The Plastic Hippo

July 7, 2012

Diamonds are forever

Filed under: Law,Politics,Society — theplastichippo @ 11:01 am

Just before the resignations of Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius, chief operating officer Jerry del Missier and then CEO Bob Diamond, Sir Mervyn King suggested that there is “something wrong” with the UK banking system. It is comforting to know that the Governor of the Bank of England is in procession of such remarkable powers of deduction.

Although it is tempting to do the Roman emperor joke, the Now Show on Radio 4 did it to death with the result that it is no longer funny. It`s probably best to stick to the joke about Marcus Aguis being back as Chairman of Barclays faster than you can say revolving door once shyster Diamond realised he was bang to rights. Aguis also resigned as Chairman of the British Bankers` Association, a body that collates the Libor information fraudulently manipulated by Barclays and, as is likely to become clear, lots and lots of other banks. It is comforting to know that it is not just the doors that revolve in UK banking, but fraud and some very dodgy dealing have a circular rotation with a turn of speed that is the envy of the Large Hadron Collider.

The rapid return of Aguis to the chairmanship of Barclays has been justified by claims that he is the best qualified to find a replacement for the departed Chief Executive Officer. Already, the Murdoch “a few bad apples” defence is being cited and the resignations of senior executives held up as examples of honourable men taking responsibility for the bad behaviour of underlings. A little bit like Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks then. Aguis talks of the hard work required to regain trust and urges restraint in launching a witch hunt. Perhaps Stephen Hester will become available for the Barclays job when the temporary computer glitch at RBS NatWest is finally resolved after three weeks and counting. Or even Sir Fred Goodwin; he`s not doing much at the moment. In the short term, however, Aguis is busy brokering the severance deal that will allow Diamond to walk away with an estimated £25million. It is comforting to know that crime doesn`t pay.

It is now blindingly obvious the financial services industry in the UK requires a root and branch investigation and regulation. This places the coalition government stuck in the revolving door trying to push their way out of the bank as angry shareholders and customers are trying to push their way into the bank to quickly withdraw their cash. For all the fine talk of the importance of stability and trust in order to reassure “the markets”, we can be confident that the bunch of crooks running British banks are just as corrupt as any other bunch of crooks illegally fixing “the markets”. It is comforting to know that the Chancellor wishes to protect the vast bonuses paid to bankers even as people with disabilities are taking their own lives after having state support removed.

Calls for a judicial inquiry into professional standards in the banking system caused hysterical shrieking on the Conservative benches and left the Chancellor looking more like dead meat road kill than his more usual rabbit in the headlights stance. Cameron and his chums realised some time ago that judicial inquiries are a very bad idea for a government that continually misleads parliament. Leveson might be a judge but under his terms of reference, he can only make recommendations. He will finally offer his report goodness knows when and then it will be up to the Met and the Crown Prosecution Service to decide on wrongdoing and the clear evidence of perjury given by the testament of witnesses under oath. Even if successful prosecutions are possible, the further investigations will take years and years and years.

In naked desperation, the Conservatives fought tooth and claw for a parliamentary investigation into the behaviour of the banks with Osborne in particular accusing Ed Balls of being implicit in the colossal scam. The entirely false accusations were quietly withdrawn after the vote to keep a million miles away from judges, QC`s and oaths taken on the Bible was carried helped along by spineless Liberal Democrats. So, second mortgage flippers, the cleaners of moats, the commissioners of duck houses and the recipients of lovely big dollops of cash from bankers will sit in judgement on bankers. It is comforting to know that the allegations by Cameron, Osborne and feral Conservatives are not considered serious enough to be repeated in front of a judge and so ministers will be spared the indignity of being forced to lie under oath.

With a finance bill due to be tabled in January based on the results of the Vickers Report, it is vital for the government that this latest unpleasantness is kicked as far into the long grass as is possible. The Serious Fraud Office was poked with a stick and 24 hours after the Osborne road kill was scraped off the tarmac and frisbeed into the undergrowth, a very brief statement told of a criminal inquiry into Libor fixing. SFO investigations can take between 18 months and two years before any charges can be considered and, given the complexity of fraud cases, can take an even longer period once brought before a court. The added bonus for those with something to hide is that the scope of the parliamentary treasury select committee investigation will be severely curtailed for fear of prejudicing an ongoing criminal investigation and any subsequent attempt at prosecution. By 2016, there will be a new parliament, public anger will be focussed elsewhere and the grass will have grown very, very long.

The treasury select committee is chaired by Andrew Tyrie, Conservative member for Chichester and former critic of Osborne`s economic policy. Tyrie received an apology from the BBC after they suggested that he was “nobbled” by notorious spin doctor Steve Hilton at the party conference in October 2011. After a quiet word, the Chancellor`s growth policy went from being “incoherent and inconsistent” to “welcomed”. The BBC was quite correct in apologising for such outrageous and obviously untrue allegations. Mr Hilton started a sabbatical away from advising government in May of this year. He is now in the US studying how government works.

Tyrie will be able to call all manner of the good and the great but after Bob Diamond ran rings around the treasury committee the day after he resigned and with a SFO investigation keeping the lid on things, it is unlikely that some rather dim MP`s will match the forensic skills of Lord Justice Leveson or Mr Robert Jay QC. No, it`s probably best to let the SFO spend four or five years dealing with something as plain as the nose on your face and allow the implicated to plead the usual financial privilege argument when asked a difficult question at select committee. Financial privilege allows ministers to remain silent when asked to explain their almighty cock-ups for fear of endangering the general public good and national interest.

In the 2011-2012 financial year, operating with an annual budget of £38.8million and a staff of 307, the SFO secured 38 convictions. The department is the responsibility of the current Attorney General, the Right Honourable Dominic Grieve QC and Conservative member for Beaconsfield. The Attorney General is an old boy of Colet Court preparatory school, the private school later attended by Chancellor Osborne. Millionaire Grieve went on to be educated at Westminster School, the private school later attended by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. It is comforting to know that an expensive private education has prepared these representatives for the arduous task of holding wealthy, privately educated bankers to account.

In the meantime, Bob Diamond is, as they say, laughing all the way to the bank.

July 3, 2012

A change of the guard

Filed under: Law,Politics,Society — theplastichippo @ 2:12 pm

Sir Denis O`Connor, Her Majesty`s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, has published a report that paints a gloomy picture for the future of law enforcement here in the UK. Sir Denis O`Connor will not be the head of HMIC for much longer.

Avuncular Sir Denis, who seems like a nice, sensible chap, has dared to suggest that a 20 per cent reduction in police funding and the consequent removal of a further 5,800 front line police officers might in some way, possibly, in a worst case scenario, in a less than perfect world, maybe, perhaps result in an increase in crime. There seems to be an absence of excrement my dear Mr Holmes. After taking a vow of silence following a judgement that found Home Secretary Teresa May guilty of contempt of court, it was left to Policing Minister Nick Herbert to make the utterly false claim that the government had increased the number of front line police officers. In fact, in the first year of the coalition`s rampage through public services, 6,012 front line officers lost their jobs and still the bulk of the cuts have yet to be implemented.
Sir Denis has said that given the level of “efficiency savings” required to pay for the bonuses awarded for criminal activity in the banking sector, the Lincolnshire and the Devon and Cornwall constabularies as well as that paragon of virtue that is the Metropolitan Police may not be able to provide a “sufficiently efficient or effective service”. Elementary, my dear Watson. When a Tory Home Secretary is heckled by serving police officers and is guilty of contempt, you know that something very strange is going down.

The haste of the government to do away with local police authorities and replace them with an individual police and crime commissioner is an indication of a more sinister and ulterior motive. In the increasingly surreal universe occupied by the avaricious nasties in Whitehall and Westminster, community accountability is regarded as an obstacle to “reform”, criticism is treason and objection is terrorism. In the warped world of the coalition, governance of the police service is best left to a chief constable and a single, politically motivated commissioner behind closed doors over a fine bottle of single malt well away from the prying eyes and ears of the irritating citizenry. Funny handshakes rolled up trousers and trebles all round.

Having fast tracked “elected” commissioners, the government is now forcing privatisation onto yet another public service. West Midlands Police and the Surrey constabulary are in negotiations with private companies in attempt to make profit out of law enforcement. The principle of a fellow citizen empowered with the responsibility to protect, serve and uphold the law on our behalf is now becoming as relevant and as quaintly amusing as the Keystone Cops.

With accountability and order gone, we come to the Winsor report. Tom Winsor is a lawyer who came to prominence due to his involvement with the privatisation of electricity supply in Northern Ireland and then the privatisation of the railways. He then became the Rail Regulator for Great Britain and regulated the shambles known as Railtrack. During his five year tenure as the railway watchdog, private rail companies made an awful lot of money and an awful lot of people died in train crashes at Ladbroke Grove, Hatfield, Selby, Potters Bar and Tebay. Given this impressive track record, and his role as a senior partner at the White and Case law practice that secured a £200million, ten year deal for G4S to privatise the aforementioned skint Lincolnshire constabulary, he is the obvious choice to review the terms and conditions of those that we trust to protect us.

Winsor has recommended compulsory redundancy, a reduction in starting salary for new officers, an increase in retirement age, rigid qualifications for applicants, direct entry of people without any experience of policing to senior positions and disciplinary action and dismissal for officers he considers to be too fat. More disturbingly, he talks of an “officer class” without experience of law enforcement to control policing from an overtly political agenda. It is doubtful that these recommendations will apply to the private companies currently tendering to take over the enforcement of law and order.

After already enduring a 20 per cent budget cut resulting in redundancy and a reduction in service, one might think that chief constables, senior officers and the humble foot soldier plods would be up in arms at such a blatantly political and money led attack on all that they, and us, hold dear. Sadly for them, the old bill is not allowed to comment on political issues and is not allowed to even consider industrial action.

Just to make sure that any possible dissent is stifled; our media savvy government has embarked on a campaign to rubbish the police. The ongoing Leveson inquiry continues to expose the Met as a viper`s nest of corruption, illegality and kebab eating. It is more than coincidence that the BBC was leaked Downing Street documents regarding the Hillsborough disaster on the very day that Winsor Two was published back in March. The families of the victims of that terrible day have waited 23 years for some semblance of truth surrounding police failure to avert the deaths and the cowardly attempt at a cover up. The lies peddled then to Prime Minister Thatcher by the long dead chief constable of Merseyside, Kenneth Oxford, prompted the disgusting Kelvin Mackenzie to publish the most disgraceful bile in the history of journalism. In desperation to deflect obvious blame, South Yorkshire Police were taking blood samples from corpses in a futile attempt to prove that dead supporters were drunk. The current chief constables of the Met, Merseyside and South Yorkshire cannot now offer any objections to Winsor`s proposals because the smears against the dead have now turned into smears against the police.

If the police are citizens in uniform, then they will obviously reflect the society that they police. In any street, village, town, city or work place, there will be corrupt, violent, racist, sexist, homophobic morons who pass themselves off as upstanding members of society. The same is true of the police and members of the houses of commons and lords. They are, thankfully, a minority and need to be crushed rather than promoted to positions of power. The coalition government, however, have different ideas and not just for the enforcement of law and order.

The appointment of Sir Michael Wilshaw as head of Ofsted, a Tory packed parliamentary committee to investigate the latest banking scandal that will gloss over the donations made to the Conservative Party by corrupt bankers and the appointment of a certain Naguib Kheraj as a non-executive member of the NHS Commissioning Board that is selling off health care to the likes of Branson and Serco, suggests that only the wealthy elite are considered as suitable characters to scrutinise the wealthy elite. Mr Kheraj is the current vice chairman of Barclays Bank plc. That`s not going to end well.

One can only hope that Sir Denis O`Connor enjoys his well deserved retirement. He is to be replaced as the Chief Inspector of Constabulary by none other than Tom Winsor. It would seem that to qualify as a gamekeeper, candidates no longer require any knowledge of poaching but must agree with the political views of the Lord of the estate and, if possible, donate a huge amount of cash to the Conservative Party.

Alimentary canal, my dear Watson.

July 1, 2012

The Great Chuckery Duck Rescue

Filed under: Walsall — theplastichippo @ 5:11 pm


The key factors in successful parenting involve a variety of skills and abilities as well as the capability to improvise. However, it said nothing about duck wrangling in the job description or person specification.

Proof reading and double checking a report to be presented at an impending meeting, a hammering on the front door revealed a distressed teenage daughter who was jabbering more incoherently than usual. On her way back from the shops, it seems she encountered some natural catastrophe, civil insurrection or possibly a plague of locusts and all efforts to persuade her to speak slowly and clearly had the opposite effect. The only understandable words to emerge from the shrieking cacophony were: “Dad, help, do something.” Now Dads are infallible, brave and omnipotent, so the report was abandoned and the alpha male hit the street ready to fight off Genghis Khan and all his marauding hoards, fascists, parking wardens, double glazing salesman and every inmate of the Jeremy Kyle Show. But, instead of head butting an incoming meteorite out of the way, this one man citizen`s army was confronted by a family of ducks.

If the years of quoting Shakespeare and Wittgenstein over the dinner table were to mean anything, Dad`s reputation as a smart arse would count for nothing if this lost Mallard Drake and her nine ducklings were not rescued and returned to their natural habitat. Now considerably less agitated due to the attention of an all powerful Dad, the eco warrior virago explained that the ducks were waddling down the middle of the road and were being narrowly missed by passing traffic. “Do something, Dad.” Jemima Puddleduck and her offspring had retreated to an alley to escape the onslaught offered by Dunlop, Michelin and Pirelli. It was probably unwise to mention that the alpha male`s only experience of dealing with ducks involved the words crispy and Hoisin sauce. Sometimes it is necessary to make your children cry.

A plan, however, was quickly formed. The hippo estate was roused and various fledglings rallied to the cause. It was clear that Jemima knew where she wanted to be and nothing was going to stop her leading her new born ducklings to the water in the Arboretum. A large cardboard box was fetched up and a runner was dispatched to try and locate a wildlife warden who do such remarkable work in Walsall`s finest asset. On a steep learning curve, a valuable lesson that should be passed on is that ducklings are not attracted by chocolate covered Hobnobs.

Our environmentalist endeavours soon attracted considerable attention both from neighbours and people passing by. The good people of Chuckery came out in force to protect and save this struggling mother and her children. The focus of the discussion was twofold: how to round the little buggers up and how to get them safely across the Broadway and into the Arbo. At this point, Jemima and her nine balls of fluff made a break for it. There can be nothing quite as funny as seeing rational, grown up people lying flat on the pavement and calling: “come here little duckling” into the space underneath a BMW.

What happened next compounded the surreal experience. A lovely woman came rushing down the street to join us. “Oh thank God”, she said, “they are safe.” It seems that she had driven past the associates of orange sauce an hour previously and at some distance away from the current duck rodeo. She then parked her car and undertook a search for the peripatetic wild fowl on foot. “Do we still have six chicks?” she asked. “No”, said the virago, “we have nine.” Quite how this duck managed to guide her ducklings across an urban landscape, crossing busy roads and avoiding the evil that is the domesticated cat is remarkable.

Drakes, it seems, build their nests away from the breeding grounds to avoid further attention from horny male ducks. The nests are usually made in an elevated position as protection against predators. Given the implacable logic of natural selection, if the hatchling is robust enough to survive the fall, it is strong enough to walk back to the water. “Quack”, said Jemima. Adopting an outrageous Belfast accent, I replied with “I`m going as quack as I can”. This seemed to amuse the children.

Eventually, we herded the ducklings into the cardboard box and a very noble man offered up his coat to cover the box to stop the little sods jumping out. Jemima Puddleduck at this point was furious, but not as furious as the man in the Range Rover when faced with a Dad on a mission stopping the traffic on Broadway North. This charming man shouted “f**king w***ker” as the box of ducklings was conveyed across the road near to the Park Tavern. Obviously distressed, Jemima took to wing and flew across the carriageway to be with her offspring and with perfect timing crapped all over the windscreen of Range Rover man. If only such serendipity could occur in fiction.

Reunited, the family waddled down the path towards the water with the tiny ducklings falling over each other as they attempted to keep up with Mum. As they approached the brook that runs through the Arboretum, the small crowd that had gathered to assist the rescue let out a relieved cheer. The moment of smug self satisfaction was, however, short lived. The brook, swollen with recent rain, was fast flowing and four of the weaker newborns had difficulty in swimming upstream. Disaster seemed an inevitability, forcing the alpha male Dad to leap into the raging torrent and scoop up the runts that were in danger of being swept away. Having gotten this far, they were not going to be abandoned now. Happily, they were moved to calmer waters and rejoined Jemima and their stronger siblings.

After a quick change of trousers, shoes and socks, the alpha male arrived late at the meeting. Instead of offering the usual excuses of cancelled trains, gridlocked traffic and the incompetence of subordinates, the truthful justification for a lack of punctuality probably had a detrimental effect on the gravitas of the carefully prepared and rather serious report.

“Sorry I`m late, I`ve been rounding up ducklings.”

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