Being prime minister looks prime ministerial and nearly being prime minister…

Several different polls, by multiple pollsters using different methods, have now shown Ed Miliband’s personal ratings improving sharply after the various not-quite-a-debates. You doubt? Here’s Hopi Sen, presumably tweeting through gritted teeth:

As a long term, in-the-tank Edist or Edator Drone, I should be rejoicing in vindication, but I though I’d do something more interesting.

Here’s a post from December 2011. My point back then was that the quality of looking like you might be prime minister wasn’t something inherent in an individual, any more than Laurence Olivier was like Othello. Instead, it was a theatrical or priestly role that the audience projects on whoever appears on the stage. If you want to appear prime ministerial, it helps to be the prime minister.

We can operationalise this apparently waffly and artsy concept with data by looking at what happened to people who became prime minister. David Cameron and Gordon Brown both saw their score increase by about 2.4 standard deviations over the 6 months during which they became prime minister, a highly statistically significant result. Importantly, this doesn’t just track popularity, because there was no election in 2007. When Tony Blair remained prime minister over the 2005 elections, his score actually fell, although by so little it was almost certainly noise. Becoming the PM, then, makes you look like the PM.

This applies here, too. Taking part in the debates shows Ed Miliband, and also Nicola Sturgeon, who got a similar bump, as someone taking part in prime ministerial politics as an equal with the prime minister. In 2010, Gordon Brown already was the prime minister and couldn’t get any more so. The only comparable stage is Prime Minister’s Questions, but this is an institution lots of people find weird, offputting, stupid, and elitist, and which the government benches specialise in manipulating by putting on the North Korean Mass Games every time Miliband gets up. During the campaign, this is no longer an issue.

You can’t blame anyone in Labour for pocketing the improvement in the ratings. But I didn’t believe in their meaningful status in the first place, so I logically can’t take any comfort from its unwinding.

Update: Here’s an example of the sort of thing I mean. Being an MP makes you more ugly, not in some “the face you deserve by 50″ sense but in that if you tell representative members of the public that someone is a politician, they score them as being less attractive.

I invent a tiresome electoral marketing concept

So, I was out on the #labourdoorstep. And I had an interesting insight. We live in Doorbell Britain, which is divided into two tribes, the Friedlands and the Knockers.

The Friedlands have evidently spent a lot of money on the technology of being alerted to visitors at their front door. Sometimes the bell is slickly modern. Sometimes it is cod-Victorian, but quality cod-Victorian. Sometimes it is disconcertingly silent, leaving you to wonder if it works, but sometimes it makes a noise like a police raid. Sometimes it is gold-plated. Occasionally, it includes a little CCTV camera and a bank of white LEDs to illuminate your face as you wait for a response, wondering whether you should stand politely facing the door or try to display your best profile to the camera. Either way, it’s manufactured by that same German company and it is redolent of an almost intimidating middle-class security that reminded me of, say, the suburbs of Hamburg.

The Knockers are very different. It is not that the bell is absent. Rather, there are usually four or five of the things. The original Edwardian setup is sometimes present, long rusted up and painted over. Several different generations of the technology can be observed. However, none of them work. There may be a name scribbled next to one or more in crabbed handwriting, but it will not be any of the names on the register of electors. If the door opens, it is just as likely that there is an additional voter you didn’t know about than that one is missing. There is sometimes a sticker over one of them with a message like PLEASE DO NOT RING THE BELL – why? – or KNOCK FOR 54C. You end up rapping warily on a window pane, worrying that you might put your fist through the rotting timber of the door itself.

You don’t know, until you talk to them, whether you’re looking at a nest of students or someone on local housing allowance who has a real problem.

Clearly, what’s doing the work here is the housing crisis. It is fairly well known to specialists that the UK housing economy roughly managed to keep up with the rate of household-formation but it did so mostly by reducing the space available to each household. It should perhaps be better known to the wider public, though, as it helps to explain why it was an invisible crisis for so long and how it survives although so many cranes are visible on the London skyline. This chart shows that the total number of dwellings managed to rise despite the plummeting rate of construction, precisely because we all packed in tighter.


It’s from this post by industry analyst Neal Hudson, who points out that the number of houses in London actually fell as so many of them were subdivided and also that:

While the conversion of terraced properties into flats may be taken by many as an indicator for a lack of supply, it is better as an indicator for stretched affordability as first-time buyers are forced into buying flats and artificially driving up demand for smaller units while actually requiring larger family housing but prevented from buying them by high house prices due to excessive mortgage lending…

That is to say, more and more houses were cut up into flats, more and more euroboxes went up near canals in Northern cities, and more and more existing conversions were revisited and chopped up again in pursuit of more rent. Similarly, the vast expansion of buy-to-let as an investment product generated vast numbers of nonprofessional or perhaps just unprofessional landlords, even before minigarch investors became a thing. As a result, we get Landlordistan, this territory of shinbarking conversions, forever-deferred maintenance, and insecurity, a world on hold, next door to the Bank of Mum & Dad’s head office. But, of course, nobody thinks they’re their kids’ exploitative landlord. As long as it’s somebody else’s, it’s OK.

I said as much to the guy who wanted to complain about the “mansion tax”, and it seemed to cut through as they say – at least, he went from threatening to vote Conservative (a stupid gesture in our Labour/LibDem marginal) to asking to speak to the candidate. So I offer you Doorbell Britain. To place myself in this I would just say that we’ve got four buttons on ours but it does work, although the intercom crackles annoyingly.

It’s not enough, though, tempting as it is, to rail at the BTLers. Hoping for another crash ignores just how…crashy the last one was. As Steve Hilditch says:

My view is that policy has to aim to hold house prices steady for a generation, declining in real terms, avoiding a burst bubble, which creates as many if not more problems as it solves.

That said, 7.5% of GDP is now accounted for by rent we pretend to pay ourselves to live in our own homes and I think everyone can agree that’s too much. The Independent frames a somewhat depressing story of emigration as property rah-rah. This shared ownership project is only available to those who earn less than £66,000 a year, but only affordable to those who earn more than £62,000. The Greens haven’t updated their policy statement in 10 years.

Want an idea? I would borrow the housing wage from the Americans. In a real sense, Doorbell Britain is a story about wages as much as it is about houses, which was part of what I was trying to get at with this post on Bob Crow and Shelter’s estimate that the average Brit took a £29k pay cut in terms of house between 1997 and 2012.

Science, dammit.

So this chart happened.


It looks like the Fistful of Euros model of the labour market has a serious problem, in that I can’t replicate JW Mason’s original results. The compositionally weighted ECI measure of earnings is more strongly correlated with the output gap, i.e. more cyclical, than the constant-weighted ECEC, at least for 2002-2014.

So I’ll have to change my mind. Hey, economics is a science, right?

AFOE post, and that #businessletter

So I done an economics over at the Fistful, swinging off a a data at JW Mason’s.

Meanwhile, is there anyone in this list who isn’t an embarrassment? Some journo should obviously ring them all up and ask if they will confirm they are domiciled in the UK for tax purposes, but to be honest, why bother when one of them is actually the former Railtrack CEO, Gerald Corbett?

Another uses the title “The Hon.” and seems to be the guy who hired David Cameron at Carlton TV. Yet another met the heir to the Cadbury fortune at Eton and is now spending it making pubs terrible. There’s the guy from the barely-even-faking .com outrage Knutsford. (That reminds me. When that was going on, I remember discussing it a university acquaintance’s rich dad, an entrepreneur from Manchester, who memorably described Michael Edelson as “a thief” having done business with him.) There’s the posh PR whose dad was the boss of Topshop. Himoff the telly. Samantha Cameron’s old boss.

Cassie Hutchings is described as CEO of GCH Capital – those would be the initials of the chairman, Greg Hutchings. Yes, that’s Greg Hutchings who was sacked as CEO of Tomkins for spending the shareholders’ money on four private jets. It’s intensely Cameron – a collection of the dodgy, the vacuous, people who picked the right parents, plus a bit of late-property bubble glamour. But above all, it’s a list of his mates, the You Scratch My Back And I’ll Scratch Yours PM.

The best that can be said for the list is that the Philip Green on it is the Philip Green from Carillion, not the one who gave the company to his Monaco-domiciled wife and keeps his money in somebody else’s Swiss bank account. But I did have to check.

Update: How did I miss this? Of course Karren Brady is a director of the other Philip Green’s holding company! OK, we’re done here.

A bit more #biryaniproject.

So I noticed Jahan Mahmood was on twitter. I had some stuff I wanted to know so I thought I’d ask him and find out.

Interesting; I don’t yet know what he means by the direction Afzal Amin wanted to pursue. But there’s more (the conversation is here). He identifies Samir Rauf as a schoolteacher, which we knew, and Mohammed Hanif as neither the councillor nor the cop, but yet another schoolteacher albeit one who’s managed to stay entirely off the web, which is news. This is presumably why a free school was meant to be part of the whole scheme.

He says Tassaduq Hussain was “a former employee of Green Lane”, which is a masjid, but thinks he didn’t have anything to do with Curzon companies although he manifestly did, a discrepancy that probably arises because Hussain joined the board after he left.

Demand your right to own a monkey

In DEFRA’s Q1 2013 lobbying disclosure, I see that DEFRA PUSS Lord de Mauley (yes! really) had the following meeting:

February: Private individual. To discuss the private keeping of primates.

Who is it that’s lobbying government for the right to keep monkeys? Not just that, who is this nameless private citizen who gets access to ministers in pursuit of their campaign for monkey freedom? I hope it’s Prince Charles. I really do.

(Less excitingly, I wonder why Jonathan Ashworth MP decided to ask the other DEFRA PUSS if they had any contracts with the Curzon Institute or Curzon Education Ltd. Going by this I think he was asking all the departments in turn.)

Even more #biryaniproject

This Reuters piece repays close reading:

Crucially, for the people around Alum Rock, [Jahan] Mahmood takes no public funding for this part of his work. The fact his initiative lies outside of Prevent gives it credibility…


Prevent is derided by many Muslim groups for relying heavily on the police, for bureaucracy and incompetence, and for being open to exploitation by cash-hungry groups with questionable claims to community leadership.

portfolios combine to deliver world-class services. and biryanis

Would it amaze anyone if this piece of shit turned out to be registered to the same no-name provider and hosted on the same server at as the Curzon Institute? Also, all the image filenames are of the form Alamin_Img_[0-9].jpg, implying they’re basically his holiday snaps dumped onto the web. Some are clearly in Iraq or Afghanistan, but one or more look like a nice beach holiday, another is the front of Birmingham town hall, and yet a third appears to be Wraysbury station. “UK Strategy Support Services”, my arse.

10 insights on the Biryani Project

So, to summarise this post a bit, here are some insights:

1) The Curzon Foundation website has been up since February 2010. The various Curzon companies have existed for the same period of time, one succeeding the other as they successively failed to file accounts and got struck off. It looks very much like each one was intended to replace the previous one. They share addresses and directors. Although the Initiative and Foundation don’t have Afzal Amin as a director, we know from Mohammed Hanif’s LinkedIn profile that there is no distinction between them and the Institute.

2) From 2013 on, Afzal Amin and friends were operating parallel commercial and charitable entities with the same address, website, and field of operations. The £120,000 Government grant was paid to a nonprofit entity, but it would have been very easy to have it contract with one of the commercial companies for services, or buy assets from them. The scandal at the Kings Science Academy in Bradford is an example of this kind of related-party transaction abuse.

3) The network of directors around Amin includes local property developers, people associated with both Home Office and DCLG counter-radicalisation projects, a school governor accused (controversially) of being an Islamic extremist, and either a Labour councillor, or a serving police officer, or both. What was a Labour councillor doing trying to get a Tory elected? What was a cop doing getting involved in party politics? What was he doing holding outside directorships? If it was the councillor, not the cop, why didn’t he mention the Curzons on his declaration of interests?

4) Calling it the Curzon Institute was simply illegal. So was offering to pay EDL activists to canvass.

5) Far from being a purely hypothetical discussion, it seems that the Biryani Project actually became operational on the 26th of February, when the EDL did indeed march in Dudley. Local news reporting at the time quotes Councillor Hanif, Afzal Amin, and Chief Supt Johnson (also mentioned by Amin in the Yaxley-Lennon tape) expressing their profound satisfaction. The image of racists, jihadis, aldermen, cops, and a Tory converging on a provincial mosque by their common accord is deeply surreal.

6) The same story also mentions “community stewards” organised by the head of the Dudley Private Hire and Taxi Association. Seems legit…

7) If the Curzon entities were functioning as far back as February 2010, it seems logical to suppose they were getting money from somewhere, and further that they used it for something. That somewhere was presumably the PREVENT/CONTEST programme, but I don’t think anyone intended that to fund either Councillor Hanif or would-be Tory MP Afzal Amin’s electioneering or even some guy’s buy-to-let empire.

News stories about Jahan Mahmood at the time suggest that the “new” counter-radicalisation programme, which wasn’t meant to talk to anyone who might be too radical under the influence of Michael Gove, cut off his funding. Is the point here that Afzal Amin got DCLG to restore the flow of money into the pre-existing Curzon network, in exchange for its support to get elected?

8) It seems very, very likely that Afzal Amin exaggerated his military career substantially. We know that he was in Iraq as an education officer, not some sort of commando, and that he gave the impression to the BBC that he was a tutor or personal adjutant to Prince Harry when in fact he was the education officer attached to his regiment. He doesn’t seem to have left the Adjutant-General’s Corps Education & Training Branch throughout his career.

9) A source tells me that the leadership of the Defence Academy are “extremely angry” about Amin and are actively trying to get DCLG to cancel the grant and recover any money that hasn’t disappeared.

10) And there’s still another company – UKS3 Ltd – and another director – Michelle Clayton – to look into.

Biryani Project: the Webcheck remix

Which companies did Afzal Amin intend to use for his various schemes? Here’s a rundown.

1) Curzon Education Ltd. This was formed on the 30th of July, 2013, as a company limited by guarantee (i.e. a nonprofit), by Afzal Amin as sole director. Its address is given as 1 VICTORIA SQUARE, BIRMINGHAM, B1 1BD, and its business is described as “educational support services”. It is active and filed a return on 10th November 2014, although not its accounts.

2) The Curzon Initiative Ltd, company number 08631604. This was formed on the 31st of July, 2013, as a private limited company (i.e. a commercial, profitmaking entity), with £10,000 founding capital, by Afzal Amin and Michelle Clayton. She is described as an education consultant, but quit the board in October 2013. However, the company didn’t get around to notifying Companies House until November 2014. This may not be surprising as it hasn’t filed its accounts either, which are now so overdue that it is threatened with being struck off the register. Its address is also given as 1 VICTORIA SQUARE, BIRMINGHAM, B1 1BD.

3) UKS3 Ltd. This was formed on the 11th of June, 2012, as a private limited company, with £10,000 capital, by Afzal Amin as sole director. It was also tardy, failing to file for 2012-2013 for a full 12 months until it was threatened with being struck off on the 10th of June, 2014, whereupon Amin rattled his dags, as the Aussies say, and filed on the 17th. Its business is described as “Management consultancy other than financial”. Its address is 3RD FLOOR, 207 REGENT STREET, LONDON, W1B 3HH, which it shares with no fewer than 5,282 other directors – that is to say, it’s a mail drop address. Google Street View shows it to be next door to a rather nice Italian caff I occasionally used when I worked around the corner in Mortimer Street.

4) Now this is distinctly odd. Birmingham has multiple Curzon Initiatives and they’re both in the education business. This one – company number 07163796 for the avoidance of confusion – was incorporated in February 2010, providing “Other educational services” from an address at 1022-1026 COVENTRY ROAD, HAYMILLS, BIRMINGHAM, WEST MIDLANDS, B25 8DP, before it moved to 1 VICTORIA SQUARE, BIRMINGHAM, WEST MIDLANDS, B1 1BD, the same address as the other Curzon Initiative, on the 17th of February, 2011. Not long after the move, it became tardy as well – it filed its accounts and return for 2010-2011 very late and never filed anything again, until it was struck-off on the 18th of June, 2013 after ignoring two warnings from Companies House, i.e. six weeks before the other Curzon Initiative stood up.

At the time of its demise, it had one director, Mr Mohammed Hanif. But it was not always so. Jahan Mahmood and Samir Rauf were also founding directors, but Mahmood quit after a month. Tassadduq Hussain Razzaq then joined, on the 22nd of April, 2010. He and Rauf would both quit on the 16th of November, 2011, just after it was threatened with being struck-off for the second time and was spurred into filing.

Would that be Jahan Mahmood, “former adviser to the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) in the Home Office” and “historian and former lecturer at the University of Birmingham, specialising in the martial traditions of Afghan and Pakistani diaspora communities”? I think it might, especially in the light of this:

In an email to a member of a military think tank, sent just after the attack on Lee Rigby in Woolwich in May, which he asked to be passed to General Sir David Richards, then Chief of the Defence Staff, Mr Mahmood said that he “can only hope” that the OSCT communicated his concerns “to army personnel”.

“Military thinktank”? Uh huh. This parliamentary report strongly suggests the whole “talks in schools about the Indian Army” scheme might have been his idea. They were quite…compelling, too.

In a community centre in the British Midlands, 12 teenage boys — all of south Asian descent — watch intently as Jahan Mahmood unzips a canvas bag and pulls out the dark, angular shape of a World War Two machine gun. He unfolds the tripod, places the unloaded weapon on a table and pulls back the cocking handle. The boys crane forward. Mahmood pulls the trigger; a sharp snap rings out.

As for Samir Rauf, is that the school governor who was either plotting to set up his own classroom caliphate, or smeared outrageously by Michael Gove, depending on who you believe? I rather think he might be.

Mr Razzaq is a little more complicated, due to variant spellings, but he seems to have been a director of….

5) Yet another Curzon entity, The Curzon Foundation Ltd, company number 07211459. This was set up on April Fools’ Day 2010, appropriately enough, and struck-off at its own request in November 2011. Its address was UNIT 5 HIGHGATE BUSINESS CENTRE, HIGHGATE ROAD, BIRMINGHAM, B12 8EA, which was also the final resting place of 07163796 above, and before that it was based at 1 Victoria Square. As well as Razzaq, it had another director, Mohammed Hanif, presumably the same man found in 07163796. You will not be surprised to know its filings were also late.

Razzaq seems to have been a director of Xpress Healthcare Ltd and possibly also Easy Lettings Ltd and a law firm, and maybe more. Alternatively it might be this guy who seems to be a property developer. (It’s always property developers.) I’m guessing he’s the money, as he doesn’t seem to be in the news ever.

You’ll notice that although there is a Foundation and Education and a couple of Initiatives, there is no Institute. Dan Davies points out on twitter that this is because calling yourself an Institute is illegal in itself.

A question, though? Is Mohammed Hanif the Mohammed Hanif who is a Labour councillor for Dudley? If so he’s got some explaining to do as his declaration of interests says nothing about them, but I think the councillor is this man and our Hanif is this one. There are plenty of options – drugs farmer is one, but he’s 52 and our man is 46. A Mohammed Hanif from Birmingham was a mortgage broker until he was banned in 2009 as a fraudster and tax-evader, which would be fun and might explain why none of these people manage to FILE THEIR DAMN ACCOUNTS on time. A man from Walsall who has been banned from operating buses. Here’s a LinkedIn profile for a Mohammed Hanif described as “Director, Operations for the Curzon Institute”, which is uninformative but does substantiate the link between this Curzon entity and Afzal Amin’s.

Or maybe Inspector Mohammed Hanif (Inspector and National coordinator of the Muslim Police Association)? I think we may have a winner, because he joined the force in 1992. If he’s our man he would have been 23, which is a sensible age for a probationer cop. Are cops allowed to have outside business interests?

And finally, perhaps convicted mortgage fraudster Stephen Yaxley-Lennon might not have been entirely honest with the Mail. Here’s the Dudley News from the 26th of February.

Afzal Amin, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Dudley North, added: “The event was very peaceful, it was the calmest EDL event I have ever seen.”

I bet it was. After all:

Chief Supt Johnson said the force did not organise the event but it was important to have “an element of control”. He said he understood why people were fearful but said he hoped the way the event was controlled would give residents the confidence to carry on as normal

That’s Chief Superintendent Chris Johnson, named in the Amin/SYL tapes. So Project Biryani really did go into action after all. And guess who else is here?

Councillor Mohammed Hanif also praised the police for the work they did before the event, reassuring the local Muslim community of what to expect on the day.

For it is he! I wonder if he’s related to the cop? Anyway, the Dudley News piece reminded me of this:

Because somebody has to stay in control…