31 December 2009

2010: the year we get f***ed good and proper

So, what to expect politically in 2010?

It's a really tough one, this. Most people I talk to about what might happen in the election are pretty pessimistic about Labour's chances (or optimistic about the Tories, depending on your point of view.) I'm inclined to be optimistic, but with limits. Securing any kind of overall majority for Labour is going to be difficult even if they can reach 35% of the vote (probably the absolute upper boundary for how well they can do - i.e. replicating the 2005 results) and more realistically they are looking at something between 30 and 35%, which might just deliver a hung parliament - probably with the Tories as the largest party, on 38-40% of the vote. The Lib Dems look like they are gonna get squeezed compared with 2005.

Boundary changes make it harder to predict how all this will translate into seats and we could well find that the Tories secure a majority by doing well in the marginals while Labour runs up higher majorities in safe seats. I'm actually quite comfortable with this: whatever your political persuasion, it's hard to argue that a political system where a party with less votes can secure more seats is anything other than insane. And if the Tories were (say) 5 percent down but Labour secured an overall majority I think they'd be justified in taking to the streets to overturn the result by force. And although I don't agree with their policies I'd probably join them. It won't happen of course, because they're as committed as anyone to keeping a fundamentally ludicrous electoral system - they just want to rejig it so it's less biased against them. Which kind of misses the point completely.

My election prediction, I think, is for a hung parliament with Tories as the largest party but short of an overall majority - but not by much. We will probably then see either a coalition with one or more of the Northern Ireland unionist parties (if they are only a few seats short) or with the Lib Dems (or at least some of them, because a Lib Dem - Tory coalition might well split the Lib Dem party. For complex reasons that I'll go into in detail in a post in the new year). Events will then proceed much along the lines of a majority Tory govt - mainly because Nick Clegg is a Tory in Lib Dem clothing anyway, and won't want to change that much about what Cameron is doing. Also Clegg appears to care little about the voting system - he spends very little time talking about it compared with his predecessors, and I get the feeling the guy doesn't even really understand what the Liberal party should be about. Useless rubbish (I mean him, not the Lib Dem party).

So the key message here is to prepare for the economic destruction of Britain at the hands of a vicious Tory government in modernist clothing. These guys are gonna destroy public services (except probably for the NHS which is being saved for later); local government services will be decimated, education is effectively going to be privatised, and the BBC will be emasculated, with the end of restrictions on biased TV news reporting leading to the establishment of Fox News in the UK. Meanwhile, huge public spending cuts will plunge us even deeper into recession. All very dangerous and hopefully leading to a landslide defeat for the Tory government in 2014/15.

But that depends so much on what happens in the Labour party. Right now, Labour could go one of three ways after the election. It could stick with the New Labour free-market mantra of the golden era of Blair-Brown - probably with David Miliband as leader - and get completely blown away. It could elect a complete duffer as a 'comfort leader' - Harriet Harman for instance - and get completely blown away. Or it could choose a radical visionary - someone like Jon Cruddas or Ed Miliband - and be in a very strong position to take advantage of the coming Tory meltdown (if the Tories are indeed as bad as I fear). In the end, whether Labour has the balls (not the Ed Balls, emphatically not him) to repair itself after the election to be a force for the future is going to be THE key question of 2010 politics.

I want to say much more - particularly on climate change and the post-Copenhagen problems we face - but this has already been very long so have a good new year and I will be back at the weekend.

30 December 2009

On decade ends

I'm pleased that the end of the "noughties" or "2000s" has been a relatively low-key affair compared with the 1990s, when we seemed to be hit from every side with "roundups of the decade", as well as apocalyptic predictions of millennium meltdown. Partly this is because there are no 'millennium bug' stories to get excited about, and the end of the millennium was always going to be a slightly bigger deal than a simple end-of-decade. But also the "noughties" sounds crap; the "tens" will sound even worse, so prepare yourself for even less fanfare in 2019. The twenties through to the nineties have a definite advantage of not sounding ridiculous and so come 2020 we will probably be right back into this thing. But we still have another ten years of respite from it.

I do believe, in any case, that this decade thing is overrated. Of all the post-war decades, the eighties came the closest to having its own identity - but even then, the prevailing "get-rich-quick and f*** everybody else" ethos wasn't really established until the 2nd Thatcher election victory of 1983 - the early 80s were much more grim. The seventies are often seen as a coherent decade but were nothing of the sort culturally or economically. For example, musically speaking the period 1977-9 (in terms of what was seen as the "happening sound") was COMPLETELY different from the period 1970-5, with 1976 as a strange transition year between prog and punk/new wave.

Even the sixties, often seen as the archetypal "cool decade", did not really get going until about 1964 in terms of musical and cultural shifts. And the fifties really have to be divided into the pre and post-rock'n'roll eras - with the dividing line about 1956 or thereabouts.

There is nothing surprising about any of this of course; why on earth human life should suddenly change every ten years because the calendar says so is not entirely clear. The nineties and 00s have really lacked any defining "vibe" at all IMHO. So, while I will be doing some round-ups of what we might expect politically in 2010 and beyond over the next couple of days, for me it's just another year-end. Don't expect any insightful summaries of how the 2010s will differ from the 2000s.

If I had to give a prediction for the next decade, it would be two small words: WE'RE F***ED. And that's why the name of the opposition head spin doctor in The Thick of It (which I've enjoyed watching very much on iPlayer over the last couple of days) is so wonderfully appropropriate - "The F***er". If you haven't seen the latest series yet, download, beg, steal or borrow - it starts off a little slowly but from episode 3 onwards there's no stopping it. And in the event that the Tories win the (real-life) election, a fine team has been assembled to carry on the series. Just give us more of the F***er, please. "We want the F***er"... good T-shirt slogan, that. The Sound Of 2010?

24 December 2009

Taking a few days off - suggest you do too

Just to say that I will do some posts on 30th or 31st December but don't expect too much before then as I'm recharging the batteries a bit - I'm absolutely whacked out after a long (although very productive) year. Need a few days off with a couple of days to chill.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for some Xmas cheer (particularly if you live in the USA) note that the Senate passed the healthcare bill. Even if Barack Obama achieves nothing else (and I hope he can do one or two more things at least before 2012), this is a major achievement - even though the bill is severely flawed.

Of course Copenhagen was a f***ing disaster, and in the long run it would have been better for the world if Copenhagen had gone well and the health bill had failed. But a small victory is better than no victory at all.

More on all of this stuff next week. In the meantime, my mate Steve was watching the telly - or trying to - and run into Noel Edmonds and a bunch of Deal or No Deal morons dressed as elves. People, please try to avoid this shit. It's not good for you. Just like brandy butter.

21 December 2009

Congratulations to RATM

With great apologies to my cousin's 18-year-old son who was backing Joe from the X Factor... damn good news regarding Rage Against the Machine's Xmas number 1. And one in the eye for the cynical wallet-hoarders who have pretty much destroyed chart pop (which wasn't in that good a condition in the first place, it has to be said, although in general the music scene is probably as good as it's ever been - a lot of good stuff around this year, and indeed every year.)

I'll certainly be going to Rage's free UK concert next year.

15 December 2009

Why the sudden dash for a March poll?

While the closing of the gap between the Tories and Labour to less than 10 points on most polls - including today's ICM for the Guardian - is welcome news, the accompanying chorus of calls for a March election seem pretty daft. There is going to have to be an election by early June in any case. So why not wait at least until May? What possible advantage is there in going two months earlier - with the weather still potentially dodgy?

The Tories must be getting pretty scared at this point though. With the current bias in the electoral system they might well end up short of an overall majority. At which point things start to get interesting. My money would be on a Tory-Lib Dem coalition, although that might actually split the Lib Dem party. But if things tighten to (say) 5 points then Labour might actually end up the largest party - and then who the hell knows.

11 December 2009

Why is the Guardian giving a platform to Sarah Palin?

I will disclose at the very start of this post that I like The Guardian. It's the Jim Callaghan of what used to be called 'Fleet Street' before everyone moved out (and most of the pubs closed); it's a bit wishy washy, but it's heart is in the right place. And I don't buy the paper often enough because all the good content is online, but I would very gladly pay a subscription if they established one (something I can't say about the Murdoch press, which I hardly ever read anyway. I have a dartboard with David f***ing Aaronovitch's head on in my office). Comment is Free is one of the best comment sites anywhere on the web - full of right-wing nutters of course, but hey, it's care in the community, right?

But I certainly don't buy the Guardian - or click on the website - to read crap by Sarah Palin about how Copenhagen should be boycotted. This sort of rubbish should be left to the Times and in particular the Telegraph, who has its own in-house team of loonies such as Christopher Booker and James Delingpole.

There is in fact an increasing proliferation of syndicated or freelance duff right-wing articles in the Guardian. While some would argue that airing the opposing point of view is a useful exercise in open-mindedness, the right-wing press never reciprocate (when was the last time you read a left-wing article in the Telegraph?) and all it really does is piss off the readership. Which probably increases the number of hits on Comment is Free, but doesn't do much for the paper's coherence, or credibility.

The Guardian should focus on what it does best - marshalling progressive forces for a forthcoming election where the left will need as much help as it can get. Leave the climate scaremongering to the right-wing papers who get paid by vested interests to do this sort of thing. And guys, sort out a system for charging for online content and you can stop losing millions of pounds a year. This is getting really urgent now.

08 December 2009

Cometh the hour, cometh the dodgy dossier from a leading credit rating agency...

All eyes on the Pre-Budget Report tomorrow - basically a daft name, as it's really an autumn Budget statement, with little to differentiate it from the main spring Budget.

We can debate the pros and cons of the PBR - personally I'd prefer to scrap the Budget entirely and just introduce finance bills like any other bill in the Queen's speech - but in the current economic crisis, we'd certainly expect a set-piece like this to provide a platform for lobbyists who want to exercise disproportionate influence on government policy.

Which is presumably why credit rating agency Moody's has just come out with an assessment that the UK (and the US) could "test the boundaries" of the top AAA credit rating due to the high debts being incurred because govt revenues have collapsed in the wake of the economic crisis. A summary is provided here by the unusual (for giroscope) source of the Taipei Times: I couldn't find a decent UK-based reference, having just seen the report on Channel 4 News.

On the face of it, downgrading the UK's status from AAA seems totally absurd. Debt is currently predicted (by OECD) to reach around 90 per cent of GDP in 2010. Many countries have run debt levels a lot higher than 100 per cent with no long-run problems. We've got a hell of a long way to go before we reach that point. So why are Moody's acting nervous?

When viewed rationally, the issue must be political rather than economic. Moody's is run by banking types who do not like the Labour government - particularly if, as is quite possible, it is set to move a bit further for the left - and so they want to engineer a financial crisis by downgrading the UK, ensuring a Tory victory in the 2010 election, at which point they will upgrade it again. It's the dirty tricks brigade - simple as that. And anything Moody's are putting out now is at least as dodgy as the infamous 2003 dossier from the UK "Intelligence" (ha!) services on Saddam Hussein. Alastair Darling should say as much in tomorrow's speech, and should point out that the credit rating agencies - who were shown up to be a complete bunch of clueless morons when 'safe' investments went belly-up in the credit crunch - are deliberately bullshitting investors for political ends. This govt has reaped the biggest dividends from the current crisis when it has faced down the bankers and squared with the electorate. And I do believe the best in this vein is yet to come.

02 December 2009

Let 'em go

Interesting stuff here from the sometimes sensationalist, but usually worthwhile, Robert Peston at the Beeb: RBS directors have threatened to walk out if they aren't allowed to pay £1.5bn in bonuses.

I say sack the lot of them and replace them with some of our 2.5 million strong unemployed reserve army of workers who could probably do the job a damn sight better.

Shit, I could do it better. And I'd do the director job a damn sight cheaper than any of these f***ers... say £100,000 a year? That be OK? I would do it for less but I'm earning good money as it is. They'd probably be able to find someone cheaper - and better - than me.

And as for the bankers who have threatened to walk if they're not paid their bonuses? Guess what - they can piss off as well. Middle-ranking civil servants would do a much better job at lower cost.

I've finally sussed it. The key to a sustained economic recovery... is to get the morons who got us into this out of the way as fast as possible. And that means a cull of private sector financial managers and senior bankers. Let's kick out the jams and start again. I'm no fan of the Chairman but you could almost call it a little Maoist.