26 November 2009

VT day (Victory on the Trains)

Everyone in East Anglia pour themselves a cold one... National Express will be losing their rail franchise for the region in 2011. This is as a result of their default on their East Coast franchise. National Express thought they could give up on loss-making franchises while continuing to milk the profitable routes. Sorry guys, you is dead wrong. Congratulations to Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis for sticking to his guns on this one.

I won't be sorry to see the back of National Express management. They are a bunch of shysters committed to screwing the customer in exchange for ever-deteriorating levels of service. They are the most wretched hive of scum and villainy this side of Mos Eisley spaceport. If you see one of them... put him/her in the bin.

Would be even better if the franchise were being returned to the public sector in 2011, though.

25 November 2009

Got a bank overdraft, kids? Say hello to corporate power...

OMG... the banks have managed to screw consumers yet again...

The Supreme Court's judgement in favour of the banks on unauthorised overdraft charges is absolute cack. Listen to this:

In explaining his ruling, the Supreme Court's president Lord Phillips said that bank customers agreed to pay overdraft charges as part of the price of having a current account, so they fell outside the scope of the 1999 consumer contract regulations.

Has Lord Phillips ever tried living in the modern world without a bank account? Or finding a bank which doesn't impose extortionate overdraft charges? Good luck to him. The idea that banking is some kind of free choice, in the modern economic system, makes about as much sense as saying that eating or breathing are some kind of free choice. It's patent bollocks.

Yet more licence for an already overstuffed banking sector to wheedle more money out of the consumer. After one botched attempt last autumn, we most definitely need full-scale nationalisation of the UK banking sector so the damn thing can be run properly. As in, NOW.

22 November 2009

Any of you kids remember February 1974?

Latest opinion poll from Ipsos MORI for the Observer raises speculation about a hung parliament - with Labour on 31%, the Tories on 37 and the Lib Dems on 17.

Despite the post title, it's not really that much like 1974; Labour was only about 1% down in the popular vote in the February general election that year, and came out with 4 more seats than the Tories, in a hung parliament. If they'd been six points down, Edward Heath would almost certainly have secured an overall majority. Heck, in 1979 Thatcher was only 7 points in front of Callaghan and still secured a majority of over 40.

But first past the post is a system which has vast potential to produce idiotic results; last time, a majority government with 35% of the vote, and perhaps this time, Labour with more seats than the Tories, despite being five or six points behind them.

This poll could be a blip - it happened just after Labour's win in the Glasgow East by-election, after all. But on pretty much all polls, the Tories are down from 20-point plus leads in the spring and summer to 10 points - or less - now. If I was Dave Cameron I'd be shitting bricks at this point.

I would laugh so much if the Tories failed to secure an overall majority - despite everything they've said about Brown being a complete turkey, etc. And I'm sure Brown would laugh too. (If he can.)

The Tories do have on ace up their sleeve in the event of a hung parliament - Nick Clegg, a carbon copy of Cameron who would, I'm sure, prefer to do a deal with Cameron than Brown. Clegg's problem is that his party would probably disintegrate into left and right factions if he did that - particularly if Cameron offered no deal on electoral reform.

Brown's best option in the event of a hung parliament is to offer a deal on electoral reform - a referendum, at least - and carry on as head of a coalition for a couple of years before resigning and giving way to a new leader. Given everyone's predictions of total electoral annihilation, it would be a very satisfying way for him to bow out.

I'm not really sure how Labour has ended up with the political momentum here - they haven't really done anything spectacularly good since the banking bailout - and even in that case, they have spectacularly failed to offer useful long-term banking reforms rather than short-term subsidies and handwaving. Probably, the main factor is that the Tory front bench - George Osborne in particular - are being increasingly scrutinised, and found to be the biggest collection of duffers possible. These guys are incapable of making a coherent speech on the economy, and in the current economic situation, that worries people. Long may it continue to do so.

17 November 2009

Some thoughts on the TUC's "Beyond Crisis" conference

Spent an enjoyable day at the TUC yesterday for a one-day conference called Beyond Crisis. Very interesting selection of speakers.

Rowan Williams was thoughtful, incisive, and about as radical as his position allows him to be. I think the Pope is doing him a favour by offering to take all the extremist nutters off his hands. Just one thing he said in the Q&A session I didn't understand, so I'll raise it here in case anyone can clarify: there seems to be a problem with the employment rights of Anglican clergy in that their employer is not the Anglican, but God(?) So they can't have normal trade union representation? I don't really understand this - how can your employer be an entity whose existence is disputed? That would mean that if God didn't exist you wouldn't have any employment contract at all. It would seem much simpler to just say that the Anglican Church employs priests. Anyway, it's not a point that's relevant to the rest of this post, but I found it bizarre so I'll mention it anyway.

The morning panel session with Ann Pettifor, Gillian Tett, John Kay and Dave Prentis was also v interesting. John Kay has moved from someone who was a mainstream Conservative in the 1980s to a radical now and that is really quite amazing, given that - as with other former establishment stalwarts such as Meryvn King and Adair Turner - he's not the first person you'd expect to man the barricades. John Kay's main point deserves reiteration here so I'll summarise (vidcast available here). Like Paul Krugman, Kay sees the current crisis as the latest in a series of asset price bubbles, followed by collapses which have been addressed by governments flooding the financial system with liquidity - thus reinflating the bubble a few years later. Phase 1 was the Asian crisis of 1997-8, Phase 2 the dot com bust of 2000-01 and Phase 3 the credit crunch of 2007 and following.

Because policymakers have been either too unimaginative, too in hock to the financial sector, or too stupid to reform the financial system, John feels we are now headed into Phase 4 of the crisis - which could well be the terminal phase. Another collapse could lead to the breakdown not just of the economic system, but a number of national political systems as well, as people will (rightly) be hopping bad with the bankers, but their anger will be directed towards populist solutions. If the left doesn't emerge with a coherent response to the crisis in terms of major institutional reforms (Kay recommends separating utility banking from investment banking), the extreme right could benefit instead. In other words we're looking at 1933 all over again. Apocalyptic stuff perhaps, but it would certainly fit in with what the more intelligent sections of the left have been saying about this crisis for a long time now.

I'll probably refer back to more from this conference in posts to come over the next couple of weeks as it was such a good analysis of where we're at at the moment. Well done for the TUC for putting it all together. I must start regularly reading John Kay's FT column.

15 November 2009

What's happened to posting this month?

Good question. The answer is: about 4 work deadlines at once. Don't worry, I'll be out the other end of it soon (probably around the end of this week) so there should be more posting going on by the end of the month. There goes my target of 200 postings this year... unless December is very busy.

07 November 2009

Review - BSG "The Plan"

I was excited earlier in the week as Battlestar Galactica - The Plan arrived on DVD from the US. Last time a bought a BSG special on US import it was Razor, which was great, but appeared on UK DVD at almost exactly the same time - and I was left feeling a bit of a chump for having assumed it wouldn't make it out here for a while.

This time, UK viewers aren't so lucky: The Plan is not on DVD release here yet, and I don't think Sky have set a date for airing it yet, so it probably won't happen until they do.

But is it any good? An interesting diversion, but not essential, I'd say. NOTE: there are some spoilers below if you haven't seen the rest of the series...

There are two really good things about The Plan. One is some of the best CGI (for the destruction of the colonies) that the series has ever had. The other is Dean Stockwell getting a lot of screen time and being superb, in a his inimitable Dean Stockwell kind of way. The third thing of note is that there is an interesting subplot involving a number 4 Cylon (the "Simon" character - Rick Worthy), which is nothing mega-exciting but nice, in that number 4 was kind of underused in the series in general.

There ain't much else, really - director Eddie Olmos (Adama) did about as good a job as he could cutting between footage from the miniseries and Series 1 and 2, and new footage shot to 'extend' certain scenes, but it's not easy when you're joining together 2009 footage with 2003 footage. How many of us look exactly the same as we did six years ago?

So the whole thing was nice, but a bit 'join-the-dots' - an exercise in weaving in as much backstory and parallel story as possible with the confines of a narrative that had already been pretty thickly sketched. And there are some key personnel absences which make the whole thing less convincing than it could be - for example, given that we know that there was at least one number 3 agent (Lucy Lawless) in the fleet (see series 2 episode "Final Cut"), isn't her absence from the Cavill "briefings" in the chapel a bit strange? I know it was because they couldn't get her back to be in The Plan but it's still a bit inconsistent.

Oh well - given the constraints they were under, it's not a bad effort. But probably for completists only (which of course, is a group I fall into).