An Inquiry in Name Only

In June last year, after the Grenfell Tower fire, I wrote:

I was just a kid in the 1980s when we had that seemingly endless series of disasters: Piper Alpha, the Herald of Free Enterprise, the King’s Cross fire, the Marchioness, the Clapham Junction rail crash. These were catastrophes of enormous consequence with all the emotional and human aspects of the Grenfell Tower fire, yet we did not see third-world style mobs whipping up anger and making ludicrous demands, nor perpetual adolescents demanding the government be replaced by one headed by a bunch who’d just lost an election. Sensible heads prevailed, inquests were held, genuine lessons were learned, and the rules changed so they didn’t happen again. In those days the adults were in charge.

Yesterday I read this:

Relatives of all 72 victims will be given the chance to commemorate loved ones during the [Grenfell Tower fire] inquiry.

The inquiry will look into all the deaths – including one victim who died in January, having been in hospital since the blaze.

Five others were remembered on the inquiry’s first day, which began with a 72-second silence in memory of those who died.

They include artist Khadija Saye and her mother Mary Mendy, Denis Murphy, Joseph Daniels and Mohamed Neda.

I don’t see anything wrong with taking a few minutes to reflect on the dead at the opening of an inquiry into a disaster such as this. But once those few minutes have passed, the cold, impersonal business of finding out what happened, how it happened, and why should commence free of emotions and political posturing. Is that occurring now? No it’s not, and it looks as though it’s more soap opera than inquiry:

Families are being given as long as they want to tell the inquiry about their loved ones through a mixture of words, pictures and videos.

Survivor accounts are important as they can provide key details such as how fast the fire spread, and what difficulties they faced in evacuating. Also, the correspondence between the residents and housing association will be vital to the inquiry. But talking about loved ones with pictures and videos without limit? Is this an inquiry interested in discerning facts, or a memorial service?

What’s happened is obvious: an entire industry has sprung up around the Grenfell Tower fire with the dual purpose of securing public monies for key individuals and furthering their political aims. They have managed to gatecrash what should be a sober, professional inquiry and turn it into a grieving session after which no doubt they’ll put considerable pressure on investigators to point the finger at their opponents, i.e. the Tories and any company with deep pockets. They’ve been allowed to do this because the political classes no longer have the personal courage to face down a baying mob of chancers and insist on due process being followed.

Given that Sadiq Khan is in charge of London and Theresa May in charge of the whole country, it’s hardly surprising we’re no longer capable of holding an inquiry into a disaster without the whole thing turning into a circus. We really are missing some adults, aren’t we?


Drought Ended

I’ve written before (here and here) about the parlous state of Australian rugby union. On Saturday the Waratahs beat the Highlanders 41-12 ending a run of 40 straight defeats for Australian teams against New Zealand opposition. The last time they secured a win over their trans-Tasman rivals was in May 2016, almost 2 years ago. At the international level, Australia haven’t won the Bledisloe Cup since 2002.

With France in their second or third generation of consistently underperforming and England having a lousy Six Nations championship in 2018, the Rugby World Cup is in danger of becoming as much a farce as it’s rugby league equivalent if this keeps up.


Scottish Stupidity

This amused me:

The Scottish Parliament has become the latest building to introduce free sanitary products for all staff and visitors.

The move follows concern over the accessibility and affordability of tampons and towels.

The decision from the all-party Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body means free sanitary products will be available in all 42 women’s toilets.

It was hailed as a “win for gender equality” by MSP Kezia Dugdale.

The cost of providing the free sanitary products is expected to be between £2,000 and £3,000 a year.

Ms Dugdale, who is a member of the corporate body, said women often found it difficult to access sanitary products during the working day.

Basically, the taxpayer is subsidising the grocery shopping of those who work in the Scottish Parliament, most of whom will be rather handsomely paid in comparison with said taxpayer. For instance, the annual salary of an MSP such as Kezia Dugdale is over £62k per year (.pdf); the median wage in Scotland is just over £23k.

This isn’t the first time a government policy has been aimed at subsidising the lifestyles of the wealthy middle classes (which coincidentally includes those making the policy) at the expense of the poor. In fact, it pretty much defines most policies these days.

Despite half of the population experiencing menstruation at some point, very few workplaces have taken steps to become period-friendly and that’s why I’m pleased the Scottish Parliament is leading by example.

Many of those women experiencing menstruation will be poor, single mothers who don’t work at or visit the Scottish parliament, and who no doubt struggle to purchase groceries thanks to their taxes being frittered away by grifters in Holyrood.

Her Labour colleague, Monica Lennon, is bringing forward a member’s bill to create a statutory duty for free provision of sanitary products.

Ms Lennon also welcomed the move and called on other parliaments, buildings and employers to take similar action.

It’s not just the economics that are stupid here. I can guarantee that within a very short period (ahem), these free sanitary products will be snaffled in bulk, leaving none available or costing a fortune to replace. You cannot leave boxes of sanitary pads and tampons lying around in a staff toilet any more than you can install a machine on the street which dispenses cans of Coke for free. Perhaps this would work in Japan, maybe in a select few other countries, but the UK isn’t among them. And what’s amusing is you can be damned sure the sort of women who will fill their handbags with these items for use at home, thus wrecking the system, will be the right-on lefties who dreamed it up in the first place. Modern lefties always strike me as the sort who’d steal the sugar sachets from Little Chef while lecturing the rest of us on how selfish we are.


The Downside of Diversity Quotas

There’s a row going on in South Africa between a black former rugby player, Ashwin Willemse, and two white former players Nick Mallett and Naas Botha. The video in the link shows Willemse objecting strongly to suggestions from the other two that he was a “quota player” during a post-match discussion on the South African Supersports channel. He then walks off the stage, saying he refuses to be criticised by people who played in the apartheid era. There was obviously a build-up to this which the public hasn’t yet seen, and without knowing what’s been said by whom it’s difficult to say if Willemse is overreacting or not.

Naturally, this being the modern South Africa, people have leaped in on both sides even if they couldn’t have named a single Springbok player before last weekend. Given this is all happening 23 years after Nelson Mandela famously handed the Webb Ellis trophy to Francois Pienaar while wearing the Springbok jersey, it’s rather depressing. Fans and pundits always have idiots among them, but I’d have hoped former players would have the sense not to bring race into any discussion on South African rugby, especially on television.

However, my main point is that this is a good demonstration of how damaging diversity quotas are. I don’t know if Ashwin Willemse was selected to the Springboks on merit (I never saw him play) but the fact that quotas for black players existed leaves the door wide open for people to accuse him of being a quota player. And no matter how good the player is, there will always be some who think they were only picked because they were black. I’m sure there are people out there insane enough to think Bryan Habana was only picked because he was black; the problem with quotas is nobody knows for sure who is there on merit and who is there to make up numbers, and it hands ammunition to the group’s enemies. As I said in this post:

The real losers from affirmative action policies aimed at helping minorities is not people who fall outside the designated groups but genuinely competent minorities who not only have to sit alongside less-capable colleagues of the same sex or skin colour, but now have their own competencies called into question.

As Ashwin Willemse is finding out, this question mark can hang over their heads for a long time indeed. I suspect we’re going to have a lot of highly capable women in the corporate world retiring in frustration after never having quite convinced everyone they were there on merit. This is what happens when you select some who aren’t.


Meghan Markle’s Future

I didn’t watch the Royal Wedding yesterday simply because there was rugby on, and it would take more than a grand pageant to stop me watching the Canterbury Crusaders in top form.

That said, it was impossible to avoid the coverage in one form or another – even the French guys I play bluegrass with on Saturday afternoons asked me about it – and it looked as though it went well. At least the weather was good, which is always a bonus in Britain. What I found particularly annoying is the degree to which certain commentators elevated the importance of Meghan Markle’s race. If the media hadn’t told me, and then not shut up about it for months, I would never have guessed she was the daughter of a black mother and white father:

To me, she looks as much Spanish, or Italian, or Lebanese as mixed-race American. Her mother simply looks like someone you’d see shopping in Marks & Spencers in Croydon, so why anyone should think her race is even worth mentioning I don’t know. Actually, I do: it’s because some people think race is the be-all and end-all (e.g. David Lammy, Katie Hopkins), and others simply took the opportunity to virtue-signal, rubbing people’s nose in the subject of immigration:

A British royal marrying an American divorcee? Why, how very post-war! The fact so many high-profile people attempted to make political hay out of Prince Harry marrying a mixed-race woman is an indicator we’re not in the post-race Britain the marriage itself suggests.

I do think Markle’s going to be trouble though, and not because of her ethnicity. It’s not even so much that she’s American, an actress, and divorced either. The biggest problem is that she’s not from royalty. Farmers’ sons tend to marry farmers’ daughters because farming is a unique way of life which beings with it many obligations on the part of the farmer’s wife. For instance, a farmer’s wife would usually be required to assist heavily with the lambing, among other things. If you haven’t grown up in this environment it can be too much for an outsider to bear, and it’s the same thing with the royals. They didn’t intermarry just to keep the peace between warring houses or to preserve ancient bloodlines, they married their own kind because they understood the rules of the peculiar life they lead. Princess Diana struggled with the obligations of being a prominent member of the royal family, and she was hardly from peasant stock. Sarah Ferguson failed at it miserably. Kate Middleton seems to be doing a good job, but all that shows is it’s not impossible. It is very difficult, though.

As one of my correspondents said this morning:

My guess is that she isn’t going to be happy just opening libraries in Lewisham all day.

I suspect she’s going to use her position to get involved with “good causes” which inevitably will be highly political in nature. Something a lot of do-gooders don’t realise is that almost all good causes are political because they involve either legislation or taxpayer funds to achieve a particular outcome, and there are trade-offs. The royal family has generally managed to avoid drifting into the political sphere by selecting activities which are low-key, e.g. the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, which teaches kids how to erect a tent and stay dry when camping in Britain. However, Prince Charles, with his blathering about GM food and population control, is straying dangerously off the reservation. His ex-wife’s campaign to ban landmines was in my opinion disastrous for the image of the royal family, as was all her campaigning. We have enough campaigns for muddle-headed progressive causes funded by taxpayer cash as it is; indeed it seems nowadays every root and branch of government does little other than campaign from a position of complete ignorance. Add to that the number of millionaire celebrities who enjoy telling us oiks how to live, and we must ask if really need a woke princess joining in the chorus. As many people have pointed out, the continuation of the monarchy depends not on them getting down wiv da masses to show us how normal they are, but the exact opposite: retaining a lofty, detached, and somewhat abstract existence which sets them apart from us. William and Harry have already dented their symbolic status through clumsy attempts to connect with ordinary people, and a Duchess of Sussex who sounds like she’s reading from The Huffington Post might tip things over the edge.

People will think I’m awfully misogynistic and probably racist for saying this, but Mehgan Markle’s success in both her marriage and role as a royal will depend heavily on her keeping her trap shut. Does she look like the sort of person to do so? Not really. So here’s my prediction. Within a short time she’s going to get herself neck-deep in controversy following an ill-judged remark which she thought was helpful, but in fact rubbed salt into wounds she didn’t know existed. Faced with a social media backlash, she’ll adopt a sassy fuck-you-I’ll-say-what-I-want attitude which will have tattooed, purple haired feminists cheering her in The Guardian and everyone else wishing she’d been turned back at Heathrow in May 2018. A huge rift will open up within the palace, and the royal family will be fortunate if the only casualty is Harry and Meghan’s marriage.

In the spirit of Britishness I shall wish them luck, but it will take a lot more than that.


A Test of One’s Character

Okay, it’s a Friday morning so rather than be a smart-arse about something in the news I’ll instead tell a story.

Back in 2001 or 2002 a friend taught me three chords on a guitar – sufficient for a full career in most genres – and I decided I wanted to learn. To that end I borrowed a classical guitar from my father, then later bought a cheapish Yamaha acoustic, on which I practiced chords. I realised the best way to maintain motivation was to learn one or two songs all the way through and sing along, so that it at least becomes fun. Within a few months I learned two songs – The Carter Family’s Wildwood Flower, and Charlie Feathers’ Man in Love – and played them to death. Gradually I added to what could loosely be called my repertoire, and in August 2003 I moved to Kuwait for the best part of a year where I had very little to do other than surf the internet, read books – and play the guitar. It was during this period I got the hang of the chord shapes, but never really learned to strum, and was mainly playing an approximation of a Carter Scratch style.

In June 2004 I moved to Dubai for 2 years, and for long periods my guitar would turn into an ornament, resting untouched in the corner of my living room. But there were still occasions when I’d practice, and I was still enjoying the odd session of playing and singing when I moved to Sakhalin in September 2006. I played a fair bit there, trying to improve, and learning a lot more songs. By now I was hooked on bluegrass, a genre I’d gotten into in Kuwait after falling in love with the soundtrack to the film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? which spurned a revival in old-time and bluegrass music worldwide.

My position in Sakhalin was a bit of an awkward one: I was 29 years old and the General Manager of a company which had a thousand men on site an hour’s drive away, a few dozen of whom were grizzled expats, mostly Brits. To say they were not overly impressed with this inexperienced yet noisy young man swanning around in a comfy office in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the regional capital, while they toiled away at useful work in the mud, snow, and ice on site went without saying. I made things worse by, on my first night, unintentionally blanking one of the site supervisors, a man by the name of Rick. Rick was a Londoner in his forties, a proper swaggering cockney who was powerfully built and had a tongue sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel. If there was a derogatory remark to be made, an opportunity to take the piss, or a joke to be cracked, Rick was on it in a flash. Rick came to the swift and early conclusion that I was a bellend, but fortunately I spent so little time on site in the first year it didn’t really matter.

However, at some point I started interacting more with the site team and, because I respected them and was prepared to listen and ask nicely for things, they were never openly hostile and within a short time actually quite liked me (although I don’t think they ever changed their opinion that I was an office-based loafer). Rick used to take the piss mercilessly, but having been at boarding school, served as an army cadet, hung around Royal Marines, worked on a Manchester building site, and grown up the youngest of four siblings this was like water off a duck’s back. In truth I found it amusing, and it’s better than being ignored.

Around Christmas 2007 some of the attractive young Sakhalin Energy employees decided they were going to recreate Calendar Girls by making a calendar of 12 of them semi-naked. The middle-aged working class blokes in my outfit decided they’d do the same thing, with echoes of The Full Monty. To this end they asked that I take the photos (they knew I had a decent camera) so we all met on a snowy hill overlooking the construction site. Each bloke stripped naked and struck a silly pose, covering their meat and two veg with some object or other. What it lacked in elegance and eroticism it more than made up for in terms of team-bonding, and the entire process was absolutely hilarious. When all 12 men had been photographed, one of them said: “Oy Tim, now it’s your turn. Get yer kit off and stand over there, we’ve all done it.” I’d get naked for fun on the Underground at rush-hour (did I mention I’d hung out with Royal Marines?) so I did what was asked and joined in the fun. I can’t remember who took the photo, but Rick thought it would be highly amusing to lock my clothes in his car. There I was, in minus twelve, bollock naked except for a hat, with my clothes locked in the car and Rick and the others rolling in the snow laughing. Unfortunately for Rick, he’d left his work gloves on the bonnet: lovely, new, fur-lined calfskin work gloves his wife had given him as a present. Seeking shelter for my important parts, I stuffed them into one of Ricks’s gloves and proceeded to strut around. This had two effects: it made everyone laugh even louder, and Rick to unlock the car door. I think he threw the gloves away.

Anyway, by the next summer I’d become pretty good friends with Rick, who was by then living in a company-built house on the edge of town. One Sunday afternoon I was round his place when I saw he had a guitar, so I picked it up and started playing whatever I knew. Rick had just started learning and was happy to find someone else who played, and suggested the next Saturday I bring my guitar around and we could jam together. He suggested he invite a couple of the Filipinos from site, who were wonderful musicians, order some pizzas, and make an evening of it. I liked the sound of this, so agreed. But the following Wednesday I got a call from Rick.

“Tim my old son, things are getting out of hand,” he said. “I’m having to turn people away.”

“Turn people away?” I said. “From what?”

“Timmy Unplugged, of course! Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten! So many people want to hear your concert I’m running out of space. I might have to start selling tickets!”

Rick had stitched me up like a kipper, and told the entire site team that I would be putting on a guitar show for them at his house. Now by this stage I knew a few songs, but the downside was they were as obscure as they come and nobody would know them. This might help mask a poor peformance, but nobody would be able to sing along and help me out. I’d be on my own. The other, much greater, problem was that I was absolute shite. Despite the amount I’d played I could not strum or pick very well, nor sing. I had no natural talent whatsoever and what meagre progress I’d made was a result of sheer bloody-mindedness. Believe me when I tell you I sounded absolutely awful, cringeingly-so, like something you’d see at a junior school talent contest where participation was obligatory. Now everyone on site knew this because Rick had told them, which is precisely why they wanted to come. This would be a chance to see someone make an utter fool of himself. Bear in mind all but three of these guys lived in huts on site in the middle of nowhere, so any opportunity to come into town, drink, and have fun was seized upon.

I thought about pulling out, but decided I couldn’t, something to do with pride and tackling a problem head-on. I turned up at Rick’s house on the Saturday evening to find it absolutely packed, basically the whole site team from supervisor upwards. All the expats from the office in town were there as well, basically everyone in the company who knew me. As I walked in an almighty roar went up, and everyone started slapping me on the back. I put my guitar in an upstairs bedroom and spent the next hour drinking in the kitchen and living room with everyone else. As time went by I hoped maybe everyone would forget about my playing and just enjoy the party, but before too long one of the supervisors said “C’mon Tim, time to get the show started, don’t you think?” Everyone within earshot roared their approval, and I trudged up the stairs to fetch my guitar. I sat on one of the beds, shaking with nerves, trying to remember what I would play and how. Within a minute a loud, synchronised thumping came from below, followed by chanting: “Timmy! Timmy! Timmy!” Then I heard Rick below out: “He’s getting into his stage clothes!” followed by a gale of laughter.

I grabbed my guitar and went downstairs, greeted by a deafening roar. Everyone was packed into the kitchen cheek by jowl, leaving a tiny space at the foot of the stairs in which sat a single, solitary, empty chair. I sat down, and the place fell absolutely silent. And I started to play.

And boy, it was awful. Charlie Feathers’ Man in Love, picked with shaking fingers, sung in a flat voice while looking at the guitar strings. But when I finished, everyone cheered so hard the roof threatened to come off. “More!” they cried. I did six songs in total, each with missed notes, buzzing strings, trembling voice, and forgotten lyrics. Nobody cared, they loved it. This was real entertainment! After each song they cheered, and after the final number someone thrust a drink into my hand, and the party continued as before. Throughout the night a steady stream of people came up to me individually and whispered words to the effect of:

“Well done Tim, I can’t believe you actually did that. You didn’t let Rick get the better of you, good on you. I couldn’t have done something like that, no way.”

I never did become a true part of the site team, but after that night they always made me feel welcome. Looking back, it was one of my proudest moments.


Template Matched

Via reader Fay, a story of a woman in her late thirties looking for love:

Nearly three decades later—even though my career as a UN aid worker had seen me bounce all around the world and have all sorts of trysts—I was yet to meet this fictional man. And yet, thanks to my over-active imagination, he’d amassed an ever-growing list of wonderful qualities.

Where-oh-where was this romantic man, this tall and intelligent Indiana Jones, who also happened to be funny, clean, gainfully employed, multilingual, emotionally astute and incredibly deep? An old soul who exuded confidence, honesty and patience, and didn’t feel an iota of insecurity around a woman who had likely travelled more than he had?

Him? He got married while you were gallivanting around the world with the UN having “all sorts of trysts”.

I’d looked for him in bars, in airport lounges, at second hand book shops. I went on blind dates, where my anxiety over my apparently dwindling marriageability and fertility led me to trying to talk myself into suitors who I would never have considered a decade earlier.

Well yes, that dating pool does tend to dry up, just as Grandma warned. So she gave up, but what to do instead? Emphasis is mine:

Once I made the decision to end the punitive (not to mention addictive) search for romantic love, once I decided that I was enough on my own, everything shifted.

My soul-searching took me deep into the wilderness, from meditating and studying Ayurveda at an ashram in Kerala, to working on a farm on Mount Etna, to going on a solo-safari in southern Tanzania.

During that time, I focused my time and energy on, well, me, developing a heightened sense of self-awareness. Stepping away from the demands of modern city living and social pressure to couple up induced a total spiritual transformation – a journey on which I decided to give myself permission to pursue happiness and meaning in nontraditional ways.

As I said a few weeks ago:

For most people, “travelling” – as opposed to simply going on holiday – is something you do in your twenties before settling down into a proper job and/or family life. But for single women, it’s something they do well into middle-age and perhaps beyond, usually going to exotic locations where they talk in lofty terms about spirituality. There must be a pretty big market for this: reasonably wealthy women who have nothing else to do during their annual holidays but jet off somewhere exotic for a few weeks or months of “finding themselves”. I don’t think they’re going abroad to get laid, but they do seem a bit lost, as if going to a nice location will help fill the gigantic hole in their lives back home.

I’ve noticed you don’t see many middle-aged men going “travelling”, it’s nearly always women, and always alone.

Heh. On several occasions I’ve had women like this yell “You don’t know me!” when I’ve given them a brief, unsolicited assessment of their life situation. Alas, it seems I do. Fortunately, in this case there’s a happy ending:

We need to be enough on our own, and to realise that in the end, we’re never alone if we are connected to the deepest part of ourselves. That’s why at the end of my journey, I married myself – on a beach in Zanzibar, of course.

Which just leaves one question: tabby, Siamese, or tortoiseshell?


Collateral Damage

Back in January I wrote a post on the demise of Carillion, which generated so many good comments underneath it I wrote a follow-up post to discuss the points raised further. Of particular note was the fact that Carillion was notoriously bad at paying its suppliers and subcontractors, who were about to get clobbered. As regular commenter Bardon predicted:

The tragedy here will be all the competent subcontractor/suppliers that have been providing good services that simply will not be paid or at best get pennies in the pound for their debt in two to three years if they can survive that long. Just imagine that you have been strung along by Carillion and are now in 90 day arrears, had put in your December claim, paid all your staff and your suppliers including Christmas holidays and finding this out. And that is how it tends to go down.

This morning I read this:

Self-employed suppliers were among those most harmed by what a new joint report from two Commons Committees calls ‘recklessness, hubris and greed’ at Carillion.

Carillion was well known for its poor payment practices, extending its supplier payment period to 120 days despite signing up to the Government’s Prompt Payment Code. As the report notes, although it relied on its often self-employed suppliers, Carillion ‘treated them with contempt. Late payments, the routine quibbling of invoices, and extended delays across reporting periods were company policy.’

IPSE is calling on the Government to help stop this malpractice by expanding the powers of the Small Business Commissioner to include fining habitual late payers.

Self-employed suppliers will also lose significant income from the collapse of Carillion. The new report reveals that the company ‘owed around £2 billion to its 30,000 suppliers, sub-contractors and other short-term creditors’. They will get little back from the liquidation.

They don’t call him Bardon Soothsayer for nothing, you know? So what to do?

IPSE is calling on the Government to ensure self-employed workers cannot suffer from such a corporate catastrophe again.

Dave Jackson, Chair of IPSE’s Construction Advisory Committee commented: “If one good thing can come out of this review into Carillion, it needs to be better payment terms for those on public contracts.  Waiting up to five months to be paid impacts on everyone in the supply chain and is felt directly in the pockets of the freelance builders. The government needs to take action now and deliver on shorter payment periods on their contracts.”

Simon McVicker, IPSE’s Director of Policy, commented:“Carillion’s treatment of self-employed and other suppliers was nothing less than a disgrace. The company’s poor payment practices have even left many self-employed people out of pocket long after its collapse. At IPSE, we wholeheartedly back the report’s calls for urgent action to stop this ever happening again.

In the comments of my follow-up post, Bardon had this to say:

Australia has very effective laws to stop clients stuffing around with payment. Once an invoice is raised the client has two weeks to advise in writing on any deduction and reason to the claimed amount. The supplier then has two weeks to dispute the deduction by lodging a fast track adjudication. It takes a few days for an adjudicator to be appointed and both parties submit within two weeks. The adjudicator decides on the matter in say two weeks, based on the submissions and costs, the decision are binding on each party. I have used it a number of times and found it very effective, low cost and fast and haven’t lost one yet. The big guys are scared of it as the decisions are on the public record and it has stopped the whole scam of holding out on payment until the other party goes bust. It is a common threat that we use as well as long as you know what you are doing and dont submit spurious claims it is a fair system.

Will the UK adopt something similar? Probably not, in all honesty. The sorts of spivs who run outfits like Carillion have close, personal ties with the political classes, and if anyone is relying on the current Conservative party to pass sensible legislation to help independent suppliers deal with sprawling behemoths who boast of working “in partnership” with government, God help them. With their endless regulations and insanely bureaucratic outsourcing policies, governments are largely responsible for creating companies like Carillion and encouraging their behaviour in the first place; the government is therefore unlikely to step in and provide a solution now.

Instead, small, independent suppliers need to get smarter. It’s usually been the case that big companies dictate payment terms (and everything else) to their suppliers, who just have to accept them. The mentality in big companies has always been that contractors are desperate for the work and if they refuse to buckle under, they’ll just find another and there are always plenty more. However, I think as professionalism, competence, and delivery shifts from large companies to small suppliers, the latter are going to have more leverage than in previous eras.

In this new economy, it’s going to be imperative that small contractors can pick and choose the work they know will pay, and turn down jobs they know won’t. This is easier said than done of course, and all independent contractors dream of getting their first major contract with a big player especially if they have families to feed and bills to pay, but they’re going to have to get smarter if their clients are like Carillion. I once worked for a service-provider who refused to do lump-sum work for Korean companies because they simply wouldn’t pay. If the aim of the business is to make money, it is imperative you walk away from jobs which don’t. Another option is to insist on time-reimbursable work, or up-front payments, but this must be backed by a willingness to walk off the job if the client doesn’t pay the invoices on time. Naturally, the client will squeal and talk of blacklists, but in practice this rarely happens. I once had an absolute cretin of a manager who loudly told everyone he’d make sure I’d never work in the oil industry again. He seriously thought this sprawling global industry filled with charlatans, incompetents, serial liars, chancers, grifters, and arse-lickers was going to listen to what one man had to say about another. Unless you’re in an extremely niche industry with a small global footprint, you’re unlikely to find yourself frozen out for insisting a client sticks to the terms of the contract. And if are, then you ought to be hedging against this happening on every contract.

One obvious approach for small contractors is to keep their overheads very low, enabling them to go through lean periods. Another is for individuals to diversify their income sources, perhaps using the same skills but in different industries, so if there is no work in one area you can still be productive in another. There are obvious practical difficulties with this, but then there are practical difficulties with your client going bankrupt leaving you a hundred grand out of pocket, too.

Whatever the case, as these giant corporations become ever-more dysfunctional and prone to sudden collapse, the small fish feeding off them are going to have to get smarter. They should start by being more careful who they work for, and under what terms.


Sabotage as Standard Practice

Again via Phil B, who appears to be angling for a coveted Research Assistant position, is this link to a manual written by the US office of strategic services in 1944 advising people how to bring occupied Europe to a grinding halt. Phil B says:

It seems to have been discovered by the HR and Managerial types as a template for good management practices, not as a way of destroying an organisation.

Is he right? Have a look at Section 11 which deals with the “General Interference with Organizations and Production” and judge for yourselves:

(a) Organizations and Conferences (1) Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.

(2) Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.

(3) When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five.

(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.

(5) Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.

(6) Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.

(7) Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.

(8) Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

At this point my jaw is on the floor at how well this describes major oil companies. Numbers 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8 are hard-wired into temployees and management within weeks of joining.

(10) To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.

Which neatly describes career progression in a modern organisation.

(11) Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.

A practice perfected by governments everywhere. Climate change jamborees, anyone?

(12) Multiply paper work in plausible ways.

(13) Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.

(14) Apply all regulations to the last letter.

Any budding saboteur would have his work cut out finding departments of a modern government where this behaviour was not already obligatory.

(1) Work slowly. Think out ways to increase the number of movements necessary on your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one, try to make a small wrench do when a big one is necessary, use little force where considerable force is needed, and so on.

(2) Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can: when changing the material on which you are working, as you would on a lathe or punch, take needless time to do it. If you are cutting, shaping or doing other measured work, measure dimensions twice as often as you need to. When you go to the lavatory, spend a longer time there than is necessary.

Forget tools so that you will have to go back after them.

Are they describing sabotage techniques, or the local council?

(8) If possible, join or help organize a group for presenting employee problems to the management. See that the procedures adopted are as inconvenient as possible for the management, involving the presence of a large number of employees at each presentation, entailing more than one meeting for each grievance, bringing up problems which are largely imaginary, and so on.

Deployment of these techniques was so successful in occupied France they forgot to abandon them when the war ended.

(b) Report imaginary spies or danger to the Gestapo or police.

Such as Nazi pugs?

(c) Act stupid.


(d) Be as irritable and quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble.

To be fair, I do the first half of this. I’m not so good at the second part, though.

(i) Cry and sob hysterically at every occasion, especially when confronted by government clerks.

…and demand safe spaces.

So who’s responsible for handing this to governments and organisations and telling them it represents best practices? If it was the Soviets, I’m going to credit them with winning the Cold War hands down.


Hidden Purposes

Yesterday two stories were brought to my attention, which share a connection. Here’s the first:

All new police officers in England and Wales will have to be educated to degree level from 2020, the College of Policing has announced.

It said the training would help address changes in crime-fighting.

Prospective officers can either complete a three-year “degree apprenticeship”, a postgraduate conversion course or a degree.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said the changes would “help modernise the service”.

Many people are unhappy with this, saying it will remove yet another formerly respected career path for the working classes. They are probably right, but this is a feature not a bug. As I wrote here, New Labour and their successors made it central policy to get more women into the professional workforce, and for more people to go to university. Well, a generation later we now have lots of middle class graduates, but what are we supposed to do with them? A sizeable chunk will have graduated with liberal arts or other degrees which are near-worthless to an employer, yet these people have been sold the lie they can expect professional employment anyway. One answer is to stuff them into state institutions and provide them with what passes for a career, sitting in pointless meetings, dreaming up rules, and shoving paper around, and that’s what’s happened. Eventually the institution in question will become little more than an employment scheme providing what is effectively welfare to the dim but entitled middle classes, its core function forgotten. I’ve provided plenty of examples in support of my opinion that the British police long ago stopped being police in the commonly-understood meaning of the word, and this latest announcement is fully consistent with that. Consider this statement:

The college’s Chief Constable Alex Marshall said the feeling was the nature of police work has changed significantly and officers were just as likely to be “patrolling online” as on the street.

“Cyber-enabled crime has increased,” he said, “So has the need for officers and staff to investigate and gather intelligence online and via information technology.”

He also said protecting vulnerable people has become a “high priority”, with officers now spending more of their time working to prevent domestic abuse, monitor high-risk sex offenders and protect at-risk children.

Even investigating a pub fight – which used to mean interviewing the victim, perpetrator and the bar staff – now also extends to researching videos, pictures and comments published online.

You don’t need a degree to be able to research videos, pictures, and comments online. Nor do you need one to work with vulnerable people. What this is about is shifting police work from the wet, windy streets to comfortable chairs in front of computers in air-conditioned offices – the type of job the government promised graduates with worthless degrees from mediocre universities. Also, I am sure it is no coincidence that this shift is occurring a few years after the police made considerable efforts to recruit more women, and made policing an attractive career choice for young mothers. It is a lot easier to comprehend this latest move if you understand what the British police is actually for.

Here’s the second story, provided by Phil B in the comments:

Germany’s armed forces are suffering from severe shortages of weapons and equipment that put the country’s ability to meet its Nato commitments in doubt, a parliamentary watchdog warned yesterday.

The German military is “not equipped to meet the tasks before it”, Hans-Peter Bartels, the parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces said as he presented his annual report.

Operational readiness is “dangerously low” and the country’s ability to take over a frontline Nato taskforce next year must now be “in question”, he warned.

The current purpose of the German army is not to defend Germany from outside attack or to fight anywhere. It could be argued that until 2011 it was a way of deferring university or employment for young men by making them do national service, but nowadays it doesn’t even do that. Its true purpose can be divined from these two paragraphs, though:

The hard-hitting report was seen as a direct attack on the current defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, who is said to be unpopular with troops.

Ms von der Leyen has presided over a series of shortage scandals during her time at the defence ministry, at the same time as introducing initiatives such as creches and flexible working hours for soldiers.

So it’s basically an employment scheme for the progressive middle classes, much like the British police. Last November I wrote this about the US army:

In part, the purpose of the military is to serve as a vehicle (one of many) for progressives to enact their deranged fantasies as part of an overall aim of undermining society and the institutions on which it depends as far as possible.

I don’t know if this applies to the Germany army – is it even possible to make German institutions more progressive so they can undermine the country further? – but it certainly applies to the British police. So there’s it’s other purpose.

Does the BBC story make a little more sense now?