as much to blame as Ball's dep't for the level of protection kids at risk can expect.

Another nail in the coffin for Government-created, "independent" review bodies.

IPSA eat your heart out.

P.S. A quick look at the IPSA site shows they were advertising for board members. Closing date for applications was 19th October. If there's anyone out there who applied, we'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Government can't run a bath

There's been a theory knocking around Ministry Towers that despite the media's love for the soap opera of conspiracies, lies and deceit in politics - all of this manifests itself from an incredibly banal truth... the Government can't run a bath let alone the country.

And now the PM's had to apologise for his letter writing skills...

It's almost inconceivable to think someone running a factory, expressing condolences to a mother for the loss of her son in an industrial accident would be so cack-handed. If you've got crap handwriting, but want to make it personal you'd get a secretary to hand-write, spell and namecheck it, then simply sign. You can't doubt Brown's good intentions - wanting to actually write the thing - but even at this macro-level the  judgement that goes into the execution is way below par.

On a broader scale the poor judgement/execution infects everything it touches. The fees office, inquiries, civil service, public services.

Panorama last night took a pop at the Criminal Justice System - a subject close to the Ministry's heart (and currently under active investigation by sister company, Spirit Level Film). It resulted in Jack Straw announcing a review of "out-of-court" penalties. In 2004 the government solution to over-burdened courts was to give the police power to issue offenders with PND notices - the ability to let an offender off with a fine and caution if they plead guilty. Now the police are issuing them for violent offences - ABA etc. Except half of them remain unpaid and have to be chased up by....   the courts. Cut to police chief explaining the time burden of a PND is half a man hour, versus two and a half hours for sending someone to court.

It'd be interesting to see the stats on offences PNDs have been issued for versus the stats for the same offences brought to court pre-PND. This writer's willing to bet a lunch on the number of unpaid PNDs issued that need to be chased up in court being equal to or higher than the same offences, pre-PND that ended up in court. Anyone out there got a spare half hour ?

Adding insult to injury is the fact it's only a Panorama programme or other media exposure that gets Straw & Co to review the situation.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Westminster Cocks confirmed

Yesterday, we discovered for ourselves what the architect of Parliament really thought of it's members.

If ever you're feeling down over the state of politics today... take comfort with a stroll across Westminster Bridge... On the right kind of glorious sun-filled morning you can bathe in the warm, delicious glow of knowledge that for years, our MPs have been branded by sunlight as cocks 'n balls. Better still, there's nothing they can do about it.

As the sun moves round, the cocks elongate, fatten and contract in a graceful arc next to the Palace of Westminster. Day in, day out.

It is, without doubt, the best middle finger ever given to the establishment. Don't think for a moment it wasn't deliberate. Though the bridge is credited as being designed by Thomas Page it's an often overlooked fact that it's architectural ironmongery (including the genius shadow-casting ballistrade) was designed by Charles Barry - the architect of the Palace of Westminster. The House of Lords was finished in 1847, Commons chamber in 1852. Barry died in 1860, but not before he'd finished his part of the designs for Westminster Bridge - which opened in 1862.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Westminster wives sex strike

Suzy Gale, pictured with MP husband, Roger

It seems the most hard done-by in the expenses "sideshow" have been Westminster wives. The Kelly report recommended no more employment of MPs wives and they've taken umbrage (and legal advice which looks like such a ban would be unlawful).

They could take a lead from the women of Sirt, a 600 people village in Turkey...

In 2001, they'd had enough of lining up at the trickling village fountain to carry large containers of water  home (sometimes several miles) after months of their husbands promises to fix the water system. They decided to go on a bedroom boycott. No water, no shag. Unsurprisingly, after years of complaining, the system was sorted.

This can be a high risk strategy - for example, over the years Guido's "tottywatch" has featured plenty of Westminster wannabe's - but not many wives.

Where this would leave Jacqui Smith's husband is anybody's guess.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Tumbleweed through Westminster

There's that moment in Shooting Stars when Vic Reeves cracks a joke, silence followed by tumbleweed blowing across the studio...

Nobody's laughing at the Kelly report and the silence in Westminster is killing us. Either that or no-one's talking to the lobby hacks. The most they could muster from the expected collective outrage was a letter signed by five protesting wives employed by MPs.

The Telegraph managed to prise some quotes from Parliamentary grandees, Sir George Young gave a decent insight into his mindset, Asked whether members could accept a pay rise in the face of public anger he told the BBC: “If that is what an independent body decides then I am sure the public will endorse it.” We probably will. But it sticks in the craw.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Sir G for the Ministry as chair of The Parliamentary Committee for Standards and Privileges.
"I think we've got the balance right... No-one has a greater interest in policing the code, setting high standards for Members of Parliament, than Members of Parliament," May 2007
If there should be resignations over the current state of Parliaments' lamentable lack of public trust he's one of them...

...still, no-one really questioned the headmaster and prefects in charge of maintaining the self-regulation charade. Yet.

There was also the tiniest hint of infighting - Anthony Steen, the Tory MP for Totnes, said he had been “vilified” for putting in receipts for the running costs of his second home while others who have made significant sums by claiming mortgage interest have “got off scot-free”. Yes Anthony, we're all extremely sympathetic. That's what happens when an elected representative doesn't show up for votes on whether expenses should be subject to Freedom of Information requests and indeed all the other FOI votes. We note you were in favour of no lower limit to the receipts MPs should have to declare - but that was on the 30th April of this year - too little, too late. In any case the police haven't started to name names yet.

The press lobby said the feeling of anger was "palpable" and there was a general, "all of us have been punished for the actions of a few".... errr.... yup. That's right. We entrusted all of you to keep the house on the straight and narrow.

All in all it feels like todays' Guy Fawkes romp through Parliament organised by Old Holborn, Guido & Co have something to celebrate... for the moment at least.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

IPSA scam ?

The Ministry can barely contain itself in anticipation of the Kelly report and response from the honourables... but figured it was worth taking a moment to reflect on the venerable institution itself, and in particular, it's desire ability to deliver legislation. We've not been shy in past criticism of "message based legislation", the question is, are we a bunch of myopic anti-establishment hippies (we take offence at "myopic") and unduly harsh on the mother of all Parliaments.

Kelly's findings are delivered to the newly-born Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

Here's the Ministry of Justice's announcement for the creation of the IPSA,

"The old system of MPs’ self regulation is to end and a new system of robust, independent and transparent statutory regulation will be brought forward in urgent legislation introduced to Parliament by Harriet Harman and Jack Straw."
Good enough. And Parliament was quick to endorse the intention in the expenses backlash. Let's take a bo-peep at what came out of the grinder. Worth bearing in mind this government's majority. You can read the Bill in full here, for those with less time on their hands, here are some key clauses ;

3 MPs’ salaries
(1)  The IPSA is to pay the salaries of members of the House of Commons in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the House.

4 MPs’ allowances scheme
(5)The Speaker must lay the scheme (or revision) before the House of Commons.

7 Investigations
(4) If, after conducting an investigation, the Commissioner finds that the member was paid an amount under the scheme that should not have been allowed, the Parliamentary Standards Bill the Commissioner must refer the Commissioner’s findings to the House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges.

(6) If, after conducting an investigation, the Commissioner finds that the member failed to comply with a requirement included in the code by virtue of section (7), the Commissioner must refer the Commissioner’s findings to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.

In other words, any deviance is reported to... the Committee on Standards and Privileges...  who report and make recommendations to...  The House of Commons.


To get an idea of where Westminster's coming from, here's an example of the amendments that shaped the Bill before it received the Royal assent....  (blue is replacement text, red is deleted)

5 MPscode of conduct relating to financialinterests rulesinterests
(1) The IPSA must prepare rules under subsections (7), (8) and (10) a code to be observed by members of the House of Commons....

Clearly, there's an important distinction between the deleted word "rules" and the preferred replacement "code of conduct".

One clause it's hard to find fault with is ;

10 Offence of providing false or misleading information for allowances claims

(1) A member of the House of Commons commits an offence if the member—
(a) makes a claim under the MPs’ allowances scheme, and
(b) provides information for the purposes of the claim that the member knows to be false or misleading in a material respect.

You'll be pleased to hear that in this regard, Parliament have caught up with the rest of us, or should that read, "duplicated the Fraud Act (monetary gain by deception)". Which MPs are already subject to, and indeed several are going to be prosecuted under.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Premature, premature, premature

When will we learn.

Last Thursday's post was kosher, just a little early. You'll notice from the comments that both Brown and Cameron were dissenters - (we can't testify to the authenticity of the authors, then again, it'd be a brave man betting either knew what was going on in their party).

Meantime, regrettably we're bound and gagged on this for what may be a week or so and we'll return to salivating in anticipation of tomorrow's Kelly report. Weirdly, the press seem a little quiet on this, though the Ministry is given to understand it's contents have been with the printers since the weekend.