Saturday, November 24, 2007

Nothern Rock chief shareholder wants to block sale

The major shareholders in Northern Rock have gone on a media offensive, threatening to block the sale of the company if they don't get value for their investments. You can't blame them for trying, but it does smack of a wilful refusal to face reality. A representative of the largest shareholder, RAB Capital, speaking on BBC's Today programme tried to talk up the state of the Rock saying that it was solvent 'because the government said so'. This is nonsense, without the support of over £23bn of taxpayers money Northern Rock would now be in bankrupt, so pretending that this is basically a healthy company is ludicrous. What the shareholders are trying to do is to pressure the government by threatening to drive Northern Rock into administration if they do not get their way. The trouble is that the government probably cannot give them what they want, which is some sort of value for their shares, because EU competition rules do not allow it. Even if that was not the case, support could only come from taxpayers funds, which basically means that the shareholders want the government to give them money, which most people would think unlikely. Northern Rock is bankrupt and as a bankrupt company it is simply not worth the value of the investments that have been made in it. The only question is what real value remains. It could be very little indeed.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Labour slumps in polls

A poll for Channel 4 News from YouGov, with changes from the last YouGov poll, CON 41%(nc), LAB 32%(-3), LDEM 14(+1). This is after Labour's data disaster, where the excuses from ministers are unravelling by the hour. Now it turns out that the sending of unencrypted CDs by post containing vast amounts of data, and more data than the recipient actually wanted, was endorsed at a senior level within HMRC. So, no junior staffer making a blunder then, more a management failure from top to bottom, and the top was until recently Gordon Brown.

Labour is now plumbing the depths that the Conservatives found after the ERM debacle in 1992, and conversely Conservative support is now at the level it was before that fiasco.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Labour's excuses on data don't wash

More details have emerged on Labour's data disaster we have had a mix of abject apologies and excuses. The worst of it is that the data was lost a whole month ago, with days lost while officials hoped that the envelope would turn up and then prevaricated before calling the police or telling the banks. Apologies are fine, but the basic excuse appears to be that a junior staffer is responsible for the whole mess. So, they are trying to reassure us on the basis that junior staff at HMRC have access to their entire database, to the point that they can put it on a couple of CDs? Are they having a larf? If this happened low down the HMRC food chain than it actually makes it worse, not better. A straightforward security breach would at least mean that the internal processes were circumvented. The government's story implies that it was business as usual up to the point that the envelope was licked. That makes HMRC a shambles and let us not forget that this department was run by Gordon Brown for the last 10 years. If there a structural problem, and a combination of savage job cuts and reorganisations are suggested as a cause, than the bony finger of blame points straight at the Prime Minister.

Politically, this whole business is poison. Everyone is either affected or knows someone who it. My wife's data has been lost for example. People remember things that affect them personally, and no-one is going to forget this. Think Black Wednesday when the political ground shifted in an afternoon. This lot are on the way out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Two Catastrophes Darling

So, Alastair Darling has presided over the bail-out of Northern Rock, which is now virtually guaranteed to lose the taxpayers' money, and has followed this by losing the banking details of half of the adult population of the country. Both show incompetence, though only the first can squarely be laid at the Chancellor's door. The second speaks to an institutional problem whereby clowns in HMRC feel that they are empowered to not only download critical data onto an unencrypted CD but then to just pop it into the post. There have certainly been cases in other organisations of data being stolen because it was on a laptop that went missing, but never anything on this scale and never because of this level of sheer stupidity. Now, some people will use this as an argument against large-scale computer systems, period, which is, of course, nonsense. Large-scale IT can be operated safely, in the same way that nuclear power stations can be operated safely, but you have to have the professional expertise and organisation to do it. Nothing about the way the government deals with IT suggests either professionalism or organisation. Instead, the model appears to be amateurs giving orders to expensive consultants. So, projects fail, systems aren't integrated, and policy allows egregious breaches of the Data Protection Act or common sense for that matter.

To think, Alastair Darling was supposed to be a safe pair of hands.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Liberal Democrat leadership hopefuls' spat

So much for Liberal Democrats being the 'nice' party...

New Labour logic seeps away

New Labour always rested on a triad. There was residual dislike of the Tories from their 18 years in power, where disappointed interest groups and the desire for change made for votes against, and so to support for Labour. There was the persona of Tony Blair, who always maintained an affability that seemed above narrow partisan politics and which allowed the other members of the Labour party to be as nakedly political as they liked. Finally, and most importantly there was the economy, the ten year period of sustained growth that funded the government’s schemes and, more importantly, kept cash jingling in peoples’ pockets. A triad is pretty stable unless one of the legs is kicked away, but Labour is now starting to resemble a chair with no legs. David Cameron has decontaminated the Conservative brand, though time and space from John Major’s government had already done much of the work. Tony Blair is gone, and Gordon Brown is nowhere near his equal in the dark arts of politics. Most importantly, and most worryingly, the economy is going south with growth forecasts cut against a background of rising oil prices and the real possibility of both a British and international Recession. That has the potential to expose the way that Labour has unbalanced the economy to the point that the government would have very little ability to ameliorate the worst effects of a downturn on our people. No-one wishes that, and I bet it is giving Brown and Darling nightmares.