Tim Lang really is a ghastly little fascist, isn’t he?

The announcement by Tesco that it will cut the sugar content of its own-label soft drinks by 5% a year was rightly national news. Here was the purveyor of nigh on a third of the nation’s food openly promising a cut that will be barely noticed over time by consumers but will have a positive health impact. This makes public the strategy we call in policy “choice editing”, changing what the public consumes without it being too troubled. If implemented, it heralds the reduction of two teaspoons of sugar per cola can within four years, not to be sniffed at when obesity is seemingly out of control and soft drinks are such a significant factor. This is progress certainly, but not the big change needed; For that, we need industry-wide and national re-orientation involving new policies, firm regulation and tough reformulation standards plus a major cultural change in the consuming public.

New, firm, tough, and by the way, you, the public, you’re not worthy of us and you’re going to have to change too.

The Tesco decision reminds the new government that food and health is hot politics. Government would be ill-advised to see this as the “leave it to Tesco et al” strategy working, which has for too long been the default UK food policy loved by Labour and Tories alike, bowing before market logic, and reducing health to a companies and consumer dynamic. But not even mighty Tesco can sort out obesity. That would require a re-engineering of the entire food system which works hard to over-produce food, and flood markets with ever-cheaper salty, fatty, sugary non-food foods. We’d also need to build exercise into daily living, and curtail out of town supermarkets which can only be reached by gas-guzzling obesity-inducing car culture.

The reordering of society to the wishes of a monomaniac: sure looks fascist to me. It’s most certainly authoritarian, isn’t it?

Those of us active in this policy area (and I declare an interest as one of the “angry professors” who launched the “enough is enough” Action on Sugar campaign in January 2014),

Aka, yes, I know I’m a cunt.

Cola companies have been pushing sugar-free colas as their escape route from blame for decades, but these substitute high calorie sugar for artificial sweeteners, retaining consumers’ acceptance of sweetness as normal.

Can’t even get that right. The sweetners substitute for the sugar. And note the underlying demand there: you, you human beings, you like sweet stuff! Don’t! Because I say so! And, of course, I get to tell you so!

Tastebuds haven’t changed. The nightmare for Tesco would be if consumers simply switch brands, go to other supermarkets or even demand “bring back our sugary cokes” – hence the slow “below the radar” proposed changes. The public health case is simple: what’s needed is a population-wide shift, the gradual reduction of all sugars for everybody, and a reversal of the gradual sweetening of the world’s diet experienced over recent decades. Sugar is put into a vast range of food and drinks today, as is salt. Hence these two ingredients being targeted by public health advocates. They symbolise the world’s uptake of ever more processed, factory-made, instant satisfaction non-food foods and snacks, and the rise of the “permanently eating” culture among those populations who have access and can afford such products.

This is a war on modernity, isn’t it? First time the population has had enough food to be able to eat whatever whenever and we’ve some idiot standing on the tracks of progress shouting “Stop!”.

For government, the big problem is that sugar is but one strand of a UK food policy which has been fraying for years. The last Labour government received its wake-up call during the 2007-08 banking and commodity crisis, when global raw food prices doubled in months, as did oil, on which the much vaunted success of 20th century food policy depends. Oil = fertilisers + agrichemicals + petrol = labour reduction = cheaper mass food.

We don’t make fertilisers from oil, fuckwit. And that food price rise was because of biodiesel and corn ethanol.

What colour footie bags are these people going to march in?

Define “Tax Break”

Landlords enjoyed a record £14bn in tax breaks in 2013, according to figures revealing the expansion of the UK’s buy-to-let market in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

So, how are we going to define tax break here?

Possibly by taxing someone on the profits their business made, not their turnover?

Property owners, who can claim tax deductions for a wide range of expenses when they rent out homes, claimed £6.3bn in tax relief against the cost of mortgage interest alone in the 2012-13 financial year. The scale of the tax breaks was revealed by HM Revenue & Customs after a freedom of information request.

Yes, yes, that is how we’re going to do it.


Eric Clapton bootlegs

So, err, shush….but does anyone know where this is?

Early 90s, Clapton did the Albert Hall stuff that became 24 nights the album. And there was a night of pop or two, the new albums, there were a few nights of orchestral stuff (I think?) and there were a few nights of purely the blues. And I remember (because I taped it) that the blues night was broadcast on Radio 1.

And the final song was Further on up the Road (I think?). And I still think of that final solo as the finest piece of guitar work I’ve ever heard. But I can’t find the bugger to check my ageing memory.

It must be out there, Radio !? Live broadcast? The blues night, the last song.


Ah, the ancient rights of the freeborn Englishman

Yet in austerity Britain, children have been chucked to the bottom of the pile. They have been robbed of their rightful benefits. And the support they could once draw upon – everything from Sure Start centres to youth clubs to mental-health workers – has been hacked back.

Yes, Sure Start. Announced in 1998 and it’s still not certain that it has any notable effects either way. But, you know, the current generation of children will be absolutely crippled by the lack of something that we’re not sure does very much and which no previous generation of children had anyway.


The worst that anyone can really say is that the current government is reversing the last government’s spending on these things. That may or may not be a good or a bad idea. But it’s not Armaggeddon.

There ain’t no poverty no more

Given all this, how is it that so many pundits and charities talk about widespread poverty in Britain?

It dates back to 1962 and the annual conference of the British Sociological Association. Two Left-wing academics, Peter Townsend and Brian Abel-Smith, developed a new way of defining “poverty” based on the income level at which people were entitled to a payment called “supplementary benefit”. One person at the conference reported “a mood of conspiratorial excitement” about the idea of redefining poverty. These are her words, not mine, and they do seem revealing. It is as if some people on the Left were longing to find a way in which poverty had not been “conquered” as Barbara Castle had said. They had found a way in which it would always be possible to use the huge emotional power of the word.

The flurry of excitement about redefining poverty concluded with it being defined as 60 per cent of median incomes with adjustment for family size.

Only inequality….

Corruption? In The Russian Space Industry? My Word, However Could Anyone…

Think that could be true.

Russian officials have launched an investigation into one of Russia’s most important spaceship builders amid a multi-million pound corruption scandal engulfing the country’s troubled space industry.

The arrest of Dmitry Dyakonov, the director of a firm that provides legal services to the company that builds Russia’s famous Proton and Angara space rockets, followed accusations of misappropriation and embezzlement across the industry that could run into billions of pounds.

My dealings with them were a long time ago and fairly minor but you could see the way the system was moving. Bits and pieces of work were outsourced specifically so as to create the opportunity for a margin to be built in. For a time we organised the import of the rad hard processors they needed for rockets. Lost that to people who were willing to pad for that margin….

So, I have something in common with Il Pappa then

Pope Francis has revealed that he has not watched television for 25 years – not even the matches played by his beloved Buenos Aires football team.

The South American pontiff said he last switched on a TV in 1990 in an interview on Monday with an Argentinian newspaper.

After that he simply decided that “it was not for me”, he told La Voz del Pueblo.

Perhaps not 1990 and I do make it a religious habit (sorry) to watch the international rugby. But other than that, about right….

Complete bollocks

Lovers of olive oil could face the prospect of supplies of their favourite cooking oil being rationed, experts have warned.

For poor harvests in Spain and Italy have fuelled warnings from olive oil industry experts of a massive shortfall in supplies reaching the market, the latest research shows.

1) The damn things grow wild all around here. Come and pick your own: every village has a mill to make the oil for you. A hell of a lot of work for not much gain mind you…..

2) The price will rise, not rationing be instituted.

But why should they?

Fewer than half of elite universities in Britain are monitoring the extent of sexual violence against students.

Seven of the 24 Russell Group universities said they do not systematically record allegations of rapes, sexual assaults and sexual harassment, while a further seven record only some according to a series of freedom of information requests.

No, seriously, why should a university be keeping crime statistics?

Do we ask that a university keep stats on drunk and disorderly? Muggings? Robberies? Arson? Murder? Somewhere in that range is where all “sexual crimes” fall. From the drunken grope through to the rape. And ifr unis are not asked, nor expected, to keep the numbers on those other crimes, they rightly being a matter for the police, the CPS, the courts and the Home Office, then why are sexual crimes beng picked out as something different?

This may well be fair

Andy Burnham is claiming £17,000 a year in expenses to rent a flat in London despite owning a property in the capital.

The favourite to win the Labour leadership has been receiving £1,449.98 each month for a flat in Kennington, southeast London since July 2012.

Mr Burnham, the shadow health secretary, also gains an income from renting a nearby two-bedroom flat in Kilner House, near and Kennington.

Because yes, he does need to have somewhere in London (and he’s not being exactly extravagant about it). And now the taxpayer, rightly or wrongly, won’t pay the mortgage on hte place he bought to provide that place.

So in detail it’s reasonable enough. He needs a place in London, that’s a job requirement, at it’s going to cost 15k to 20k to prvide that. Fair that his employer, us, should cough up. But that doesn’t really matter. Because the average person is going to look at this and shout “That stinks!”. And that’s what matters in politics, isn’t it? Perceptions, not details nor even reality.

Well, I suppose this is better than 100,000 in the nail bars

“By our calculations there are around 3,000 Vietnamese children in the UK who are being used for profit by criminal gangs,” says Philip Ishola, former head of the UK’s Counter Human Trafficking Bureau.

I do not say that this is a good thing. But it’s certainly better than hte 100,000 number we’ve seen bandied about, isn’t it?

This still doesn’t ring true though:

Hien’s story is not unique. He is one of an estimated 3,000 Vietnamese children in forced labour in the UK, used for financial gain by criminal gangs running cannabis factories, nail bars, garment factories, brothels and private homes.

Brothels? The claim is now that there are children in brothels?

That’s not really the sort of thing that’s actually going to survive in a culture and country like Britain. Not at any scale at least.

Slavery is vile, child slavery also so. And while the numbers here are obviously too high if they are real, at least they’re at some sort of believable level rather than the exoitically ridiculous numbers we’ve been presented with in the past.

From Oz

It began in September last year, when the New South Wales branch of the RSPCA received a tip-off about the alleged mistreatment of sheep, including verbal abuse, that were being shorn at Boorungie Station, 130 kilometres from Broken Hill.

The complaint was lodged by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which had apparently obtained footage and testimony from an undercover operative working at the station.

Jeebus. Shearing time, bludger swears at sheep, this is abuse of animal rights.

Forgive me but there’s two Sheilahs who might benefit from a slight change of lifestyle I feel:

But Nicolah Donovan, president of Lawyers for Animals, said animals did understand.

“I think it is conceivable that verbal abuse of an extreme nature against an animal, whether it be human, sheep or otherwise, could constitute an act of violence,” she said.

“We have accepted that domestic violence can certainly be constituted by acts of extreme verbal abuse, particularly when the victim of the abuse is especially vulnerable – if they have a low fear threshold or they lack understanding that the verbal abuse isn’t going to proceed to a physical threat against them.

“This might be the case with children or farm animals, and the level of abuse needn’t be that extreme to cause that kind of fear in an animal.”

Lynda Stoner, CEO at Animal Liberation NSW, agreed.

She said animals did not need to understand language in order to comprehend that a human speaker was frustrated or angry.

“I’m not sure all animals can understand different dialects,” she said.

“I don’t think they’re getting the nuances someone is using.

“What they will be getting though is the threat inherent in the way that voice is used.

“I believe they can absolutely comprehend emotion.

“We all know that animals feel pain and suffering, we know animals remember what’s been done to them, and we know they can anticipate brutality if it’s come before.

“I don’t think that’s placing human emotions on animals. It’s simply that all animals, all species, are capable of feeling pleasure, pain, suffering and all those feelings we feel.”

Jesus honeys, get laid, have a drink or two. That someone said fuck in front of a sheep, even to one, just isn’t a big problem. At least this isn’t Wales where they do that, not say it, to the sheep.

Anyone else think we’re reaching the limits of first world problems?

My speech to the European Parliament (and Commission) on the British referendum

“Mr President, fellow members of this Parliament, our colleagues in the Commission and the various arms of the bureaucracy.

“We come to the subject of the upcoming referendum in my native Britain on whether that fine country should remain as part of this European Union or should leave. Many people have many different views on this important subject. I shall be doing my utmost to make sure that the vote is to leave this institution. This Parliament, this Commission, this bureaucracy: Britain should leave all behind.

“It is possible to provide detailed reasons for this conclusion. However, it’s not actually necessary for me to provide them here. For there’s one very simple, conclusive and over-riding reason for why I think Britain should leave.

“I don’t want my country to be run by you fuckers.

“Thank you for the ride and good bye.”

Ho hum, Johann Hari doesn’t change, does he?

The leopard is not changing his shorts:

At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was — at the same time as the Rat Park experiment — a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.

Stanton Peele was pointing this out 25 years ago. I read him pointing this out 20 years ago. Wonder if Hari mentions him in his new book? Be fun if he didn’t, wouldn’t it? And no, I’m not buying it to find out.

Hmm, according to search inside, he doesn’t. Now isn’t that lovely? Hmm, and hmm again.

I wonder what a detailed comparison would show us all. Of course, it could just be that search inside isn’t very accurate…..

A gain for politics, yes, but a loss for journalism?

There has been speculation that Balls, who has been a powerhouse at the top of Labour politics since he started working for Gordon Brown in 1994, could seek an early return to the Commons through a byelection, but Balls told the BBC he was not planning a return to parliament and that “outside of politics is where I am going next”.

He went on: “You never say never about anything, because who knows what’s going to happen, but the reality for me now is that I want to make a difference to the world outside of politics. That’s how I’m thinking about things. I’m not going to be dashing back.

“I’ve been thinking about and writing about economics for 20 years and there’s really big issues out there … is the financial system sound, the development challenge which is pushing migrants into Europe. These are things where, for the first time, there’s real time to stand back and think and write a bit. That’s what I’ll do.”