December 31 2001


Mystery man

One of my moles has resurfaced following the Christmas holidays to fill me in on the meeting between the Leader Maurice Hughes and Cllr Mark Edwards, who, you may remember, left the Conservatives three or four months ago and threw in his lot with Cllr Hughes' Independent Political (sic) Group.
The meeting was to discuss a photo that had appeared in the Mercury of Cllr Edwards signing a petition calling for the electorate to be offered a referendum on whether or not they wanted an elected Mayor.
Cllr Edwards' reward for suggesting, contrary to Independent policy, that the people might be consulted on such an important issue, was to be called in for a pep talk by his new Leader.
Soon after that meeting Old Grumpy started to hear rumours that a senior council officer joined our two councillors during their heart to heart chat.
That officer I now learn was none other than our old friend the Director of Marketing and Communications, Dai "Spin" Thomas.
What business, exactly, Dai Spin had at what was a political party meeting and, therefore, nothing to do with the council is anybody's guess.
No doubt we can rely on some alert member of the opposition to find out for us.

Right and wrong

Over the holidays, Old Grumpy has been reading his ancient, dog-eared copy of "Criminal Law" by J C Smith and Brian Hogan.
What particularly interested me was what the learned authors had to say on the subject of the right to prosecute in criminal cases.
You may recall that, following my complaint to the police about Cllr Brian Hall's expense claims, I was told that, because the County Council ("the injured party") had said that no criminal offence had been committed, the police were powerless to proceed with the investigation.
This interpretation of the law is in direct contradiction to a statement put out by the County Council that says: "The Police are entitled to prosecute cases of this sort whether or not the County Council believes an offence has been committed".
Smith and Hogan appear to agree with the County Council's view.
They say: " Any citizen can, as a general rule and in the absence of any provision to the contrary, bring a criminal prosecution, whether or not he has suffered any special harm over and above other members of the public. As a member of the public he has an interest in the enforcement of the criminal law. D steals P's watch. P may prosecute him - so may Q, R, S, T or any other citizen."
What is true for the ordinary citizen must surely be true for the police
J C Smith M.A., LL.B is Professor of Common Law and Head of the Department of Law at the University of Nottingham. Brian Hogan is LL.B is Professor of Law at the University of Leeds.

A cautionary tale

While reading Smith and Hogan I turned to the section on theft.
Section 1 (1) of the Theft Act 1968 provides: "A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it."
Like most crimes, therefore, for a conviction for theft to stand the Crown must prove that there was an appropriation (actus reus) and dishonest intent (mens rea).
So, not every taking of property belonging to another is theft.
For instance, if you are stopped leaving Tesco with an unpaid for half bottle of whisky in your overcoat pocket, you are not necessarily guilty of theft.
You may be able to convince the security man, or, failing that, the jury, that you put bottle in your pocket in a moment of absent-mindedness and, therefore, you had no intention to steal.
Or one of your friends might tell the police that he had slipped the bottle in your pocket when you were not looking as a practical joke.
However if the prosecution can demonstrate by, say, video evidence that these stories are untrue then the fact that you tried to lie your way out of trouble only adds to the evidence of dishonesty.
And your excuse-providing friend will find himself in even deeper trouble than you are.
If he gives false evidence from the witness box, under oath, he will be guilty of perjury and if in a statement to the police, perverting the course of justice.
Lord Archer didn't go to prison for sleeping with a prostitute, nor Jonathon Aitken for enjoying a freebie at the Paris Ritz paid for by a middle-eastern arms dealer.
And Richard Nixon wasn't brought down because of a burglary at the Watergate offices of the Democratic Party, but for the part he played in the attempted cover up.

Sterling stuff

Have you heard the one about the overvalued pound?
No! Well, now that the Euro is jangling in the pockets of our continental cousins, you surely will.
Last week on Radio 4's Today programme, TUC General Secretary, John Monks and CBI chief Digby Jones were telling John Humphreys this sorry tale, and on Saturday Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy and former Tory big beast, Michael Heseltine, were singing the same tune.
The story varies slightly depending on who is telling it, but the basic theme is that the strong pound is damaging British business, causing, according to Mr Monks, the loss of 150,000 jobs last year alone.
Therefore, the argument goes, we should join the single currency, pronto, before further damage is inflicted on the UK economy.
Unfortunately, this line of reasoning is fatally flawed because it suffers from what the great biologist TE Huxley described as "the great tragedy of science - the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact".
In this case, several ugly facts.
The state of the pound: overvalued or undervalued, depends on which direction you face.
If you look west to the USA you will find the Pound at a fifteen year low against the Dollar i.e. undervalued.
Peering across the English Channel you will find the Pound 20% stronger against the Euro than it was on the single currency's launch on 1 January 1999.
If Monks' hypothesis - that a strong currency leads to unemployment - is correct, you would expect to find massive unemployment in the USA; moderately high unemployment in the UK; and low unemployment in Euroland.
In fact the very opposite is true.
The USA has unemployment of about 4%; the UK 5.5% and Euroland almost 10%.
And the unemployment gap is set to get worse with Germany heading for a recession with another half a million out of work by the middle of next year.
The question Monks, Jones, Heseltine and Kennedy should be asking themselves is why, with 20% devaluation against the Pound and 30% devaluation against the Dollar, over the past three years, the Euroland economy is in such a dire state.
Could it be that corporatist Euroland, with its inflexible labour markets, high social costs and cosy relationships between government, trades unions and big business is set to be the next Japan?


Cheers - mon cher!

One undoubted benefit of British membership of the single currency would be that we wouldn't need to pay commission to the money-changers when we visit Euroland for our summer hols.
Euro-enthusiasts like to tell the story of the man who sets off from Dover with a hundred pounds in his wallet and complete a grand tour of all the EU member states, changing his money into the local currency every time he crosses a border.
The upshot is that he arrives back home, having spent nothing, with half his money gone in exchange commissions.
Unfortunately, they never explain why anyone would want to behave like that, nor that the use of credit cards has greatly reduced the problem.
In any case, there is another side to the argument.
Had we joined the Euro on the date of its launch, 1 January 1999, we would now be in the position to exchange our redundant pounds at the rate of 73p per Euro (the exchange rate on launch date).
At current exchange rates you can buy a Euro for 60p.
This means that if we were members you would now get E130 for £100 compared to the E166 you can currently enjoy.
Even allowing a couple of per cent for commission that, I calculate, leaves enough to lubricate your vacation with what is, in effect, a free bottle of half-decent red wine every day for a week.
And you don't even have to go abroad to enjoy these benefits.
Because of the strong Pound/weak Euro you can pop down to your local off-licence and buy five bottles of Burgundy for what four would have cost on January 1 1999.
And, if that doesn't impress you, think of that poor Frenchman toiling in the vineyard on your behalf and who you only pay for eight hours out of every 10 he works.

And a happy and prosperous New Year to one and all.


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