25 June 2009

Train companies love to crowd us into corporate fascism

The latest wanker train boss to suggest that as they are extorting ludicrous sums of money from commuters, it's OK for them to stand up all the way, is Keith "Rude Boy" Ludeman of Go-Ahead group. Suck on this quote:

"It is not unreasonable to expect some one to stand, this is a mass transit system. If you're coming up from the coast you might expect to get a seat, but your chances are reduced closer to London."

And why are your chances reduced closer to London? Because Go-Ahead doesn't run enough trains to cope with demand, that's why. Because it can make more profit by running less trains while charging people the same fares.

These are the sort of people who would presumably say it's OK for people to stand up in hospital when they're waiting for operations. Why not have them standing up on short-haul flights as well? I'm surprised Ryanair hasn't thought of that one.

I've even seen loads of people standing up going in from Chelmsford to Liverpool Street on Saturdays - which is nobody's idea of peak time. It's all because the companies want to put less and less trains on.

I think if people have to stand up on journeys they should get a fare or season ticket discount. Easy to police (given the number of CCTV cameras) and would provide an incentive for train companies to actually run enough trains to stop giving out discounts to standing passengers.

Meanwhile, Keith "Rude Boy" (who no doubt gets a chauffeur-driven limo with plenty of legroom) should be forced to spend his whole life standing up. No seats at home or work, made to commute on a cattle truck train, even his bed should be one of those Japanese upright "pod" thingies. Let's see how he likes it. It's time to make a stand. (Dreadful, I know.)

"Green shoots" last as long as my salad

A funny thing, the global economy. A month ago, all the talk was of green shoots and how we'd turned the corner. Now, a slew of awful data from the US - see, for instance, dreadful unemployment figures - and equally dire news from the UK where mortgage lending appears to be falling again - and suddenly stock markets are falling again and we're all doomed.

In a way the efforts of some of the media to put a brave face on it are worse than the scaremongers. When the BBC runs a positive story saying that the US economy is doing better because the annualised growth figures were revised from minus 5.7% to minus 5.5%, you know things are very bad.

What's the lesson to take from this? Don't read too much into one or two months' good statistics, or the wave of pundits trying to convince you that the good times are back. In reality, all that the US and UK governments have achieved so far (the Europeans have been rubbish because the European Central Bank are clueless 19th century economists) is to stop things being much worse than they are. But that does not mean that things are going to improve markedly any time soon.

We have some salad growing in the garden which we're now keeping under netting because earlier in the summer when we grew it in the open, when green shoots appeared they were eaten or displaced by birds. A good analogy for the economy.

If you look back at the media for even the worst recessions that the global economy has had - the 1930s, the mid-1970s and the early 1980s - there was always an army of pundits trying to tell you that we'd turned the corner. Eventually, of course, they will be right (hopefully; if not, we're stuffed). But for now, they are mainly talking bilge.

If you have to read pundits, read Paul Krugman, Larry Elliott, or Adam Lent in the TUC's Touchstone blog. They get it right more than most. If you are on the Right (or on the Left but want to know what intelligent members of the opposition are thinking), Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is yer man. There are others as well - I'm enjoying a blog called Labour and Capital which someone gave me a tip-off about in a meeting last week. At some point I should round up these useful commentators onto an economics blogroll - it's just getting the time to do it. Hopefully some time over the summer (that's what I always say).

24 June 2009

Some evidence that John Bercow is the man for the job...

...is that Simon Heffer hates him.

Now admittedly, that doesn't narrow down the choice of Speaker very much, since Simon Heffer hates a great many people, including hundreds of MPs. But the Heff is like an inverse political weathervane: when he's advocating one course of action, if you do the precise opposite you'll normally be all right. He's a very useful guide to what NOT to think.

Currently blog posts are being done at about 6am on a daily basis in the brief period between waking up and getting on with work - a lot on my plate at the moment. But better to have a brief post daily than nothing at all, I guess (I'm sure Royal Mail advocates exactly the same principle - a brief post, every day.)

23 June 2009

Good choice but why spoil it with silliness?

Of the Speaker candidates, John Bercow, who won last night, looked like the best of a rather dull bunch. On the extreme left of the Tory party - targeted as a possible defector at times, but probably too left-wing to be comfortable with New Labour (the same phrase was also used by early 1990s late night TV stalwart Jerry Hayes, who was the MP for Harlow until he got bitten by a dog, punched, and finally voted out in the ill-fated election campaign of 1997. But I digress...)

For sure, Bercow hasn't been the most consistent figure in UK politics... but when your initial views put you in the far-right Monday Club, maybe inconsistency is to be encouraged? He stands a good chance of doing well in the post, although in the event of a Tory majority at the next election, deposition looks likely... the Conservatives really hate him. Perhaps because he is a real liberal rather than a fake one.

It was something of a comedown, then, that the brave new era for British politics began... exactly like the old era, with the Speaker being "reluctantly dragged" to the chair, as if he was doing everybody a favour. Really, this kind of overgrown prep school nonsense should be abandoned at the earliest opportunity. Along with all the crap about the correct form of address - "the honourable member" and all that balls. MPs should just be called by name, like in any other walk of life. The more we demystify and de-clutter political procedures, the more chance there is that they might make sense to the vast majority of people rather than seeming like some weird 18th century ritual.

Tradition always has been a dirty word as far as I'm concerned. Greg Dyke was right all along, as were The Clash... "Cut The Crap".

22 June 2009

The Speaker should not be an MP

Parliament continues to limp on through a storm of bad publicity: now, apparently, party whips are putting pressure on MPs to vote for particular candidates for speaker: in the case of Labour MPs, that is Margaret Beckett.

The fact that MPs are being approached by whips over what is supposedly a "non-partisan" choice is unfortunate, but there is a deeper problem here. MPs are fundamentally a political animal. And yet the Speaker, who is an MP, is supposed to be impartial. These two criteria are so obviously incompatible that it's amazing that anyone thinks there won't be tensions of this kind. If nothing else, having a speaker who is also an MP deprives his or her constituents of their right to proper democratic (political) representation.

The obvious solution would be to have a speaker who is not an MP, but some kind of appointee. Obviously an appointed position would carry a risk of partiality; to get round this, I'd recommend that the speaker have to be endorsed by a majority of MPs in all parties separately. So a majority of Labour MPs, a majority of Conservative MPs, a majority of Lib Dem MPs etc, would have to ratify the appointment. Possibly that's a recipe for complete deadlock, but in any case a simple majority vote of MPs seems inadequate. It is very important that all parties are happy with the choice of Speaker - otherwise how can they have confidence in the parliamentary process?

Until politicians start thinking in more radical terms about reforming our outdated parliamentary institutions, doubts about the suitability of Parliament for the modern age will inevitably persist.

15 June 2009

Some interesting additional info on the plot that failed

Because my recent blogging interests have been more politics than economics-related, I hadn't visited Paul Mason's blog for a while - which was a mistake as he posted a really good analysis of the failed plot against Gordon Brown last week.

His most important point, I think, is that the sequence of high-profile resignations by leading Blairites gave the impression that the ground was being laid for a Blairite coup which would see people like Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn - whom the left of the party can't stand - back in the cabinet. Whether those people really would have come back in is an open question. The problem was one of perception: to work, the challenge to Brown would have needed to be a pincer movement from right and left. The left decided not to play ball. I still think that's a big mistake but the most likely explanation is that they are waiting to take over the party after Brown leads it to catastrophic defeat. Amen to that, but I just hope there is something left to take over by then.

Paul Mason also offers a fascinating link to Labour blogger Hopi Sen - whom I remember meeting at university, many years ago, a few times in connection with the Labour Club for the brief time I was in it before I left when John Smith took over the leadership because it had become "too right wing". (There's prescience for ya - not even waiting until the New Labour era to bail out...) Hopi's post "how not to plot" offers essentially an expanded version of what Paul's post said. More interesting is the related post on Guardian journalist Allegra Stratton who was covering the Brown plot in detail but may have been systematically misinformed by her sources, leading her to vastly overstate the numbers of potential plotters. One's never sure who to believe with stories like this - it's all smoke and mirrors at the end of the day, Hopi Sen's sources may be just as crap as Allegra Stratton's, and the "number of plotters" wasn't some kind of fixed number 'out there' anyway - people react to events, and if the right combination of circumstances had occurred there probably would have been enough refuseniks to get rid of Brown.

But the problem with this kind of tittle-tattle is it's dangerously addictive. There was a guy I worked with once who spent six months reading political blogs when he was supposed to be doing the literature review for an important research project which then had to be salvaged by other members of his team while he went on to pastures anew. Incredible timewaster. So, if you're reading this, do switch it off.

11 June 2009

Voting reform: Yes please, but no half-measures or B.S.

Team Brown has been making some noises about electoral reform over the last couple of days as part of a wider move to reform Westminster.

If we get proportional representation out of this, somehow, then great, but I'm sceptical it'll come to anything under Brown. For various reasons.

First, I don't think Brown really likes PR. His statements about electoral reform have made it clear that he wants to keep the constituency link between and MP and constituents.

If I had to submit an entry for 'most overrated idea in British politics', the constituency link would be it. The reason is obvious from personal experience. For about 75% of my life I have lived in Essex. During those years, only between 2001 and 2005 did I have a Labour MP (Alan Hurst). The rest of the time I have been represented by a selection of the most dreadful Tory idiots going. What's the point of having a link to an MP if you don't agree with them on any issue at all? How are they going to represent your interests?

(This is not a party political point by the way - a right-wing Conservative living in inner London could make exactly the same argument, swapping 'Tory' and 'Labour', in the paragraph above).

Any constituency will have a plurality of interests, and a plurality of interests demands a plurality of representation. Which is why bigger, multi-member constituencies are the way to go. The model used for the European parliament works reasonably well in my opinion. Certainly a lot better than first past the post.

With (say) 7 MPs per constituency, you've a reasonably good chance of finding at least one MP who can represent your interests, at least to a first approximation. The current system is a lottery of parliamentary boundaries.

And please don't try and palm us off with the Alternative Vote system. This isn't even proportional. Sometimes it can be less proportional than First Past the Post!

Brown was one of the people who helped kill the possibility of PR in the late 1990s when Tony Blair commissioned Roy Jenkins to look at it. In something of a first for this blog, I will say something positive about Tony Blair here: when the guy was starting out, he was interested in electoral reform. Conversations were had with Paddy Ashdown and it's quite possible that a new system could have emerged if certain "forces of conservatism" in the Labour party hadn't put spanners in the works.

The other main reason I don't think electoral reform will get on the statute book is that there seems to be two faulty assumptions doing the rounds which have become established wisdom: (a) we need a referendum to establish PR, and (b) there isn't time to change the system before next June.

We DON'T need a referendum. The Euro elections voting system was changed in the 1990s without a referendum: before that it was first past the post. Why should the Westminster voting system be any different? If we need a referendum on that then there are quite a few other important issues I'd like to see referenda on: ID cards, or EU membership, for instance...

And there's plenty of time to change the system. There is easily enough parliamentary time between the Queen's speech and the dissolution of parliament for the 2010 election to get this on the statute books.

Some people have suggested a referendum on voting reform on the same day as the next general election. What's the point of that? Once Cameron gets in he will just ignore it, even if the result is

It's quite simple, really: Brown doesn't really want voting reform and is making it look like he's laying the groundwork for these reforms whilst claiming that he's being hemmed in by factors outside his control which make it impossible for him to deliver. It's a masterpiece of political manipulation and we'd be fools to fall for it.

08 June 2009

spineless, gutless, witless

I can't believe it - Brown survived the PLP meeting pretty much unscathed.

What the hell? Where were the rebels? Where was the email round robin?

Apparently about 8 MPs spoke out against Brown (out of about 300), about 25 spoke in favour. Brown was surrounded by the cabinet and senior party figures (Neil Kinnock, etc.) and on Channel 4 I just watched a leading rebel, Barry Sheerman, come out and say that Brown was leading the party forward and there wasn't even going to be a ballot of MPs to determine whether he should resign or not.

Jesus... this is the biggest case of mass delusion since they got busy with the Kool-Aid in Jonestown in 1978.

So Brown promised to listen more to the PLP? That's exactly what he said when he became Prime Minister. He didn't do it then, so why the hell is he going to do it now? Why is anybody in the PLP believing this rubbish?

When Gordon Brown leads the Labour party to electoral annihilation next year, it will be largely his fault (and of course Tony Blair's, although Brown has had plenty of time to purge the worst excesses of Blairism - if he had wanted to do so, but he didn't) but the rebels who couldn't get their act together will also have to shoulder some of the blame. As will the Cabinet heavyweights who could have done a Geoffrey Howe and taken him out - principally Alan Johnson and David Miliband. Full marks to James Purnell for at least having the guts to speak out.

The irony is that the Blairites, who have been so wrong on policy, are 100% right on strategy. Apparently Stephen Byers addressed a Progress rally today and said that Labour was headed for a repeat of 1983. At that point, everyone knew that Michael Foot, great guy that he was (and is), was leading the party to electoral oblivion - but no-one actually twisted the knife and deposed him. The result was a Conservative majority of about 150.

2010 will be a repeat of 1983 for Labour, except much worse. Labour achieved 28% of the vote in 1983; in 2010 it will be lucky to get 20%. With the Tories likely to get about 40%, a Conservative majority of 200 or more is not impossible. Labour might be pegged back to about 100 MPs; which means that anyone thinking about challenging for the leadership after the election who is not in an absolute rock-solid safe seat can forget about it.

The whole thing is a complete disaster, and I've had enough. At this point, I'm washing my hands of any further commentary on internal Labour Party politics for the foreseeable future. These Labour MPs have made their bed and now they have to lie in it. If there's anything left after the election then I'll help pick up the pieces, but there's nothing really left to talk about before then; a party committing suicide isn't particularly interesting or inspiring if you (at least nominally) support that party. So well done all you spineless, gutless, witless fools in the Parlimentary Labour Party; you're getting what you deserve, and I hope you feel good about yourselves.

strange bedfellows

I'm in the rather strange position of agreeing 100% with Frank Field. This from Frank's latest blog post on the Brown crisis:

Labour cannot win with the present Prime Minister. I was one of the seven who would not support his coronation after Tony Blair was shoehorned out of Number 10. But even I didn't think a Brown administration would be as inept as this one.

The Brownites are attempting to terrorise Labour MPs into inaction. If they succeed then we deserve our fate.

It is simply absurd to argue, as does No. 10, that the next leader must call an immediate general election. A new leader, when being invited by the Queen to form a government, should inform the Monarch that he or she intends to return in April of next year to call for a General Election on May 6.

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Meanwhile, on closer analysis, what Jon Cruddas said about Brown was very sensible. He did NOT, as reported, say it would be madness to get rid of Brown. What he actually said - in the Sunday Mirror - was "to suggest we'll tackle [our] problems simply by chucking Gordon Brown overboard is madness". Which is absolutely true, of course. It would be possible - in theory - to make the necessary reforms to the voting system and to MPs' expenses with Brown still in charge; equally, it would be possible to change leader and have someone just as inept - or maybe even worse. But the most likely scenario for a Labour recovery still involves getting rid of Gordon and replacing him with someone who can do the job properly. And I think Jon Cruddas knows that; he just didn't want to stick the knife in before a clear alternative arrives on the horizon. Fair enough.


One of the more ludicrous pieces of mythology doing the rounds at the moment - put about by a combination of Peter Mandelson and Nick Brown, no doubt - is that if the Labour party does get rid of Gordon Brown and replace him with a new leader, there will have to be an immediate general election.


There wasn't an immediate general election when Brown replaced Blair. And a leader who has undergone a leadership election (as there would presumably be, if Brown refused to go quietly) would actually have more legitimacy, not less.

For sure, there'll be pressure from the Tories for a general election: but there has been for the last eighteen months, at least. The new leader can ride it out. It's only twelve months until an election has to be called, after all. The new leader can, in that time, get on with the fundamental reforms that are necessary to save UK democracy. Proportional representation. Abolition of the House of Lords. Reform of MPs' expenses. All of these could be pushed through in a few months.

The Mandelson mantra that a change of leader would mean an immediate general election is pure bullshit. And I don't believe for one second that Brown would unilaterally dissolve Parliament and ask the Queen for an election, either. He's stubborn and deluded, but he's not malicious. That's just more scaremongering.

So come on you rebels, Do The Right Thing and don't fall for this baloney that the Dark Lord Peter is trying to foist on ya. If Labour MPs fail to oust Brown because of this kind of crapola, they will be stupid as well as spineless.

Euro results - do I not like these.

The results from Scotland haven't come in yet but I've got enough to be going on with anyway. I would have done a live blog on the Euro elections (like I did for the US elections last year, and I'll certainly do for the general election when it comes) but it's just hard to generate the same levels of excitement.

The results were certainly worth analysing, however. Labour is projected to get only just over 15% of the national vote. Given that various pundits were racing round before the weekend saying that if Labour got less than 20% it would trigger a move against Brown, this should mean Brown is in very serious trouble indeed. We will probably find out later today whether the rebel MPs have secured enough signatures to move against Brown, as he is due to address a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party this evening. Some of the top political journalists - including the BBC's Nick Robinson and the Guardian's Michael White - have been suggesting in recent posts that Brown is probably safe. I'm sceptical of that and it seems that if anyone is going to mount a challenge, today (or at the latest Tuesday) would be the best possible time to do it. We'll see. If no-one makes a move I'll be pretty scathing about it... but let's give them a chance first.

The Tories did well but not spectacularly, getting 29% of the vote. UKIP, like in 2004, was on about 17%. The BNP managed a marginal increase in their share of the vote to 6.5% but secured 2 MEPs because the Labour vote collapsed in the North West and Yorkshire. Hopefully once people have seen what Nick Griffin and his colleague are like in office, they will be a strictly one-term phenomenon.

The Greens increased their share of the vote more than any other party - now up to about 9% - and had it not been for the contraction in the number of MEPs allocated to the UK (due to EU expansion) they would have secured a couple of extra seats. In the East of England they were within 2 percentage points of knocking out Labour - a very strong result. The Lib Dems did adequately, on 14%, but no more than that, and must still be very worried about what the continuing lacklustre performance of Nick Clegg is going to do to their chances at the next Westminster election.

Across the EU as a whole some commentators were surprised that the centre-left PES parties did so badly, running way behind the centre-right EPP parties in most countries. Both groups ceded ground to the far right (in its various guises including fascist and 'libertarian'), the Greens and the far left. I wasn't that surprised by the centre-left's weak performance. The European economy has collapsed and they have offered pretty much nothing by way of remedy. It's the Tony Blair prospectus writ large. If you don't provide credible policies why should anyone vote for you? The centre-right parties are similarly clueless, but can cover it up a lot better with nationalist bluster and garbage about being a 'safe pair of hands' which European voters simply seem to have disbelieved less than the crap being talked by the centre-left, who have been exposed as clueless converts to neo-liberalism at precisely the wrong time. It was a choice between honest morons and deluded morons.

If the PES had taken the far left and Green agendas on board a lot more, rather than being stuck in Tony Blair appreciation society mode, they'd have certainly done a lot better. In France for example the Greens actually moved into second place. There's a lesson there somewhere for the Labour party - but only Jon Cruddas (who inexplicably endorsed Gordon Brown on Sunday) is listening.

In Italy, the result defies analysis. Berlusconi, a cross between Rupert Murdoch and Benito Mussolini, actually increased his share of the vote. It's as if Dick Cheney had run for President in America in 2008 and received a landslide. Ludicrous.

Meanwhile, in Poland, a comforting setback for Dave Cameron's homophobic friends in the League of Polish Families - I'm happy with an advance for the centre-right any day of the week if it means a kick in the teeth for these imbeciles. But, to repeat the message from an earlier post, what does it say about Cameron's progressive credentials if he's prepared to jump into bed with reactionaries like this in Europe?

06 June 2009

Is this the end of the line for Mo Dutta?

A funny thing happened this morning... woke up too early on Saturday (as I often do), switched on the radio hoping to catch Mo Dutta's early morning Radio 2 show, and he wasn't there any more! Looks like he's been kicked off the schedule and replaced by Zoe Ball.

Now I've nothing against Zoe, but she lacks the sheer comedy factor of Mo Dutta... I posted about Mo a couple of years back, when I was altogether too negative in describing him as "the real Alan Partridge". Yep, some of Mo's links were just bizarre - as if he'd had a couple of plastic containers of farm cider before starting up at 4am - and he used to ramble on a bit - well quite a lot really, but it was strangely amusing, and, like David Bowie's initially laughable 1987 "Never Let Me Down" album, I found that the more you kept listening, the better it got. It was like the art of local radio presenting taken to a Pythonesque logical extreme - brilliant in its own twisted way.

Also, the show provided a useful half-hour of employment for the Independent's travel correspondent Simon Calder - Mo always used to talk to him at ridiculous length about whereever he'd been the previous week, which was usually somewhere completely mental.

I hope they won't be able to keep Mo down for long and he will resurface somewhere. Can't see him on the Radio 2 schedule but maybe he'll turn up on Asian Network or local radio. If anyone does spot a new show by him, do let me know in a comment to this post. In the meantime I shall keep up my one-man campaign of emails to the BBC to request that Mo be given the slot for either Terry Wogan or Sarah Kennedy when one (or both) of the old warhorses is pensioned off or shoots the tea-boy by mistake - which surely can't be very long now.

And Mo, if you're reading this: we miss you.

Anyone for Guts?

There's a great John Cale song called "Guts" which starts with the very memorable opening couplet:

The bugger in the short sleeves fucked my wife
Did it quick, then split...

If we view the Labour party as the 'wife' and either Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as the 'bugger in the short sleeve' this provides a very interesting analogy, apart from the fact that they did it over fifteen years, an eternity if as Harold Wilson thought, "a week is a long time in politics."

I've been thinking a lot about guts in the last 24 hours, the lull between the annihilation of the local election results and the humiliation of the Euro election results. The Euros are announced a few days later because some EU countries like to vote over the weekend, and, unlike the USA, we Europeans seem to be sane enough not to announce results from one part of the continent while another part of the continent is still voting.

This gap has created a weird 48-hour political stasis. Everybody knows those Euro results are going to be bloody awful... in some regions Labour might come in fifth, behind the Tories, UKIP, Lib Dems and the Greens. Labour's share of the vote is likely to be less than 20 percent.

There have been several open announcements by MPs, both known mavericks and former loyalists, that the game is up and Brown should step down. There are now two questions. One is whether the email 'round robin' campaign that has been circulating around the Labour ranks will be able to pick up the 80 to 100 signatures necessary to convince a leadership challenger that he/she can get the necessary support - 20% of the Parliamentary Labour Party to stand. I would say this is pretty much a certainty. Despite the fact that so far only a few dozen MPs have openly declared themselves as wanting Brown to go, dozens more - perhaps well over a hundred - will be ready to say the same thing via email. Spectator editor Matthew d'Ancona makes the point well.

The other (I believe harder) question is whether a big contender can be persuaded to throw his or her hat into the ring, once that email is released into the open showing the number of signatories backing it. The most obvious contender is Alan Johnson, who has backed the PM - to an extent - so far. It's important to be clear: if Johnno wants to be PM, Monday - or Tuesday at the latest - is the time to declare. He won't get a better chance - indeed he probably won't get another chance at all. If he baulks now, and waits until after the general election to throw his hat into the ring, there will be all sorts of other contenders - Jimmy Purnell, one or two Milibands, Harriet Harman, Jonny Cruddas, and heck knows who else (assuming any of these is left with a seat in Parliament by then). And I would imagine in those circumstances Labour would go with a younger leader, less tainted by the failures of the past few years.

In any case, Labour is likely to be a rather tatty and dehydrated piece of rump steak in electoral terms after the next election if Brown stays on until then. As I've indicated in previous posts, there is some attraction to the political enema that a truly heinous defeat would impose on the party: with both the Blairite and Brownite factions shot to hell, a new, radical vision could emerge. New, red/green shoots. Unfortunately the Tories have made no secret of the fact that the electoral reforms they will undertake will be designed to shore up the lunacy that is First Past The Post while rejigging it to cancel out Labour's advantage (smaller constituencies in Scotland, Wales and urban areas, where Labour is relatively strong) - totally understandable given the current biases, but also totally reactionary.

What the country needs is radical electoral reform now. Alan Johnson as PM could deliver this in a few months with the help of the Liberal Democrats, then stage an election under the new rules this autumn, or at the latest, next spring. The need to deliver immediate and radical reform to the UK constitution - tackling MPs' expenses as well as the rottenness of the Westminster electoral system - is the ideal riposte to the many critics who would call for an immediate general election if the leader is changed. This may be the only opportunity we ever have to deliver fundamental political reform in the UK and it would be a shame to balls it up (no pun intended, Ed) now. So Alan: it's over to you. You can do it. All you need is Guts.

05 June 2009

A Mickey Mouse cabinet

Oh dear. Geoff Hoon has left the cabinet. Once again, in normal circumstances this would be a cause for celebration: he's one of the duffest ministers Nu Labor has ever had. As defence secretary he spent most of his time attacking anti-war protesters and as transport secretary he has said yes to every scheme that the privatised railways have come up with to swindle commuters out of more of their hard-earned cash. (There is a whole blog that could be written about that, and maybe someone out there is doing that already, unfortunately I don't have the time.) No-one will miss him. 

The problem is that his replacement as transport secretary is Andrew Adonis, probably the most right-wing person in the Labour party. 

Others have resigned: Margarett Beckett and Caroline Flint, leaving Brown with almost no women at cabinet or senior minister level. 

This cabinet really does look a bit Mickey Mouse: good news, then, that it probably won't be around for very long. I would predict more resignations and the decisive move against Brown when the Euro election results come out on Monday. 

Hutt off

The weird thing is, in happier times I would have been of the opinion that John Hutton resigning was a Very Good Thing for Gordon Brown and Labour. But now it just looks like another nail in the coffin. This is the Dawn of the Dead... Brown is a zombie parading around the shopping mall that is Whitehall. 

How many people are going to be left in this Cabinet by Monday? Even the attempt to sabotage Alan Johnson by putting him in the Home Office ain't gonna wash... that's going to be the shortest appointment of all time. 

Kill The King

Rainbow, IMHO, was one of the weaker heavy metal outfits of the late seventies. Vocalist Ronnie James Dio is (with the possible exception of Black Sabbath's "Heaven and Hell" LP) crap, and the whole sub-Dungeons and Dragons feel to the lyrics has never struck me as particularly interesting. They got better once Richie Blackmore replaced Dio with other vocalists (first Graham Bonnet and then Joe Lynn Turner) and switched over to love songs, producing two classics in "Since You've Been Gone" and "I Surrender", but even so, that's just about all anyone remembers from them nowadays. For straight-down-the-line rock'n'roll give me "Golden Earring's Greatest Hits Vol 3" anyday. 

But Rainbow did manage some good song titles, and one of them, "Kill The King", is the title for this post, and for a very good reason. 

Because, unusually, James Purnell is right. It's time to get rid of Gordon Brown. 

The guy has had two years to banish the disastrous aftertaste of the cod-Tory Blair era, and he's done almost nothing. Most of what he has done moves us in the wrong direction. We are stuck with stupid and disastrous policies - privatisation of the post office, ID cards, privatisation of welfare, a continuing commitment to a bloody stupid voting system, failure to reverse privatisation of the railways - I could go on and on. Meanwhile, the increase in public spending as a share of GDP to pay for improvements in services - one of the only remotely "progressive" things about new Labour - has been jettisoned because of the economic collapse, and we face a decade of retrenchment and spending cuts which will damage the poorest and most vulnerable people in society. 

Yes, Brown has averted disaster - at least for now - on the economy, and there have been a few good policy moves, like the 50p income tax rate. But it's nowhere near enough. This guy is the biggest disappointment as PM since - well, EVER. Sadly, those awful Blairites like John Hutton who said he would be an awful prime minister were right. 

There is an escape route - a way to prevent a Tory landslide at the next election. Alan Johnson can be installed as leader, do a deal with the Liberal Democrats to change the voting system to proportional representation, then dissolve parliament in the autumn and call an election under the new rules. I don't think the Tories can get anywhere near 50%. Even if the Tories went into coalition with the Lib Dems after an election, it'd still be better than sticking with what we've got. 

Both the left and the right of the Labour party realise this - Purnell included. Brown is left clinging to a shrinking island of support which will eventually just comprise himself, Nick Brown, and Ed Balls. He can make it easier for himself by resigning on Monday, after the Euro election results (which will be disastrous) come out. Otherwise it's gonna get very ugly indeed - we're likely to see mass resignations from the cabinet. Blears and Purnell were only the first wave. 

Of course there will be calls for an immediate general election if the leader is changed, but Johnson can play the plumber role; if he points out that he is conducting essential maintenance to the Westminster democractic system, which can't wait, he can turn the crisis of political legitimacy to his advantage. Then, we'll either have revolution (George Osborne as Che Guevara anybody?) or we'll have a new voting system. Either way, things must improve from where they are at now. 

I feel a bit like the guy with the cigar in the A Team: "I love it when a plan comes together". 

04 June 2009

No Photoshop required this time

So Jimmy Purnell has stepped down from the Cabinet. And this time it's not some revisionist Photoshop job, but a genuine challenge to Gordon Brown.

Make no mistake, this is a much more bold challenge than Hazel Blears, who didn't mention Brown in her resignation statement. Purnell has said the following:

"I now believe your continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more, not less likely. That would be disastrous for our country.... I am therefore calling on you to stand aside to give our party a fighting chance of winning. As such I am resigning from government."
I don't see how Brown can survive much longer. We'll see the local election results tomorrow... but does anyone believe they won't be dire?

With friends like these...

The BBC website is leading at the moment on Peter Mandelson, who has urged Labour MPs (I was going to say 'fellow Labour MPs' but of course he's not an MP, he's another unelected idiot who's been parachuted in to wreck our lives) not to sign the letter that's going round urging Brown to resign.

Well done Peter. I can't think of anything more guaranteed to make MPs more likely to sign. Mandelson is hated across most of the Labour party, and particularly on the left. Following Hazel Blears's detonation yesterday, it looks increasingly likely that Brown is toast. If they can get around 80 to 100 MPs to sign that letter (which shouldn't be that difficult), the only question mark is, if Brown digs his heels in and refuses to resign, will a big hitter - the obvious candidate would be Johnson - force a leadership challenge. He can win, now: all he needs is guts. 

02 June 2009

Never has a loss made me so happy

Ryanair lost money. Yay.

The whole thing is the cowboy outfit to end all cowboy outfits. Yeah, so the 'face value' ticket price is often cheap if you book far enough ahead. But they charge you for a ridiculous panoply of stuff (including checking in, which it's quite difficult to avoid actually, except if you don't turn up). And it's run by the cheapest punk going, the asshole Michael O'Leary, who runs second only to Rupert Murdoch in the "business wanker" stakes. 

I flew with them last year and it was f***ing horrible. Even though Jeremy Paxman was on the plane. Never again. 

That loss has really made my day. If News International announce a huge loss, I think I'll cry with joy. 

01 June 2009

Some random musings on the new Star Trek movie

Saw the inventively named Star Trek yesterday afternoon and I enjoyed it. Not a complete classic by any means, but a good movie.

In lieu of giving away plot spoilers, some random thoughts about the film, in roughly chronological order: 

  • the USS Kelvin didn't appear to have any warp engines - indeed it looks like the Enterprise without warp engines. I wonder how they got around. 
  • Kirk's black cadet top looks way cooler than the traditional yellow 'tour leader' jersey that Shatner wore on TV. In fact, as they sussed out in the TNG movies, everybody should wear black. 
  • Karl Urban as Bones - brilliant.
  • Zachary Quinto as Spock - beyond brilliant. Uncanny. 
  • Simon Pegg as Scotty - more Irvine Welsh than James Doohan, but good nonetheless. 
  • Anton Yelchin as Chekov - come on guys, Walter Koenig's accent wasn't that ludicrous in the original. And where the hell was his Beatles/Monkees hairstyle? 
  • the plot lacked originality to say the least - seemed to be assembled from a cut-up of The Wrath of Khan and Nemesis - but it was at least well executed and provides a convincing rationale for breaking series continuity (which was pretty strained to begin with after Star Trek: Enterprise)
  • Thank God, no cameo for Scott Bakula (although 'Admiral Archer' is mentioned at one point.) 
And that's all I can think of at this precise moment in time. Star Trek looks set to be the box-office smash of the year, which means a sequel asap, I should imagine. People are lapping this stuff up. And good luck to them. I mean, to us.