Labour legislation: police, hunting, government agencies …

Labour legislates, then we try to work out what the law is

Boris burgled? Well, here is his description following a visit from the local wealth redistribution agency

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So you get back from that delightful Christmas break with the in-laws and the first sight to greet your jaundiced eyeballs as you turn the key in the lock is the smashed pane in the kitchen window; and just as your tired and crapulous brain is trying to work it out, you notice the gap on the shelf where the television used to be, and the straggle of possessions on the stairs.

Yup, you say to your loved one: whaddya know. It’s happened again. You’ve had a visit from the local wealth redistribution agency.

So you ring the police station to report this banal event and, whaddya know, they haven’t got enough manpower to attend the scene. No time to dust for fingerprints; no time to take your statement; no time to collar the local thugs who are almost certainly rejoicing in the possession of your laptop, laughing like hyenas at the embarrassing love scenes in your unfinished novel.

And why, you ask, choking, is no member of the constabulary able to come immediately to the scene of the felony? Well, dearie, says the lovely policewoman on the switchboard, they’re all off at the hunt, aren’t they?

I don’t know how many burglars are thinking of trying their luck over the New Year holiday, and I don’t want to encourage them, but it seems to me that in rural areas they will have an unrivalled opportunity. Not only will the British people be in their habitual state of hangover, but the poor old police force will be asked to cope with another colossal insurrection by what was once a quite innocent sector of society.

Continue reading Labour legislation: police, hunting, government agencies …

Columnist of the Year

The Daily Telegraph won two of the top accolades in the What the Papers Say awards, held in London on Friday 16th December.

Boris won Columnist of the Year. The judges said:

He shows great range and can write on anything. You read it not because you share his view, but because you want to hear what he has to say.

Jan Moir was named Feature Writer of the Year. The judges described her as ‘fantastic’, ‘entertaining’ and a ‘great critic’.

Welcome to The Spectator

Welcome to Doughty Street

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Boris takes his successor on a guided tour of the Spectator offices

It is an eternal and reassuring fact of human nature that when an editor announces that he is stepping down from a great publication, there is not the slightest interest in what he plans to do with his life, or even who he was.
I have received many phone calls from friends and colleagues since announcing last Friday that this would be my last edition, and they only want to know one thing. ‘Who is taking over?’
I wish I knew myself. But since the white smoke has yet to go up, I thought I had better write a general welcome to whoever you are out there. I propose to open the door of 56 Doughty Street and show you — not so much how it’s done — but where it’s done.
You arrive at a big black door in Holborn with a brass plaque, and after you have gained admission, you find a scene of domestic chaos, with dog leads, umbrellas, champagne and other impedimenta. Immediately beneath a sign saying ‘No Bicycles’ you will notice several bicycles.
You will dimly glimpse other offices ahead and to your left, the Books and Arts and Cartoon departments, bulging with the greatest talents in journalism. But if you are like me, you will be overcome with nerves and scoot straight upstairs for your office, on the first floor. As soon as you walk in, your heart will lift.

Continue reading Welcome to The Spectator

Charles Kennedy as the red squirrel of British Politics

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Only Charles Kennedy is capable of bubble-gumming this coalition together

Where would muddle-headed mugwumps be without Charlie?

In this season of goodwill and fellowship I am well aware, O kind and loyal readers, of the many calls there have already been on your charity, and I know how magnificently you respond. But I want today to draw your attention to the plight of a victim scarcely less deserving than the causes for which you recently rang The Daily Telegraph Christmas appeal.

He is far more winsome than the baby seals of the Canadian ice floes, with their voracious appetites for cod. He is more endangered than the Giant Panda, whose laid-back style he so brilliantly emulates. He is the red squirrel of British politics, a cheerful addition to a drab landscape, about to be ruthlessly extinguished by his grey-suited brethren.

Here he is, the fellow who actually increased the Lib Dems’ representation in the Commons at the last election, and he is the victim of brutal briefings by “unnamed” Liberal MPs. “Charlie’s gotta go,” say these nameless ones. “He’s in the last chance saloon,” they say, adding, “ho, ho.”

Why are they so nervous of naming themselves, these unnamed Liberal MPs? It’s not as though their names would be recognised by anyone else. The only distinctively named Lib Dem MP is my friend Lembit Opik, the brilliant asteroid spokesman, and he is one of the few to have had the guts to speak out for Charlie.

Continue reading Charles Kennedy as the red squirrel of British Politics

Boris and The Spectator

Press Release from The Spectator:

Statement by Boris Johnson, editor of The Spectator, on joining David Cameron’s shadow team:

This is a fantastic job [Shadow Minister for Higher Education] and I am thrilled to be given the chance to do it. It is also a very hard job to do properly. It will mean a lot of time and thought.

That is why I will be leaving the Spectator shortly after the Christmas edition has gone to press. Until a new editor is appointed, the magazine will be in the highly-capable hands of my colleague and deputy Stuart Reid.

I want to pay tribute to everyone at the magazine who has helped with its current success, in editorial, production and advertising. For the last six and a half years we have had more fun than seems altogether proper.

When Conrad Black gave me the editorship in the summer of 1999, he said he wanted the magazine to be more talked about. I believe we have discharged that obligation beyond his wildest dreams.

We have won all sorts of prizes. We have broken all sorts of stories.

This Christmas the circulation of the magazine stands at about 70,000, an all-time high.

I am also grateful to our proprietors, the Barclay family, and Andrew Neil, our chief executive, for their kindliness and support. But my particular thanks go to everyone at the Spectator, especially to Stuart Reid.

For most of my time here I have been propelled by their talents, as a fat German tourist may be transported by superior alpinists to the summit of Everest. I am completely confident that they will continue to expand and improve the oldest, best and best-written magazine in the English language.

Statement by Andrew Neil, Chief Executive of The Spectator:

Boris has been a wonderful and magnificent editor of The Spectator and we are sorry to lose him; in many ways he will be irreplaceable. But we wish him every success in his political career.

Boris leaves the magazine in better shape than it has ever been in its long and glorious history, both editorially and financially. Sales will hit a record 70,000 this December and the magazine has recorded another healthy profit in 2005. The editorial breadth and quality under his editorship has been unrivalled.

Though he is stepping down as editor I am delighted that Boris will continue to have a close association with The Spectator, including a new column for us in the New Year. As we begin the search for his replacement, I am also delighted that the magazine will be in the reliable and competent hands of Stuart Reid.

The Chancellor and the Class Divide

The poor are being robbed in Labour’s class war

I suppose as a politician you must get used to humbug, hypocrisy and sickening opportunism, but when Gordon Brown stood up and announced to the Labour Party conference that the chief defect of David Cameron, as Tory leader, was that he was “an old Etonian”, I am afraid I almost blew a gasket.

It’s not just that I, too, had the joy of attending the Fettes of England. It is not the sheer chippiness I resent. It is not his pathetic attempt to curry favour with his rank-and-file followers by making snide remarks about an opponent’s background, when he is himself the son of the manse and the beneficiary of one of the finest educations this country can provide, at one of its very poshest universities.

Continue reading The Chancellor and the Class Divide

Conservative Leadership

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*Announcement on Tuesday 6th December at 3.00pm*

The great debate on the Conservative leadership is still going strong! The most exhaustive, in depth, dynamic discussion of the battle for the toughest job in politics has now received over 600 comments – the blogosphere has never seen anything like this before!

But it’s not over yet! What do YOU think? The Boris Johnson office is listening! There’s still time to tell us…

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Mac’s insight into the leadership race:

There’s a hush in HQ, (for we all know the name),
Of the one who came first in this race.
They were still neck and neck as they came round the bend,
But one of them fell off the pace.
There was lots of good money we bet on these two;
And each trainer was true to his yard.
First one then the other seemed to ease to the front;
Changing odds made the bookies work hard.
The punters were all of a dither;
But it seems now the race has been won,
One fell behind , and could not make lost ground,
And the race is all dusted and done.
We’ve waited so long for this moment;
The counting of votes took an age,
But now that we have a new leader.
A new act will take centre stage.

Pensions Crisis

I’ll drink to a longer life, but I’m not sure how I’ll pay for it

If you are anything like me, you can’t help salivating when you walk past the glistening vitrines of the estate agents. Ooh yes, there it is, some hutch or hovel of exactly the kind you bought 10 years ago – and look at it now.

Listen to the breathless adjectives with which the realtors announce this “rare opportunity to purchase” some hopeless, sunless, gardenless dump. Hark at them raving about the outlook of the kitchen, when you know in your heart it has all the charm and amenity of Fred West’s cellar. Then look at the price, my dears. Look at those zeroes spooling across the page like a child blowing bubbles.

I know it is rude to discuss property prices, but this column has never been bashful, and I propose to give you the eye-popping history of the Johnson investments. In 1995 we bought a house worth x. About four years later we sold it for 2x, and bought a bigger house worth y. Unless the prices in the estate agents’ are wrong, it now appears to be worth 2y, or possibly even 2.1y, where y is already a pretty chunky sum.

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It is quite mad. It is not as if the people of the neighbourhood have all struck oil in the basement. It’s everywhere, this deep, dark love of inflation, not just in Henley-on-Thames, the hottest house-price hotspot in Britain, but across the country. An astonishing 70 per cent of British adults are owner-occupiers, and the result is that huge numbers of us have become hopelessly addicted to property porn. We drool over the leaflets shoved through our doors. We marvel that anyone can seriously ask that much for that shack down the road with the ulcerated stucco and the buddleia growing out of the architrave. Then we secretly pat ourselves on the back for being so smart as to invest in property; and we forget the wider consequences, not just for Britain, but also for ourselves.

The national obsession with house prices means that if there is the slightest tremor in the market, the press becomes almost unhinged with alarm; and it means the economy as a whole is steadily skewed out of shape. The total wealth of the British people is about £5,000 billion, of which £1,300 billion is in our funded pensions, and a stunning £2,500 billion – half the national wealth – is in the value of our houses net of mortgages; and over the past 20 years, that proportion has been growing, as the proportion of our wealth held in pensions has been shrinking.

Houses cost more and more; and for those who are not owner-occupiers, of course, the position becomes worse and worse. All MPs meet young people who are desperate to get on the property ladder, but who cannot afford it, and this is having a serious demographic impact. Every year from 1997 to 2003, the average age of first-time buyers increased. The longer couples have to wait to find a house, the longer they delay having children. The longer they delay having children, the fewer they have; and it is the general shortage of children that is at the heart of the pensions crisis.

An ever higher percentage of the population is now over 65, and an ever smaller percentage of the population is below 16, and that means, bluntly, that the dependency ratio is getting more and more alarming. As the century goes on, there will be a huge wedge of ageing baby-boomers depending on the graft, effort and taxes of a relatively diminishing number of young people. We baby-boomers fully intend to live longer and longer (I am told it is likely that thousands of us, in the 1964 baby boom, will live to see 2064, and I will certainly give it a shot with the help of my patent red-wine diet), and we will need more and more pension, and the decrepitude of our old age will be attended by ever more expensive NHS interventions.

There is only one way to change that dependency ratio, and that is for the women of Britain to punch out more babies. As is well known, the fertility of the average British woman hovers around 1.7, which is well below the rate of replenishment, and insofar as the British population is set to grow, it is entirely thanks to immigration.

All sorts of explanations are offered for the national baby famine. Traditionalists say it is to do with women’s lib, and girls thinking of their careers, and leaving it too late. At which point in the argument, the girls get very testy, and say it is all the fault of the young men these days, who are useless and reluctant to commit. I do not propose to enter that particular dispute. I merely wish to point out not just that the housing problem is also a deterrent to reproduction, but that the pensions crisis is related to the housing crisis.

What impression, all in all, do we take away from all these stories about pensions? That the pensions industry, public and private, is in a bit of a shambles; that schemes we hoped to rely on are worth a pitcher of warm spit. We know that Gordon Brown has inflicted disaster on private occupational pensions, robbing their funds of upwards of £5 billion a year to pay for his ballooning numbers of state sector pensions. We can see that the Government can’t even afford to fund these public sector pensions, and will shortly be forced to push up the age of retirement, even if it means a war with the unions.

Above all, we know that for a huge number of people, it hardly seems worth saving for their retirement, because if they do, they will find themselves penalised by the withdrawal of the means-tested benefits that are spreading ever upwards in the income groups. Young people realise that if they start saving now for their pension fund, they could end up with less than those who put nothing by; and that is among the reasons why the savings ratio in this country has fallen so fast. People look at all this pensions malarkey, they suck their teeth, and they decide that one way or another it is likely to be a rip-off.

Which is precisely why, as a nation, we pump ever more of our resources into houses. We have a touching belief that bricks and mortar cannot evaporate. That is among the reasons why house prices have tended to rise ever higher, with fewer and fewer people in them. Labour has made such a hash of things that an Englishman’s home is not only his castle, but his pension, too.