Sunday, 14 December 2008

Santa's Sleigh Slain By Parking Ticket

There was a cracking article in Saturday's Sun about Santa getting a parking ticket. It seems that the festive fellows at NCP Services, who are contracted to enforce parking regulations in and around Nottingham's Tudor Square, slapped a parking ticket on a car belonging to Richard Walters from West Bridgford Round Table.

According to Mr Walters, he pulled over for a mere three minutes while he unhooked Santa's sleigh from the back of his car and pushed it onto the pavement. When he returned to the car, with a view, he claims, to taking it off to the car park having unhooked it's festive load, he was confronted by a parking attendant who was busily earning their little bit of corn by writing out a ticket for good old Rudolph Richard Walters. The Swine! BOO! HISSSS! Shame nobody got into the festive spirit by calling out "HE'S BEHIND YOU!" but we all know how quick of quill those dratted parking enforcers are, eh?

Of course, NCP Services have a slightly different perspective. THEY say the car MUST have been parked for more than the three minutes that Mr Walters proclaims because it takes at least five minutes to write out the ticket. They go on to say that the car was parked on some of those zigzag white lines just by a pedestrian corssing, where nobody is supposed to park, ever, ever, ever, was completely unattended and didn't have a sleigh next to it.

Hmmm, interesting. Parking enforcers are, of course, the scum of the Earth, lurking in shadows to mug perfectly innocent - or at least hassled, harried, hard-working, busy people who are just trying to get through the day - of an outrageous sum for daring to think about slowing down without paying the local tithe. They're over zealous, unpopular (for obvous reasons) and don't have anything else going for them, either, as far as I can tell. Certainly I wouldn't necessarily trust or believe one, particularly where bad publicity might cast them in a poor light.

BUT, and it's a BIG but, IF it's true that the car in question was parked illegally in a very dangerous position, I can't quite see what the problem is. Just because this car was used to convey a representation of a fictitious sleigh to a shopping precinct does not mean that its owner is entitled to break the law and / or put pedestrians at risk, no matter how minor that risk may be.

I've had two unpleasantly close encounters with my local (not Nottingham) Round Table in the past week, and this incident doesn't doesn't do anything to improve my rapidly dimming view of them. In my case, I was not at all pleased to find the self-righteous buggers blocking quiet side roads with their car-drawn sleigh. If I'm out and about on these cold winter evenings, instead of lurking in front of the telly with Mrs S, a smoke and a cold beer, it's because of necessity. I need to be somewhere, probably fairly urgently, and I do not want to find my route blocked by a bloody great sleigh mounted on the back a trailer being towed by a clapped out Volvo. Nor do I appreciate "HO! HO! HO!" as a response to my frantic gesticulations and demands to "Get off the bloody road, you daft old bugger!"

To cap it all, I really, REALLY, don't want to find the road and pavements infested by six - SIX, I COUNTED THEM - officious-looking individuals wearing high-visibility vests and carrying buckets with, I assume, a view to soliciting donations. What do they say to people? "Cough up, or we'll block your road some more?" Yes, I know the Round Table does some very good work, and, if I hadn't been in a tearing hurry (TWICE) I would probably have appreciated their efforts a little more - the sleigh + Santa was actually rather fetchingly done.

But I was, and I didn't, and if I find my way blocked by them again I will be even more pissed off with them than I already am. Just because they're doing "good works" doesn't mean they can inconvenience everyone else, or park illegally or dangerously, for that matter, either. It is not a licence to be a prat, or arrogantly disregard those of us who have different priorities, although I'm inclided to think the Round Table here, and possibly in Nottingham, may not see it that way. If they remember that, and behave accourdingly, they may find people are rather more willing to support them. If they don't, I fear their cause may find itself rather underwhelmingly endowed until they come to their senses.

Billy Seggars.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Hide And Smoke

There's a degree of unwarranted optimism in the British Government's latest pro health fascist, anti-smoking crusade: according to the Telegraph, Ministers have said that cigarettes displays will be banned from shops by 2013. Yet, I haven't spoken to anyone in the past few months who thinks the NuLab NutJobs will still be in power after the next election, or who thinks that the election can come soon enough.

With any luck, they'll be out on their ear long before they can impose this further example of Nanny State bullshit upon us, but some of their fellow hang-wringing Nannies won't be happy:

The Telegraph goes on to report that Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of Science and Ethics at the British Medical Association, said: "We don't understand this delay. While we accept that new shop equipment is necessary to implement the new rules we still believe the delay should be shorter and the date should be the same for all shops. This legislation is vitally important to prevent young people smoking so the sooner it is introduced the better.

"The BMA is disappointed that the Government is not planning to ban cigarette vending machines. We hope the proposals to make vending machines 'child-proof' will be rigidly enforced and that if they do not work then this issue will be revisited by ministers."

Really? I'm disappointed that the BMA still exists and that Nanny Viv is still killing time there instead of doing what she was trained - at taxpayers' expense - to do, namely, get off her soap box and start treating patients. I don't understand how the BMA can justify poking its collective snout into free choice of the British public, and do so in our name, yet. I suggest they mind their own business, and get a propper job (if they should turn out to be employable). If we want them, we'll send for them, and in the meantime they should stop bothering us.

The same goes for Harpal Kumar and his colleagues from Cancer Research UK. Kumar reportedly said: "We are very encouraged by the announcement to put cigarettes out of sight but disappointed that vending machines will still be available."

"We urge the Government to introduce these measures as soon as possible, and to consider further measures that are needed. In particular we hope they will work quickly towards developing and implementing tobacco control plans that are ambitious, comprehensive and well funded."

Just get on with the research, guys. That's what you're paid to do, isn't it? Although, I must say, it's taking you an inordinately long time to come up with viable solutions despite being ambitious, allegedly comprehensive and well enough funded to afford a high(ish) profile Chief Executive. Hmmm.

On the other hand, Stephen Robertson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium, seems to have his head screwed on right. He said: "This will hit small stores, which lack the space and resources, particularly hard.

"The Government is right to try to stop children smoking but banning displays in shops is just not the way. It will impose thousands of pounds of pointless refit costs on stores, ultimately met by customers, and create delays and inconvenience for customers and staff."

Absolutely right, Stephen. I don't want to be waiting in line in a small newsagent (not that there are many of them left) while the poor sap behind the counter has to keep scurrying into the back room to get smokes for his customers. And what's going to happen when someone asks for a brand that's out of stock? Into the back to check, back out front to report the absence of smokes, around the back again for an alternative, while the rest of us quietly fume.

No, this is stupid, pointless, Nannying legislation from a Government that just can't resist the temptation to interfere in every aspect of its citizens' lives. Just like every other change they've introduced since the hard of thinking majority imposed them on us in 1997. Still, not long now.

Billy Seggars.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Damian Green Scandal

The Damian Green scandal just isn't going to go away, is it? I've been avoiding the issue because, well, what can I say that hasn't already been said or at least thought by everyone who's read a newspaper over the past week?

For slow readers, the story goes something like this: officious looking bobbies from London's Metropolitan Police arrested Conservative MP Damian Green last week, detained him for 9 hours and searched his home, his constituency offices and, most controversially, his office at the House of Commons. Why would the rozzers do this, apart from the obvious reason that Green is an MP and therefore shady by definition?

Cast your mind back a few months to a time before the news was dominated by the credit crunch, when Gordon Brown-Trousers' job was in daily peril and the Home Office was being battered by a storm of dodgy revelations about illegal immigrants - how many were working in the security industry, one employed in the House of Commons, etc. The government, and particularly the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and PM Gordon Brown-Trousers, were being exposed as ever more incompetent, a laughing stock and a political liability.

Damian Green was, and is, the Conservative Shadow Immigration bod, and his was the delightful task of publicly humiliating the Home Secretary and Prime Minister. Information was allegedly passed to him by a mole in the Home Office, which he then felt obliged to reveal in the public interest, and quite right, too. As a member of the public, I found the revelations fascinating, though I'm afraid the news that the country was being run by a bunch of brainless incompetents didn't come as any surprise.

As you might imagine, Smith and her conies didn't like this one little bit. The idea that people - ordinary people, such as might vote in Parliamentary elections - should find out quite how badly their elected representatives were screwing things up was just unacceptable, and a police investigation into the leak was launched at the request of the Home Office. That led to the arrest of a civil servant, which, in turn, brought plod to Green's door.

It doesn't take a political genius to imagine the circumstances surrounding the investigation. Smith, in fits of indignant fury at being so soundly exposed as a prize prat, calls in the dibbles. As Home Secretary, she's responsible for appointing the Met's Commissioner - the then politically beleaguered and now ousted Sir Ian Blair - making her his boss, of sorts. Nobody ever kept their job by pissing off their boss, and Blair was badly in need of support at the time. Can it be coincidence that Green's arrest took place on Blair's last day in the job? Plod obliged by investigating the "leak" in the Home Office, suggesting that the much-vaunted "police independence" that Smith and Brown-Trousers keep harping on about is illusory, at best.

It must have seemed like an ideal revenge - an inconveniently well-informed MP arrested, the Tories humiliated and shown to be sleazy yet again, just as Gordon Brown-Trousers sucks his way into deeper financial ruin to the cheers of millions. Only it didn't quite work out like that, did it? MPs of all colours, particularly the wonderfully vicious Vince Cable, are outraged by the prospect of big booted policemen barging into an MP's office, not to mention the arrest of an MP on such a petty matter. They're all being very careful to stress that MPs are not above the law, but they're equally concerned that those laws should not be used to prevent an MP from exposing deficiencies in the government. That is the job of an opposition MP, and to interfere with that is a serious threat to democracy.

Of course, Smith, Brown-Trousers and all the other unsavoury characters involved in this saga deny any political motivation, but they would, wouldn't they? They even deny knowing about the arrest and search until after it happened. A look at their record in office, the company they keep, who they accept donations from and a host of other interesting news articles about their conduct is enough to seal their fate as far as I'm concerned - it looks to me like a stitchup that went very badly wrong and is going wronger by the day.

For a while, it looked like Gorbels Mick, Speaker of the House Michael Martin, Mr Sleaze himself, was going to carry the can for allowing coppers into an MP's office without bloody good justification. But now even he's ducked his responsibility, passing the buck to the Serjeant at Arms, Mrs Jill Pay. She, it seems, took it upon herself to let Smith's enforcers rampage around an MP's office on her own authority, without a search warrant. Can you say scapegoat?

Of course, Mrs Pay should have done no such thing, and plod should have advised her that she didn't have to. Then again, the Met is not famous for telling people what they can do, only what they can't, even if they have to bend things a little to get their own way, as this article in the Register points out [New Terror Guidelines on Photography]. Strangely, the Met weren't too keen on being photographed as they took Green's office apart, either, demanding that Andrew Mackay, Senior Parliamentary and Political Adviser to the Conservative leader, should go away and take the film crew with him, according to the Telegraph and this video:

Isn't it odd that police officers - whom we, the public, employ - don't like the public to see them working, and really, really don't like us to commemorate those rare occasions by snapping photographic evidence? Yet they watch us working, via CCTV and other means, 24/7 - all in the name of our own protection, of course. A little more in the way of transparency and a little less of the sweeping new powers to demand identity papers etc wouldn't go amiss there, I think.

Until this story broke, I've always been pretty tolerant of the Great British Bobby. They're not necessarily the sharpest knives in the draw, especially those commonly found on the beat, and they do have a liking for off duty beer and totty that puts most larger louts to shame. But, by and large, they're ok. They work hard as well as playing hard, job conditions are getting worse for them all the time, pay isn't great, but they do their best, such as it is. Can't fault them for trying, has always been my view, even if I was a little concerned about the extra powers they seemed to be acquiring.

But the revelation that accepting information that embarrasses the government from a civil servant can lead to an MP's arrest has changed all that. It seems that some elements of the police, at least, have given up on their duty to protect the public in favour of enforcing the political will of Smith and Brown-Trousers. Oh yes, there have been veiled hints that there was more at stake than just some toe-curlingly embarrassing immigration figures, but do we believe that when we consider who's making those allegations, and when? I don't, and I'm very much afraid that the il-judged actions of one or two over zealous bobbies have tarnished the cherished reputation of the British Bobby and damaged public trust in them.

Besides, Damian Green isn't the first MP to accept leaked information from a Government department and gleefully use it for political gain in the "public interest". Cast your mind back to 1985, when a much younger, far less grey and flabby Gordon Brown (this was before he shit himself over not calling an election) cheerfully told Frank Bough about information he'd obtained from a mole, just as Green has now been accused of doing:

Didn't he look smug? Haven't heard anything about the PM being arrested, though, despite his admission to doing exactly the same thing as Damian Green. Didn't Brown-Trousers think this interview would come back to haunt him? Did he and his cronies really think they would be allowed to bring the full force of the state down on an opposition MP in revenge for a little humiliation without the whole thing going badly wrong? Apparently so, clearly demonstrating that our government is not just corrupt, but dangerously stupid too.

Can we have an election now? Please? Before it's too late?

Billy Seggars.