Un voile au-dessus de la liberté, de l’égalité et de la fraternité

13 Apr

The French ban on the wearing of the niqab (veil) is wrong. It is a sad affront to the Republic’s democratic traditions.

But is it any more wrong than the enforced wearing of the chador in Iran, or the wearing of the abbayah in Saudi Arabia? Personal choices and freedom of religion, dress and self-expression are denied in many totalitarian states, so it saddens me that the first modern republic in Europe, an allegedly democratic state, has singled out one sector of the population for such discriminatory treatment.


Ian Duncan-Smith: Deluded – yes. But how deluded?

20 Feb

On the infrequent occasions that Ian Duncan-Smith raises his shining head above the parapet, he demonstrates his willingness to espouse hearsay and assumption, rather than facts.

This week, he stated that there are “over 500,000 unfilled jobs” in the UK. Nice round number. If he derived that cheery information from the direct.gov vacancy database, then his delusions are serious indeed.

The old Jobcentre Plus database was merged into the direct.gov system a year ago. It was a bad system, but merging two bad systems does not make one good one.

A simple check indicates the validity of any vacancy figures derived in this way. A search for all jobs within 15 miles of Harrow throws up 100 ‘vacancies’ for the period 1 November to 18 February. Of that 100, 14% are self-employed, 8% are temporary, 5% are vacancies such charity or utility sales and at least 6% are ‘recycled’ (on the system almost permanently, but with the posting date changed). So at least 33% of the ‘vacancies’ are dubious in the extreme. Nothing wrong with a commission-only sales job – even though the long-term unemployed are unlikely to have the self-confidence to give it a go. Add to this the immediate loss of benefits and a turnaround time of 6 to 10 weeks for processing a new claim; we can see exactly how viable these vacancies are. Better the bare existence afforded by JSA than the risk of no income at all for over 2 months.

Of course, the integrity of the database is so highly regarded that the NHS, the Civil Service and most Local Authorities do not even put their vacancies on there! In fact even the DWP does not advertise there.

You think that 100 is too small a sample? Try this for size: search for shop-worker vacancies within 75 miles of central London. Result: 293 vacancies. But 224 of them are permanent. Try care jobs: 200 jobs, only 81 permanent; of the 200, most are via agencies and therefore tend to be ‘nebulous’ in terms of actual existence.

So c’mon IDS, let’s have some real facts and stop relying on the output of your own department. Put a wig on and join the jobseekers at a few Jobcentres, or perhaps try applying for some of the jobs on your website and see how many really exist.

BAHRAIN: Blood on British and American hands.

17 Feb

Obama, Cameron and Hague are conveniently ignorant of American and British history in Bahrain and the greater Gulf region.

In 1995, Admiral ‘Willy’ Williamson asked me what I thought about the American belief that Iran was behind the unrest in Bahrain. “Bullshit”, I said. He agreed; the senior American military commander in the region.

The dark forces behind the repressive, torturing regime in Bahrain were British. Ex-colonial police, ex military, ex intelligence officers like Ian Henderson, Barry Walmsley and their cohorts. All former employees of the British Crown.

Yet the American and British governments chose to ignore the sordid involvement of their own nationals in supporting a corrupt, oppressive minority ruling family. A country where Bahraini nationals are denied opportunity because they are Shia. A country where Charlie ‘Big Ears’ Windsor has cosied up to oppression.

America frequently cites China for civil rights abuses – yet shores up illegitimate regimes in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Regimes that enjoy no populist support.

At times like this, the BBC, CNN et al roll out the ‘experts’ on Middle East affairs. Too often they are people with no knowledge, no experience and no background in the region. So, Mr President, Mr Prime Minister and Mr Vague – get real, get honest.

We can’t help you!

21 Nov

The Minister for Work & Pensions, Ian Duncan-Smith,  is right on the money when he says that too many people are not working in this country. Hurrah! His plans to reform the creaking complexity of the benefit system are necessary too. Another hurrah!

But. And but again. First and foremost, he has to ensure that his own department is working efficiently. Even moderate efficiency would be a major leap forward from the current shambles.

“We can’t help people like you – older, experienced, professional” is a verbatim quote from one Jobcentre employee. Along with “we don’t have any funds for training”. Or how about an appointment with an advisor cancelled because she was late back from lunch and had forgotten how to log into her PC?

The doddering inefficiencies of the system were inherited by IDS, but surely some of them should have been addressed during the 6 months since the coalition came to power?

In 2009 I wrote to one of his predecessors at the DWP, Tony McNulty; a man with many jobs on his CV during his 12 years in government. I sought to inform him that his department was in crisis. Add my quotes from Jobcentre employees to the following list.

  • The phoney New Deal and Programme Centre programmes, largely outsourced to the private sector under Jobcentre Plus contracts. My own experience of these programmes involved attending a ‘training centre’ for 4 hours weekly. In reality, this was an internet café – without the benefit of even moderately good coffee. The training offered was aimed at those with poor literacy, numeracy and IT skills. Overall the ambiance was one of swearing, disorder and dope-smoking in the car park.  Never mind. The aim of the game a key strategy for masking the true extent of unemployment; never mind the quality!


  • The employment element of the direct.gov website rivals tabloid newspapers for the integrity of its information. A brief search shows that too many jobs are duplicated, are dubious in their authenticity or have been on there for months if not years!


  • A turn-around time greater than 10 weeks is typical when dealing with the Jobcentre Plus and Pension Service departments. Is this good enough?

McNulty’s response to my heads-up (after chasing) was a 2-month old press release informing me that “the government was spending an extra £500 million to help the unemployed”. Where did it go? Where did the promise of counselling for the long-term unemployed go?

And IDS, don’t hide behind ‘that was the other mob’. The madness continues. A friend of mine lost a week’s JSA because she applied for 3 jobs in one day, rather than spreading her applications over a week! Poor reward for endeavour.

Ping. Pong. Ping?

11 Nov

On Monday I mailed the local Trading Standards Department (A) with a query. They replied on Tuesday with “since 2007 we are not allowed to respond directly to the public; you must file an enquiry with Consumer Direct (B) (a government enterprise). I mailed the same query to (B) on Wednesday. Today (B) responded with “thank you for your query; we have passed it to (A) and they will deal with your query”.

The answer to the question is ‘yes, it has!’ The question is ‘has the world gone mad?’

Ba!, Obama

10 Nov

Mr Obama, you have broken my heart. I naively thought that your election to the White House heralded a new era of compassion and principled politics in the world. Foolish, I know. From the early promise evidenced by healthcare reform and the planned closure of Gitmo, you have joined the ranks of those who would sell their values for a mess of potage. Indonesian potage.

Indonesia charts at 110 out of 178 in the latest TPI corruption rankings. It is such a liberal regime that Amnesty International cannot open an office there. Torture in Papua and Maluku. Attacks on Christians in Bekasi. Death squads in East Timor. Genocide in 1965/6.

“Indonesia is part of me”, you say. Is there nothing our leaders will not espouse in the interests of the buck? The bottom line is that Obama, Cameron et al leave their principles in the closet when business is at stake.

Employment Opportunity!

20 Jan

Numerous new positions have arisen in the Public Sector, as a result of a new initiative by local and government.

Applicants should have no experience or skills. Educated or qualified candidates will be disqualified.

It is important that applicants are team players, so only illiterate or innumerate persons should apply. We want you to fit in. Don’t worry if you can’t speak English; most of our documents are available in a number of languages, and if you can’t read at all we will provide an interpreter.


  • Short working week
  • A world-class pension plan: index-linked and you can retire at 55
  • Generous paid sick leave (compulsory)
  • Excellent opportunities for education and advancement. A full range of NVQ’s is available, including the highly-prized NVQ2 in paperclip counting and the NVQ2 in fobbing of taxpayers with inaccurate information