Archive for October, 2005

iPodcast (Orig. posted Blog-City)


Since it’s Hallowe’en and the custom is to scare people I thought this appropriate! Hence my first iPodcast, done using nothing more than an Apple iPod and the Griffin iTalk adpator mic. The quality ain’t great but a 7 and a half minute monologue only takes up 1.3 MB as an mp3 so that’s not too bad and shouldn’t kill the bandwidth. If you’re expecting scintillating conversation and repartie then you’ve come to the wrong place. Think of it more as the ramblings of someone in their sitting room when there’s currently nothing on telly!

As for the picture I just like the idea of someone listening to my nonsense on a good old fashioned art deco bakelite radio. “This is London calling…”

Song Of The Day ~ Elvis Costello And The Attractions – Accidents Will Happen

Original Comments:

Kristie made this comment,
Oh my…Radio Baron! Fecking brilliant, and very cool to hear your words in your own voice. What a treat. Thanks for sharing. What languages do you speak? German, of course. English, natch. What else?
-Redbaron responds- Je parle un peu Francais, poco piu Italiano and een beetje Nederlands. I was learning Swedish once but appendicitus put paid to that. I’d like to get all my languages up to scratch and learn Russian as well because it’s a stunning language.-

comment added :: 1st November 2005, 07:33 GMT+01

Kristie made this comment,
I took a year and a half of Russian. I wish I’d stuck with it. I took a year of Latin, but I’d really like to do Italian. Portuguese would be cool, as well.
comment added :: 1st November 2005, 15:32 GMT+01

Karen Shelton made this comment,
Love the idea of the art deco bakelite radio. You cant beat old fashioned bakelite.
comment added :: 9th November 2006, 23:50 GMT+01 ::

I got my reply from my MP, written on House Of Commons paper. It reads as follows.

Dear Dom,

Thank you for your recent letter regarding my views on Iraq and ID cards.

I am sorry that you seem to be ill-informed over my position on Iraq. I actually did not support the vote to go to war, and resigned my positionin the Government as a Parliamentary Private Secretary because I did not agree with it. Indeed I was the first Government member to resign on this issue and did not vote with the Government on this matter.

Most people in the constituency are aware of my views over Iraq and support the decision I took. As an active constituency MP, I always try an put my constituents first. If you would like to know more regarding my views on the Iraq situation I suggest you visit my website (address removed for privacy)

On ID cards, I am not opposed to them on principle. The majority of people I speak to seem to be in favour on the cards, if they help the fight on terror, increase security and the price is not restrictive. It is worth remembering that the police and the security services are in favour of the cards and have requested the Government introduce these measures – not the other way round. But again I will listen to my constituents views on this as I always do. This is why around 6 months ago I launched a debate in the local press to discuss the issue and allow local people to send me their views ahead of the Parliamentary debates.

Yours sincerely,


So, a definite opening goal for the MP very much against the run of play. Actually I was led very strongly to believe by that my MP was indeed very much in favour of the war. He has chosen his words carefully because I could not find much evidence of him actually voting against the Government and on many of the votes he was in fact absent unlike most of the other main votes on other topics where he has been a loyal backbencher. However as my research has in this case failed me miserably I must concede initial defeat. It would be wrong not to post this repost and take the hit since there is no doubt if I had made him look a ponce I would have happily posted it.

Unabated though, his letter gives me much for further scrutiny. The initial point to be looked at is the local press debates. Whilst I have not been an asiduous reader of the local rags it has certainly not been something that I have seen screaming from the pages, nor on my infrequent forays inside the pages have I come across any reference. I will be studying and talking to fellow residents to see just how much feedback he is likely to have received in order to base his opinion.

Moreover my MPs arguments for ID cards appear to be under the apprehension that people have supported them broadly within certain parameters, should these parameters prove to be unfounded it would follow that much of this support might be withdrawn. The letter does not outline what any of the tangible benefits of ID cards would be, it is all very well to accept an assertion of increased security and fighting terror but I find very little actual information as to substance to back up these assumptions. It is undisputed that those who carried out the September 11th attacks as well as those in Madrid all had valid identity documentation and since those who carried out the attacks in London were all perfectly legal had there been ID cards here they would have been perfectly entitled to them too. Recently a survey was carried out where many of the details of the potential of ID cards were outlined to respondants regarded possible increased cost and the amount of information that could be stored on the cards and this seemed to make even many who were previously somewhat ambivalent or in broad support of the measure more inclined to scepticism.

Forgive also if I am neither unsurprised nor reassured by the assertion that it is the police and security services requesting this information rather than the government. This is like 1938 German regional government saying we need to provide further information at the behest of the Gestapo! MI5, the police and their partners the CIA have more than enough access to information thank you very much. The fact that they conceal so much of their ability to access it makes me very suspicious indeed when they declare their desire for some by another means.

The debate we have had on ID cards in this country has been one where we are told “it’s for your own good” and “if you have nothing to hide then what are you afraid of” but there has been no meat on the bone of the argument to counter the fears and objections of those opposed to the scheme. I have not heard a decent argument to outline what ID cards do that is not already done by credit cards, drivers licenses and other paraphernalia that we already carry around with us, and no this will not be a handy way to consolidate this information it will merely necessitate the carrying of a further item about one’s person. As for the nothing to hide principle, it depends on what constitutes something being hidden and that of course depends on wwhat it is that someone is looking for and why. MI5 as I have already stated have hundreds of thousands of files on individuals because of membership of “watched” organisations. Does not declaring this at a job interview constitute having something to hide?

Once again the case breaks down to that situation whereby you are not required to simply safeguard the present but also the future, whether or not you have faith in this government’s intentions to use any ID card scheme responsibly it would be a very foolish person who would state with impunity that all governments would behave the same. After all if you look up the Homes for votes scandal in Westminster you already have precedent of supposedly secret information on people being used for the gain of some and to the detriment of others.

Still if they do come in, I’m sure there’ll be some generic ones on Ebay within months which should please anyone who fancies a bit of fraud since they won’t even have to sully their own card. That should all give me enough to have something to respond to my MP with!

Song Of The Day ~ The Paddingtons – Sorry

Original Comments:

john made this comment,
Off Subject but…Speak to me Baron! I miss your voice already. 🙂
comment added :: 29th October 2005, 13:13 GMT+01 ::
neil made this comment,
Aha! ID cards – a subject on which we can finally agree! Actually, I suspect we have many of the same goals, just different ideas about how to achieve them. Anyway, back to ID cards. I don’t like them – they alter the balance / pact between citizen and state and I’ve seen them in action in Germany, and in particular, Bayern. I’ve lived here almost a decade and have had to show my passport (the only acceptable form of ID for a Briton) to a policeman three times – and always when I’d done something “wrong”. With one exception – I dated a Londoner with Indian parents for a year. We were stopped for “random” ID checks approximately every two weeks. Was it because she had brown skin? Would the police in the UK be any different? I wrote about it in general in three posts – and
On this issue at least, left and right unite (paraphrasing a bit)…..

comment added :: 29th October 2005, 17:09 GMT+01

Amazing really when you think of the convenience of yet another report that backs up US interventionist foreign policy. I’m not even going to discuss here whether or not there is truth contained within it because frankly at the moment it doesn’t matter. No-one will be scrutinising the evidence, asking questions of the source material. It will be taken as gospel because the powers that be want it to be that way, it is expedient for them. Just as it was to study Iran, just as it was to report lies about Iraq and cover up the truth of the necessity of invasion in Afghanistan. Now the US has 2 exit strategies for its troops in Iraq. It is almost as if they are going to march on Damascus with the words, “well since we were passing we thought we’d look in…!”

Do I doubt there are “bad” people in Syria? Not at all. Give me a country where none of the governing elite are seriously suspect. Whilst I am quite sure Syria wants to influence neighbouring countries, it would be foolish not to recognise that all countries do so in an effort to create a protection zone around themselves, this is normal even if the means are sometimes questionable. The only way to get away from this would be the anarchist principle, to abolish borders, which I agree with to a great extent, but that’s another story. The US has many many “bad” people that create protection zones for its interests across the globe but I don’t see many reports heralded in the mainstream media about that. In fact the US works its influence through trade barriers and restrictions as well as through military might. “You’ll practice free trade because it suits us and we won’t because it doesn’t.”

The German investigator in the Syrian affair, Detlev Mehlis, is careful to say that the investigation needs much more work, and that the people named in his report must be presumed innocent until proved guilty. It is of course highly unlikely that this will now happen. One can’t sully a good conclusion with triflings like evidence! Perhaps Syria should turn around and say that President Asad is immune from any prosecution and can then go around the world giving lectures on his own importance like war criminal Henry Kissinger. There will be many detractors who will say that any of us who dissent in this matter are simply doing so to be on the anti-US side no matter what. This of course is just a fudge to avoid a genuine debate of the issue.

In the case of Syria’s influence in Lebannon it has long been the case, just as Israel has long since made infractions and exercised influence in South Lebannon particularly with the South Lebanese Army. Syria’s problems with Israel relating to the seizing of the Golan Heights in 1967 are well documented and Lebannon has traditionally been a useful ally agaisnt the Israelis. Syria is part of George Bush’s convenient ‘axis of evil’ which includes lots of countries that have anti-Anerican sentiment whilst notable by their absence are many repressive regimes that keep the US sweet. So Syria is on the ‘hit-list’ and in the direct aftermath of the invasion of Iraq there were many of us that believed Syria was next and immediately in the firing line. Recent history has shown that when the US has got it in for you, it is only a matter of time before there is some charge to answer.

The fact is you cannot have an international judiciary at all if one country refuses to subject its citizens to its scrutiny the way the US currently does. It therefore undermines every single other case that judiciary may be called upon to examine. To boil it down to a legal argument it is the case of the guilty man and his defence, if he is guilty shouldn’t he be damned whatever? No, quite the contrary, for to set such a precedent is genuinely the legal road to totalitarianism because you are denying someone the right to representation and the presumption of guilt becomes enough to convict. The guilty man must be ably represented so that the case of his prosecution is subject to such scrutiny that if he is convicted it is clearly on the grounds of sound evidence. If he escapes on a technicality then justice has not been done but it is up to the prosecution to ensure that cases are watertight thus is the mantra of innocence until proven otherwise.

Look already at the actual phrases being used by the US and UK, after Syria’s denials at the involvement in the assasination of the Lebanese president, Condoleeza Rice told BBC One’s Politics Show there was at the least evidence of Syria failing to cooperate, as well as the “very strong implication” it was involved in assassinating Mr Hariri. This is very very different from irrefutable proof of Syrian involvement and yet you would think already that it is very much a done deal as far as Syria’s guilt in concerned. British foreign secretary Jack Straw has been quoted “…And they have to get the message that you cannot have a government, if I may say so, at any level going into assassinations.” Straw goes on to say that it was “very serious” that people at a high level in the Syrian regime had been implicated and that there was evidence of false testimony by senior figures. This does not sound much like the speech of someone whose mind is yet to be made up. Whilst giving evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Straw talked about Syria’s alleged involvement being “intolerable” and said that the United Nations would have to decide what action to take against Syria. He does not say that it is imperitive that the UN look into the case independently to establish the facts behind the case.

Straw’s position is unsurprising when you consider what his boss thinks -“Any implication of the involvement of Syria or any other country is something the international community has got to treat with the most fundamental seriousness and gravity because it calls into question the whole of our relationship not just with that country – but our ability to make sure the rule of law is enforced internationally.” Intersting that Tony Blair is now all of a sudden interested in the international rule of law when flouting it has not bothered him in the past.

So if our governments are so willing to disregard the presumption of innocence when it comes to international law, is it any wonder that there are many of us deeply concerned that with the erosion of our rights in the judicial processes and to privacy it can only be a matter of time before that presumption of innocence is lost for us as individuals.

Song Of The Day ~ Arctic Monkeys – I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor*Red letter day for the SOTD, the first time I believe that I have ever picked the current No.1 of the day.

Original Comments:

neil made this comment,
Loss / changes of individual freedom – read the last two sentences hidden at the bottom of this BBC article…. comment added :: 26th October 2005, 21:42 GMT+01

Be afraid, be very afraid, or else! The culture of fear is designed to break you downn to compliance one way or another.

Well if you ever needed current proof to back up Noam Chomsky’s notion of the ‘Manufacture of Consent’ you need look no further than the news in Britain over the last few days. Jamal and I have recently discussed how pandemics, or the threat thereof has been prevalent for some time now, from AIDS through BSE to SARS and now Bird Flu. And whilst one would not question that actual medical evidence behind these diseases nor the fact that they have led to many deaths it is important to look at just how the information is presented to us. Firstly we are given some scant information as to the existence of the disease, with very little questioning, for example the repercussions should have been huge over the fact that BSE is a disease caused by humans meddling with nature in an attempt to squeeze the last ounce of profit from a process. Secondly the impact of the disease is speculated upon usually with wild hyperbole. Thirdly it is made clear that there is no cure for the disease and the numbers can only be estimated should it turn into a pandemic thus inviting public hysteria as to the possible implications.

This culture of fear is reinforced at government level and distributed by the media. After all the provisions to protect against the disease are reported widely with the government saying they are doing enough when it is clear that if the pandemic is to be as serious as we have been led to believe that their preparation falls short. You may think this is all ludicrous conspiracy theory but think, when was the last time the government over-estimated the provisions needed and bought millions of vaccines or pumped £millions into research to prevent a disease that threatened to wipe out a proportion of the voting population.

This is only one part of the whole culture of fear process because not everyone will be quite so worried about such health considerations. For these people we have the “bad men”, the clash of civilisations, the war, the weapons of mass destruction. Of course the elderly have seen all this before and are not so affected by it all, for them we have the ASBO generation, the notion that you aren’t safe in your own home because of the massed hordes of hooded youth coming to do you harm. One way or another the culture of fear will get you, there is something for everyone’s insecurities.

The idea of the culture of fear is to keep you on edge, this reinforces a level of compliance by default, you are less likely to be scrutinising everything carefully if your mind is preoccupied. Once this level of fear has been established maintaining it is far easier than building it up, it is easier to fabricate evidence as we have seen. Even in our current media-saturated age we find that actually we are not provided with more information, that is merely the illusion, we are simply provided with a myriad of different ways to see the same thing. In the case of the war in Iraq we were presented with erroneous information and when the validity was challenged a legal enquiry was set up, under the stewardship of a ‘safe pair of hands’, to exonerate the government and give everyone the impression that they had been right all along. The Hutton enquiry did just that. Later the news that the government not only misled people on the issue but knew they were doing so is not reported as widely or as extensively. It is also worth noting that the genuine information is only released when it is perceived that people are getting tired of the saturation coverage of the issue itself and are therefore less inclined to want to make anything more of it.

The continuing threat to our safety allows governments to steamroller legislation under the guise of protection. As an example of secondary “news” that we will be spoon-fed take a look at fellow ID card fighter Longrider‘s discovery of some news designed to get even the most sceptical head thinking. The case concerns a crime which is one suspects reported quite accurately however the crucial point is the language used, it is one term only that captures the critical essence of the lie and many will not notice it.

Language is absolutely key in this role, the semantic inference is designed to evoke in order to lead you to the conclusion that you are meant to come to. Loaded and charged words are frequently used to provoke feelings of anger, despair and of course fear and powerlessness. It is imperative that one does not feel any power in the individual, if one person feels they can make a difference they might break the spell for not only themselves but galvanise others. If people study evidence and statistics they will find that the threats are often greatly exaggerated.

Don’t make the mistake this is somehow some Matrix style mass hallucination it is not, nor could it ever be so systematic, there are always those who will think outside the box and will question or insist on seeing things for themselves. The trick is to marginalise these people, either to discredit them, or dilute their message or simply to make out that all the people who follow them are part of the problem and either collaborators with the enemy or the enemy themselves. Such is the culture of fear most people do not think twice.

Song Of The Day ~ Kraftwerk – Das Model

Original Comments:

Kristie made this comment,
Brilliant post, Baron. I’ve nothing to add but my applause. Spot on.
-Redbaron responds – Mushy grassy arse, means a lot coming from your good self.-

comment added :: 23rd October 2005, 07:46 GMT+01

Howard Jay Meyer made this comment,
Listen, the government has to warn of us diseases; it’s not a conspiracy. Bird flu is from God. If the govt. didn’t do anything, you’d say their trying to kill out minorities or some drivle like that, like was said during Katrina.
-Redbaron responds- Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. So what is this the 21st century plague of locusts?! And what of Katrina, are you telling me this is designed to wipe out the evildoers and that there’s some modern Noah in Baton Rouge building an ark? Actually don’t answer that!

comment added :: 24th October 2005, 06:11 GMT+01 ::

Howard Jay Meyer made this comment,
PS Please link to me already.
-Redbaron responds – Fella, I’ll be glad to give you a link, I’m just trying to figure out what section to put you in, it’s not as if you’ll be in the Comrades one now is it?!-

comment added :: 24th October 2005, 06:16 GMT+01 ::

Kristie made this comment,
Bird flu is from god?
Let me add that to my list of reasons I’m an atheist. It’s not god I fear; it’s his followers. Good grief.

comment added :: 24th October 2005, 16:02 GMT+01

Mark Ellott made this comment,
I presumed Howard was joking – at least, he couldn’t be serious… could he? Bird flu is from God… yeah, nice one. Still, that made me smile, so it isn’t all bad.
comment added :: 24th October 2005, 18:39 GMT+01 ::

Live At Royal Concert Hall

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel

Date: 20/10/05   —   £17.50   —   Other

product page


I had booked the ticket some while ago, for old times sake perhaps. There are many bands emerging now who will have been long gone and forgotten before Steve Harley hangs up his guitar. Many of you will never had heard of him, some of you may know Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile), something of a 70s anthem, you may also recognise some of the other hits although you are unlikely to be able to have said who it was or what the song was called. Harley is, in a way, the man who was nearly the biggest thing since the Beatles, in the mid to late 70s he was an icon of the music and very nearly the acting business. This was, you must remember, an age when young vibrant male frontmen were revered with a fervour approaching disturbing proportions.

Born Stephen Nice in SE London in 1951, Harley was, like Ian Dury, struck with Polio as a child. Now regarded as one of the old school, ex-journalist Harley started out in the music business in 1973 with his band Cockney Rebel. Harley was brought up in and around New Cross and Deptford and much of the area I inhabited what seems many moons ago. Anyway enough of the NME article stuff.

I have to confess when I got home in the early evening before the gig I felt tired and jaded and the thought of driving to the gig to see an aged pop star was not as high up my priorities as it might have been. It was just as well I booked and paid for the ticket ages ago because had I been going to pay on the door I probably wouldn’t have bothered. That would have been a mistake.

I hadn’t been to the Royal Concert Hall before but it’s a more austere serious venue, by the time I’d found the bar that sold draught beer and just got a pint the 3 minute bell went which pissed me off since I found that you couldn’t take drinks in, you’d think they might have informed you when buying. As I took my seat I became aware of the smell, that sort of scent and after shave smell that reminds you of your parents and their friends and it kind of set the scene a little. This was a concert for the generation whose kids have left home, the generation of those of the late 60s, those one might nowadays see as the sell-outs.

The support act were the Backbeat Beatles, now I have always avoided Beatles tribute acts in the past because I always thought it would be naff, so I was surprised that I quite enjoyed what was a pretty decent act. What made me think was the fact that whilst if I was asked to name my very favourite bands The Beatles would probably not be in the first 5 I thought of and yet it is truly staggering how many lyrics you know of even the more obscure Beatles songs. It is this fact that brings it home just how much of an impact the group had. Granted, my Mother was a fairly big Beatles fan and I remember Abbey Road especially as one of the sounds that defined my early childhood. The Backbeat Beatles are an enthusiastic and enjoyable tribute and they did a 45 minute set of early Beatles tracks up to ‘Twist & Shout’.

Steve Harley and the band came on just after 8.30, you could tell Harley is a showman, a man used to the stagecraft, he was able to work the audience and gave the impression very much as the consumate professional. The band opened appropriately with Here Comes The Sun a song which the band themselves released as a cover version in the days when cover versions were done rarely and in homage rather than just a straight moneyspinner. It is followed by another early hit Soft and you can tell all the 50 somethings are tapping their feet furiously. Unlike the other bands I’ve been seeing lately which have been very much hard rock and largely new school, Harley is the old-stager, the band are clearly at ease playing together, there is less pretention, less desire to impress and more to enjoy and bring the audience along. Harley chats to the audience, he makes fun of someone taking a picture with their mobile phone, he calls into question the opinion that they think he’s mellowed at one point responding to someone calling out from the audience “Was that friendly heckling or hostile? I don’t know how to deal with hostile, wait for Kenn Dodd next week he’ll sort you out, or maybe I’ll invoke the new anti-terror laws and have you thrown out, no place for free speech in this country, not any more, not even when you’re 82.” The heckling was friendly. Harley talks about how his kids now tell him to turn the music down and wouldn’t recognise a spliff if it got up and hit them. He is a disciple of a bygone age. He expresses his admiration for Bob Dylan, “The Beatles changed the world and Dylan changed the Beatles, imagine how much power the man had.”


For me you can tell a band at ease with itself because they are not playing the stock songs exactly as they are in the studio, they play with things, go off into elaborate solo pieces and bring in a variety of instruments in order to experiment. The energy and enthusiasm for their trade is contagious, you couldn’t have had a bad time there if you’d tried.

After the initial conversation a third of the way through the set, Harley is laconic and seems to open up. The music shifts emphasis seamlessly from folk rock to heavy rock to spanish accoustic and Harley is ever magnanimous to acknowledge the musicians alongside him. 2 hours fairly fly by ending with an immensely powerful Sebastian and a great live version of Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile) by this point half the audience are on their feet and dancing away, Harley laments the lack of a dance floor for them. A standing ovation leads to a lively encore with everyone up and dancing.

Kind of makes a cogent point that doesn’t it? Not to mention a very valid one as well. I know of anther example I have already cited where the “proper identification” was used in a eugenic fashion namely that in Rwanda where the Belgians had marked ethnicity on ID cards. Is the same going to be the case in the UK? Who knows, nowadays with smart cards, magnetic strips, biometrics etc. etc. who is going to have any idea precisely what information will be transferred to such a card and by whom it may later be used? After all there was originally talk of such information being on the photocard part of your driver’s license and the public outcry made that suggestion go very quickly to ground. Governments certainly since I have been interested in politics have been intent on eroding covil liberties in an effort to ‘protect us.’ What is it that these ID cards are supposed to bring to us? We are told that they will make us safer, prevent fraud etc. and terrorism and yet all the actual studies that have gone into this show that such boasts are fanciful at best and outright subterfuge at worst.

Did you know for example that if you are a member of a ‘listed organisation’ you will have an MI5 file? Such listed organisations can include anything political, specifically anything deemed left-leaning. This is not to over-egg the pudding, it does not mean you will have spooks pursuing you at every turn just because you were signed up to the Anglo-Cuban alliance whilst you were at college in the 80s or such like. But you will very probably have such a file as a result. There are well over 500,000 MI5 files on British citizens and those of us that live here. There are 3 categories of status for such files. A ‘red light’ means that there is neither investigtion nor plans to reopen anything. An ‘amber light’ means that there is currently no grounds to carry out any investigative activity but the file remains open should any further evidence come to light and require re-examination of the status. Finally a ‘green light’ is obviously a file on an individual where investigations are taking place.

The question is how may that impact on our daily lives? For the most part one might think not a lot, and should your job remain low profile and the same be thought of those you associate with then this is largely likely to be the case. However there are a number of approved organisations that are entitled to enquire as to whether you have an MI5 file if you should apply for a job there. The BBC is one such organisation as is the Civil Service, I do not have any details as to which private companies are allowed to do it. The vast majority of them are not permitted to know what is in the file or the status of it simply whether it exists, they can then make a judgement accordingly. This is however still a form of covert repression regardless of how seldom it may actually occur because the infrastructure is already in place should it ever be required on a grander scale.

I could go on about the lack of a genuinely secret ballot at every election here but you know the drill and frankly you really ought to be aware by now that you can trust this government about as much as you could trust the last one.

So what can you do about it. Well lobby the windbag that is your MP for starters, you never know you might be lucky enough to have one of the handful who listens, I wouldn’t hold your breath though. A useful point to start at is here. I have done just that, I enclose a copy of the letter I have sent and should I receive a reply I will also post that. If you wish to use any of the parts of the letter I have written you are free to do so.

Dear Insert tosser’s name here

I am a comparitively new member of your constituency having moved into X some 6 months ago. I see from your voting record that you were broadly in favour of the government’s stance on the Iraq war and furthermore that you support the current wave of anti-terror legislation.

Can you explain to me how the fact that the war was waged on false principles given to Parliament affects your viewpoint now? How should I feel as one of those who marched against the war in London on February 15th 2003 and subsequent marches? How do you see your ability to represent me when in essence it could be said that you sided with a government line without subjecting it to the sort of scrutiny that I would expect from the man elected as my representative in the legislature?

Furthermore since evidence has shown that the current ID cards measures would not have stopped any of the bombings in London or Madrid or Bali can you explain why you are in support of another measure that is singularly unpopular outside the cadres of the Labour Party and whether this is something you have sought advice on within the community? What is your view on the tragic murder of Jean Charles de Menenzes which has been a direct result of the current furore over the terrorist threat?

On issues such as these I have just raised what is your procedure to canvass the opinion of your constituents? Do you believe as an MP that your job is to vote according to your views, that of your party, or do you feel it is important to put those to one side if the majority of your constituents are not in agreement with your personal or party’s position?

I appreciate you are a busy man and will have many pressing constituency matters to attend to but I would be very interested in your answers to these questions at your earliest convenience.

This will of course not change anything but it will annoy them. You should steer clear of direct insults, calling them an 4rse-licking right-wing new labour cun7, however aposite it may be, will only give them cause to ignore your correspondance and it is far more irritating to them if they actually have to answer it, government guidelines suggesting that it should be done within 10 days. Of course any reply will be vaccuous and banal but that opens up the lines of communication to see just how far their heads are up the backsides of the party whips.

Now go sign the No2ID petition here and look around to see what else you can find.

Song Of The Day ~ Bob Dylan – Tangled Up In Blue

Original Comments:

Mark Ellott made this comment,
I have written regularly to my MP on this matter. The last time just prior to the third reading. He simply repeats the tired dogma that Charles Clarke trots out. That they are blatant lies, that they have been proved to be lies, that the government’s own information watchdog called them on it, matters not one whit. Rational discourse with these buffoons is wasted.
-Redbaron responds- To be honest mate I don’t doubt you one iota, but for me to launch into a vitriolic attack on my MP it is only fair that I ensure that it is merited, as indeed is my suspicion. Hence he has his chance, should he fail to take it I will have full justification for my ire and will ensure that at any local meetings I am something of a fly in the ointment.-

comment added :: 20th October 2005, 18:53 GMT+01 ::

jamal made this comment,
The picture says it all. Time will tell what the impact will be, but one things for sure it that it wont be positive.
MP’s should be lobbied in this way as this is what they are there for. Our taxes pay them to represent our ideals. Therefore if we sit back and ignore these issues so will they. The difference is that they will get paid for it.

comment added :: 21st October 2005, 02:19 GMT+01 ::

Jay made this comment,
If ur a clean citizen then what r u afraid of. And, why are you a communist? In a socialist society there are NO freedoms and you’d be repressed. If you’re “broke,” try working for a commie paper.
-Redbaron responds – Jay, I’m happy thaat you stop by and debate but the arguments you espouse now seem to be very hackneyed and somewhat anchored in the Reagan era. You first point hinges on your definition of “clean.” Look at the picture, that in Nazi Germany was considered ‘unclean’, now whether or not we agree with that definition it is undisputable that this was the state policy. You are placing yourself in the hands of the whim of the government and that has been proven to be a dangerous and volatile thing.

Your second point seems to be part of the whole arcane definition of Communism in the format that it allegedly appeared in the Stalin era of the USSR. If you read your theory you will find this is very far from any definition of Communism. Study the Paris Commune in 1871 and Russia in the immeadiate aftermath of 1917 and you will find a very different story. Furthermore you presume that I have freedoms and am not repressed now in this capitalist society, a belief that stems very much from a latent materialistic viewpoint of what constitutes free.

comment added :: 21st October 2005, 10:14 GMT+01 ::

Mark Ellott made this comment,
Jay – do your homework, please. The nothing to hide, nothing to fear argument is strictly for the intellectually lazy. You might also want to read the bill…
comment added :: 21st October 2005, 19:18 GMT+01 ::
jamal made this comment, fact, the “nothing to hide nothing to fear” arguement is what I hear the politicians that want to introduce the bill arguing.
This arguement has no substantial weight, just as the terrorism does not justify ID cards either, as 7/7 could have occured with or without them.

comment added :: 22nd October 2005, 03:52 GMT+01 ::

guerrilla radio made this comment,
a carton from “liberazione”: =1341 Israel says: it is new antisemitism!
but what is the reality today in Palestine? a big lager.

vik italian blogger from milan.

comment added :: 15th May 2006, 21:47 GMT+01 ::

Newsnight on BBC2 (30/08) ran a report about the French penchant for taking the whole of August off. It was regarded with some incredulity that Paris is practically empty for most of the month. I remember myself being in France in August and being a little surprised that so many shops seemed to be shut at the same time and for more than just a couple of days.

The report spoke to a boss in the rag trade and his trouble at getting business done due to most things having ground to a halt. The boss naturally supported the proposed political reforms being tacitly mooted by Dominique de Villepin and Nicolas Sarcosie the main 2 political centre-right heavyweights in France. Unsurprisingly whilst many bosses support the reforms, the workers are broadly in favour of retaining their tradition of en vaccances for the month of August.

Many French public sector employees work a 35 hour week and can be entitled to anything up to 11 weeks off in total. A France Telecom employee was cited as being understandably happy with the current situation and suspicious of any changes in working regulations. He mentions that French workers despite having one of the shortest working weeks in Europe are also one of the more productive and therefore the holidays are relative and not a threat to the economic situation any more than they would have been over the decades that the situation has been in place.

It is interesting that the slant now seems to be that changes to the French system are both inevitable and desirable the inference being “those lazy French” and their arcane ways etc. etc. 40 years ago one might have expected it to be very different and to see much of the world regarding the French model with a degree of envy. The claim of the French public sector worker that 4 weeks holiday in August allows one a proper holiday is not scrutinised. I was most interested in this statement because it was one I felt considerable solidarity with. In the job I am now in I get public sector holidays which amount to 6 weeks a year rather than the usual norm in Britain which is 4. This meant I was able to take 2 weeks in Cornwall early last year and just as the Frenchmen says the first week is purely about shaking off the shackles, getting rid of the thoughts of what you left behind. Someway into the second week you actually start to relax. The trouble for me was that just when I started to relax I became all too aware of the impending end of the holiday. I would have thought in the modern world it would be even more prevalent that what little leisure time we receive should be cherished and used to good effect.

Many French school leavers think that the welfare system is too benign and allows a culture of ambivalence to work since 2/3 of ones salary will be paid in welfare payments for up to 2 years. People believe this means workers will attempt to cherry-pick or not work at all. Much of this indifferance to work though is very much a product of the type of society we live in. People resent the notion that we are supposed to be drones for the 40 odd years of our working lives. and feel there should be more to life than this. Of course one would not expect the company bosses to feel thus, they are the very people who manny huge capital gains from such an exploiutative system. They are able to relax in comfortable houses and in comfortable cars and offices, not to mention down the golf course. If the French political establishment has their way one of the last remaining progressive pieces of worker’s rights pertaining to holiday will be eroded.

If one casts a comparitive eye over the British model one finds less holiday and less statutory, this has not led to increased production, nor intrinsically more economic growth over a prolonged period. It certainly does not mean that British workers feel they get more from their jobs in fact the reverse is true. One can at this point draw in elements of other countries social legislation such as the pre-Schroeder welfare system of Germany or the parental leave rights from the Scandinavian countries none of which we enjoy in Britain. So does the lack of these conditions and rights make British workers more or less inclined to work? They are certainly cheaper and have far less employment legislation in their favour regarding any disputes and it is small wonder that companies have traditionally used Britain as a useful place to have offices, part of the EU but as a non-signatory to the Social Chapter less “repressive” for the companies. Post-Thatcher Britain has of course weakened Trade Union rights in addition to all this.

There are those ‘liberals’ who would say that a compassionate capitalism that takes into account the worker’s interests like this allowing for holidays and such like would perhaps be a better method of ideological governance, but the nature of the beast is all consuming, to think any different is delusion. Capitalism does not stop at a specific point just because its fluffy and nice, it is a rapacious evolving system that tramples what is in its path.

The concerted attack upon a number of fundamental workers rights has been coming for some time. The tricks used include the threat of shifting jobs to Eastern Europe – this is only a temporary measure for TNCs because there is already evidence that the jobs shifted to Hungary from Germany when German workers proved too costly, are now been moved again to Romania as the comparisons between it and Hungary prove favourable for slave labour.

There is no getting away from the fact that there are only 2 ways of doing things – subsistance survival for workers and a trading off of one countries workers against anothers to drive down salaries, working conditions etc. or the other way which is taxing the rich to pay for the poor and a welfare system. This does illustrate to me why socialists have traditionally looked for a different economic system, being no economist I am not in a position to offer any solutions merely to identify the problem.

There is always another way if one is minded to take it, in the case of the pensions crisis why not use some of the vast £1 billion that 400 of the UKs company directors paid themselves in pensions last year to redress the balance. In the case of worker’s rights the view has to be that increasing rights is progressive not a hindrance to economic profitability. However those outside the capitalist system must enforce this. Governments are not required to be as profitable as companies to their shareholders as we cannot change the board of directors quite as often. This means governments have the option of siding with business or the people they are actually there to represent. THERE IS NO THIRD WAY. You cannot have your cake and eat it the demands of the companies and the shareholdres are a complete anathema to a fair and ethical working environment and there will always be a squeeze. Assaults like that in France on the holiday system are nothing more than the thin end of the wedge.

Song Of The Day ~ Stereolab – Ping Pong*
*the only indie song I know about the causal effect of the global economic cycle!

Original Comments:

Haddock made this comment,
Excellant post. The errosion of workers rights as you know has started in Germany as well, and as you quite rightly said it appears to be the thin edge of the wedge. From my point of view, stress in the work place in the UK seems a lot higher than it used to be, whereas in continental Europe the stress levels seem a lot lower….but I wonder for how long.
-Redbaron responds – Thanks mate, yes I spoke to a German Trade Union official at the ESF last year who told me about the continuing Easterward migration. I think workers rights in Europe are still a step ahead of them here which may account for the disparity in stress but you’re right to caveat it may not be for long.-

comment added :: 19th November 2005, 13:32 GMT+01 ::
Mark Ellott made this comment,
I tried to find more about the attempt to erode the grande vacance but couldn’t. I don’t see the French giving that up too easily.
-Redbaron responds – I think De Villepin and Sarcozy have their eyes on other things at the moment!-

comment added :: 19th November 2005, 20:21 GMT+01 ::

Kristie made this comment,
As an American, I can tell you I, and many of us, envy the vacation other countries have long enjoyed. It’s worth preserving. In a world full of convenience and computers, there is no reason we should all still be working 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, let alone the insane 70-hour schedules some do. I’m thinking 3.5 days work, 3.5 days off, and a nice stretch of vacation time would do it. Hell, I find I’m in a much better frame of mind if I can just have a 3-day weekend–enough time to decompress (I’m quick.) The fact of the matter is, it’s about control and about mandating the seat time they pay for. I can do my job in 15 hours a week, with more on rare occasions. But if I ever told them that, they’d just work me harder. I get no benefit from my efficiency. Just The Man does. I think that’s crap, and therefore I’m still efficient, but I don’t announce it. The time I save is my own, however limited by being bounded by my cubicle-cell.
comment added :: 20th November 2005, 18:54 GMT+01

The Fat Boy made this comment,
The riots are acts of terror. These people are destroying France, and right before the holiday season too. If they keep this up, Santa will give them shit.
-Redbaron responds – What is it with you ‘Mericans eh everything that doesn’t agree with your view of the world is terror-related? The riots are acts of desperation by many and violence by a few, symptomatic of the disenfranchised in an authoritarian society.-

comment added :: 22nd November 2005, 11:34 GMT+01 ::

I had drafted much of this entry before it was reported in the mainstream media over here, sadly my failure to complete it has led to being behind The Guardian who published an article about this online on October 12th. Technology is now so tied up with our everyday lives that even technophobes are forced to enjoy/endure items and services on a daily basis. Whether it be a mobile phone or a powerbook computer or your way of accessing the internet by ADSL or Wireless routing. there may be many of you who think you don’t know about technology, but you are here using the net, something which only 10 years ago was relatively new to anyone outside IT or Education. You may well be blogging, again an activity as yet still undiscovered by many. And like as not you’ve had to configure your computer and your web browser not to mention your email client or your anti-virus SW and the more ambitious may have played around setting up DMZs and VPNs and all sorts of holes in the firewall for peer to peer file sharing or online gaming!

You may not know what the terms mean but that doesn’t mean you may not have experience in such configurations, if you ever used Napster in the old days then you’ll have done the peer to peer. It just means direct share and transfer between 2 specific computers rather than with the aid of servers and such like.

Up to now because of the relatively amorphous nature of the internet there has been the perception of something of a laissez-faire attitude to legislation. This perception may well be misleading. Certain core elements of the internet are not as free as you might think. Take the example of DNS.

Now before you switch off DNS is something you all use you just may not know what it does. As a quick explanation let’s say you have come here via Now my BC site does not just exist, the information that pertains to it lives on a machine usually a web server. This machine however is not called so how does your browser know how to find my web page? The web server is a machine connected to the internet via an IP address which is like a house number and postcode all in one. These IP addresses are unique. The DNS service links what you type into your browser to what the IP address is. For example I could go to my computer and type, I could choose to do it this way and it would in fact work but it’s not exactly catchy, is substantially easier, but they are one and the same. A DNS server is what holds the records to tell each computer when it launches a connection that is in fact the machine located at Think of it as a phone book. I want to call Tony Blair to tell him he’s a twat but I can’t pick up the phone and say Tony Blair and be connected I have to know the number that corresponds to where he lives the phone book is a record that matches names to numbers and this is like DNS.

Ok that was the techie bit now my actual point, the DNS system is currently controlled by….. oh yes you’re ahead of me, the US government. Recently there was an agreement that they would hand autonomous control to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) based primarily in California however they have reneged on the deal and ICANN remains under Department of Commerce control, that decision has been taken at commander in chief level ie the chimp. Check this one out for some details. Now whilst it may be pointed out that thus far the D.O.C. has not directly interfered with ICANN, this does not prove any tacit pressure that may apply from no more complex a fact than you don’t bite the hand that feeds you so to speak.

The actual implications of this in fact mean that the US govt. retains the power to block top level domains from countries it does not approve of as well as blocking any future top level domains such as for the use of porn sites etc. This is profoundly a bad thing whatever you may think of these countries/web sites and porn in general because at the moment there is no line drawn as to where such control should stop and thus any control at all excercised by the US would be the thin end of a very large wedge indeed. It means that a very important backbone of the internet that is supposedly that free flow of information is in fact under direct control and not just benignly left to get on with it but actively involved hence the chimp’s walking away from the original agreement.

What you have to remember is that the servers that contain the DNS information must be updated regularly to reflect changes and new domains etc. There are 13 of these servers in total and Root Server A is the primary one. It is regulated by Verisign a company in the US and one subject to the controls of the US Department of Commerce. Root Server A is the server whereby changes are made, it then hands down the details to the other 12 main servers. As an example of what could conceivably happen read this article which details how Libya was removed from the internet for 3 days because of a dispute between 2 people. Furthermore a more well-known example is that of 2003 during the initial phases of the Iraq war when visitors to Al-Jazeera’s websites found themselves rerouted to a pro-war website. This was allegedly carried out by hackers who were able to modify the records on Root Server A. Doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence as to the security of perhaps the most important single server on the internet

Now within this whole affair you have to bear in mind that the top spammers in the world are based where exactly? Well, the top 2 are in Florida for starters and they account for well over 70% of all the spam sent. Have the US government sought to control this traffic at all, not a bit of it, can any other country exact any control over it, no because of course the US does not permit international legal institutions to encroach on its own national sovereignty (kind of ironic when you think how much the US like to encroach on everyone else’s national sovereignty).

The importance of the DNS situation is underlined now by the EU’s attempt to mediate some deal to prevent countries such as China, Russia, Brazil and some of the Arab states from operating their own DNS setups which would fragment the uniformity of the DNS system. Whilst I have heard this referred to as the possible ‘death of the internet’ I believe this is rather typical media hyperbole, however their is little doubt that it would undermine the general efficiency of the internet as a user experience. Think of it as if you had the Yellow Pages which contains most of the numbers you may need but not all of them, you might have to have another 2 or 3 books for total coverage. It is an annoyance and wastes unecessary time. Of course those that run the Yellow Pages will still tell you they are the ones with the vast majority of numbers so you should use their reference, just as in this case the US will tell you that their Department of Commerce has not interfered with ICANN and has no intention to do so and still remains the most established and technical form of DNS. When all is said and done it is the same arrogance that the US has applied to so many other facets of their policies, remember you are ‘either with them or against them’ and doubtless they will see this attempt to mediate a solution as another attack on their sovereignty.

At this point since we’re on the technical topics, I should mention the ‘clipper chip’ which you can find out about it in detail here. I remember the furore about the Clipper Chip as I had just started University in 1993 and was using Unix terminals to access email and the like. There were a number of us watching the developments in the US with interest knowing that the slightly more open process going on over there was doubtless mirroring a more covert one over here no doubt stamped with the Official Secrets Act from its very inception.

The premise of the Clipper Chip was simple it is basically a backdoor to electronic information such as email and web content. What the US government wished to do was to create a legal requirement to provide this backdoor to all user accounts and electronic information. This is in addition to ‘listening posts’ like Menwith Hill where the US filters all cellular phone conversations and emails etc. The timing of the clipper chip was in the days when outside governments only those of us in academic campuses and such like had widespread access to email. There were companies in the IT sector and the occasional others but in 1993 for example it was definitely not the norm in this country to have a home computer with internet access. In fact I think I rigged up net access at home first in 1998.

Looking at these restrictions on actual freedom you’d be forgiven for thinking that the internet far from being the haven of liberty some would like to make out that it is, the infrastructure has the ability to lock-down far more if it is deemed necessary by the powers that be. We should not be surprised by this when you consider who brought us the internet in the first place.

Song Of The Day ~ The Departure – Dirty Words

Original Comments:

Jay made this comment,
true, true, Red Baron. The US govt. also is able to track all online activity, and is cautioned when someone does something stupid online, like buying porn. Just kidding, only if you buy nukes online.
comment added :: 21st October 2005, 10:24 GMT+01 ::

On a related note to my last post, I was thinking that if the Railtrack shareholders wish to look for a compensation payout perhaps they should look no further than former chairman Gerald Corbett who after the debacle over which he presided at Railtrack was the recipient of an estimated £1.3million payoff and went on to become chairman of Woolworths PLC the high street retailer where in his first year he received a £500k bonus in addition to his £500k salary. I have heard many a time the old argument that if companies do not offer salaries commensurate with those across the industry they will be unable to attract the most able people but when I look at the incompentence many of these pampered ponces preside over I wonder if there is not a group hallucination going on. Many of these men (and they are pretty much without exception men) don’t even devote their full working week to one company but have their fingers in a number of pies not to mention the clubhouse at some of the country’s premium golf courses.

I find it hard to believe how anyone could claim that Bob Ayling at British Airways deserved a £2m payoff and a £260,000 pension when he was sacked in 1999, Ayling had come to BA after presiding over the Millenium Dome, hardly what most people would deem good for the CV. Whilst at BA Ayling initiated a program of cost-cutting which alienated staff and unions and ultimately led to the company dropping out of the FTSE100 (the stock market list of the 100 top British companies). You might think that after these 2 Ayling’s career would be over but no in 2002 he was appointed Chairman of Holidaybreak a FTSE250 company.

James Murdoch, Chairman of BSkyB, himself the epitomy of the Rupert Murdoch ‘jobs for the boys’ program received a total of £2.2m last year including 80% (£1.2m) of the maximum bonus that he could have received. At the same time Sky shares have fallen by 10% in the last year. This pales into comparison with his older brother Lachlan Murdoch, who not content with his $7.8m salary quit News Corporation earlier this year receiving $15.6m payout. One ought to bear in mind that Rupert Murdoch’s own salary is £23.6million, he himself gained a 37% pay rise last year. Staggeringly tho’ this is not the top earning in the company, that dubious honour is held by Peter Chernin chief operating officer who received the same bonus, $18.9m but with a basic salary of $8.3m he earns nearly twice that of his boss.

How about Klaus Esser who as a result of his tenure at the Vodafone Group netted a cool £9,153,000. This is categorically indefensible on any level. The Labour Research Group reported in 2002 how 75 directors had received golden handshakes of more than £100,000, the list is available here. In 1999 research showed that the bosses’ pay was up by an average 9 per cent over from the previous year’s figure of £546,000, excluding share options. Taking account of inflation and that’s three-and-a-half times the percentage pay hike for the average British employee. In the same year Disney’s Michael Eisner scored $576m while the company’s shareholders scored a 5% loss. Mercer & Co, which calculated the American figures, has found that US top executives pull in bonuses 4x those of their British counterparts. US share options for CEOs exceeded Britain’s by 5,900%. All in all 82% of corporate stock in America is held by the wealthiest 10% of families. But over half those shares, the controlling stake, is owned by the richest 1 per cent alone. Similar figures are born out across much of the industrialied world but nowhere is it quite as latent as in the US. In the US this 1% of the population increased their share of the wealth from 33% to 37.4% between 1983 and 1993. This trend did not stop under Clinton but increased further to 40.1%. This I suspect would be in contrast to most people’s expectations of how things would have progressed when Clinton came to power and perhaps even with the way many may still look back on it with their rose-tinted specs.

It may seem flippant to reduce the analogy to our own examples but I know that were I to go to my bosses after a bad year and said ‘well, ok let’s call it quits you give me 1 year’s salary as a payoff’ the reception I would expect to receive would be very frosty indeed. Likewise after a good year, which has happened now and again, I do not get called in and given pats on the back and offered large bonuses many multiples of my salary. For most of us in the real world if we do our job we do nothing more than justify the remuneration we receive from month to month and if we fail to impress then we can expect to be looking for something else in due course.

I fail to see how on earth it can be defended that most people in all of these countries, who let’s face it are well-off in comparison with so many, can be earning a wage so utterly dwarfed by these corporate fat cats. The government and the opposition want increasing public contribution to services such as education, health, pensions etc. well, if I were earning £9,153,000 I would be delighted to contribute but as it is my net income after deductions and bills is negative equity and therefore my gross salary is somewhat irrelevant. Since I am aware that many people earn far less than me it is all too obvious that the huge majority of this country are ill-equipped to pay for services that should be provided out of ability-based income tax. And yet these fat cats in fact have far more tax breaks than the rest of us. Is it any wonder if I cannot see how the current system can be reformed? We are currently being told that our taxes are not enough to pay for public services at the parlous level they currently occupy let alone proper modern ones that we should be able to expect in the 21st century. Education must be paid for at the point of use and then again extra levies thereafter, healthcare is the prerogative of the rich if you contrast the facilities and timings in the private sector in contrast with how long you must wait for non-emergency operations on the NHS. Pensions are in crisis because we have the temerity to be living too long.

If this is the society we want then fine, go back to sleep, watch the soaps and allow your brain to turn to spongiform in the pursuit of the rich getting richer. However another world is so clearly possible because it is not as if the money does not exist to pay for the services we require it is simply that in the current political climate there is not the will to ensure that the money is collected from the areas which it should and distributed with comparable just cause.

Song Of The Day ~ The Editors – Munich

Original Comments:

Mark Ellott made this comment,
Once more, you raise some interesting points. Having been directly involved, I need to respond. I was always bemused by Gerald Corbett’s appointment. There is an argument that someone of the right calibre does not need industry expertise in this type of role. Theoretically, maybe; in practice that is not the case. Gerald’s retail background did not prepare him adequately for the fallout of Hatfield and he panicked. He was a man out of his depth. Getting rid of a senior executive is something that a company must do quickly if it is to avoid instability. Whereas front line employees who are incompetent may be dealt with using the procedures required by employment law, a senior executive cannot be left in post for a period that may involve months of investigation and development. What is designed to protect ordinary workers from employer abuse creates a real dilemma at board level. So they break the law. It’s exactly what happened when Network Rail made 600 of us “redundant”. They unfairly dismissed people who questioned the party line and paid compensation equivalent to that which would have been awarded by a tribunal. Moral? No. Pragmatic, definitely.
On the matter of salary, I was caught up in the Railtrack pay structure inherited from BR. This was a mess and was deeply unfair. I was not paid the going rate for the job I was doing, I was paid a percentage above my previous salary. This meant that three people applying for the same post would be offered three different salaries based upon their current post – if one of them was an outside candidate, they would be offered the market rate, which would be well above that offered to the internal candidates. If a company wants me to take on a demanding and personally risky role, I expect them to cough up an appropriate salary. You refer to this as capitalism. Well, maybe so. I prefer to call it human nature.

comment added :: 17th October 2005, 09:03 GMT+01 ::

jamal made this comment,
Agreed. I cant understand how these people that earn millions are able to do so with the amount of poverty prevailing. Furthermore, while this persists I am forced to pay huge tax costs on my meagre wage.
On a lesser note, what really disgusts me in the public sector is that the actual frontline workers earn a lower wage then the mass of human resource managers, diversity managers, press officers, etc, who dont actually do much.

comment added :: 18th October 2005, 15:18 GMT+01 ::

After the recent legal ruling by Justice Mackay that engineering company Balfour Beatty and Railtrack were guilty of negligence that led to the Hatfield disaster, perhaps it should be suggested to the disgruntled Railtrack shareholders that they should pay back the amount of their dividends to cover Railtrack’s fine. The details of the ruling are here. Balfour Beatty has been ordered to pay in the amount of £10 million whilst Network Rail has to pay £3.5 million as damages incurred by Railtrack. I don’t see the Railtrack shareholders taking up my suggestion and offering to pay back dividends so doubtless, since Network Rail (the company that replaced Railtrack when it was declared bankrupt by the government) is now non-profit, this £3.5 million will be paid for by us, the taxpayer, and will be diverted from the cause of making the railways cheaper and safer. As Justice Mackay so rightly points out in his verdict, “Every pound spent on a fine can’t be spent on rail safety.”

So where exactly does this large sum of money go? Will it go to the victims, of the Hatfield disaster or Southall, or Ladbroke Grove or Potters Bar, will it be ploughed into the infrastructure in an effort to belatedly prevent any further disasters of this ilk? Court costs alone are being charged at £300,000 each. There are no details that I could find as to exactly what will happen to the money or even what the prospects are of it being recouped.

I decided to look into the situation regarding the state of the rail system following privatisation. I suggest you get a cup of tea, I’m afraid this is going to be a long one!

Much of this controversy surrounds the Advanced Train Protection system (ATP) which is a method of preventing train accidents whereby trains and signalling are fitted with systems which, should a train pass a signal at danger (SPAD) the brakes would automatically be applied to the train. The ATP system was supposed to be implemented after Clapham Rail crash on 12th December 1988 according to the recommendations of the enquiry after the crash at a cost of £750m. With this system in mind various layouts were in place including bi-directional tracks particularly in the approach to London mainline stations, which without ATP were fundamentally unwise at best and like as not unsafe. It is this fact especially that underlines the lack of safety consciousness in the industry at the time. After the report into the Southall crash Richard Middleton, Commercial Director of Railtrack responded to suggestions that some of area at Paddington lines be made uni-directional ”that would not be good for the company” Many of the recommendations of the Southall enquiry were not implemented, the consequences of which are self-evident.

Plans for ATP shelved because Tory government wanted quick privatisation, in 1993 after the publication of the Hidden enquiry into the Clapham crash they had no intention of pumping any money in and there was no way they would be providing funding for the scheme having under-invested in British Rail for a decade. Neither were the prospective buyers of parts of the railway sell-off keen to have this millstone round their neck upon the point of shelling out large sums of money for the franchise. Their intention was to make money from the system not pump it in hand over fist, and it was therefore from a purely economic perspective that the safety feature was not implemented. That fact alone is institutionalised negligence.

In fact a Thames Trains analysis showed that cost of fitting ATP and amount of lives it would save was more expensive than leaving system as it was and paying out compensation in the event of any deaths caused by crashes. The report actually broke down a cost per life saved to reach it’s conclusion. This may seem callous at first glance, and certainly morally questionable, as indeed it is but you have to bear in mind this is the way capitalism works. Risk assessment is part of the industry. The irony of this was that Thames trains themselves were to find out the cost in human terms of their decision when on 5th October 1999 one of their trains was involved in the Ladbroke Grove crash just outside Paddington. It was the worst disaster since Clapham and 31 people were killed and countless others injured. It happened a mere 2 years after a crash in September ’97 at Southall further up the same line killed 7 and injured 160. The enquiry into Southall started 2 weeks before the crash at Ladbroke Grove. A good reference on Southall can be found here, it is particularly good as an illustration as to the necessary co-ordination between so many different companies in the same area.

In the case of the Ladbroke Grove crash – Signal 109 is recognised as being the root cause, it was in a bad place optically and had previously had issues and a SPAD which had not resulted in a crash but highlighted serious problems in this area. All SPADs have to be investigated as should all driver reports of problems. Following investigations into Signal 109 7 recommendations were made, only one of them had been followed at the time of the Ladbroke Grove crash. One of the train operating companies (First Great Western) had requested information pertaining to SN 109 but this information had not been provided by Railtrack. The enquiry into the crash would find endemic failure to deal with reported problems at track level and a failure of communication between Railtrack and the train operating companies.

In 17th October 2000 an Inter-City train was derailed at Hatfield coming off the track as a result of a broken rail, 4 people died, 35 were injured. As the Mackay enquiry has found this crash too was the result of negligence.

Whilst the Mackay enquiry was starting up, on the 17th May 2002 7 people were killed and 70 injured when a train derailled at Potters Bar, literally only a couple of miles from Hatfield.

It is rather chilling that in the cases of these 4 major accidents the time and distance gaps between them has been chillingly significant. it would appear to suggest some greater significance than just random chance. It is worrying that enquiries are being carried out highlighting systematic and endemic failures in the system and yet the recommendations are not being carried out and the crashes continue.

It is customary for the British Transport Police to investigate such incidents should criminal proceedings be necessary. It is however important to note that the transport police are funded by the rail industry, Railtrack, rail companies etc., precisely the people it is supposed to be investigating. This in the outside world should constitute a conflict of interest and result in the drafting of a more objective authority to carry out any investigation necessary. As an example of the danger of such conflict of interest the fact that during the enquiry following the Southall crash the officer in charge of the investigation claimed he was warned off in no uncertain terms.

Further examples of whistle blowing have shown that far from being a trend downwards the situation has changed little and there is still a huge system-wide failure to address problems of safety and maintenance, problems include the Forth bridge where numerous maintenance workers have stated that they would not allow any of their families on a train across the bridge, and repeated reports of certain track problems that go unchecked and unremedied.

All in all the case of the rail system since the mess of privatisationreally pisses me off. Not just content with running down a system that was once the envy of the industrialised world it seems that whilst speculating on the stock market seems to have obvious pitfalls if the cause of losses can be perceived as being attributable to the government then people feel that this gives them a scapegoat and all bets are off. I remember all the warnings about the value of shares can go up as well as down. This is speculation, the nature of the beast is that it involves risk. Did the British government sue George Soros because the bastard almost single-handedly caused a devaluation in sterling costing the country millions? Were we advised as a population to take a class action based on the tangible fact that the £ in our pocket was worth less due to no fault of our own? This is capitalism this is how it works. Yet, the bellyaching when those that thought they were onto a sure thing lose out is sickening. I am well-aware that there were many pension funds tied up in shares such as Railtrack, sadly this only underlines another example of how we rely to our cost on things in the private sector.

I maintain that it is counter-productive to have a public service in private hands because of the nature of capitalist economics. Whilst I take the point that for the business to be profitable it is necessary for it to attempt to provide a good service this is only really a prevalent case where competition exists for consumers should the service not be up to scratch. It is not just the rail companies where we have seen institutional corner-cutting to increase profits, and when one looks at salaries of the directors and bonus payments as well as dividends (something I have already drafted another blog on as a result of the investigations for this one.) I can’t help but think that a public company would have to be hellishly inefficient not to be an improvement on such and I do not think the inefficiency of nationalised industry is a forgone conclusion, nor is it a hinderance to have a good functioning trade union system within that framework. The key ingredient for success of a nationalised industry is people feeling that they have a place of value within society and much of that applies to where they work. This, if it can be achieved would have profound implications in social and political spheres and would perhaps prevent further deaths at the hand of an incumbant ideology that is in danger of wiping us out as we count our pennies and watch.

Song Of The Day ~ Interpol – Specialist

Original Comments:

Mark Ellott made this comment,
Naturally, I have to contribute as you did on my take on this issue.
Firstly, I agree with your point about where the fines go – they should be reinvested into railway safety. There is no ideological nor pragmatic reason why they cannot.

Where I must take issue is with your statement that the cost of life tool is a capitalist one. It is not, it is a tool and nothing more. All risk assessment, whether simple as defined in HSG65 or the more complex quantified systems use mathematical tools to assess risk and its consequential loss. It was used in BR days and all transportation systems use it to analyse where best to invest their funds. It matters not whether those funds come from the taxpayer or the shareholder, they are not a bottomless pit and must be expended wisely. A mathematical tool is the current best method of doing that. It isn’t perfect and because it is being used by people – and people make mistakes, it will from time to time go wrong. With ATP there was, of course the political dimension which complicated matters and influenced the judgement. It does not invalidate the tool though.

I would also treat whistlebowers’ statements with extreme caution. I could take you around the network and find bad track fairly easily. There’s plenty of it about. However, this must always be taken in context. I saw a piece on the local news recently. It showed a section of track at Westbury – as this was my old piece of the railway; I was familiar with it and was not surprised to see a wet bed and cyclic top. However, it was not a high speed line and is used for low speed freight – the risk is minimal. A rough ride, yes. A major derailment – in your dreams. The billions expended since privatization have been targeted at the major mainline and high speed routes and quite rightly so. No, it isn’t perfect. Neither though, is it the disaster that the whistleblowers would have us believe.

On the matter of trade unionism, a good trade union appointed safety rep will be worth their weight in gold. Trade unions and managers should work together to achieve the desired result. Under BR, it was sometimes difficult to see who was managing the workplace; the local manager whose responsibility it was, or the local RMT rep to whom he deferred before making any decision. Some of the working practices were, frankly appalling – I’ll tell you about “walking time” when I have more time. As in all things, there needs to be balance. That balance under BR was too far one way. I believe since privatisation, it may be slipping too far in the opposite direction.

On the matter of shareholder losses, I’m inclined to say “too bad” that’s what happens when you invest on the stock market. That the government deliberately forced the situation and used deceit and subterfuge gives some justification to their argument, though.

While I no longer have an ideological objection to the idea of a private company running a public service as it happens elsewhere perfectly satisfactorily, I do have vigorous objections to what happened to our railway. It was not privatised because it was in the best interest of the industry, but because it was in the best interest of John Major’s credentials as a true blue Tory. As a consequence, the taxpayer was royally ripped off for the sake of political dogma. This was criminal. Also, the horizontal split; separating the track from the people operating it was illogical. Network Rail’s decision to bring maintenance back in-house and the combined control centres that look much like the ones we had in BR days suggest that I was right.

I flatly refused to accept my free Railtrack shares on principle because I was so opposed to what was going on. A principle that cost me in the region of £3,000 – £4,000. You, perhaps, are one of the few people who would understand my rationale.

-Redbaron responds- Firstly I understand, accept and admire your decision not to accept the Railtrack shares, I would indeed have done the same. I was once pressed to accept a quite lucrative support job at News International. The agency didn’t understand how I could tell them that I’d rather starve than accept money from that source and not be able to look myself in the mirror.

The cost of life tool I am aware of is not exclusively a capitalist tool but I firmly believe that its emphasis is stronger and the criteria less within a capitalist framework, hence the cost of life is effectively worth less. Whether or not this is born out by the BR example I do not know but I would not herald BR as the epitomy of a perfect nationalised industry anyway.

You are more than welcome to take me round the network anytime, I’ve always been a fan of rail travel hence the interest in it from all angles! Yes there will be some stretches where without doubt the necessity to improve the line is less than in HST mainline area, but of course Clapham is not HST mainline area either nor many of the other examples of crashes at level crossings and such like. Obviously the investment required is huge and yet Railtrack directors received huge amounts of money and shareholders a great deal of dividends whilst the network was still in crisis. This is fundamentally wrong.

The shareholders argument is not justified as they are not taking into account the censuring of the company on almost all the reports that have been published into the crashes so far. Furthermore Rail Regulator fines were not passed on to them but pretty much paid for out of the public subsidy to Railtrack. Thus we in fact propped up their dividends all along.

I am opposed ideologically to the privatisation and certainly the example of it in this country has done nothing to revise my opinion thereof.-

comment added :: 13th October 2005, 10:09 GMT+01 ::

Mark Ellott made this comment,
An addendum to the Richard Middleton comment regarding uni-directional lines at Paddington being “bad for the company”… It is a terminus station they have to be bi-directional.
-Redbaron responds – Yes of course at some point there must be bi-directional functionality the issue is whether this should be simultaneous ie trains going back and forth on the same stretch regulated only by signalling. The recommendations of the Southall enquiry stated that if ATP was not in place this should not be happening and uni-directional track should be in place in so far as a degree of standardising the direction for a defined period of time.-

comment added :: 13th October 2005, 10:50 GMT+01 ::

Mark Ellott made this comment,
The answer to that is; yes – if you want a working service.
Recommendations are not always based in the real world. Many of Cullen’s proclamations remain unfulfilled because they were unworkable in practice. If Railtrack had not been so browbeaten, it would (and damn well should) have challenged them.

As in all things; balance. Rail is still one of the safest ways to travel. I continue to use it for thousands of miles per year and I am well aware of the current issues in the industry. Yes, it could be improved. No, it is not a death trap. All forms of transport take their toll in human life and we must do our best to minimise the risks. Want a death trap riddled with negligence? Take the car. 😉

comment added :: 13th October 2005, 12:09 GMT+01 ::

Mark Ellott made this comment,
Oh, yeah, don’t talk to me about level crossings – if I had my way, I’d close the lot. But that wouldn’t be practicable…
comment added :: 13th October 2005, 12:11 GMT+01 ::