Thursday, 17 April 2014

Long live the King!

Have a look up at the top of the page. Right at the top; go on, I’ll hold your place while you mouth out the words. What does it say? It says “When I’m King” not “When I’m Prime Minister” or “When I’m President/Commissioner/Chancellor or whatever other fancy pants democratically elected position you can think of.” And the reason? Well, it’s my blog and I write what takes my fancy. It started life with this declaration of intent which I judge harsh but fair. But what made me, you are no doubt asking yourselves, refer today to the very *first post?

As so often it began with a twitter exchange regarding the nature of politics and political lies and spin and the frenzied courting of popularity, increasing in ridiculousness the closer we get to an election. The riff went thus:

Me: I don't WANT a government that 'connects'. I want one that does its job and stays out of the way.
Twitter: If a party doesn't connect with people it's not gonna get their vote. Or maybe you want a dictatorship?
Me: Well democracy is a ridiculous idea, given the venal nature of humanity.
Twitter: Then so is government of any kind surely, maybe anarchy would be better?
Me: Not really. The impossible to achieve 'benign dictatorship' would be better. Democracy is always a sham.
Twitter: We already have a benign dictatorship, neither party leader has carried out major election promises on NHS or HE.
Me: Neither would Labour. But courting popularity from ANY party is piss-poor governance.

That’s not bad for Twitter. Normally it descends pretty rapidly into name-calling and me laughing at how quickly the left-leaning tend to wish physical harm on any non-socialists who don’t agree with a massive, sickly state. I had a couple on yesterday and it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, or poking a cow pat with a stick; easy, strangely satisfying and it always end up in a mess. But the question still hangs there; what use democracy and do we ever really get it?

Under the present system of faux-democracy the selection of a government is reduced to whose lies you believe. I tend towards the simpler lies of the so-called ‘right’ - named after those who, during the French Revolution, supported the King - rather than the ‘left’, the revolutionaries. And if we must elect leaders based on falsehoods, I’d rather have the duplicity of the right who make few bones about where their allegiances lie, than the tortuous self-harming contortions the left must go through as they yearn for equality yet always, every time, create structures which enrich the few at the expense of the many.

Last night Channel 4 aired one of their shock-docs called ‘How to get a council house’. I didn’t watch it – I didn’t even know it was on – but I didn’t need to watch… I had Twitter and, regular as clockwork, the handles lined up to the crack of the circus-master’s whip. It is a clever feat of doublethink to simultaneously hold the view that everybody is equally deserving of a chance while watching the pond life justify their effectively and consciously stealing resources, mostly from the lower paid. Meanwhile the state officials who bring this about are far behind the front lines, on good salaries and plenty of perks.

On the other hand, let the Conservatives hold sway and there is a general fear it’s going to end up with every man for himself. It wouldn’t. The weak and the sick would still be looked after no matter how much the more stridently lefty shriekers insist that Iain Duncan Smith has personally decreed they must die, but there’s no doubt there would be pressure for individuals to be much more self-reliant. That’s a preferable model for people like me, who have little time for the bleating of those who are not incapable, but just prefer not to take the strain themselves.

Vote for the King! What could possibly go wrong?

The truth is that no matter which side wins the next election most of you will see little change because, really, the election is not about you; it’s about which marginal groups slightly increase or decrease their chances. But the political game is about exploiting your beliefs regardless of the truth or your ability to judge. Wouldn’t it be so much better if you didn’t have to worry about all that; if you knew where you stood and could just get on with your lives? The old Frenchie right wing understood a thing or two; better the devil you know. So, on the whole you would be so much happier and better off with a benign dictator. I’ll be here when you need me.

*If you missed any editions of this magnificent blog along the way, don’t fret - all the best bits are available HERE:   ) 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Costa Packet

“Cost of living.” Say it out loud. What does it actually mean? Given the ease and lack of any kind of competence required to create life the cost and in many parts of the world the value of life itself is infinitesimally small. Being one of 7 billion is hardly laudable unless you’re maybe a virus, or a brain cell where the teeming multitude works together to produce results. As an answer to the meaning of life simple duplication is bleak and the ability to do it is a piss poor performance indicator; almost anybody is capable and in economic terms that puts a very low value indeed on the cost of life.

But no, you say, that’s not it at all, it’s the cost of LIVING that is in crisis. Well, that isn’t expensive either – as proved by those who subsist their entire lives on what they can beg for in the streets of Mumbai or working the fields in Laos. The financial cost of maintaining life is meagre indeed and apart from the often man-caused conditions which result in mass starvation in the far-off lands that only exist for us on our television screens, humans manage to stay alive with remarkable tenacity.

And in our hearts we know that. A generation or so ago, our affluent circumstances were regularly held up to scrutiny; “You’ve never had it so good.” And “There are starving children in Africa who would be grateful for what you’ve left on your plate.” But for many years now we seem to have taken our good fortune for granted and while we have created a grievance industry and, bizarrely, food banks take the place of personal responsibility for some, it is estimated that some fifty percent of bought-and-paid-for food is thrown away.

That sense of entitlement – that whatever our choices we are somehow deserving of equality of living standards – is the last remaining weapon in Labour’s electoral arsenal. Ed Balls’ latest attempt fuel envy and fan the flames of econogeddon is spectacularly poorly timed and he knows this, but it’s all they’ve got. The so-called ‘cost of living crisis’ is nothing of the kind and they know it, but somehow a ‘standard of living squeeze’ sounds less emotive and more like simple greed. Despite all you hear from the partisan press, far from struggling for life itself the distended bellies you see on our streets are the result of the very opposite of starvation.

“Do you feel better off since the coalition came to power?” the Eds ask. Well I don’t; not by a mile. I worked out recently that I’m around £80k worse off than if the 2008 slump hadn’t happened, but that isn’t the coalition’s fault. And if Labour refuse to accept any responsibility for the damage that was already done by 2010, I hardly see that puts them in any position to gripe about the current government getting a grip and cutting back. For all Labour’s tough-on-benefits talk their plan is to revert to the same old borrow-and-spend pattern. Yes, the coalition may have borrowed more in four years than Labour did in 10, but imagine how much more Labour would have had to borrow as a result of its own mismanagement. It really is like taking dad’s car, trashing it, handing back the keys and then blaming the subsequent repair cost on mum.

Given that inflation is down, employment is up, wages are rising and the UK is leading the rest of Europe in economic growth, talk of a cost of living ‘crisis’ is just a cynical attempt to play the politics of envy. And while those who are unemployable can afford the smart phones, fags, weed and Playstations that responsible, low-paid workers have to choose to do without then our benefit system is continuing to be abused. This is what Labour’s legacy is; not the creation of an admirable welfare state, but its perpetuation beyond any sense of proportion. Yesterday, in further evidence that Labour have lost the plot, Guido Fawkes reports that they have appointed a Shadow Cost of Living Minister.

The perfect metaphor for Labour policy - on anything.

What next, Labour? Shadow Secretary of State for Flogging a Dead Horse? Spokesperson for The Bleeding Obvious? Crisis Creation Minister? In four years none of the gimmicks from the policy unit has even suggested that you hold the electorate in anything other than utter contempt. Come back to us when you’ve regained your sense of shame.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Taking the P

It’s not often I do requests and it’s not often I write anything to intentionally increase the sum total of peace, harmony and understanding out there but in this blog I can finish off several birds with a single hefty rock. It might also go some way to explain my inherent and automatic mistrust not only of experts but also of every single one of us in possession of 'a little knowledge'. Today we’re talking about electricians and we’re talking about the actual law this time, not the one named after Georg Simon Ohm.

Some of you may have heard of Part P. You may be under the impression that it is a qualification – many electricians will refer to themselves as ‘having’ it or ‘taking it’ or ‘passing it’. You may be offered ‘Part P Certificates’ or be informed that a tradesman you employ is ‘registered with’ Part P. I was told only yesterday that Part P is for plumbers and many electricians sincerely believe it is aimed solely at kitchen fitters.

Some say that it is some mysterious closed shop – a Cowboys’ Charter intended to allow all sorts of unscrupulous artisans to become ‘electricians’ overnight via ‘Five Day Wonder’ courses. Others believe it is a secret plot to monitor honest electricians for tax purposes. And still more will never be dissuaded from the notion that it was clumsily rushed into being following the untimely and tragic death of a Liberal Democrat peer’s daughter in 2004. The truth of that particular matter is that Mary Wherry died a month AFTER Part P had been signed, sealed and delivered and that culmination was preceded by well over a decade of lobbying and consultation.

The fact that its introduction coincided with the opening of the Polish plumber floodgates and the ensuing downward pressure on trade wages assisted the conspiracy theorists no end. Add to this the increase in trades-folk using the Internet at that time and various trades forums suddenly scrutinising work like never before and the rumour mill was gifted grist to grind for years to come. They are still at it now, a decade on, spreading disinformation and generally getting their knickers in a big twisty mess. To understand you must first immerse, so gather round and listen, my pretties…but first forget all that I have just told you – any variant of the foregoing is simply incorrect. Now, are you ready for the truth?

1. No qualifications whatsoever are required to work as an electrician in the United Kingdom. None. I kid you not; if you work with electrical equipment (and equipment is defined in the regulations as everything from a light switch to a power station) you are, by dictionary definition, an electrician. The only legal requirement is that the work is carried out competently to the minimum national standard.

2. The minimum standard is the current edition of British Standard 7671 “Requirements for Electrical Installations”, otherwise referred to as the “Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET) Wiring Regulations”. In one form or another, this has been around since 11th May 1882 and has required, from the very start, that testing be carried out, although it wasn’t until the Eleventh Edition, in 1939 that any form of certification was mandated. The current version is the Seventeenth Edition; it is 464 numbered pages long and virtually incomprehensible to the majority of electricians. This doesn’t mean they don’t comply with it, just that very few can authoritatively demonstrate that they do.

3. To comply with ‘The Regs’ you must meet all the relevant requirements including the one (Reg 134.2.1) which states “During erection and on completion of an installation or an addition or alteration to an installation and before it is put into service, appropriate inspection and testing shall be carried out by competent persons to verify that the requirements of this standard have been met. Appropriate certification shall be issued…”  In other words, the work does NOT comply with The Wiring Regs until it has been certified and that applies to ALL electrical work; even the changing of a light switch should, by rights, be certified.

4. The Wiring Regulations are non-statutory; there is even a regulation which states this fact. But it goes on to inform that, regardless of its non-legal status (for which there are good reasons) it is nevertheless the standard by which compliance with statutory obligations is proven. In the workplace the principal legal obligation is the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. In a dwelling it is The Building Regulations 2010.

5. And THAT, dear reader, is what 'P' is a part of. The legal requirement of Part P of The Building Regulations says exactly this and not a word more: “Reasonable provision shall be made in the design and installation of electrical installations in order to protect persons operating, maintaining or altering the installations from fire or injury.” That is it; all of it. By ‘reasonable provision’ it means ‘complying with BS 7671’ which is explicitly stated in the supporting Approved Document. All with me so far? On we go then…

6. First of all, Part P (that single sentence, remember?) applies to ALL electrical installation work in dwellings but ANYBODY can carry out such work, for gain or otherwise, as long as it is done ‘competently’. Beyond certain minor works, maintenance or emergencies such work is notifiable to Local Authority Building Control (LABC) which incurs some hefty inspection costs disproportionate to the extent of the work in most cases; LABC is really geared up to overseemuch larger building projects.

7. For certain specialised building services and elements the government has authorised the creation of Competent Persons Schemes whereby enterprises such as electricians are independently assessed to self-certify that their work complies not only with their own trade regulations but all relevant Building Regulations without the need to engage and pay for LABC intervention. This is what an electrician means when he mistakenly says he’s ‘got’ Part P. A better term would be ‘Registered Electrician’ except anybody, from any trade can be so registered if they meet the entry requirements

8. Phew. We’re there. So, engage any tradesman to carry out work in the home which includes electrical work and compliance is their responsibility. Legally, beyond certain minor works, they must either inform LABC and pay an inspection fee, or be registered as a competent person to self-certify Building Regulations compliance. Either way there should be an Electrical Installation Certificate issued on completion of the job. You may also subsequently receive a Building Regulations Compliance Certificate, depending on the route to compliance.

Electric Shock: When you get the bill...

Any questions?  It isn’t particularly complicated but trade resistance to regulation and a general inability to grasp and use correct terminology means the bulk of those involved – customer and trades person alike – find themselves confused. There’s no need to be. A principal requirement of the Building Regulations is that all work is carried out in a ‘workmanlike’ manner; if it doesn't look like a professional job, start checking credentials. Just remember the Sparkies’ Code: “Red to red, black to black… blew to bits.” (That was much funnier before they changed the wiring colours back in 2004-6)

Monday, 14 April 2014

Schools Out! (For the count)

The little concrete prefab hut still stands in the field that used to be the playground for what was once Sowerby Infant School. The prefab was one of my first classrooms and it had windows you could look out of, though there was little to see, unlike those of the classrooms in the main school building, which could only be reached by the teacher’s long hook. When the bell went for playtime and after we’d filed out into the yard, mayhem ensued, but in lessons silence reigned except by invitation.

In my time the old grammar school had become the Thirsk & Sowerby Junior School, which took on ages seven to eleven, at the end of which time we took the old Eleven Plus exam, the sorting hat of its age, which divided us into grammar or secondary-modern by delving into the workings of our mind. I know that I got one question wrong and that question was “What is the shortest distance between two points?” In those days there was no such thing as multiple choice and having never heard the expression before I was at a loss to conjure up the required form of words. Conferring with classmates afterwards only one inky swot had written the right answer but he couldn’t recall where he’d heard it.

I was caned three times in junior school and apart from one instance when I was bang to rights – talking out of turn – I maintain my innocence to this day. The teacher who administered the punishment – in full view for maximum effect – was later revealed to be a predatory paedophile with a taste for the boys in his charge. They've always been there. Otherwise, like all but a very tiny minority, we did exactly what was asked of us and performed our tasks in near silence. The windows in most classrooms were too high to be able to see anything but rooftops; only the windows of the newly erected Portakabin looked over the sports field but they were at the back of the room and any craning round would be instantly detected.

And then on to big school, with windows everywhere which, for some, proved irresistible, especially on upper floors as the view stretched all the way to the Hambleton Hills, the steep-sided slip face of the small rift valley of the Vale of Mowbray. Thirsk Grammar and Secondary Modern School was the first place I encountered aggressive misbehaviour and disrespect for teachers and almost all of it emanated from a recent addition. Before the raising of the school leaving age caused a proliferation of ‘Rosla’ blocks another Portakabin was pressed into service to contain, rather than educate, the remedial class.

Still a few years away from being as inquisitive as I later became I never questioned the etymology of ‘remedial’ and the word became a shorthand for the sort of unruly, troublesome, hulking teenagers you would go to lengths to avoid. Nobody wanted to get on the wrong side of ‘a remedial’ including many of the teachers. The poor sod who was their form master had clearly drawn a short straw indeed and was looked on with pity by staff and pupils alike. One year he didn’t return; we all assumed he had died from the strain.

So, for my entire school life apart from the odd high spirited heckling or the occasional ink fights (remember them?) disruptive behaviour was kept in check by a combination of stern but dedicated teachers and the notion that both teachers and parents were in cahoots to keep us in check. Those big side windows were a constant distraction and what pictures they showed but on the whole we sat in rows and shut our mouths and learned our lessons. Nobody wanted to be thought of as a remedial. But in my final years I saw the façade begin to slip and this slide into indiscipline had a name. Comprehensive.

The loser has to teach Year Nine...

Now, many decades into that experiment is it any wonder that much of what passes for education in British schools is reduced to crowd control? From what was once revered around the world – we used to laugh, heartily at the dire state of education in the USA – we have descended into the pitched battle described in a recent report by Professor Terry Haydn of the University of East Anglia. Turning the behavioural clock back is likely to be a near impossibility but unless something is done to restore classroom discipline we may as well accept that all state schools are remedial schools now.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

An open letter to Michael Rosen

The sanctimonious, grammar school and Oxford educated son of communist parents and former Children’s  Laureate, Michael Rosen, wrote a scathing open letter in The Guardian to the new Culture Secretary Sajid Javid. But being a lefty he appears to believe that moral indignation is a one-way street. Have a read of his letter... and then read my reply:

 Dear Mr Rosen,

We've never met, but that's because I ‘work’ and you have spent most of your adult life so far peddling your stories to children. It's very difficult to see from your Wikipedia entry or from any of your public utterances how you are qualified to comment in any meaningful way about the post of Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. You appear to have previously held no roles in government that may have prepared you for a ministry.

My experience within the field of ‘work’ is that this country is ambivalent about those who believe in the sanctity of art and culture and while they grudgingly accept that Shakespeare, Dickens, Turner and the like are worth preserving they generally don’t give a stuff about raffia, mung bean sculpture or the exploration of anything at all via the medium of contemporary dance. The myriad daft foreign shenanigans the artsy-fartsy, namby-pamby, liberal intelligentsia would have us fund are of no interest whatsoever outside your naïve yet self-aggrandising cultural tribe and those who tap you up for patronage.

This is, of course, all about money. You think that everyone has the potential to produce art and that everyone is entitled to have access to all kinds of art, no matter how pricey, or how utterly crap that art is. As an openly left-wing thinker you honestly believe that the cost of such entitlements must be borne by those who produce genuine wealth, whether they like art or not; not least, presumably, because your own capitalist endeavours have been greatly enhanced by the recognition of made-up public positions such as 'Children’s Laureate'.  

But while we're on about money, you believe that greed resides only in the wealthy and the greed of borrowers, taking loans they had little chance of repaying, is immaterial. And yet the party that you would support fuelled that greed like no other. The duplicitous Peter Mandelson even said he was intensely relaxed about people getting rich and yet the reckless overspending during the New Labour years is somehow now the fault of the ‘nasty’ coalition government. Lies, all lies, but that's the sort of "culture" we have to put up with from your side of the divide.

All that public spending has to be paid for and while the majority of artists spend much of their lives relying on the state to assist them in various ways – education, health, public transport, housing, welfare, libraries, museums, etc – very few artists are fortunate enough (as you have been) to ever earn enough to pay much in the way of taxes. So in fact as much as you despise the likes of Sajid Javid, I’m afraid he and all the other people who are not fortunate enough to spend their lives dreaming are in fact paying for the unproductive lifestyles of a great many of those who put ‘culture’ before putting food on the table.

Hello, children...

So, as an Oxford graduate who enjoys the ear of many who have mostly taken from the public purse, I'm very curious about why you feel you are in a position to criticise a young man who has risen up from a very humble background and has possibly already paid more tax than your acolytes will in a lifetime. Your very use of the word ‘toff’ betrays that you are arguing not from a position of wisdom and logic, but from a partisan platform of class hatred. Is this the subliminal message in the books you write for children? My mother warned me about men like you.