You thought London mayoral candidates couldn’t get worse

Did you think Boris Johnson sucked? Try Ivan Massow, doyen of hipster Toryism (he was the nice version of Michael Portillo before Michael Portillo was the nice version of Michael Portillo) and prospective candidate for mayor of London.

Somehow, the mayoralty has become a strange attractor for people who combine vacuous celebrity and a particular kind of dilettante obsession with pet projects. You take the guy from the pub who has a dossier on reviving TSR-2 and merge in Him Off The Telly. Johnson is exhibit A, but Labour offered Alan Sugar at one point. Ken Livingstone had a distinct celebrity twat side. The Lib Dems had Brian the Amazing Pot-Smoking Copper. Those were the serious options.

The Blairite project to create directly elected mayors was interesting, looking back. A big idea of theirs was that political participation was an end in itself. The public had to be encouraged to take part. Another, bigger idea of theirs was that the public should be kept away from anything important.

A prospective mayor of London wasn’t meant to be able to control the railways or the schools or the police, for example, although this changed in practice. The two propositions – the public should participate, but their choices should be restricted – are of course conflicting. Why participate, if there’s nothing in it?

Mayors were meant to fix this by increasing the horse-race element of local politics and by attracting a different kind of candidate. Big celebrity personalities would battle it out, thus getting attention and also sidelining the structures of real political participation. Councillors are rarely celebrities.

The first winner was a proper politician, Ken Livingstone, but this was driven by historical reasons, and after all you weren’t meant to be allowed to vote for him. Once the new system bedded in, it seems to have worked in the opposite sense to that intended. Rather than driving participation, the first real celebrity mayor has won largely because he has reduced it. It’s a form of negative marketing – if Boris Johnson is in it, it can’t be serious. But, of course, it is.

So Massow. Like Boris, he’s a slightly shocking Tory but a Tory all the same. Like Boris, he has a pet project involving massive state-funded construction in the Thames Estuary. He’s commissioned architectural drawings to coo over, today’s easy buy-in to the appearance of seriousness.

This time, though, it’s worse. Boris Johnson wanted an airport; J.G. Ballard would have said, a shrine to the limitless possibilities only the sky can offer. Massow wants: a prison. A super-Titan prison on an island, with special river boats ferrying to the courts. Johnson’s project has the optimism of grandiosity; Massow’s is a massive monument to meanspiritedness.

Of course, the island jail is because the Americans have them, rather like the mayors. The river boats are interesting too, though. It’s a classic Tory pet project – Boris promised more of them back in the day, and all sorts of people like to propose it, but nobody who has studied it in any detail thinks it will ever be a serious transport solution.

But why, why do we need a giant prison in the estuary? Simple; yer man wants to bulldoze the others and give the sites to property developers. This will apparently solve the housing crisis. He knows this because a nick in Oxford has been turned into:

wonderful housing, funky bars and a huge shopping mall

This is, of course, the aim of all urban life, especially the mall bit. It turns out that there is no housing in the development:

Wait a moment, though, this sounds familiar. A prison turned into a posh hotel? Hadn’t I heard of something like that before, in Germany? The worst of this isn’t that it’s shameless hipster urbanism, it’s that it’s not even hip, it’s dated, obvious, and suiviste.

Pushing on, yer man has also apparently read a book about the General Strike of 1926 and wants a reserve of volunteer tube drivers to kill the RMT.

What gets me here is the triple-point, the apex, between the utter shallowness of the thinking, the vicious aggression (monster prisons, comedy GB75), and the desperate haste to press your money on horrible property sharks.

It’s also the representativeness of it. Massow’s putative mayoralty, hell, Massow himself, is a fine example of what this guy calls Fucking London, a collection of clichéd icons and mini-oligarch investment properties, boasting about a tolerance extended only to the rich, desperate to eliminate anything like a civic life, soaking in PR bullshit. And of course, it’s not just the Tories.

Let’s kill this before it lays eggs. I note that among other awful himoff options and borough nutters, Sol Campbell wants to be Tory candidate. I far prefer him – he’s a bloke from Tottenham who made enough money to drive a different Maserati every day and that’s basically it. He has about as many principles as a man who played for both Spurs and Arsenal would have, but at least he doesn’t want to build a prison island in the Thames and name it after himself. Perhaps there’s a crack for a spoiler campaign here. Labour for Sol. An asymmetric, nonlinear threat demands such a response.

Although. Apparently he has some “ideas”.

#defenduss arrives at an unsatisfactory compromise

So yer #defenduss.

The UCU delegation came back with a new offer, the same stuff but with a slightly higher accrual rate, some more money from the other side, a higher cap, and promises to use any improvement in the scheme finances to put back the cuts and also to review the valuation methodology. And it looks like two-thirds of one-third of the membership voted for it. One third of the membership that ever received a ballot.

Nobody seems to have any idea about the people who voluntarily put more money in, about what this further review means, or about how the defined contribution fund above the cap would work. On the other hand, nobody had any idea what the UCU’s strategy was if the dispute went on. The marking boycott had already been turned down by a lot of universities and nobody liked it in the first place.

There is now a statutory consultation period, for what it may be worth. The lesson, though, is that negative numbers are scary, and that the UCU can’t manage to send out e-mail. No song, because I’m not feeling it.

#iwaswrong – public sector co-op edition

Here’s a brutal sickburn on the journos, wanktankers, and pols who were taken in by the privatisers of Hinchingbrooke Hospital, who have now done a bunk ahead of the inspectors after the place turned out to be a sinister deathtrap run by Nurse Ratchet:

We heard the staff member say to the patient ‘don’t misbehave, you know what happens when you misbehave

With a little help from the Dnepropretovsk No.1 Nail Factory:

Circle loudly proclaimed its rapid improvement in the key ‘4 hour A&E waiting time’ target as evidence that privatisation had quickly turned Hinchingbrooke around’.

But the CQC discovered the hospital kept patients waiting too long in ambulances before they were allowed into A&E. And after they were seen in A&E, they then waited far too long – up to 12 hours – to be admitted to hospital

Obviously this is all terrible, and I strongly recommend you read the whole of both links and then, uh, occupy everything. But the point I want to make is a different one. Here goes:

Circle likes to present itself as the John Lewis of healthcare, run by its staff. The Sun; the Times; the Mail; even the Financial Times have indulged it, the latter calling Circle “a John Lewis-style partnership.”

It isn’t true. Power rests with the majority shareholder, Jersey-based Circle Holdings, owned by six venture capital and hedge funds (whose founders have, entirely coincidentally, donated fortunes to the Tories).

Yet nearly all of Circle’s victims reported that the key to its success was the empowerment of its staff. “Hinchingbrooke has become a model hospital in which clinical staff make decisions,” wrote columnist Alex Massie. But a survey showed that staff actually “felt bullied and harassed by managers.”

Circle wanted everyone to know about ‘stop the line.’ Moore duly reported that staff were “encouraged” to use it. “Someone stops the line in Hinchingbrooke most days” – although not, apparently, on the days when the Care Quality Commission was there. According to the Commission’s report:

“Staff told us that they had been actively discouraged by managers from calling a ‘stop the line.’ When we found a significant failing the matron was unwilling to call ‘stop the line.’ Even during the discussion of this issue with the CEO, it was the Care Quality Commission who called a ‘stop the line,’ not the Trust.”

TOYOTA PRODUKSHUN, YR DOIN IT RONG. But the person who is wrong here is me. Back in 2007-ish, I thought the idea of public services as co-ops was a great one. So did a lot of other people in the blogosphere, notably Chris Dillow. I was wrong and so are they.

Someone who was right, by the way, was international bankster and Camden glitterato Daniel Davies. We were talking about this outside the Crown & Goose pub in Camden Town one evening that summer, a lovely evening, the sort that would pass for one of those summer evenings before the lights went out across Europe. In a sense, of course, it was, even with the crow eating chips by my beer-stained desert boots and the diesel fumes. It was 2007.

Anyway, he put forward a scenario for its failure of such gruesome horror and dreadful plausibility – call it Project Cthulhu Cupcake – that when we left the pub, we agreed never to disclose any of its contents in case we gave someone the wrong idea. As the deal is still in force and the Tories are still in office, I am not going to say anything more about it except that D^2 was right.

the prime minister considered as a golden labrador

David Cameron’s trip to Washington reminded me of something @thejimsmith on Twitter said. Cameron, he said, reminded him of a dog that doesn’t realise you know he’s trying to steal food.

Anyone who’s ever had a dog will recognise this. Ours wasn’t allowed to beg at the dinner table, and he would sit and wait across the kitchen, until he realised he could shuffle towards us on his backside without getting out of the sitting position, with an expression of optimistic cunning on his little face. He was always really surprised to be rumbled, as if he couldn’t imagine how anyone could have seen through his brilliantly subtle plan.

A really clever dog, at this point, will open his or her eyes wide and probably charm something out of you anyway, making the whole thing part of his spiel. But that’s only the really clever ones and this one, for all his good points, wasn’t. Dogs aren’t usually self-aware enough to realise that you might be able to predict their thought-processes.

As dog, so Prime Minister. Ours was a flatcoated retriever; Cameron is more of a smiley, bland golden lab. The other day he accidentally promised to ban all cryptography. To be clear, re-opening the 1990s crypto wars isn’t a government policy. Nobody seriously thinks it’s possible or even desirable. Cameron probably remembered that he needed to push the communications data bill, and then that this was an Internet question.

Rather like my old dog, he responds to different situations by pulling on one of a range of personas. There’s a cat in the garden? Charge to the back door, bark like hell, and try to look fierce. A question on the economy? Make your stern face and say “debt” a lot. A new visitor? Slobber all over their left arm and wag your tail as hard as you can. Don’t know what to do? Ed Balls has a funny name!

Someone’s asking a vaguely technical question? Well, do your trendy dad bit. Concerned face, say “children” or “families”, and mention the two fashionable (roughly) mobile apps your press secretary told you to memorise. So he starts guffing about Whatsapp and Snapchat. It’s a sort of jarring spin mashup.

Now, though, he’s in a fix. Although nobody really believes this is a policy, everyone feels obliged to treat it as such. They pretend to govern and we pretend to be outraged. There’s a lot of it about. There’s no way in which this statement will ever cause anything to happen, but giving up looks bad. What now? Bark? Wag? Both?

But he has a plan. Now, British politicians often go to Washington because it is thought that appearing at the White House is popular. God knows why, but they seem to believe it, and it takes on some reality because they believe it. David Cameron is no different on this score, but who else would stage a major diplomatic event just so as to get photographed with Obama before the elections and tell the newspapers in advance that was why he was doing it. More than once.

So here he goes, shuffling across the kitchen towards the biscuits, on his arse, making his Good Dog face. Suddenly, the putative SSL ban is meant to be on the agenda. Or something is. But Barack Obama is, of course, a dog owner and he immediately calls him out. He flips into his constitutional law prof mode and…Bad dog, Dave. No biscuit.

the president conceded that there is an important balance to be struck between monitoring terror suspects and protecting civil liberties.

As Cameron warned the internet giants that they must do more to ensure they do not become platforms for terrorist communications, the US president said he welcomed the way in which civil liberties groups hold them to account by tapping them on the shoulder…

how I quit smoking energy data

This piece about UX research on smart meters could be retitled “How I Quit Smoking The Data”, to say nothing of this one.

I really dislike a lot of the funky energy/M2M/Internet of Things concepts because they basically shame you for boiling the kettle, and either work because you do daft middle class lifestyle bollocks to work around them if you can, or don’t because you just stop caring and let the battery run down if you can’t. Dan Lockton is a clever guy and he tries hard, but when the kids are yelling, do you honestly want an air raid siren telling you the washing machine is running?

My parents have recently got a smart meter, which doesn’t actually pick up on the power generated by their solar panels, but does allow them to feel superior about hyper-optimising the thing. Until someone advised them to turn off the “economy” setting on their boiler, they were collecting warm water that they ran off the tap to use in the cistern. Impressive, until you realise that you pretty much have to be both completely un-worried about your heating bills and also retired for this to be possible. And it may have saved a whole pound.

There’s also a deep link between these projects and the long history of tiresome well-off people giving the poor lectures about their cooking and such, so well mocked by Orwell. These days, though, Lady Bountiful has outsourced herself to a Chinese ODM’s $20 Android module and a sliver of O2 UK data service, and doesn’t need to show up at the community centre with the grey tea any more.

Controls help, of course, but mostly when you go from “no control” to “modern”. After all, over Christmas, we got a message from Npower announcing that they’re actually cutting our energy bill after the new boiler and the controls were installed. This is literally the first time this has ever happened to me. Technology is the solution, of course, it just matters a great deal what technology.

The lesson here is both that insulation and keeping up to the planning code really will help your energy problem, rather than just provide a better class of blame, and rockwool doesn’t talk.

Would you buy a used Conservative from this man?

So it seems to be a day for heavy politics like candidate selection. UKIP is tearing itself apart over this issue, which is surely interesting – if you can’t select candidates you’re not a functioning political party. For example, here’s a piece from the Indy‘s Paul Gallagher, describing a wave of resignations, sometimes en masse, from the party after disputed selections.

The really weird bit is that all the selection disasters involve the same man, Neil Hamilton, for it is he. Hamilton keeps putting himself forward, very often he gets on the shortlist, and then Nigel Farage intervenes to stop him. Well, obviously. Farage has more than enough gut sense that he doesn’t want a busted chancer like Hamilton anywhere near his election campaign.

There’s also a second layer of conflict here. Gallagher’s piece makes this clear as follows.

In Boston and Skegness, probably the most ‘kipperish of constituencies, the 22-year old ex-Tory councillor Robin Hunter-Clarke who is UKIP branch chairman drew up a shortlist of five back in August including an important local ‘kipper, Paul Wooding, and Neil Hamilton. Farage recently had the UKIP national executive committee veto Hamilton off the list, because NEIL HAMILTON.

As a result, Hunter-Clarke, surely to be known for ever more as the ‘Kipper Nipper, had to find a replacement, and he found just the man looking at him from a mirror. This pleases nobody, because it isn’t as if Wooding, who is a postman by trade, would have been any happier with celebrity Hamilton running against him. The locals want their guy; Hamilton wants his; the Nipper appointed himself, with the blessing of the national executive.

The obvious question: who is it, other than Neil Hamilton, who wants Neil Hamilton? The answer turns out to be spread-betting jillionaire and top political donor, Stuart Wheeler, who has threatened to pull his money like he did from the Tories if Hamilton doesn’t get a seat. Wheeler is bankrolling Hamilton to try any seat that looks winnable.

Right – so the party leader and the money have fallen out.

But this just kicks the can down the road. What does Wheeler see in Hamilton? What Hamilton sees in Wheeler is clear. Plants grow towards the light. Chancers burrow towards the cash. Wheeler is a mark. The question, then, is what spiel Hamilton is using to work him. I want a deep profile of Wheeler at this point, because he’s important – he played a big role in the great narrowing of the Tories in the late 90s, in Hague’s disastrous swing to Tony Martin conservatism in 2001, and in the invention of UKIP. But we’ll have to do with Michael White back in 2009:

I’ve met Wheeler a few times; he even invited me to a dinner at his Mayfair penthouse once, which is a decent thing for a Tory of his stamp to do for a Guardianista and oik. Hence my belief that he is a nice person, certainly admirably courteous. But that was the summer of the Tory leadership contest where he supported first Liam Fox, then David Davis against his fellow-Etonian. When he asked me why he should not support Fox, I fear I replied that I thought him a political idiot.

Again with the nice, I see. But White doesn’t mean Wheeler is a political idiot, he meant Liam Fox. The record shows White had a point. Wheeler, however, is described as follows:

Very decent of him. But backing a rival party in words, deeds or chequebook, is always potentially a hanging offence in most parties. It strikes at the very heart of a party’s rationale: claiming to be right and seeking to get elected. Those who flirted with – or joined – Goldsmith’s Referendum party, which did John Major a lot of harm in the 90s, were often kicked out.

Right. That includes Wheeler, and all his mates.

Eton, Oxford, a stint in the Welsh Guards, a law degree and a stint in merchant banking: these are not unworldly qualifications. Neither is founding the hugely successful IG Index, the pioneering spread betting firm, nor being a gambling mate of Jimmy Goldsmith, John Aspinall and Lord Lucan, all of them colourful, all of them dead.

I reckon Wheeler is troubled by the Referendum party experience – after all, UKIP is a bit like it – and Hamilton’s playing him through this repetition compulsion, making out that he personally would have made it through 1997 if it hadn’t been for that pesky Goldsmith. Perhaps Wheeler’s studying for finals, too, being the last of the gang left alive. The answer, of course, is to place a real pro like – of course – Hamilton rather than a dangerous amateur like the rest of UKIP.

The problem for UKIP is that this isn’t bullshit. They really do have a lot of people who are in the party because no other party would have them. Placing old Tories or celebs mitigates this. At the same time, the ‘kipper USP is being the genuine local protest party, and you can’t be that if your fate is determined by some sort of cold war between Stuart Wheeler and Nigel Farage over a slimy old pol like Neil Hamilton.

a high-entropy node in the network of networks

What is it that’s changed in the paedophile inquiry? We’re now looking at a triple murder inquiry and the police seem to be taking it deadly seriously. I have a theory. North Yorkshire police just apologised for denying for years that they ever suspected Jimmy Savile or his associate, Peter Jaconelli. In fact, they investigated but nothing ever happened and for years they claimed there were no files.

This is important because Jaconelli was a significant figure, as mayor of Scarborough, borough councillor, county councillor, and chairman of the Yorkshire & Humberside Conservative party. I suspect, but I don’t know, that he might also have been the local Conservative Association chairman at some point.

On the other hand, he owned most of Scarborough, specifically the ice-cream business, slot machines, restaurants, and venues. How Savile might have known the owner of a high traffic seaside venue ought to be obvious. This is part of what I meant with this post. So it looks like Jaconelli was the intersection between Savile’s northern/showbiz circle, and the southern/political one.

Now the Tories are historically a decentralised organisation, much more so at the time, and he would had a lot of influence over candidate selection, most of all on his own personal patch. It is a matter of record that the man who is alleged to have received Geoffrey Dicks’ dossier in 1981 before it went missing was MP for Cleveland and Whitby, a constituency split off from Scarborough, between 1974 and 1983.

Dicks, of course, was a Yorkshire Tory himself, from Huddersfield West. If by chance the document was treated as a party matter, keeping it out of the civil service’s hands, that might explain where it ended up.

#simpleplan begins to scale up

A bit of #SimplePlan in action.

Enfield set up a wholly owned private company called Housing Gateway this year. Officials have viewed 122 properties, made offers on 77 and had 48 accepted. The company currently owns 22 homes and has tenants in five of them.

Oykener said he ensured tenants in those homes would not be eligible to take up the right-to-buy offer. “I specifically ensured that was the case. These special purchase vehicles, along with other benefits, are exempt from right-to-buy so that we won’t end up in this predicament in three years. We are not alone, councils all over are doing this.”

Other councils taking the radical step include Sheffield, Sutton and Ealing, according to Labour MP Gareth Thomas….

“Given the huge loss of affordable homes in London, in part because of the failure to replace those sold under the right-to-buy, the next mayor of London needs to consider setting up a London housing company to help build high-quality social housing, particularly co-operative housing of the sort found on London’s South Bank,” said Thomas.

I know Owen Hatherley will hate me for saying anything nice about Coin Street. But hey, it’s an emergency, dammit. (Speaking of him, not only is this a good piece, but most of the below-the-line screamers seem to think it’s by Owen Jones, who is not the same person.)

I note that Enfield has managed to double its properties viewed, close to double its offers, more than double its accepted offers, and multiply its closings by 10 since end-August (see discussion). The dream is alive.

Has anyone got numbers for the Sutton, Ealing, or Sheffield deployments?