29 September 2007

Stop this I think it's silly - let's call an election instead.

Labour Party Conference report: Bournemouth was pretty dull, although the hotel was absolutely extraordinary. It was about 20 minutes' walk from the town centre and the dining room gave the impression that it had been designed (complete with corner bar area), decorated and fitted out in about 1971 and then left for 40 years. I mean this place made the decor in Fawlty Towers look modernistic. It should be listed immediately!
I found Gordon Brown's speech a bit lacklustre to be frank, but he got through on the astonishing advantage that derives from not being Tony Blair. The 'not Blair effect' will, in my view, carry Gordon and the Labour Party through the November election which now looks VERY likely, probably with a majority of around 100. After talking to a number of people, none of them very important or influential, at 'Conference' (where does the definite article disappear to at this time of year) I am convinced that an election will be called in the next fortnight. The only person who thought it was unlikely was The Guardian's Michael White, who told me to "remember Harold Wilson in 1970". A very valid point, but if I'd been quick-witted I'd have retorted with "remember Jim Callaghan in 1978." But I'm not quick-witted so I went "uh-huh."

The Jim Callaghan parallel deserves closer examination. Uncle Jim was widely expected to announce an election at the TUC Conference in September 1978 after a series of opinion polls showed Labour several points in front of the Tories for the first time in about 3 years. Instead he did a weird kind of music hall song about a guy who "can't get away to marry you today because my wife won't let me." I wish this was on Youtube: it's one of the truly bizarre moments of 20th century politics and makes Ming Campbell or Iain Duncan Smith look like Bill Clinton in terms of their communicative abilities. I think it is on the BBC site somewhere but I couldn't find the footage. If Callaghan hadn't suddenly decided to do an audition for Monty Python, who knows? He might have won an election and maybe we'd never have had the Thatcher government or any of the rest of the 80s b.s. that we all went through.

But that is A Long Time Ago, and Gordon unsurprisingly kept quiet about any electoral moves last week. He's probably waiting to see how "Dave Cameron's Conservatives" do this week in Blackpool. The general betting now is that the outcome of this conference will be somewhere between a meltdown and a controlled continuum implosion for Dave. The Tories will probably manage to stage-manage the conference set-pieces well enough - not hard when your delegates' average age is about 78 - but the fringe will be broiling. Dave has been under attack on so many fronts recently, e.g.:

  • extraordinary attack by George Osborne on the "ultra-modernisers" in central office (isn't George supposed to be one of those? Ah I see - he's actually a hard right winger just on the bandwagon to get into power. Sorry for being stupid.)
  • Norman Tebbit effectively saying "vote for Gordon". Tebbit is - and always has been - a wanker, but carries surprising traction amongst the (still surprisingly large) quasi-fascist electoral constituency in "middle England".
  • increasingly disastrous poll ratings (despite a weird dip at the end of August where it appeared the Tories were actually reeling Labour in).
My friend Chris Brooke has put the case for an early election very succintly and expertly on his blog and I can only agree with his analysis. I think Gordon should make hay while the sun shines. All kinds of shit could blow up in the Government's face between now and 2009. Also, Dave might decide to drop all this 'progressive' stuff and move to the hard right. The Tories with a genuinely charismatic photogenic leader (which Dave is, if he's anything at all) and some hard-right policies - authoritarian, anti-migration, anti-environment, one might say Redwoodite (or Bushite?) - might be a formidable force. But would Dave really drop everything he's been trying to do to the Tories over the last 2 years just to try to win an election? Probably yes - he's a politician, for crying out loud. But calling an election now would mean that he'd have to stick with his existing policy platform - which is confused, contradictory, and easily open to ridicule.

I'm looking forward to rolling giroscope into "election mode" any day now.

23 September 2007

Conference again... what a major league drag

Time for the Labour Conference once again, this time in Bournemouth, a town where everybody probably still goes home from the pub early to watch the Old Grey Whistle Test. It's "Wheelchairville, UK". Makes Eastbourne look dynamic.

Seth B. Ramal used to get excited about this kind of thing last year but times and priorities have changed. There is no longer the fun of being able to shout what a bastard swine Tony Blair is. Americans must have experienced the same vibe in 1974-76 when Richard Nixon was replaced by Gerald Ford... just not the same class of target to aim at. There is a lingering suspicion that Gordon Brown might just be a Nice Guy. And you don't walk down the street shouting about a nice guy (unless you're the guy my mate Tom once met in South Africa at a party who said, "I know what we'll do, we'll go and see Mark Thatcher. He lives down the road. Nice guy.

Dunno about you, but I always found it cool the way 'Nice Guy Eddie' in Reservoir Dogs was a complete and utter bastard. But we digress even more than usual...

It's a bummer I missed the Lib Dem conference in Brighton. I love Ming Campbell so much. There was a good article by Dominic Lawson in one of the broadsheets (the Telegraph maybe? Can't be bothered to Google it) saying that Campbell was one of the most underrated party leaders ever. Probably right, but is it possible to do anything else with Ming Campbell apart from underrate him? He could at least endorse tins of his namesake, Campbell's soup, for a higher profile. And I think Labour should launch "Gordon's Brown sauce". [Cue a lame, 30 years out of date joke about "HP Sauce" and consumer debt. If anyone gets that, I'll be amazed.]

Loved doin' the continuous updates from the Manchester conference last year but this year I'm staying in what is essentially a guest house and I think wi-fi is, frankly, UNlikely, so I'll promise nothing. Who will the special guest speaker this year be? I think it should be Dave Lee Travis. It is, after all, a seaside roadshow.

I just wish I could give a shit about party politics at the moment. But like Mr Spock in the Paramount car park that was pretending to be the planet Vulcan at the start of Star Trek - The Motion Picture, my destiny lies elsewhere. Still... a chance to drink glass after glass of unbelievably bad red wine at no expense should rarely be turned down. If you're down at the seaside too, maybe I'll see ya there. At least this time I have a secure zone pass (not like the Tory conference last year... which was an unmitigated disaster for all sorts of reasons. Anyway, "enough already". Keep it real!

14 September 2007

Northern Rock on a roll... downwards

Big financial story of the day is that Northern Rock has asked the Bank of England for an emergency loan - which is a pretty unusual event. When this happens it's normally a sign that a bank is close to going bust.

If I had had my eye on the ball over the summer I would have been covering the current financial crisis a lot more closely than I have done. The 'sub-prime' mortgage defaults and consequent rise in the price of credit have left a lot of financial institutions - across the world - with big holes in their balance sheets. On its own I don't think this crisis is big enough to collapse the system completely - the bad debts are large but they're not THAT large - but it will give rise to a very different feel in the financial markets. The days when economic "growth" could be generated merely by massively expanding the indebtedness of a company, through the expansion of private equity (or indeed the consumer sector, through a housing bubble) seem to be coming to an end, at least for now. Of course, capitalism as we know it relies on credit markets to drive growth; but what we've seen over the past five years or so is an unsustainable expansion of credit, driven by a combination of lax regulation and that combination of greed and desperation which is at the heart of the capitalist mindset. Chickens are now coming home to roost.

My hunch (and that's all it is as the real data are buried somewhere in company balance sheets - after all I had no idea Northern Rock was in trouble until today) is that the US and Europe are going to go into recession on the back of this - probably next year. Maybe now's a good time for Gordon to have a general election (although it's certainly possible to win an election in a recession - just ask John Major) as I don't think the economic data will look anywhere near as good six months from now.

Advice for savers with Northern Rock: don't worry. The govt won't let a major financial institution collapse and will just surreptitiously bail out the companies involved unless they're particularly small and reckless (Barings springs to mind). These guys have all read about what happened in the 1930s. Mervyn King's assurances that the Bank will not bail out dodgy investors are bullshit - almost like a UK version of Greenspan, how does this guy get such kudos whilst delivering about as much economic insight as Tommy Cooper? King knows that propensity to do dodgy deals is the only thing which drives the UK economy forward these days, reliant as it is on the financial sector. The more recklessness there is out there, the better UK plc does - until there's a crisis like this. Then the backhander comes into play, bailing out the big financial institutions - the ones you'd notice if they went bust. Who pays for this? Smaller borrowers (through higher interest rates.) i.e. anyone with a variable rate mortgage. Or small businesses with bank loans. Or people with bank loans... the little guy just got screwed once again. Welcome to what our American friends would call "Real World Economics 101". I like the sound of that.

I'm thinking very seriously about desigining and delivering a course in radical economics for the Workers Educational Association - a useful project for next year. I'll let you know.

07 September 2007

1 year old today...

And so giroscope stumbles into its second 12 months as of now. Sadly I missed the Chappel beer festival this time round but we are planning to go to Ipswich in a couple of weeks' time.

Not much to time to post for the tiem being as I'm mainly into making some music through an Immersion Composition Lodge at the moment. Anyone who enjoys writing and making music but doesn't get so much time to do it anymore should really check out this immersion composition malarkey. Initially I thought that it would involve playing guitar in a flotation tank, but no. In fact you have to write and record as many songs as possible in 24 hours. The aim is 20 songs but I don't know anyone who's managed that (actually probably Napalm Death would have managed it in about 20 minutes in the old days.) I'm coping with the restrictions by paring down my arrangements to basic heavy metal, and taking lyrical inspiration from Budgie and Grand Funk Railroad. More on this as it unfolds, but for now, Rock On.

In the meantime, here is another great blog for you, this time inspired by a friend's surname: saunders.blogspot.com