Friday, January 30, 2009

Destabilised

Voting down the government’s proposed legislation, the Prime Minister warned, will have apocalyptic consequences: it will de-stabilise the government; it will de-stabilise the markets… it will make the earth roar and the abyss spew off its stench.
Meanwhile, the PM is taking great care not to de-stabilise himself and, to that effect, he is prepared to do away with formality.
He allocates cabinet jobs for political compromise rather than for the competence and suitability of the person employed, appoints as chief of the Met a New Labour favourite to placate those in his party who have reasons to fear the arm of the law, and procures fast-tracked seats in the Upper House, clumsily knocking over the barriers in his pursuit of short-term political gain.
Amazingly, now it appears that even John Prescott (the Hull MP who played a nefarious part in both the Gaul and the Derbyshire RFIs) is being re-habilitated and courted for political support. Acrimony in the House of Commons can’t be afforded at this time - it is politically much cheaper to whip up a scandal in the Lords, instead, and thus appear tough on corruption.
We would have hoped that the Prime Minister was able to carry his party along with him by the force of his talents and personality, not by peddling gongs, favours and immunities from prosecution. The PM has, of course, many other ways of stabilising his political tenure, but these are, perhaps, too fraught with risks and difficulties.
And, as the old wisdom goes, no one can really climb out beyond the limitations of his own character.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The necessary muck-out

This Wednesday, the clean-up of politics started in America with the pledge by the new US President to introduce new rules for openness and integrity in public life. Lucky Americans!
Here, unfortunately, things don’t look as promising. In recent years, the political structures have been contaminated by sleaze and corruption, with the Labour party taken over by rogues and opportunists, in much the same way that organised-crime racketeers infiltrated the Labour movement in the 1930s America. This phenomenon, albeit to a much smaller extent, has also gained ground inside the other political factions.
Politics in Britain is now seriously tainted, in need of a thorough cleansing, a revitalization of ethics and the reinstatement of the rule of law. Without firm action the decay will continue; it has already spread into many, once respectable, state institutions, and even some, more vulnerable, sections of society have now been corrupted by the humiliating dependence on the political power, and turned into tools of control for the state.
The malign influence of this state of affairs on the human character and dignity is growing alarmingly visible.
Ethics, it’s been said, becomes an issue only when things become dangerous; hence, with the coming recession, an ethical revival in British politics should be treated now as a matter of urgent priority.


To clean the stables and make it such that, in future, only the best men and women are eligible to represent us is, of course, a Herculean task – but not a task that a strong-willed political leader, and a good sweeping broom, would be unable to achieve.

***

“AUGEAS: But it makes a difference whether we muck out just a bit or whether we have a radical muck-out. If we muck out just a bit, after a year, the muck will stand as high as it stands now or even higher, considering the amount of it we produce. Therefore we have to muck out radically.” (Friedrich D├╝renmatt, The Augean Stables)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Judge in his own cause

During the ill-famed Hutton inquiry, Geoff Hoon’s conduct was often described as “slippery” and “dishonest”. We couldn’t follow those events very closely, but we can relate how Mr Hoon, now Secretary of State for Transport, has conducted himself recently.

In a letter dated 17 December 2008 (see HERE), Mr Hoon made known his opposition towards a possible re-hearing of the Gaul Formal Inquiry.

In his elaborate message, the Transport Secretary sought to suggest that the evidence and analysis we had provided over the last three years was not of a quality and quantity that would undermine his confidence in the execution of the 2004 RFI. Consequently, with his confidence intact, Mr Hoon considered himself free from any obligation to have the results of the Gaul RFI re-examined.

Back in 2003, if I remember correctly, Mr Hoon didn’t used to be so demanding, and needed a lot less evidence to be able to claim, against the best experts’ advice, that two trailers found in Iraq were ‘mobile weapons laboratories’. That was a different kettle of fish, of course, but Mr Hoon’s variable stance towards evidence standards, somehow, undermines his credibility as trier of fact.

What intrigued us even more, however, was that, this time, Mr Hoon would reveal neither the source nor the substance of the technical advice that had underpinned his decision, offering us no other option than to take him at his word and rest assured that the hint of political embarrassment or scandal was not a factor in his weighty deliberations, deflecting him from his pursuit of the public good.

(We have, of course, replied to Mr Hoon’s letter, and our response can be read at this link or here.)

Sadly, what follows from the Transport Secretary’s position is that, whenever the results of a government-led public inquiry are contested, no matter how compelling the evidence adduced, it is solely up to the government to decide whether or not those results should be re-examined, and it is totally in the government’s power to cloak their decision-making from public view and independent scrutiny.

I wonder, on a large scale, what the consequences of this trend are going to be.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

More about MV Derbyshire

This is to wish you all a Happy New Year and to let you know that we have just published a new post on the MV Derbyshire blog [1].
In this latest commentary we show that the hatch covers on the Derbyshire complied neither with the minimum strength requirements of the International Load Line Convention 66 nor with the standards of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping that were in force at the time of the vessel’s build. These non-compliances, which could have been a crucial factor in the loss of the vessel, were ‘overlooked’ during 2000 RFI, the final report of which stated: “7.16 At the time of the DERBYSHIRE’s last voyage her hatch covers complied with the minimum strength requirements of ILLC 66 and of the Lloyd’s Register of Shipping Rules”, and concluded that it was a severe deficiency within those standards that allowed the vessel’s hatch covers to be built with inadequate strength, thus making their failure and the subsequent loss of the vessel in heavy seas possible.
However, independent strength calculations (presented in detail on the MV Derbyshire blog), carried out both through classical methods and by means of finite element analysis, show that the strength of the hatch covers fell short even of the minimum requirements that were set in those “deficient” 1966 standards.
Whether or not the vessel would have been lost if the construction of the hatch covers had conformed to the rules applicable at that time - insufficient as they were - is, furthermore, debateable. Placing the blame on the ‘regulations’, however, as the 2000 RFI so kindly did, made further debate redundant and removed the risk of subsequent commercial litigation for the vessel’s Shipbuilders and the Classification Society.
----------------------------------------------------

[1] The Derbyshire Re-opened Formal Investigation bears many similarities with the Gaul Re-opened Formal Investigation – not the least of which is the fact that both investigations were presided over by judges who were acknowledged experts in the field of maritime commercial litigation.
Why was it that these two public inquiries, supposedly aimed only at finding the truth, were set up in this way?