Monday, 21 September 2009

Kill the fatted sacrificial lamb

The Confused One is seeing just what sacrifices he can make in his spending plans. Given that the 'plans' resemble the agenda of an alcoholic out in Glasgow on a Saturday night, this will be difficult. Seems he has been watching the TV again - the words 'nothing ruled out' and 'nothing ruled in' have been used. Translated, that means that any form of treachery, back-stabbing and downright lying will all be considered if accompanied by suitably worded press releases that nothing will suffer.
What has confused me slightly is that if we can live with cuts to the monetary plans, why was the apparent excess ever written into the Budgets? It is not as if we were on the crest of a wave when the Chancellor last stood up and regaled us with his dream scenario. The sort of thing this is likely to bring about has been signalled by Balls - Balls the Minister that is, not balls the planning. He has been accused of making a U turn just six months after proclaiming that education would be ring-fenced against any cuts.
He said a £2bn saving could be achieved through merging comprehensive schools into "federations", with one overall head taking charge of up to six secondaries. Cutting the cost of heating, lighting and repairs to schools by 10 per cent could also save up to £800m a year, he said. Squeezing teachers' pay from 2011, and forcing schools to spend money in reserve are also part of the cost-cutting plan. Given the crap inspection reports that individual schools have received under 1 head per school, the idea of a part-time head is ludicrous. The new form of federation would require much cooperation from the teachers and he surely will not get that with his pay squeeze and rumours of 3,000 headcount reductions. This cess pit of industrial relations and planning will save £2 billion. He says. We are not told if the saving takes account of redundancy payments (if these even exist in the protected world of teachers) and works necessary to achieve the merging of comprehensives. I doubt it.

We are told that doomsday scenarios have been drawn up in several departments. The Department for Transport is vulnerable as it is planning big infrastructure projects, such as Crossrail and a new high-speed rail network. However, Lord Adonis remains committed to both projects and will fight to keep them.

Defence could also be hit hard. Both the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, and the Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, have already been summoned to Downing St to discuss their department's spending plans.

We live in an age where the number of zeroes in a cost figure does not seem to cause a great deal of concern or surprise. I was glancing through the weekend issue of thick papers and there were whole pages of homes for sale northwards of £1 million with a fair sprinkling of 2s and 3s in the millions section. The governmemt casually writes of billions; I even saw something about a trillion somewhere in a forecast. We are not going to get far in that sort of market with 2.5% off the rate of VAT.

We need a big fat sacrificial lamb. Sacrifice that and maybe our Lord will smile upon us. I see a couple of candidates. My one devoted reader will possibly be surprised when I reveal these as defence related. Only loosely defence related to be sure but from that area of the profit and loss account.

There is Trident. As presently constituted, it appears to be a a fearsome piece of kit - one would think that in relation to the days of MAD. a war winner on its own.
It is up for revision. Quite hefty revision it seems. What does not seem to have been visited with any great thoroughness is the requirement. "We have one that is tired. Must get a new one" may well have been OK a few months back but our financial world has changed. Clare Short may be a scary old biddy just waiting a Union card to open Macbeth but she is a lightening rod for opinions. She cautioned that a new system would make us a US poodle - maybe that is where Blair got the idea of being just that?

Britain will be tied to the US in world affairs for "decades to come" if Tony Blair pushes ahead with a decision to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system, his former cabinet colleague Clare Short has warned.

The former international development secretary was speaking at a meeting in the Commons at the launch of a campaign to stop the UK from committing itself to developing a new generation of nuclear weapons when Trident becomes obsolete. She said: "Replacing Trident will tie UK foreign policy to US policy for decades to come. It would prevent the UK from acting with others on global warming, poverty and conflict, and perpetuate our role as US poodle."

Although Trident's life could extend another 20 years, Mr Blair has insisted that a decision on whether to replace it must be made in the current parliament, because of the time involved in developing new nuclear weapons.

He has called for a consultation on the future of Britain's deterrent. But the budget for the Atomic Weapons Establishment, at Aldermaston, has been doubled to £1.5bn over the next three years, prompting suspicions that a decision to develop new weapons has been made. Officially, the increased spending is to make sure Trident is kept up to date.

Michael Meacher, the former environment minister, said: "It is highly questionable whether a non-independent British nuclear weapon still serves any useful purpose. "Replacing Trident would come at an estimated cost of £15bn to £25bn; surely this could be better spent elsewhere

The casual mention of some £25 billion was made in 2005. Given the way that costs go into orbit on defence matters, that must now be other other side of £60 billion.. Ultra tempes Ultre mores. The playing field has changed. Looking back a few years we saw what Cruise missiles can do with high explosive. As poodles, our masters would not permit any escalation into a nuclear scenario. Whilst statesmanship is now of a lesser quality, we saw what can be achieved when push came very near to shove over missiles in Cuba. A nuclear deterrent is a fine sounding thing. I think of the man who kept a dead cat in his bedroom in Surrey and explained it was there to keep tigers out of his bedroom. He justified the mouldering moggy on the grounds that he had never seen a tiger in his bedroom since he put it in place. Is there a remaining nuclear threat that demands a deterrent?

There other fatted calf that could be sacrificed is/are the two aircraft carriers. The situation here has been detailed far better than I can - follow this link if you are still with me. The boys in dark navy blue reckon they cannot serve their commitments without the carrier capability. Don't doubt it but has anyone revisited those commitments to see just how relevant they are in today's scheme of things. We hear that they were valuable assets in the Gulf. Valuable - yes. I question essential or were they used just because they were there. I go back to the Cruise missiles that came from a fleet of common or garden cruisers etc. As for the point that they serve as a air cover asset in Afghanistan? I do not know the range of a carrier-borne plane and just how much overhead time one has when it has flown in from sea side. Swift availability of that air asset is essential - we have seen the sort of losses that arise when helicopters are not promptly available or fast jet bomb runs are delayed.

We need to foresee changes in Rules of Engagement. Who knows what will come out of the sad case where the Germans authorised bombing of hijacked tankers surrounded by crowds of they knew not whom. Our enemies in sandy places are cynical enough to ensure they take a couple of women and a few kids on any attack so as to ensure that they will not come under fire on withdrawal. There is a Apache cockpit camera video where men quite clearly planting an IED lead charmed lives just because there is some kid loitering around. The protection carries on even when the kid joins the bombers and it was only the Will of Allah that brought things to a head when the device exploded prematurely. Restrictions on action where there might be civilian collateral deaths are an important part of the new COIN policies. Do we really need £40+ billion Tridents to deal with this.

Those two projects, if scrapped, would give Nero Brown a handy saving and not make a real change to the price of fish as things are today or foreseen in the future. The gallant heads at MOD could languish in the sun of his thanks and the real needs - helicopters, feet on the ground, medical back-up, you name it - protected from the petty and spiteful restrictions they currently suffer.