People are very wrong about Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn Global Justice NowI was speaking to a Conservative party activist of my acquaintance a couple of weeks ago. He was rubbing his hands with the thought of Jeremy Corbyn being the new front-runner to lead the Labour party. Listening to the comment on Sky News this morning, it’s now being considered a foregone conclusion, with supporters of the other three candidates putting on a brave face and deflecting questions along the lines of “Will Labour ever be electable with Corbyn in charge”?

Early on in the campaign, Tony Blair put the problem rather well – if the public had rejected Ed Milliband’s Labour party because it was too left-wing, why would they prefer an even more left-wing party lead by Corbyn?

They’re all missing the point (no surprise where Blair is concerned). Given the right circumstances the British Public will definitely vote for a left-wing nut job with a deluded grasp of economics and a track record of courting publicity using international untouchables. London voted for Ken Livingstone. Twice. In spite of the consequences. Not because they approved of his policies (or even understood them), but because he was likeable, and because he was the person most likely to annoy the incumbent government in Westminster at the time.

Jeremy Corbyn has a very good chance of winning the Labour Leadership for the same reasons as Livingstone managed to cling on to power. Whilst I disagree with his economics, foreign policy and most of the other stuff he espouses, I get the feeling he’s a nice guy personally – I’d prefer to spend my time with him than any of his New Labour opponents.

Will this be enough to carry him to the job of Prime Minister in 2020? Flying in the face of the rest of the world, it seems, I have to say its possible. This is not a good thing. It might be fun, but the matter is too serious.

Labour’s enemies stuffing ballots with £3 votes should be very careful what they wish for.

Tristram Hunt, Education and New Labour Posh Boys

New Labour posh boy Ed Milliband (Corpus Christi and Oxford) must be so busy worrying about his position that he’s left New Labour posh boy Tristrum Hunt (University College School and Cambridge) to talk about a subject neither can conceivably know about from experience – state education. The latter’s only qualification in this respect is that the former made him Shadow Education Secretary.

I’ve got nothing against so-called Posh Boys, but they shouldn’t speak about matters they don’t understand, and I’ve just been listening to Tristrum Hunt on Today talking about how private schools (which he should know all about) will be forced to provide services to the local state sector – in particular lend their superior teaching staff to local state schools. I wonder how state school teachers feel about this assessment of their relative merit?

I’d also be interested to know whether he and millionaire Milliband had properly checked this with their Trade Union Paymasters. You see the teaching trade unions are currently mounting a campaign against the use of unqualified teachers. “You can’t let unqualified teachers teach our kids!” seems to be the general emotive argument for this closed-shop arrangement. And it sounds reasonable until you consider where teachers might come from. Either they train and obtain the necessary paperwork immediately following their own education, or they have a career, gain life experience and then convert to teaching later in life based on enthusiasm and aptitude.

In spite of government initiatives to attract more experienced people into the “profession”, it’s an up-hill struggle to obtain the paperwork mid-life. We’re talking about scientists and engineers here. Who can afford to take a huge drop income while training once you’re married with responsibilities?

There is an answer, however – the private sector. There it’s up to the head teacher to select teachers on merit, not paperwork. Good teachers need communication skills, a good knowledge of their subject and a transferable enthusiasm to pass it on. They don’t need paperwork.

So what are Ed Milliband and Tristrum Hunt thinking? Have they realised that the NUT is wrong, and this is an attempt to smuggle good “unqualified” teachers in to state classrooms by the back door? Or did they just not think it through?

Incidentally, I don’t share Milliband and Hunt’s assessment that state school teachers need help from the private sector, nor that career teachers are poorer than those bought in from industry, although life experience and hands-on knowledge is definitely an advantage when it comes to engineering and other real-world skills. State school teachers know a lot about education, which isn’t to be underestimated. And private schools have good and bad teachers, just like everywhere else.

People like me already volunteer to help out in state schools out of a desire to spread knowledge and experience to the next generation. In the state sector, however, the NUT has seen to it that we can only be “teaching assistents”; but we do it for the next generation – not the state.

David Cameron on Google Porn

I’ve been watching with dismay David Cameron’s statements on the Andrew Marr show at the weekend; he’s attacked Google and other big companies for not blocking illegal pornography. Let’s be clear: Google et al, already do, as far as is possible. The Prime Minister is simply playing politics, and in doing so is exposing his complete lack of understanding about matters technological and social.

It’s not just the coalition government; Edward Miliband trumped him in stupidity by saying that the proposed plans “didn’t go far enough”, which is his usual unthinking response to anything announced by the government that’s might be popular.

Cameron’s latest announcement is to force ISPs to turn on “no porn” filters for all households (optionally removed, so it’s not State censorship). I’d be fascinated to hear him explain how such a filter could possibly work, but as my understanding of quantum mathematics isn’t that good it I may yet be convinced. Don’t hold your breath waiting.

The majority of the population won’t be able to understand why this is technical nonsense, so let’s look at it from the social point-of-view. People using the Internet to distribute child-abuse images do not put them on web sites indexed by Google. If Google finds any, they will remove them from search results and tell the police, as would everyone else. Paedophiles simply don’t operate in the open – why would they? They’re engaged in a criminal activity and don’t want to be caught, and therefore use hidden parts of the Internet to communicate, and not web sites found by Google!

Examining the illegal drugs trade is a useful model. It’s against the law, harmful and regarded as “a bad thing” by the overwhelming majority. The police and border security spend a lot of time and money tackling it, but the demand remains and criminal gangs are happy to supply that demand. So how successful has 100 years of prohibition been? Totally ineffective, by any metric. With 80% of the prison population on drugs IN PRISON it should be obvious that criminals will continue to supply drugs under any circumstances, if there’s a demand. If anything, proscribing drugs has made it more difficult to deal with the collateral effects by making the trade and users much more difficult to track.

So, if we can’t stop drugs (a physical item) getting in to prisons (presumably amongst most secure buildings in the country) , does anyone seriously think it’s possible to beat the criminals and prevent illegal porn being transmitted electronically to millions of homes across  the country? David Cameron’s advisors don’t appear to have been able get him to understand this point.

Another interesting question is whether I should opt to have the porn filter removed from my connection. The only way such a filter could possibly be effective is if it banned everything on its creation, and then only allowed what was proven safe through. There are generally considered to be over 500 million web sites out there, with 20,000 being added every month. That’s sites; not individual pages. The subset that can realistically be examined and monitored to make sure they are safe is going to be quite small, and as a security researcher, I need to retrieve everything. So am I going to have to ‘phone my ISP and say “yes please, want to look at porn”? Actually, that won’t be a problem for me because I am my own ISP. The government doesn’t even know I exist; there is no register of ISPs (or even a definition of the term). There are probably tens of thousands in the country. So I shall await a call from Mr Cameron’s office with a full technical explanation of this filtering  scheme with interest.

Fortunately for the Prime Minister, his live speech on the subject scheduled for 11am has been displaced by a load of royal reporters standing outside a hospital and Buckingham Palace saying “no news yet” on the supposed imminent arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child.


Edward Miliband in confusion over tax

Edward Miliband had just announced he’s going to restore the 10p rate of Income Tax if anyone is stupid enough to vote for him. Interesting. He’s going to pay for it with a divisively-named “Mansion Tax” on properties worth more than £2M. This may be appealing for the numerically challenged, but does it makes sense? What are the figures  The BBC is reporting this kind of stuff without bothering to work it out.

First off, how many houses are worth more than £2M? No one really knows, but according to the Land Registry, 1,620 houses worth £2M+ were sold in 2012. Let’s say they change hands every ten years on average, so there are about 16,000. I don’t know if this is the correct figure, but hacks reporting the story aren’t even asking the this question.

How much did it cost when Gordon Brown scrapped the 10p rate of income tax?  Apparently it raised £3.5B. I’ve seen 7Bn bandied about, but £3.5Bn was the figure Alistair Darling was working with (according to reports in the Guardian at the time). So that works out at £218K tax a year per £2M house in the country. That’s more than 10% of the value of the asset. It’s not that difficult for someone in London to end up living in a £2M house but to otherwise be of limited wealth; it’s their house not their income. They certainly won’t be earning the kind of money to pay such a huge levy – they could very well be pensioners, albeit likely to have a relatively good private pension. But not that good!

So the arithmetic doesn’t work; is anything else thought through?

In Bradford today, Miliband said: “We would put right a mistake made by Gordon Brown and the last Labour government.”

Funny that. In 2008 he said of abolishing  the 10p rate, “When you make a big set of changes in the tax system, some people do lose out. That is a matter of regret. Of course it is. But overall these changes make the tax system fairer.”

So having a 10p rate of tax is unfair? Taxing an asset value is certainly unfair.  Today he’s proposed to do both.

And that’s before you start looking at the practicalities – who knows the value of a property? A lot of it is already owned by overseas companies in order to avoid disproportionate taxation anyway.



A large minority of the UK population isn’t going to be at all surprised to hear horse DNA has been found in processed meat products – they’re already vegetarian/vegan or at a minimum, they choose organic meat products. The remainder either don’t know, or don’t want know. Either way, with the information on how animals are farmed widely available, I haven’t got a lot of sympathy with their current predicament.

But if you’re going to eat processed meat products, what’s so bad about horse? I’ve just been listening to an American campaigner on the radio warning that people go around the US buying old nags at auction and shipping them to Europe for food – horses that were probably pets (or from his soap-box, a race horse) and treated with drugs you wouldn’t give a farm animal such as phenylbutazone. He was particularly keen on mentioning this. Look it up – it’s an anti-inflammatory drug also given to people with arthritis and similar problems. It has side effects, including some rare but serious ones. Okay, so you wouldn’t want to dose anyone without good reason, but to get a dose from eating horse meat you’d have to literally eat the whole horse. And that would be one dose. I’m sure he was really motivated by the “horses are pets and we shouldn’t eat pets” attitude, but the BBC didn’t question his motivation at all.

So am I saying it’s okay to eat horses with phenylbutazone in their system? Well I wouldn’t eat it, but I wouldn’t eat any farmed meat, which is chocked full of legally introduced medication and kept, killed and processed in decidedly worrying conditions. Horses with shots of bute are no different to me. Think about it – if you don’t even know what species the meat is, you certainly can’t say much about where it came from. Actually finding a bit of horse in a beefburger sample changes nothing – it’s always been dodgy.

One thing you can probably say for certain is that New Labour and news media will be whipping up a bit of hysteria about this. They did it with the BSE crisis in the 1990s – remember that? Thousands will die due to eating disease contaminated meat? Of course it didn’t happen. They did it again when in power, in an over-reaction to Foot and Mouth, presumably to prevent the Conservative opposition playing the same trick on them. This is going to run and run (it’s bound to turn up everywhere following the inevitable further tests that are doubtless being considered right now).

If what’s in your meat worries you, become vegan (dairy products and eggs aren’t clean either). Otherwise, be aware that the meat processing business is pretty grim with this kind of thing going on behind the scenes all the time – and live with it. Can we have some real news now?

Don’t use your real birthday on web sites

You’d have to be completely crazy to enter your name, address and date-of-birth when registering on a web site if you had any inkling of the security implications. Put simply, these are security questions commonly used by your bank and you really don’t want such information falling in to the wrong hands. So, security-savvy people use a fake DOB on different web sites. If you want to play fair with a site that’s asking this for demographic research, use approximately the correct year by all means, but don’t give them you mother’s real maiden name or anything else used by banks or government agencies to verify your identity, or the criminals will end up using it for their own purposes (i.e. emptying your bank account).

That banks, or anyone else, use personal details that can be uncovered with a bit of research at the public record office is a worry in itself. It’s only a minor hindrance to fraudulent criminals unless you provide random strings and insist to your bank that your father married a Miss Iyklandhqys. The bank might get uppity about it, but they should be more interested in security than genealogy.

This common knowledge, and common sense advice was repeated by civil servant from the Cabinet Office called Andy Smith at the Parliament and the Internet Conference at Portcullis House a few days ago. I’ve never met him, but he seems to have a better grasp of security than most of the government and civil service.

Enter Ms Goodman – Labour MP for Bishop Auckland. She heard this and declared his advice as “totally outrageous”, and went on to say that “I was genuinely shocked that a public official could say such a thing.”

I wish I was genuinely shocked at the dangerous ignorance of many MPs, but I can’t say that I am. Her political masters (New Labour) haven’t acted nearly quickly enough to suppress this foolish person. In her defence, she used the context that people used anonymous account to bully others. This doesn’t bear any scrutiny at all.

When are we going to find a politician with the faintest clue about how cyber security works? The fact that this ignoramus hasn’t disappeared under a barrage of criticism suggests that this isn’t an isolated problem – they’re all as culpable. Her biography shows just how qualified she is to talk about cyber security (or life outside of the Westminster bubble). I’ve no idea what she’s like as a person or MP, but a security expert she isn’t.

I do hope they listen to Andy Smith.


Universities have bogus students shock

I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in [this casino]! (Captain Renault, Casablanca, 1942)

The UK Border Agency has finally acted to revoke London Metropolitan University’s “Highly Trusted Sponsor” status, which allowed them to grant student visas.

This is very tough luck on the genuine foreign students that happened to be doing a course there when the music stopped, and my sympathies are with them. But this system has been living on borrowed time for far too long. As far as I can make out, London Met is no better or worse than any others, and according to staff there who I’d tend to trust, has actually tightened up considerably after the first complaints and is probably less deserving of a foreclosure than most. There but for the grace of God go all the others.

Back in the late 1990’s the then New Labour government decided that everyone should have the chance to get a university education, so created a lot more university places by creating a lot more universities (and introduced student loans and tuition fees to pay for it). The snag is that tuition fees don’t cover the cost and the new universities don’t have their own income, so the only way to expand and prosper is to attract foreign students, whom you can charge what you like. Other than academic integrity, commercially:

  • There is no incentive to ensure that the students are pre-qualified (or even speak enough English to cope).
  • There is no incentive to ensure that students would benefit from the course.
  • There is no incentive to ensure standards are maintained (if you fail too many, they’ll go elsewhere).
  • There is no incentive to ensure that student’s paperwork is genuine.
  • There is no incentive to ensure that students actually attend the course.
  • There is an incentive to keep quiet, because there are academic jobs are on the line.

With a system where every incentive is to create abuses such as this, who can be surprised when they happen. Don’t forget, these universities are run as businesses with business managers – they’re not run by the academic staff.

I’d be very surprised if London Met was the only university to receive this attention in due course. It’s not that anyone deliberately set out to pull a fast one, but if the incentives are stacked the way they are then you’re going to get a culture of looking the other way.

The Border’s Agency investigation found that in a sample of 250 students at London Met, 25% had no valid visa, 56% had “attendance problems”, and 40% couldn’t speak English well enough to do such a course. But the same system also encourages universities to sign up domestic students and not fail too many, as this is the basis on which they’re funded. They’re paid for each student who completes the course (a lesser amount if they drop out), and students make a terrible fuss if they fail to pass and tell all their friends to avoid the place, reducing intake. If  standards are ever questioned, you’ll find plenty of academics willing to appear on camera to say otherwise, and what else could they do if they want to maintain the status quo (i.e. their jobs). But the incentive is to push standards lower.

It’s very frustrating for those working in higher education for fight against this tide, and ultimately it’s doing the country no good. It’s described as a great export earner – do we really want to be exporters of dodgy degrees? The UK Border Agency’s move is a good first step to stop the rot, but it seems to me that London Met is the scapegoat and what’s really needed is a good long look at the whole system starting at the top. This correct course of action isn’t likely to be a vote-winner with the students.


Government’s red-herring email law

The government (UK) launched a red herring at the Internet today, and the news media has lapped it up. “We’re brining in a new law to allow security services to monitor email and other Internet traffic.” This is actually referring to the fact of the communication; not its content.

The TV news has subsequently been filled with earnest spokespersons from civil liberties groups decrying the worst Big Bother laws since New Labour got the boot – anything to get their silly mugs in front of a camera. Great news drama – the Conservatives moving over to the dark side.

Wake up people! What they’re proposing is just not possible. Blair already tried it in a fanfare of announcements and publicity, but anyone who knows anything about how email and the Internet function can tell you that it’s not even technically possible on so many levels.

1) Email does not necessarily use an ISP’s mail server or web mail service. Home users probably do; any company or organisation will most likely use their own. If anyone wanted to avoid snooping, they would too.

2) Users of commercial mail services are anonymous if they want to be. With a few minutes effort it’s possible to hide your IP address, or use an untraceable random one, and there’s no other trail leading back to an individual. The international criminals being targeted will know the tricks, for sure.

3) The security services already have the powers to do this, and do use them.

4) If the ISP is outside the UK, then what?

When the Blair government announced something similar I had to write to the government department concerned asking for the details. I heard about it from the general news. Apparently I, as an ISP, needed to keep records for a year – but records of what, exactly? They didn’t contact me to warn me it was happening; they can’t as there is no register of ISPs. There’s no definition of what counts as an ISP either. And needless to say, the government department concerned didn’t write back with the details.

So why is the current government making this announcement about an announcement now? Could they be wanting to change the news agenda? As usual they can rely on the media types to completely miss the fact it’s nonsense. Eventually the BBC got Andrew Mars on to comment, but I suspect his interview snippet was severely edited to suit their agenda.

Phone hacking gets serious

A committee of MPs are currently grilling the management of News International trying to find someone to blame for the ‘phone “hacking” scandal. It has to be someone convenient; definitely not the people who are actually responsible. That’d lose them votes. This is because those ultimately responsible are the readers of the tabloid newspapers with their insatiable appetite for the personal details of anyone famous, or in the news.

Readers of the Daily Mirror and the Sun/News of the Screws are mostly to blame, together with the Daily Mail, Express and “celebrity” magazines. They’re creating the demand; the publishers are in business to satisfy a demand. This isn’t to say I approve of the business – the cult of celebrity is one of the most rotten things about modern society – but blaming those making a living by never underestimating the public’s bad taste is like condemning a lion for eating an antelope. The tabloids are profitable; proper newspapers are a money pit.

But the politicians don’t want to blame the tabloid readers (aka most of the electorate), and neither does the news media want to blame their best customers. Instead they’re nervously jostling for position in a circular firing squad.

Politically, blaming the Murdoch Press is the best answer. Politicians would love to control the media, but in the west this is a tricky position to engineer. The fact that a sub-contracted investigator to one tabloid accessed the voice-mail of a missing person who subsequently turned out to have been murdered is a pretty flimsy pretext, but they appear to be making the most of it. Oh yes – they messed with a police investigation by deleting old messages. Hmm. My mobile ‘phone voicemail does this automatically – why blame the hack? Just convenient, and it makes it seem more shocking and no one is going to mention this obvious explanation as a possibility. This morning I heard Neil Kinnock suggesting the press needed regulating. Well it worked for Castro, Stalin and Kim Jung Il, his socialist role models?

Last weekend the News of the World was forced to close; a newspaper (in the broad sense of the word) was muzzled to cheers of delight. They were doing something illegal, and they had to go. Actually it was only made illegal in 2000 by Blair’s government (arguably it only came in to force in 2002). Prior to this it was dodgy ground, but there was always a public interest defence. This is key. Journalists used to be able to snoop on whoever they chose as long as it was in the public interest. Each individual case had to be argued on its merits; it was safe. Now journalists face a very real risk of prosecution simply for looking into the dealings of corrupt politicians, organised criminals and dodgy police officers (especially). New Labour’s idea is that only the police and security services were allowed to do anything like this – i.e. The state should have a monopoly on snooping. This is the same model used by the Gestapo, the KGB, the OVRA and the Stasi. It’s used in various countries in the modern world; there was no free press to hold the secret police and politicians to account.

Does this mean Blair and New Labour deserve to be lumped in with the dictatorial heads of police states? Probably not – they produced a large amount of stupid legislation in a hurry and I could well believe this was simple incompetence. However, it’s notable that politicians now are hardly lining up to condemn these totalitarian laws. Why would they? One of the major beneficiaries have been the politicians themselves, who like to have a protect “private life” outside the glare of publicity.

As a final note, watch for the Mirror – they were the subject of more complaints about illegal intercepts (by a long way) than The Sun, Screws or anyone else on Fleet Street (or Wapping). So far they’re being protected. If you think this is a conspiracy theory, check the complaints for yourself on the Ofcom web site. Don’t expect the news media to report it – not in their interests!

Sally Bercow

I’m riding home on the tube with my complimentary copy of the Evening Standard, looking at a photo of Sally Burcow (New Labour activist wife of the Speaker) wearing “nothing but a sheet”, accompanied by an interview concentrating on how “sexy” the office of Speaker and politics in general cab be.

This is either part of a plot to deliberately discredit her nominally Tory husband, or perhaps she really is that naive. If it’s the latter, you’d have thought he’d know better, at least.

Actually, I don’t think John Berco needs any more discrediting – it’s time for him to go.

Incidentally, it’s not the choice of sheet that bothers me personally, it’s the nature of the interview.