Mark Steel

We mustn't panic, but according to a front page headline in the Daily Mail we're being "HELD TO RANSOM BY 1,000 TANKER DRIVERS". What bad luck, that 1000 tanker drivers have become Somali pirates. I suppose they had to re-train because of redundancies in the piracy trade due to new technology, such as email ransom notes and digital planks. But they've perfected a new method of ransom, which is holding a strike ballot and counting the votes.
At last, the bill has been passed to enable Britain's health service, the envy of the world, to become more like the United States system, universally derided as a chaotic disaster. Now they can introduce bills to make our ferry service more like the one in Italy, and our record on child abuse more like that of the Vatican. It takes inventive thinking to hear that in the US, drug companies spend twice as much on advertising as they do on research, and say, "That's MARVELLOUS, why can't WE do that"?
The case of the soldier who went berserk in Afghanistan and killed 16 people must be utterly baffling to psychiatrists. Who can imagine what might cause someone in a stable environment such as Kandahar, with reliable role models training you to distrust the entire local population as terrorists, and no access to weapons except automatic machine guns, to flip like that? Still, they say it's always in the tranquil places that these things happen.
At last, the police have become efficient. They may have stumbled slightly with their investigation of News International, but they haven't made the same mistake with the people sitting around by St Paul's. Last year, presumably, if they'd been asked to evict Occupy London protests who camped at St Paul's Cathedral, they'd have written a report saying: "We have left no stone unturned in pursuing the occupiers, but after driving round the cathedral hundreds of times we have no evidence of any tents anywhere, or, indeed, of any cathedral."
Governments and commentators keen on promoting a war against Iran should be stridently opposed, not so much because of the threat to world peace, but because their reasons display a shocking lack of imagination. The most common one is that Iran has "Weapons of Mass Destruction". How pathetic to pick the same excuse twice in a row. They should make it more interesting, by revealing evidence that Ahmadinejad has built a Terminator, or plans to fill the Strait of Hormuz with a giant Alka-Seltzer so the Persian Gulf fizzes over Kuwait.
Britain's High Pay Commission has just published a report about the trend in salaries paid to the highest 0.1% of earners, and it seems that someone must have made a terrible mistake. Because, in this time of unprecedented debt and sacrifice, the government's making daily statements such as "in order to keep old age pensions viable, we are insisting from now on that the elderly contribute towards their upkeep, by going on the game for just two days a week”.
Instead of this pointless Vickers Report about how to sort out the banks, the investigation by the Independent Commission on Banking headed by John Vickers should have been carried out by Supernanny. She'd have sorted it. Because the problem seems to be they've got no discipline. And governments have been like these soppy posh parents you get who watch their toddlers go berserk in public, and eventually say, "Polyglot, darling, I've warned you haven't I, about drilling through a stranger's leg with a masonry bit. Now please put the tools down or you won't get a canape."
The problem, apparently, is red tape. It's stifling business and preventing growth, because red tape is evil, and you can no more argue in favour of red tape than say: "I don't wish to contribute to the fight against cancer as I think we should have more of it." For example, Conservative Party Member of the European Parliament Julie Girling wrote on August 30 that red tape is preventing businesses from making agency staff work more than 48 hours a week, which “costs companies £2 billion [$3 billion] a year”.
People who love to scream about stern discipline are having a fantastic time in post-riot Britain. My favourite was a man on a Radio 5 phone-in, who ended his rant by yelling: “I TELL you how little discipline there is. My son gets homework and he’s allowed to do it ON HIS COMPUTER. “We need to GET BACK to PENCIL and PAPER!” And you felt that if you suggested “What about pen and paper?”, he’d shriek “NO! NOT PEN, YOU BLOODY LIBERAL. PENCIL! They have to SHARPEN pencils, it teaches them DISCIPLINE!”
How do YOU suggest we cut Britain's deficit then? You'll be asked this if you ever oppose a cost-cutting scheme, such as merging the sewerage system with the library service or something. So here's one answer, we could pay a bit less to ATOS, a private company that receives £100 million a year from the British government for assessing who should be cut off from disability benefit.
Oh this is such fun. And every few hours it gets better, but always with an announcement there’s “still worse to come”, leaving us struggling to imagine what they might have done that’s worse. Presumably by tomorrow it will turn out they planted a bug in Heather Mills’s false leg and hacked into Stephen Hawking’s voicebox. The only thing that tarnishes it slightly is now everyone hates Murdoch. It’s like when you follow an obscure band and they become famous.
How is the government getting away with this idea that a public-sector pension is a “luxury”? Is it something that suave bachelors show off, saying: “Once I’ve taken you for a spin in my Aston Martin, how about I show you the mid-range forecast for my teacher’s pension over a bottle of Veuve Cliquot.” A pension is a necessity, so you might as well say we simply can’t go on enjoying the luxury of a sewerage system, given that the amount of waste we’re flushing is 35% higher than in 1996, so from 2015 we’ve got to throw it out the window otherwise we’ll end up like Greece.