Number of the Month

December  2002

Some wines don’t travel

It is an old saying that things, good or bad, always come in threes. Nonsense of course, but it is surprising how often it happens. It also gave the title to a super little numbers book Why do buses come in threes? (ISBN 186105 162). Last month your bending author quoted a bit of traditional patter from pantomime and for his pains was accused of puerility. Fair enough, it was a mistake to quote something so unique to the English culture and expect it to be comprehended.

The first coincidence was that the next day someone in the village pub said “Oh no it isn’t” and received a chorus of “Oh yes it is!” from the rest of the company. This has to be chanted in a special way that we all learn in childhood. It is difficult to describe, but it is spoken with three emphatic beats in descending tone with one rising at the end. It is part of the seasonal pantomime ritual that children look forward to, like “He’s behind you!”

The most remarkable coincidence, however, is that the very next day the ritual was performed in the House of Commons, as reported in The Times parliamentary sketch by Ben Mcintyre (November 29th), whose account is as follows:

The Education Secretary levered himself upright to answer a question about whether Good King Tony is planning to introduce top-up fees.
Oh yes he is, said a lot of Labour MPs.
Oh no he isn’t, (yet), said Mr Clarke.
OH YES HE IS, they bellowed. 

In writing for the English, such little devices are useful in pricking pomposity but, of course, they fall flat everywhere else in the world. When your bending author began to write Number Watch a couple of years ago, he envisaged that it might amuse a few English eccentrics like himself. In the week in question the site received 4,600 hits (mostly from cache and proxy machines) but fewer than 5% of those were from the UK. Nothing ruins a little joke more than explaining it, but it does illustrate the hazards of writing in one’s native tongue for an international audience. You have to be a P G Wodehouse to get away with it. For example, it was a shock to find that the term League Table was not understood in America, as it appears almost daily in the British media. There must be many such unwitting examples in these columns.

This is, of course, wholly a one-way process. Thanks to the power of Hollywood and television, people all over the world who have never been to America know that “It is not over until the fat lady sings”.

There are still a few of us left who mourn the passing of Englishness. It has been under attack from so many quarters (e.g. Scottish New Labour, socialism, Thatcherism, feminism, globalisation, PC and zealots who would destroy the landscape in the name of the environment) that it is almost extinct.

Humour too is at risk. At a recent gathering of gratefully retired professors it was agreed that what we all missed most in our last years in the university was the laughter. There have always been those who lack the humour gene, but it is only in recent years that they have been in the ascendancy. Humour is essentially a recognition of absurdity, but absurdity is now tolerated as the norm in political and media life.

A group of academic feminists recently gained media attention with a repetition of their perennial complaints about the glass ceiling. This does not exist, at least in academia, where it is official policy (known as Project 2000) to promote them beyond their means. One professor complained that she heard a male colleague actually say “nothing for you to worry your pretty little head about”. Of course she did. The temptation to twit the po-faced is irresistible. Admittedly women have to work in an environment dominated by men rendered witlessly competitive by their hormones, but then so do normal men.

Incidentally, as Mr Gates does not recognise the term po-faced, it is defined in Chambers dictionary as stupidly solemn and narrow minded: stolid, humourless. Nowadays we call it modernisation.

The world is now full of people with no sense of the absurd (you know, the sort who quote statistical results to six figures of precision). It is a particularly disturbing thought to a habitual ironist that someone out there is taking it all literally. What a haunting prospect that there are people in the boondocks who slavishly follow the prescriptions of Miss Smallpiece and Old Ned.

PS the pantomimic ritual also occurs in Monty Python's Life of Brian.

 Good Heavens!

Number Watch actually got a mention in The Times. Does this mean that it has joined The Establishment? Fear not! It was in an article by Mick Hume, who is a sort of Court Jester, licensed to tell the truth. Mick’s great contribution has been the founding of sp!ked, the antidote to establishment journalism.

The tension rises

It is that time of year again, when people all over the world feel that mounting thrill of excitement. Yes, it is time to start thinking about the coveted Numby Awards. Readers are invited to offer their nominations. In particular, members of the Number Watch Fan Club are specially urged to participate. However, they should both be sure to get permission from the Warden before doing so.

While we are at it, nominations are also invited for Number of the Year.

Serious outbreak of WIDIMITWEED

It was all over the media. Every Briton should have a CJD test, says scientist was the headline in the Daily Telegraph (December 2nd). Professor Stan Prusiner, who discovered the cause of BSE, said the impact of the epidemic could be bigger than so far recognised. Where have we heard that one before? A terrible affliction it may be, but fewer than twenty deaths a year makes it an extremely rare one. Only a couple of days before The Telegraph reported that Professor John Collinge has claimed that BSE may cause sporadic CJD in addition to variant CJD. Regular readers might remember him from the outbreak of MMC disease almost two years ago. He is drawing this to the attention of SEAC, to which Simon Jenkins of The Times memorably ascribed the condition Mad Scientist Disease. It was they who started the surgical instrument scare that cost the health service £200 million. Despite the efforts of all these doomsayers, this is yet another dire emergency that fails to grow in the way predicted. They are still predicting over 100,000 deaths from vCJD. What is it about Mad Scientist Disease that produces an outbreak at yearly intervals?

 Footnote: WIDIMITWEED is the acronym for “What I Do Is More Important Than What Everyone Else Does.”

 Footnote 2 (added by Jaime Arbona, our correspondent in Puerto Rico)
Says Dr Prusiner:
"Every Briton should be tested, so that if they are developing the disease it can be spotted before symptoms appear." He added: "The Government should be testing every cow and sheep entering the food chain."
Do you think this may have something to do with this?

"Prof Prusiner has developed a highly sensitive, automated test for detecting prions that is said to improve significantly the accuracy and speed of detecting the various forms of the infectious agent."

This test is called "conformation-dependent immunoassay" (CDI), so maybe it could be related to this:
In 2001, UCSF licensed the technology for CDI, developed in the Prusiner lab, to InPro Biotechnology Inc., of South San Francisco, California, which Prusiner founded. Prusiner, Safar and some other members of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases are scientific advisors to, or own stock in, the company.
More info can be found here.
Seems to me he already spent the Nobel Prize money.
Our correspondent seems to be developing a very cynical streak. You would think after reading Number Watch for nearly three years he would have achieved more faith in his fellow man.

Physician heal thyself

It is silliness to live when to live is torment; and then we have a prescription to die when death is our physician.
Othello

Last month we referred to the abandonment of science by the medical profession. Further evidence of this withdrawal appears in The Scotsman. The official medical body is now demanding a halt to all GM food trials. What are their grounds for doing this? Nothing more than the sad precautionary principle. This is the modern version of the classical logical fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam. Because no one has proved GM crops to be safe we must assume them to be dangerous. That, however, also applies to foods that have been genetically modified by selective breeding, i.e. everything we eat. If you take the precautionary principle to its logical conclusion you would never get out of bed, as it is far too dangerous. On the other hand staying in bed might be dangerous too. You must certainly never eat anything, because nobody has proved any food safe. Indeed, according to epidemiologists, virtually all foods are carcinogenic anyway. When you consider that one of the most dangerous things a Briton can do is enter a filthy National Health Service hospital, it all takes on that dream like quality that invades much of official life these days.

What they are doing is, of course, displacement activity, fiddling while Rome burns. They know what they ought to be doing, which is joining battle with the overweening bureaucracy that is stifling the Health Service and causing years of pain, and often death, to its innocent victims: but they have chickened out. It is so much more comfortable to sit in an office and issued calls for futile bans than to stir their glutaei and take arms against a sea of  trivia. 

Footnote

The very next day The Times came up with some numbers:

In 2000 the National Audit Office estimated that 100,000 infections a year are acquired in hospital, affecting nine per cent of patients at any one time. Many infections are due to antibioticresistant superbugs such as MRSA; the incidence of MRSA has risen faster in Britain than anywhere else in Europe.

These infections kill 5,000 people, contribute to a further 15,000 deaths and cost the NHS £1 billion a year. Up to 30 per cent of all acquired infections could be avoided with better handwashing and laundry practice, according to a National Audit Office report published this year. Good laundry practice is clearly an important part of infection control.........

See also the Infection Control Nurses Association.

Pardon the innocent question; but was not this all known at the time of Joseph Lister and Florence Nightingale? Was not "Hospital Fever" banished in their time?

A heavier boot

The Audit Explosion
Title of Chapter 1 of The Audit Society by Michael Power

Talking of overweening bureaucracy, the latest manifestation of the Audit Society takes some beating. In the breaks between granting themselves vast increases of salaries, pensions and expense accounts, British parliamentarians have turned their attention to keeping those beastly parish councillors in order. The editorial in the Daily Telegraph (December 3rd) says it all:

The little village of Lastingham in North Yorkshire has been minding its own business since a community was founded there by St Cedd in AD 654.

Now the existence of its parish council is put in doubt by the interference of central government. An annual auditing system depressingly named "Lighter Touch" is to be imposed on the parish at the cost of £58. But the total income of Lastingham's parish council is only about £100.

Public-spirited representatives of the village's 87 electors might be forgiven for thinking that this is the last straw and that the village might as well knuckle under to larger, more anonymous authorities.

Earlier this year, the nation's parish councillors had to sign up to a complicated series of regulations requiring, among other things, that any gift worth more than £25 given to a councillor must be declared.

Last week, churches learnt they faced expensive licences for holding concerts [report, 23 Nov]. What will the Government find to tread on next: bellringing, carol-singing, kissing under the mistletoe?

Note the ironic title of the exercise. Is it deliberate or unconscious? It was a similar ironic appellation (the Transparency Exercise) that caused your bending author to break out in parodic verse and hastened his early retirement. 

Those who are themselves corrupt are the first to seek out corruption in others.

Ve haf vays of making you green

We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender….
Winston Churchill

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, those of us who still like to grow our own produce and enjoy the textures and flavours that our forefathers took for granted, are now beginning to learn how the Green dictatorship at the heart of Europe works. Many of the tried and trusted chemicals that we have always used to control pests and diseases are now being withdrawn. More than that: it will be illegal even to store them in our potting sheds. Why is this? Is it because they have been proved dangerous? No it is that damned precautionary principle again. Having failed to convert the majority of ordinary sensible folk to their religion, the environmentalists, to whom flavour and variety mean as little as scenery and quietude, are now imposing their will by legislation. Nothing so crude as a ban. No, they simply make it too costly for manufacturers to produce for the amateur market, by imposing a test regime that is so lengthy and complicated that the game is not worth the candle.

Furthermore, having restricted the opportunities for controlling pests and diseases, they have even made illegal the sale of vegetables that are not certified resistant and have been enjoyed for generations. The resistance movement are fighting back for the moment, but how long can they last against the tide of draconian legislation. For example, if you want to grow those traditional potatoes with wonderful names (Witch Hill, Shetland Black, Kepplestone Kidney, Highland Burgundy Red, Yetholm Gypsy or Champion) you have to buy them as microplants, because sale of the seed tubers is illegal. And if you think you are fortunate enough to have produced a wonderful new cabbage or rose, forget it, unless you are a multimillionaire and able to pay for the certification procedure.

And if anyone has any doubts about just how far this tyranny has gone, here is the editorial comment on a letter to Kitchen Garden magazine that suggested tea tree and geranium mixture for blackfly:

Just bear in mind, everyone, that even 'natural' remedies may be illegal unless they have EC approval.

The Borrowers

Borrow!Borrow!
No thought for tomorrow.
Spend! Spend!
Where will it end?

Number Watch has been nagging about the personal debt situation for some two years. In July 2001 debt was pointed out as a source of numbers worth watching. It is now getting so bad, however, that even the media are beginning to notice. Headline in the New Labour Observer (December 8th) – UK blows £12bn remortgage. People are taking advantage of the “surge” in house prices to borrow for the purchase of luxury goods. There are all sorts of theories as to why house prices are increasing so rapidly, but most of them do not hold water. We have had, for example, relatively low interest rates before. The fact is that there is nowhere else for people to put their money to save for their old age. Even in face the virtual inevitability of a dramatic correction, the wisest thing to do is to buy the best house with the most land that you can afford. As someone said “They are not making it any more”. Certainly you would be foolish to put it into a pension fund, with the pensions industry in the hands of cowboys and the Chancer of the Exchequer stealing a huge proportion of the savings every year. The other factor is the ambiguity of the politicians over the question of debt. The illusory economies of Britain and the USA have been buoyed by the extraordinary willingness of ordinary people to borrow money. The fact that they waste it on dotcom shares or techno-rubbish is neither here nor there; it is recorded as economic growth. Likewise, companies like Marconi have been willing to blow their birthright on nothing, all adding to the illusion.

The real economy went into recession in 1998. As recounted in Sorry, wrong number! this was precipitated by the extraordinary tax hike foisted on Japan by Ryutaro Hashimoto in 1997, and it has been there ever since. The illusory economy, however, went from strength to strength, and the British Chancer, despite the humiliation he suffered in announcing the end of his affair with Prudence in his Autumn Statement, is still boasting about it. He is borrowing £42 billion, mainly to pour into the bottomless pit of the world’s greatest bureaucracy, the National Health Service. This he regards as investment, which puts him in the same category of dreamers as the directors of Marconi. Industry takes a rather dim view of his optimistic prognostications – Companies pour cold water on Brown’s hopes of recovery says the headline in The Sunday Times Business section (December 1st).

Meanwhile, multi-channel television is still dominated by adverts offering loans to those with a poor credit record. The most followed political philosopher of the day is Mr Micawber, and everyone from the Chancer down to the housewife in thrall to the loan sharks is hoping for something to turn up. Well, something is likely to turn up, and it is not likely to be what they hoped for.

I got those EU, EU, EU blues

One of the most bitter disappointments of your bending author’s lifetime has been the European Union. It promised so much – the end of war, free trade and interchange between peoples, a celebration of cultural diversity, an efflorescence of science and the arts. Instead we got the European Commission – overweening, dictatorial, corrupt, riddled with fraud, dominated by political minorities and addicted to pseudo-scientific nostrums for non-existent ills. Everywhere you go you hear “Can’t sell you that, can’t do that any more, there’s been an EU directive.” As observed above, they even dictate what we grow in our gardens and how we grow it.

They wrest money, millions of Euros, from the hapless taxpayers and hand it over to all sorts of lunatic organisations, without any debate or justifications. For example, FoE, among the biggest liars on the world scene, have been awarded  €352,665. For what? To promote such scientific wonders as Toxic Ted.

The extremes of mendacity to which FoE will descend beggars belief, but they are not alone.  The American Cancer Society, for example,  came up with a fatuous animation that is a gross libel on Kraft foods. Now, if you want to eat these products, you might be suffering from a lapse in taste, but they are not going to kill you. The  thesis is, of course, based on their favourite fallacy and, indeed, the fallacy of the month, argumentum ad ignorantiam. They contend that eating one sort of DNA might be more dangerous than another. It is like saying eating the dessert before the soup might kill you, because you have not done it before. DNA is just a combination of bases (thymine, cytosine, guanine and adenine) on a chain of phosphate and a sugar (2-deoxiribose). The only thing that changes is the order (the genetic code). You can eat DNA from a black mamba or a deadly nightshade without ill-effect.

Of course, what DNA might do is instruct the parent organism to manufacture a deadly poison, as it does in every potato or rhubarb plant, but that is a different matter, which humanity has dealt with from its earliest origins.

At least (presumably) the American Cancer Society is funded solely by the mugs it can talk into handing over their wages. That the hard-earned taxes of ordinary people should be diverted, without any sort of democratic control, to such nonsensical grotesqueries is an offence. When it is done by a national government the fault lies with the minority that elected them, but nobody voted for the European Commission.

Footnote
Unfortunately we have no remaining copies of the EC directive Permitted methods of applying paper tissue to the human anus. Requests for further copies should be directed to the Commission.

It’s the vision thing

In the beginning there was nothing
And God said “Let there be light!”
And there was still nothing,
But you could see it better.

 Your average British parliamentarian is rather like the most offensive kind of lap dog; pampered, useless and given to yapping loudly at the most inappropriate moment. They are at their worst when indulging in one of their periodic bouts of hindsight. Such a moment occurred when a parliamentary committee met to discuss the Bali bombing. They accused the security services of a “serious misjudgement” over not issuing a warning. The security services, however, have to deal with hundreds of potential threats at any one time. If they had issued a warning and the bombing had not occurred, the brave MPs would be hounding them for an equal and opposite reason.

 Talking of vision, was there ever a more absurd exercise than the UN arms inspections in Iraq? Imagine you were given the task of hiding a laboratory in your neighbourhood so that foreign intruders could not find it. Could anything be easier? Local police cannot even find drug factories on their own patches unless they are given a tip.

Birds of a feather flop together

Number Watch has been in the habit of drawing parallels between New Labour Britain and the Dark State of Insanity (well, since May 2001, see California here we come). The parallel continues with the tale of two deficits. The UK has broken yet another record ; according to the media the trade gap is the highest "since records began in 1697". We are, of course, chary about claims of records: this, however, is genuine rather than a quirk of extremal statistics as the increments do not decrease with time. The value of UK imports exceeded the value of its exports by £2.8bn ($4.3bn) in August, up from £2.4bn in July, the Office for National Statistics said, and the Chancer of the Exchequer is planning to borrow £21 billion a year to fund his bureaucracy. Meanwhile California achieved a budget deficit of $21 billion. There is a law of reality in human affairs – however long you manage to maintain a fantasy, reality always intrudes in the end. Both states have indulged in political and environmental fantasies, treating industry as an ever productive milch-cow, both are mortgaging future generations to the proverbial hilt.

Credit where it's due

It is a pleasure to be able to write something complimentary about New Labour BBC for a change. Their new digital radio channel BBC7 exploits the corporation's enormous archive of recorded material and presents the best in drama, humour and the sheer joy of words. Furthermore, it can be heard on the internet.

Health warning: some of the humour is very English and might be unsuitable for Americans of a nervous disposition.

Number of the year 175

An innocent looking little number, this is the cost in pounds of the compensation culture to every man, woman and child in Britain according to a report by the Institute of Actuaries (The Times December 17th). The total is £10 billion, one third of which disappears into legal and administrative costs. The number of applications for state compensation was 78,100, compared with 13,500 in France and 9,700 in Germany. It now represents 1% of the Gross Domestic Product.

This of course is small stuff compared with the USA, where the total bill of $180 billion represents 1.8% of the GDP. The amazing thing, however, is that with the American disaster before them as an horrendous example, the British politicians blundered into the same abyss. It was the result of a blinkered Englishwoman falling for a bon mot by a glib Irishman. It was George Bernard Shaw who said that all professions are conspiracies against the laity, and Margaret Thatcher adopted it as one of her simplicitudes. Many of the ills of modern Britain arise from the Thatcherite delusion that all things are simple. British lawyers were once forbidden to advertise or work for a percentage of the take, but that was all changed.

The Institute predicts that the costs will increase by more than 10% per annum for the foreseeable future. As often happens in human affairs, however, it is not the numbers that are important, and the main sufferers are our children. Playgrounds are closing down, school trips are becoming a rarity; kids are trapped, cocooned in their bedrooms, growing obese on a diet of TV and computer games. Small businesses are becoming no businesses as the insurance premiums per employee rise into the thousands of pounds per year.

In America, where lawyers maintain a firm control of Congress, no one is going to upset their apple cart. In Britain the dominant caste were once accountants, thanks to the morass of tax legislation poured out by incompetent politicians, but the lawyers are now multiplying like streptococci. The Prime Minister is a lawyer and his scandal- and guru-ridden wife makes a nice packet out of rights cases.

Otherwise, in Britain it has been the year of the U-turn. Virtually every premise and promise on which New Labour was elected has been abandoned (except for the ban on fox hunting). The braggadocio performances of Old Two Jags about the revolution in transport policy have been quietly forgotten. The budget for trains has been cut and they have started building roads again. Most of the failures just cause us a bit more discomfort, but the Great Pensions Disaster is one of the most evil blows ever inflicted on a suffering populace by its elected representatives. On every front the Government is in disarray and it is only the absence of any plausible opposition that keeps it from falling apart.

In this season of good will it would be appropriate to say something nice about the Leader of the Opposition, whose name escapes your bending author for the moment, so here it is – he is a supporter of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

The Annual Number Watch Awards

It was a glittering scene as an excited crowd gathered in the Assembly Rooms above the Balls Pond Road Takeaway Kebab for the annual Numby awards. There were several faces that looked possibly familiar and a young lady, who is famous for being famous, wore a spectacular gownless evening strap. An advantage of this particular ceremony is that none of the recipients ever turns up, so the audience is spared those mawkish and embarrassing acceptance speeches. The jovial master of ceremonies was Jim Portant, the well-known presenter of the 4am Rockin’ slot on Radio Over Wallop, affectionately known as ROW, while the statuettes were presented by Professor Dame Myfanwy Sprocket of the Metropolitan University of Nether Wallop.

The first presentation was for the Quad-A (Annual Award for Awesome Accuracy) and it went to James S Dunkelow Jr, who was able to determine the trend in temperatures at Eagle Pass, Texas 1970-2000 (with lacunae), as +1.13666 deg F per decade, StatSig. The achievement of a six figure precision from thirty years of data (with lacunae) is quite remarkable for one who is not even a qualified epidemiologist. How lucky we are that nobody headed him off at the pass!

In a flashback to last year’s Number of the Year, the annual trophy for Chutzpah goes to Professor David King, the UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser, who described the handling of last year’s foot-and-mouth epidemic as “quite an achievement . . . a magnificent record”. He told the BBC Today programme that securing Britain’s status as an FMD-free country was a cause for “celebration”. Members of the European Parliament took rather a different view.

Party Pooper of the year is Dr Uffe Ravnskov, who caused some spillage from the cholesterol gravy train by looking at the science behind it, and found that there was none.

The original candidate for the Page Count Award was British. In the July piece Help, we are drowning in red tape Number Watch reported 94 is the number of pages in the book outlining the new regulations. That, of course, was red rag to a bull, as those damned Americans have to have the biggest of everything. Regular correspondent Frank R Borger wrote:

One of the reasons I'm glad to be out of medicine is that I no longer have to deal with multiple regulatory agencies, all with libraries of regulations. In 30 years in Radiation Therapy, I saw treatment go from 250kV X-ray machines for treatment, (and tracing paper for treatment planning,) to linear accelerators for treatment, (and CT scanners, and computerized systems for treatment planning,) WITHOUT a major increase in operation/maintain staff, but I saw the office staff double or triple to account for the increased paperwork.

An oft-quoted study by the Mayo Clinic showed that they had collected 130000 pages of regulations and accompanying documents JUST FOR Medicare.

To report medicare treatments, one MUST enter the correct 5-digit diagnosis for what's wrong with the patient. The current book is 400 pages long.

There is a separate code for a person who has been sucked into a jet engine. (I wonder if there is a code for encountering a running prop!)

Physicians who enter an incorrect code are ASSUMED GUILTY of overbilling and must repay the disputed amount within 30-60 days, even if they appeal.

I only really learned a few things in 30 years in medicine, and one was that "free medical care" is an oxymoron. As Heinlein said, "TANSTAAFL" (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch).

So the Page Count Award has to go across the pond.

The award for Record Breakers of the year, however, goes to the entire collection of British Government Ministers. They have broken the record for the number of chauffeur driven Government cars, of which there are now 207, up 20 in the past two years. A nice contrast with all the lectures they gave about reducing car use, backed up by draconian taxation, a fine example of PUTLIAR and DAISNAID.

The major prize is the Abraham Lincoln Award; so called because round the base is inscribed the quotation “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” The award goes to the person who comes nearest to proving Lincoln wrong and this year the distinguished jury was unanimous that it should go to Gordon (Means Test) Brown, the British Chancer of the Exchequer. Brown’s innovative way with numbers was evident right from his first budget, when he hit upon the trick of putting all the nasty bits in the small print of the book and leaving them out of the speech entirely. He has done this ever since and thereby earns in the tabloids headlines such as Something for everyone. It is weeks later that people begin to realise that he has again drastically increased taxation, by which time the tabloids have moved on. Lumbered with a leader whose beliefs are as vague as those of an Anglican bishop, he has been obliged to provide the philosophy for the whole Government. He derives this from such sources as Calvin, Marx and C Northcote Parkinson. Briefly, his object all sublime is to have the maximum possible proportion of the population subjected to means testing (such as 60% of pensioners within ten years). Naturally, as soon as he got into the Treasury he went native and adopted the Treasury motto “Go for territory and never yield” which has served it well for a millennium.

As the moving citation said, like all great artists he has had three periods. The early immature period was characterised by his affair with his muse, Prudence, when he adopted his predecessor’s conservative policy and continued it for longer than had ever been intended. The middle period gave us Brown the Big Spender, when he poured money into the State Bureaucracy. He is now moving into his mature third period and back into classical socialism as Brown the Big Borrower.

He is noted most for his sustained attack on those dreadful middle classes, especially the ones who selfishly save for their old age without a thought for anyone else. He simply trousered five billion pounds a year from their pension funds. It was not just the effect of the loss of money, but the indication that the Government did not care, that gave the green light to industry to kill off its final salary pension schemes. He offered the money to the deserving poor, but only on condition that they undergo trial by Means Test.

It is the Means Test, of course, that gives him his soubriquet and demonstrates his political mastery. By its means he is able to appear generous yet save the Treasury from actually handing out the money. A fine example is his flagship childcare tax credit programme. It has been made so complicated that it only reaches 2.3% of all families. Killing two birds with one stone he has also tackled the unemployment problem, as the Inland Revenue is actively recruiting a new army of snoopers to catch wayward parents who have failed to understand the 47 pages of instructions (yes, we know, pathetic by American standards) on how to fill in the forms. He also invented the Private Finance Initiative, which is a form of hire purchase, serving to disguise the extent of Government borrowing. People today still have cause to remember the post war Labour Government, which sent Lord Keynes to America to borrow a large sum of money to be used to create the first great socialist bureaucracy. Every British adult has been paying it back all their working lives. Thanks to the ingenuity of the Chancer the next generation will be doing the same.

It is, of course, impossible to do justice to all his achievements in one short citation, but a search through Number Watch for the term “chancer” will give a flavour.

And so, after all the cheers and tears, the milling crowd spilled out into the winter darkness of the Islington streets, grateful that the Number Industry had for one more year gone from strength to strength, and wondering what the new year would bring in numerical excitement .

 Index

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