Tuesday, 23 February 2010

And yet more on scrappage

It's a funny thing, and I can't explain it, but of all the things that Her Majesty's Government have done in the past few years, the one that really makes me irate is the scrappage scheme. I wrote a mild mannered tirade against it when we were threatened with it, and I wrote another when its introduction was announced.

Hence, when I saw an article in the Times telling us that the evidence suggests that the scheme will actually result in an increase, rather than a decrease in CO2 emissions, I couldn't resist another quick post.
Research by the US Department of Energy calculates that the average new car sold in 2009 required the energy equivalent of 1,540 gallons of petrol to manufacture. The figure dwarfs the fuel savings of 61.2 gallons per year and means that it will take 25 years before the new car repays its “fuel debt”.
And that doesn't even take into account the energy used in scrapping cars and the environmental impact of shipping Korean superminis half way around the world. Yes, if you turned in your faithful old banger for a shiny new '59 reg' Hyundai i10, you are one of those evil people who is destroying our planet. :-)

I must confess that my suspicion is that the government always knew that the measure would do nothing to reduce global CO2 emissions, but thought that it would look like a nice piece of environmental window dressing.

Civil Partnerships and Religious Premises

In a letter to the Times this morning, a group of gentlemen have argued that the current law which prohibits civil partnerships from being registered in any religious premises in Great Britain should be repealed, and they write in support of an amendment which would do just that. They argue on two grounds - the spiritual independence of churches, and the principle of non-discrimination. Indeed the way they end their letter (“We urge every peer who believes in spiritual independence, or in non-discrimination, to support it.”) indicates that they are aware that there are people who may support one of their arguments but not the other.

I personally am not convinced by their argument concerning non-discrimination, and agree with the Bishop of Winchester that “churches of all sorts really should not reduce or fudge, let alone deny, the distinction” between marriage and civil partnership.

(On the other hand, I am not convinced by the argument of the Bishops of Winchester and Chichester that changing the law would put unacceptable pressure on the Church of England. As long as the law does not compel the Church of England, then the Church has the ability to decide what it believes is correct, and the duty to withstand pressures from society.)

I do, however, believe that the argument concerning spiritual independence is valid - and that the law as it stands is very strange. If the Quakers and the Unitarians want to register civil partnerships in their places of worship, then that is a matter for them, and not for the state. Traditional Christians will be horrified at such things happening, but their horror should be directed not at the state for permitting these things, but at the Quakers and Unitarians for wishing to do them. If traditional Christians want freedom to proclaim that homosexual activity is wrong, and to exclude practising homosexuals from their membership, then they should be willing to allow freedom to religious bodies which think otherwise.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Ali Dizaei, promotion, and the public sector

Readers of the works of Michael Bond may not realise this, but it is not unknown for bears go into a winter sleep state, akin to hibernation. And so it has been in recent weeks. However, I am now sort of awake, and have been rubbing my eyes with astonishment at the news that a senior London police officer has been jailed for a very serious offence.

I read with interest the Telegraph’s comment on the affair, and particularly noted the following lines:
“He repeatedly exploited the consequent tensions by becoming a serial complainer against alleged racist behaviour in the force, while fending off persistent allegations of wrong-doing himself. Curiously, this did not prevent the Iranian-born Dizaei being promoted to the rank of Commander – perhaps because the appointment was in the gift not of the Commissioner but of the Metropolitan Police Authority . . . ”
The implication is not only that Mr Dizaei managed to pull off the extraordinary feat of being promoted in the police service despite having faced persistent allegations of wrong-doing - but also that his promotion was not based on his suitability for the job, or his competence, but on political considerations. The Metropolitan Police Authority is not, after all, a body largely made up of police officers, but a body dominated by politicians and political appointees.

This struck me, because I have been reflecting on the whole business of promotions in what is usually known as the public sector, but which might more accurately be described as the state sector. What I have observed is that in the state sector, it sometimes happens that people are promoted simply because their faces fit, and the boss wants to be surrounded by a team of ‘yes-men’, while more competent and able candidates are passed over.

This happens in the private sector too, of course. But in the private sector, there is a mechanism for sorting this out. A business which persistently appoints people because their faces fit, i.e. for ‘political reasons’, will eventually find that it becomes uncompetitive, because customers and clients will go elsewhere. In other words, the business itself will suffer.

In the state sector, there is no such mechanism, because clients cannot go elsewhere. And so it is usually only the members of the public who have to deal with incompetents who will suffer. The people in charge - who make the questionable promotions and appointments - rarely do.

The obvious moral is that where possible, goods and services should be provided by the private sector, rather than the state. That is not, I suspect, always possible, and I personally don’t believe that policing should be handled by the private sector.

However it does seem to me that the promotion of Mr. Dizaei indicates two things. First, police appointments should be made by the police, rather than by politicians and political appointees. Second, the senior police officers who are in charge of police promotions should be accountable to the public, so that if promotions policy is seen to be wrong, the police officers in charge can be removed by the public. And the simplest way to achieve that is to have chief constables who are directly elected by the voters - which just happens to be Libertarian Party policy.