Saturday, November 06, 2010

Hard Times

Somebody needs to tell the Irish and Welsh Rugby Unions that there's a recession / recovery on. There must have been 10,000 empty seats at the Millennium Stadium for Australia this afternoon (£70, £65, £60, £40, £25 - no reduction for kids and all the cheap (?) ones sold) - and there's a fair bit of space at the strange-looking new Lansdowne Road aka "Insurance-company-formerly-known-as-Norwich-Union-now-with-bland-and-meaningless-name Stadium", where the IRU hiked ticket prices by 21%, then added insult to injury by only selling the tickets in packages of four - one for each of the autumn internationals - at 430 euros i.e. over £320.

After an outcry they agreed to sell them in packages of two, but still at the same overall price. Result - no sell out against the world champions in a 50,000 seater stadium, when Ireland regularly sold out 82,000 Croke Park.

Most odd-looking stadium. One stand (North, replacing the old open terrace?) seems to be almost entirely executive boxes - like the west stand at Gloucester. I bet the atmosphere there is terrific. Capacity at 50,000 is only 2,000 more than the old Lansdowne Road, although it's now all-seater. But as with Wembley, what's the point of spending all that dosh for something that's no bigger ?

The WRU have got many things wrong over the years. One massive thing they got right was paying 'only' £120m to increase capacity from 53,000 to 73,000 all-seated, plus snazzy sliding roof - one of the great stadia of Europe. I love the way you can arrive at Cardiff Central station and it's right there in front of you, at the heart of town - the historic Castle directly to the North and only "Chip Alley" between the ground and the shopping. Cardiff on a rugby Saturday is a great family day out - Techniquest for young kids in the morning, a quick look at the Castle, the game and an excellent shopping centre for those who don't like rugby.

I don't know what the ratio is these days between the gate receipts and the TV rights, but the Welsh and Irish unions need to make sure the grounds are full for big games - and if that means reducing prices, so be it. You're selling an image - a premium event - as well as a game when you sell to TV - and if the fans don't appear to want to see it live, why should the viewer ?

It's wrong that Wales only have junior tickets available for the less popular games. Those are your future adult followers. But in any event, people will be less likely to fork out £200-odd for an afternoon's family rugby for the next few years. Like everyone else, the Rugby Unions are going to have to 'drink water and walk slowly'.

* Note - none of the above applies to Twickenham, where the return of hefty City bonuses will doubtless ensure full car-parks come February.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

It Takes A Very Clever Man To Be This Foolish

I blogged Mr Gove's Big Society example back in May, the Heroes of Balsall Heath, and wondered if the poor judgement shown then belonged to him or his advisers.

Now he's come out with a cunning plan to raise tuition fees to £9,000 a year and saddle graduates with anything up to £60K of debt for a three year course.

At Conservative Home, commenter Peter Lloyd has wise words :

I'm really disappointed that the Conservatives, especially Michael Gove have not given a proper context for the mess the government have inherited on this, and defended the Conservative principles which should underlie their long term policy.
In my view the story is roughly this:

1. The crisis has sprung out of the Labour target of 50% of school leavers going to university and the resultant big increase in the number of places and of universities, a lot of which were specialist colleges, not universities at all.

2. This led to a lowering of standards and by default a false promise to many students that their degrees would be as valuable as degees had been before. This is has been repeatedly shown up by employers telling us about the poor quality of graduates

3. Another result is constant interference in university admission policy, forcing universities not to choose by ability, something which has the potential to destabilise the whole system of excellence which is what universities are really there to pursue. There is now no level playing field for students and that is really unfair on them.

4. We would not have had these high fees (which the Conservatives should be dead against in principle) if universities hadn’t sprung up like weeds and ended up costing a fortune. Labour’s social engineering project was never costed properly

5. We have a situation where a lot of students at university shouldn't be there at all. Universities are there to develop intellect and show the importance of all the different academic subjects as contributors to society. Learning is brilliant in its own right and doesn't need any other justification. They are not and should not be seen as giving a simple passport to employment. It's something neither they, nor the government, can guarantee in any case.

6. The best way forward is admit what universities are for, turn a lot back to high standard technical colleges supported by industry and designed to help get their students into specific jobs, and leave the top academic universities to raise standards and just take the best in order for Britain to compete effectively in the world at that level.

7. The government should vigorously pursue adoption and improvements in the much talke about apprenticeship schemes (see letters to the FT today for example.) More kids will see the benefit of getting into employment by other routes

8. In the short term, and because of this mess we are currently in, universities should have additional tests for borderline applicants so they can see the potential of students who could do well at university but who have been to rubbish schools, then balance those test results against their A level results. This is far better than pursuing the social engineering agenda of getting unsuitable kids into university and spinning them nonsense stories about their future prospects.

9. But most important of all the Conservatives have got to say that university students are not better than others and that the route to being a successful citizen of Britain does not depend on going to a university. Lots don't but are equally important members of society with lots of ability and a good chance of doing well at work. Let's change this culture.

9. If we can do this we should be able to get rid of university fees in the end and the burden they are placing on our young people. The public is not unhappy about government paying for universities

Maybe I flatter myself, but I think that's not too far away from my analysis of last week.

Labour go somewhat insane, proclaiming that 50% of school leavers should be at uni – i.e. anyone over average intelligence. Every teacher training college in the land becomes a university (no longer a live-at-home student body), and the school leaving age is raised to 18. Ironically, the main beneficiaries are the middle classes, who can now get their more average children through Uni. You find former Polytechnics which are now much more middle class than a university was 25 years previously.

As above, the financial strain of this idiotic ‘all must have degrees’ policy finally catches up. They HAVE to introduce loans and tuition fees, otherwise the 50% non-uni candidates are subsidising the top 50%.

So far, so bad. But Gove's decision to up fees to (potentially) £9K, creating a debt of about £20K pa for a student paying £5K for accommodation and £6K for living, threatens IMHO to reverse the Labour lunacy and reduce the numbers of students (and courses) somewhere back to around the late-70s figure.

Threatens ? Wasn't that what you were arguing for ?

There's no doubt that fewer people should be going to university. There's little doubt that we're producing too many sociology, politics and psychology grads, and too few physicists and engineers (and half of the top science grads end up in the City - but that's another story).

But the Gove option will mean that a lot of bright working or lower-middle class kids will look at a potential £60,000 debt and they won't bother - unless they're at Oxbridge or doing a course with a pretty much guaranteed career at the end of it. Outside this small subset of courses, university will be restricted to those whose parents can subsidise them - i.e. the very rich.

That's not all bad - I can see cultural studies departments being disbanded across England and Wales. Economic forces will cut away swathes of courses and institutions, correcting the insane growth of the last 25 years.

But at that kind of cost the idea of education as a good in itself will wither away. Who's going to do archaeology without a private income ?

Couldn't we just go back to the situation of twenty-plus years back, where the top 5% go to uni, with full grants for those with non-wealthy parents ?

Another potential issue - a £60,000 debt to be repaid from UK earnings provides an enormous incentive to minimise UK earnings. The most efficient way to do this will be to emigrate.

Result - a double hit as the fees remain unpaid and the tax revenue from our grad goes to Australia or Canada. Enough graduates are leaving as it is - and by definition they won't be the duffers, given the points systems used in more sensible countries.

"There are now 3.247 million British-born people living abroad, of whom more than 1.1 million are highly-skilled university graduates, say the researchers. More than three quarters of these professionals have settled abroad for more than 10 years, according to the study by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). No other nation is losing so many qualified people, it points out. Britain has now lost more than one in 10 of its most skilled citizens, while overall only Mexico has had more people emigrate. Britain's exodus is far higher than any of the OECD's other 29 members. Germany has lost only 860,000 highly-skilled workers, America 410,000 and France 370,000. The OECD found that 27.3 per cent of those emigrating had health or education qualifications, 37.7 per cent had humanities or social science degrees and 28.5 per cent were scientists or engineers."

Mr Gove's response to all this ?

Mr Gove played down the research suggesting that higher fees would put off applicants.

"I believe that it won't have that effect. I believe that people will make a rational decision on the benefits that accrue to them as a result of taking a university degree," he said.

They certainly will, Mr Gove. That's exactly what I'm worried about.


From transcripts of the police interviews with Roshonara Choudhry, the young East London Bangladeshi Muslim who stabbed her local MP, Stephen Timms. Don't ask me how the Guardian got the transcript - I assume the police accidentally-on-purpose released it on Government advice.

DC Hussain Sorry, just before we finish, I've just a couple of questions that I've got to ask you. When did this interest of yours for Islam develop?

A I've always been quite religious and I started to listen to Anwar al-Awlaki lectures last year and then I started to get really into it and I listened to everything that … like all of his recorded lectures that he made and that would have been like since November. I've been listening to him since November.

Hussain How did you get introduced to Anwar al-Awlaki?

A He's quite famous and I've started to listen to his stuff.

Hussain How did you come across him?

A On the internet.

Hussain Was that from your own research or did someone recommend him?

A From my own research but everybody listens to him and likes him anyway (my italics - LT).

UPDATE - remember how mass immigration is designed to help get the jobs done that the natives don't want to do, to pay the taxes that will keep paying our old age pensions and to, as Dave Osler says "keep this country going or it folds"?

There's just a small aside in this Andrew Gilligan post about Tower Hamlets :

"Tower Hamlets is Britain’s poorest borough, with less than half its residents in work and an average income of £13,000 per head."

Now to be fair, there's no ethnic breakdown of these stats. A/c/t Wiki, Tower Hamlets was 43% native in 2001, and while it may now be 36% Muslim, it may be all those natives who are sat at home watching Celebrity Shopathon. But even assuming the lazy natives to be sat on their nethers while all the Bangladeshi Muslims are busy bees, if that £13,000 is an average for those in work, then they'll almost certainly be net tax recipients, not tax contributors. I don't see how this is going to "keep this country going or it folds" - indeed, it's likely to accelerate the folding process from a fiscal perspective.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

More Blood Pressure Pills, Nurse

Swearblogger Mr Eugenides suspended blogging the other day, giving the following reasons :

After a bit of soul-searching, I've decided to discontinue the blog.

Partly this is due to busy-ness in the real world, but that's only half the story. The other half is a noticeable dropping off in my levels of rage since the prime raison d'etre for that fury were ejected from office in May. I share the scepticism of some readers towards many aspects of the new government's platform, and worry that their reforms will be too timid, their policies wrong-headed, their instincts far from libertarian...

But what I don't have now is that same hate.
Well, Mr E, you can't say the government aren't trying to help :

Prisoners will be given the vote in general elections for the first time in 140 years after David Cameron conceded there was nothing he could do to halt a European court ruling demanding the change, The Daily Telegraph can disclose. On Wednesday a representative for the Coalition will tell the Court of Appeal that the law will be changed following legal advice that the taxpayer could have to pay tens of millions of pounds in compensation. The decision, which brings to an end six years of government attempts to avoid the issue, opens the possibility that even those facing life sentences for very serious crimes could in future shape Britain’s elections.
I don't know what makes me more cross - the way in which the EU spits in the eye of British democracy - no party in the UK could ever win a majority on such a platform - or the fact that Cameron's administration is caving in to them, then whining about how it's not their fault, a big boy made them do it etc.

“This is the last thing we wanted to do, but we have looked at this from every conceivable angle and had lawyers poring over the issue,” a senior government source said.“But there is no way out and if we continued to delay then it could start costing the taxpayers hundreds of millions in litigation.”

Well there is a way out - leave. Is there any point in voting at all as long as we are in the EU, if such a fundamental of our system is under the control of unelected judges - not only that but judges from countries with long histories of dictatorship, civil war and genocide?

At a time of unprecedented financial stringency, we've just handed over an extra 2.9% to the EU budget, in exchange for giving axe murderers the vote. Do we want a whingeing Prime Minister who demonstrably lacks that most important attribute - the ability to govern and to lead?

UPDATE - "British combat troops to come under French command"

Monday, November 01, 2010

Cultural Sensitivity At Its Best

Roshonara Choudhary by Julia Quenzler (after Edvard Munch)

Mr Timms said he was running slightly late when he arrived at the Beckton Globe community centre for his regular Friday surgery. Choudhry, who was dressed in black, had made an appointment for 2.45pm, specifically to see him rather than an assistant, and was the second person he saw that day, just after 3pm.

The MP said: "She didn't go and sit down as she continued to come towards me where I was standing to greet her at that point. I thought she must have been coming to shake my hand. She made as if she was coming to do that. She looked friendly. She was smiling, if I remember rightly. I was a little puzzled because a Muslim woman dressed in that way wouldn't normally be willing to shake a man's hand, still less to take the initiative to do so, but that is what she was doing."

A male non-family member, and a kuffr at that - and she wants to clasp his hand? Mr Timms is attuned to his constituents.

"She lunged at me with her right hand."

Mr Timms pointed at his stomach to show the jury where the knife had gone in.

The Mail takes up the story :

The Old Bailey heard how the young Muslim woman had plotted for weeks to kill her local MP, buying two knives in case one 'broke' when she enacted her 'punishment' for him voting in Parliament to invade Iraq in March 2003. After the attack, she coolly told police: "I just pushed it in like how it is if you punch someone. I was trying to kill him because he wanted to invade Iraq. I was not going to stop (stabbing him) until someone made me. I wanted to kill him. I was hoping to get revenge for the people in Iraq."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Ihre Papiere bitte, Mein Herr"

I thought we fought a World War for the right not to have to carry ID around? Does someone need to tell the Dutch who won?

"The Britons were among 34 people arrested during the day, Amsterdam Police spokesman Rob van der Veen said. It is understood the five were held for not producing identification while on their way to the demonstration."

The Belfast Telegraph report implies the arrested Brits were EDL members. This Sky News report reckons they were left counter-demonstrators.

Five Britons were among 34 people arrested by Dutch police as they headed to confront far-right activists showing their support for controversial politician Geert Wilders... The five Britons arrested were among 18 people picked up for failing to carry proper identification. They were fined £60 and freed, police spokesman Rob van der Veen said.

Whether they be right or left, staunch patriots or fascist thugs, noble idealists or snivelling Guardianistas, it seems remarkable that supposedly liberal Holland requires them to carry papers at all times or risk arrest. Is it like that all over the blasted Continent of Rape Victims?