31 December 2010
30 December 2010
The bit about the election campaign is particularly amusing. It certainly was a long, strange trip - and all of the punters (including me) were pretty wrong about just about every aspect of it. Which just goes to show that you shouldn't read stuff like I post up here and believe a word of it.
I particularly like the fact that, if anything, Brown's ratings improved slightly after he called Mrs Duffy a bigot. It was similar to Prescott punching that guy in 2001. Unorthodox election tactics - working more often than not.
258 seats for Labour, on 29 percent of the vote, seemed like a miracle in the context of being 20 points down in 2008. And for a fleeting moment (about 10 minutes in my case) it looked like the 'rainbow coalition' would deliver us from the Tories.
But the hung parliament bred a new monster: the "ConDems" (I'll be using that word a lot more now, because Blairite Guardian columnist Martin Kettle doesn't like it.) And before we knew it, a programme a lot more right wing than the Tory manifesto was being implemented with aid and comfort from the spineless Lib Dem collaborators.
Chief comedy moment of the year has to be Tony Blair's neo-conservative and Coalition-supporting memoirs A Journey (brilliantly tweetsummed by my friend Chris Brooke of Virtual Stoa fame). The fact that ConDem ministers claim it is their favourite political book tells you all you need to know.
How is the Labour party doing? The answer depends on who you ask. The most "glass half full" assessment comes from Tom Watson MP who argues that Labour would have killed for a 5 percent opinion poll lead this time last year, when yet another coup attempt was being unleashed on an increasingly moribund Prime Minister. The opposite "glass half empty" assessment is taken by Dan Hodges on Labour Uncut, who argues that "the left is losing its marbles". Like Martin Kettle, author of the infamous Guardian editorial of a few weeks back castigating the unions, Hodges seems to think that the best way for Labour to get re-elected is to say nothing against the Coalition whatsoever, keep reading Tony Blair's A Journey", and wait.
Well, fuck that and fuck people like Kettle and Hodges. Ed Miliband will probably not be 100% happy with his start as Labour leader; he's made some good speeches but then most politicians can do that. He's had some very good PMQs and some not so good ones - again, pretty much par for the course for any opposition leader. The main problem for Ed is that a lot of senior people and not-so-senior people in the Labour party are incensed that this upstart won the leadership and are trying to take him down any chance they get. The only answer, in the short run (and it won't be easy because it's not Ed's natural style) is to roll a few symbolic heads, cut a few people down to size and say that if Blairites don't like it they can fuck off and join the ConDems.
Because the energy of opposition to this government is not with Martin Kettle, Dan Hodges, or Tony goddamn Blair. It's with the student protestors, the people fighting for a fairer tax system, and basically all the people who Gordon Brown should have listened to between 2007 and 2010 when he was trying to come up with half an idea for how to run the country. And mobilising THESE forces is the way to win - not the tired old D. Miliband Blairite snooze. Of course it has to be done within sensible boundaries - for example, people throwing fire extinguishers is fucking stupid, and I'm glad Ed said so - but for God's sake when the hell is Labour going to rediscover its basic sense of purpose, the basic energy which is going to put hundreds of thousands of volunteers out there canvassing on the streets to win a general election?
More on this over the next few days as I'm well short of time tonight, but the end of 2010 finds me simultaneously hopeful and fearful. The opportunities for a major advance by the left in the UK are in many ways bigger than at any point since 1945 - because the threat to our basic social structures is greatest. Labour's leader is potentially brilliant - but he is inexperienced, and under huge pressure from enemies within who are pissed off that their comfortable little Blairite operation has been disturbed. As Compass have suggested, perhaps the best hope for the long term lies in melding left-wing Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens into some kind of new progressive force. That's brilliant for (say) 15 years' time; but we need the ConDems to be beaten at the election in 2015 (if not before), not 2025 or even 2020. It can be done but it sure as hell ain't gonna be easy.
29 December 2010
I still remain of my opinion (probably the only person in the world to think this) that test cricket is a silly game, all things considered; the idea of being able to play something for 5 days without getting a proper win/lose result is ludicrous, and the fact that the weather plays a key role in determining this, even more so. Having said that, when the gulf in performance between two sides seems as wide as it was in this Ashes series (third test strangely excepted), it doesn't really matter if you're playing test, one-day, 20-20 or tiddlywinks; Australia were at the end of the day, just too shit to compete. Sorry guys.
Who knows when this will happen again - probably another 24 years? Given UK government cuts to school funding, we'll probably never win again. So enjoy it while you can.
23 December 2010
But it does show that the Lib Dems - apart from Clegg and a few other crypto-Tories like David Laws and incredibly, Shirley Williams - are not "down with the kids" with the Tories in quite the way the media has portrayed it. Behind the scenes there are all manner of tensions and unhappinesses building up.
And I guess with the LDs slipping to 8% in the poll ratings you would expect that. The question is: will it bring the govt down?
Given the parliamentary arithmetic, I don't see how it can. Let's say there are 10 Lib Dem MPs who will stick with the Tories no matter what - that's probably a very conservative (sorry) estimate. That makes 316 MPs and they need 324 to survive a no confidence vote. So it would just be a matter of getting the Northern Ireland unionists on board and there they have it. If there were only 280 Tory MPs rather than 306 then maybe it would be on the cards. But unless Clegg is deposed and the new Lib Dem leader whips his party to vote against the Tories on a no confidence vote, I can't see it. And given the poll situation that would be like turkeys voting for Christmas. It seems unlikely...
But in any case, anything that makes the Conservative-led govt (as Ed Miliband is now cunningly referring to it, and I think he's right) is fine with me. 2011 could well be the year where the Tories join the Lib Dems in the opinion poll basement. Labour 20 points in front by the end of next year does not sound unrealistic. And that at least means Ed Miliband's job will be secure. Meanwhile, it's up to the new alliance of students and trade unionists to challenge the ConDems on the streets...
14 December 2010
There is superb passage, which I simply have to quote in full, explaining just how much of an idiot Pickles is:
Pickles, not a man for figures, made a catastrophic error when he was one of the earliest cabinet ministers to settle with the Treasury. The size of the pending service cuts has since rattled him. Publicly he sneered at the Local Government Association's prediction of 140,000 jobs lost next year; privately he has been pleading with councillors to raid reserves to sustain their spending and begging George Osborne to ease off.
The man is a intellectually bankrupt fool. If people like this are being put in key positions in the ConDem govt it doesn't say much for its chances of re-election.
Pickles of course will try to put the blame for the impending collapse of local services on local government - but that will hardly be an easy sell, given that all the key parameters that local govt has to work with - the size of the funding settlement, and their ability to raise local taxation - are being determined by central government.
This is a supposedly "localist" administration that won't even allow elected local councillors to increase council tax.
One good thing about the local govt disaster is that Eric Pickles is not a Lib Dem and so there is no "human shield" for Dave Cameron here - Pickles is a Tory, and a particularly unpleasant one. A friend of mine with close links to the Labour party whom I had lunch with last week said it best: "Eric Pickles is behaving like a student activist". And this was a guy who was paraded up and down by Dave Cameron at the Tory conference as an example of a "good Cabinet minister". Draw your own conclusions.
13 December 2010
This is good politics from Ed. Nick Clegg is essentially interested in furthering the interests of just one politician: Nick Clegg. He's been completely willing to abandon any principled position just for five years at the Cabinet table and presumably the chicken run to a safe Tory seat at the end of it. The other Lib Dem ministers went along with it like the spineless bunch of collaborators they are, but people like Vince Cable and Steve Webb must know that the game is up. Less than 10% in most of the recent polls... if more than a handful of Lib Dems survive at the next election it'll be a miracle.
But of course some of them could save their asses by either pulling out and forming a new party, or joining Labour. It's going to look like a more and more attractive option as the next election comes closer. And Ed is very well advised to pick up as many defectors and collaborators from the Lib Dems as he can.
Given the disaster that was the later stages of Tony Blair's premiership it's hard to remember that the guy had a few good ideas early on - and one of them was getting closer to the Lib Dems. Electoral reform was another. If we'd had some kind of formal arrangement between Labour and the Lib Dems during the New Labour period, we'd have never had the ToryCrat coalition, and we would have saved the country a whole lot of pain and anger.
But for now, the Lib Dems are going the way of the Liberals in the 1930s... any of you politics historians remember the result of the 1945 election? With the Liberals reduced to about 3 seats? Welcome to 2015. Although there has been a trend towards 3-party politics in the UK (and more, if you include the nationalists) since the 1970s, in England at least I feel we are headed very much back to 2-party politics next time round. With the Lib Dems reduced to (say) 5% or so, that only leaves the question of where those disaffected Lib Dem votes will go. At the moment they seem to be breaking 2 to 1 in favour of Labour, who have gone from 7-point deficit with the Tories in the general election to at least level pegging and probably a small lead. And that's not with Ed and the shadow cabinet firing on all cylinders, by any means. Needless to say, none of this looks good for the David Cameron project.
06 December 2010
By the same token, I think Ed Miliband could do with delivering a couple of nasty Xmas presents to disloyal colleagues with the mince pies and mistletoe this year.
The problem for Ed is that there is a Blairite faction inside the Cabinet who are clearly never going to accept him as leader. The principal culprit seems to be Alan Johnson - and I'm surprised and saddened by this as I'd always seen Alan more as a skilled pragmatist than a Blairite ideologue. But The ever-reliable Mehdi Hasan nails the Alan problem down brilliantly in his New Statesman blog: Johnson has openly disagreed on two central planks of Ed's policy platform - the graduate tax and the 50p top tax rate.
Now, on the graduate tax, I have some sympathy with Alan. I think a graduate tax is certainly implementable; the simplest way of doing it would be to have a flag on employer PAYE returns and a box on individual tax returns for whether someone is a graduate or not, and change their tax code accordingly. No conceptual problem with that. But given that we already have a progressive income tax system, is it really worth the bother? Given the graduate earnings premium, high-paying graduates are already paying back more than most other people over a lifetime anyway. I'd be inclined to have the simplest possible system - tax-based graduate finance with means-tested grants and HE free at the point of use. So I think Alan's criticisms of the graduate tax have a certain validity; but nonetheless, using every opportunity in interviews to attack Ed on this issue, rather than attacking the Torycrats (my new name for the Coalition) for the fact they are wrecking the country in short order, is just plain stupid. (I almost wrote 'palin stupid' there - an easy slip to make...)
Alan should be hitting the Tories on economic policy and saving disagreements with Ed for behind closed doors, not trying to undermine him at every turn. Alan's stance on the 50% top income tax rate is even worse. This is one of the most popular Labour policies of all time, and indeed there is strong support for a 60% top band. So why the hell ditch a popular policy just to attempt to appeal to a gang of super-rich who would never vote Labour anyway? Just totally insane.
As Mehdi Hasan points out, the case for putting Johnson in the Shadow Chancellor job and not Ed Balls was that Johnson would be loyal whereas Balls wouldn't be. But in fact Johnson has been about as disloyal as anyone could in the job, short of mounting his own leadership challenge. Once you discount the loyalty argument, the case for having Alan in this particular job looks a lot weaker. He is articulate and popular, but by his own admission, doesn't know much economics, and maybe something like Shadow Foreign Secretary would be a better fit for his talents. Or, if Ed is feeling particularly vicious, the shadow Northern Ireland portfolio.
So I think Ed needs to deliver a particularly nasty Xmas present to Alan Johnson this year. At the very least a warning to toe the line or he'll be out of the job. At most, a reshuffle of the shadow cabinet, moving someone else to Shadow Chancellor. I'd actually be more inclined to go with the latter as it sends out a clear message to Blairite insurgents: this leader is not A Soft Touch, and if you step out of line, that Northern Ireland portfolio is waiting for you. Without making a clear stand like this there's a real danger that the Ed regime starts to look like Michael Foot circa 1982. Or even IDS's Tories circa 2002.
Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper would be the obvious choices - both of them are chomping at the bit to destroy Osborne. If that really is a no-no (and it does seem to be, at least for the moment), then as an alternative, allow me to propose Andy Burnham for Shadow Chancellor. He has been 100% on the money in his critique of Micky Gove's education "reforms" - admittedly the crapness of Gove makes that like shooting fish in a barrel, but nonetheless it's true. Burnham made some good arguments on areas like Land Value Tax in the leadership campaign and it would be great to give him an opportunity to flesh those out. So one could say that the campaign for Andy Burnham for Shadow Chancellor starts here.
05 December 2010
Great news - England not hosting FIFA World Cup.
I was very, very pleased when I found out. As previously discussed on this blog (and exposed earlier this week by the BBC's Panorama programme), FIFA is a totally corrupt and unaccountable organisation, very likely in hock to the same organised crime interests that control Russia (who will be hosting the 2018 World Cup, and I think that's a good match - pun intended).
The sight of Dave Cameron toadying up to the FIFA officials (with superannuated clothes horse Dave Beckham - the Bryan Ferry of English football) was toe-squirmingly ugly, although hardly worse than Tony Blair's exercise in glad-handing to secure the 2012 Olympics. Anyway it doesn't matter Dave. It's most unlikely you'd have been in office to welcome the World Cup mafia to English soil in any case. 2015 - at the latest - is your Best Before date.
So I'm ecstatic that we're not going to host this PoS tournament. In fact I'll go one step further. We should boycott all future World Cups until FIFA is replaced with a democratically accountable, non-corrupt organisation. Boycott and replace - it's a strategy that I prescribe for all manner of monolithic, unaccountable organisations including FIFA, the Catholic Church, the British royal family, the banks, and U2. And if pursued, it would work every time.
Red Two was right all along. The debate over video replays was an irrelevant, time-consuming smokescreen which distracted attention from the real issues with FIFA. But no longer.
For more discussion of FIFA and the World Cup I can recommend this post and comments on Richard Murphy's excellent Tax Research UK blog.
28 November 2010
I'm sure anyone born into a large family on benefits will feel suitably chastised to have been so irresponsible as to have been born into that position(!?) but we'll come back to that.
Then, this week, we had Howard (now Lord) Flight giving us his €0.02 on the same issue. Those of you with memories longer than the lifespan of the Coalition may remember that Flight was barred by Michael Howard from standing for re-election as Conservative MP for Arundel in 2005 when he gave the game away by suggesting that the Tories were planning much larger public expenditure cuts than the meagre £8 billion or so in the 2005 Tory manifesto. (How times change!) Anywhere, here's Flight with worries about changes to the benefit system:
We’re going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it’s jolly expensive, but for those on benefit there is every incentive. Well, that’s not very sensible.
(I don't normally link to the Daily Mail, but in this case it seems strangely appropriate.)
This is the old eugenics strain coming back into Tory thinking - the idea that we need incentives to encourage the rich (who are, according to the theory, more intelligent, hardworking, or more worthwhile in some other way) to have more kids while putting the reverse incentives in place to stop the poor overrunning us with feckless offspring.
It's not a new argument at all - and it was heavily associated with certain parts of the British Left in the pre-World War 2 era (e.g. H.G. Wells, the Webbs etc.) But since 1945 the Right has made all the running on this issue. The most memorable intervention came from Keith Joseph, briefly in the running for the leadership of the Conservative party in 1974 after Ted Heath had been removed from office after failing to heed the advice of the then 5 year old Dave Cameron to form a coalition with the Liberals under Jeremy Thorpe.
I'll quote from Tony Benn's account of the Joseph speech in his diary for 19 October 1974, as it's really quite excellent (I have been recently rediscovering the Benn diaries from this period and will be referring to them more often in posts over the next few months as the parallels between now and the seventies are really quite striking in so many ways):
Joseph's speech on 'The remoralisation of Britain' was an attack on permissiveness on the Mary Whitehouse model, but had advocated birth control for poor families so as to reduce the number of children they would produce, since the mothers were unfit to look after them. It was a complete master-race philosophy; the theory that the problem is the immorality of the poor rather than poverty is a most reactionary idea bordering on fascism.
Quite so, and this really all comes back to the basic tenet that if you scratch a 'libertarian' Conservative like Joseph, Hunt or Flight, you'll basically find a reactionary authoritarian right winger.
It was disgusting in 1974 and it's disgusting now. This is the kind of crap that's masquerading as mainstream 'cuddly' politics under the guise of the most reactionary British govt since the 1930s. Aided and abetted by those spineless Lib Dem collaborators. At least Colchester MP Bob Russell had the decency to condemn flight for his remarks. (Sure, Dave also slapped flight down but given that Hunt said pretty much the same thing with nary a whimper from No 10, did he really mean it? Or is it just only OK to say this kind of thing if you're one of Dave's mates?)
Next stop - "Coalition announces sterlisation for welfare claimants". I kid you not.
24 November 2010
As an interested bystander my response is: Bring it on.
Who cares if the Anglican communion splits? Basically it'd be a great day for democracy and localisation. Better to have honesty than unity IMHO. Let the reactionaries, misogynists and homophobes walk out. (or alternatively, let the woolly liberals walk out - who cares who's left holding the baby that is the established church?)
Otherwise you end up with the monstrosity that is the Roman Catholic church, unified only in the sense that Stalin's USSR was unified. About 95% of Catholics I talk to don't agree with anything the Pope says. That's no basis for a unified church. You can't have a unified religious movement where people don't agree on the major issues - unless you start to conduct a whole load of lobotomies. So why live a lie?
Rather like Robert Fripp's reaction to the music industry dinosaurs of the mid-1970s, I see the Christian Church's future in terms of "small, mobile, intelligent units".
I'm looking forward to the days when the local village priest can say not, "I am a mannered automaton controlled by the General Synod/Vatican", but instead, "I am a unit."
Meanwhile, I'm considering joining the Quakers. Who look like a much more mellow outfit.
16 November 2010
This is the piece which led to the Fitwatch website being suspended – please circulate spartacus style
The remarkable and brilliant student action at Millbank has produced some predictable frothing at the mouth from the establishment and right wing press. Cameron has called for the ‘full weight of the law’ to fall on those who had caused tens of thousands of pounds of damage to the expensive decor at Tory party HQ. Responsibility is being placed on ‘a violent faction’, after the march was ‘infiltrated’ by anarchists.
There are an encouraging number of intiatives to show solidarity with the arrested students – something that is vital if they are to avoid the sort of punitive ‘deterrent’ sentences handed out to the Gaza demonstrators. A legal support group has been established and the National Campaign against Cuts and Fees has started a support campaign. Goldsmiths lecturers union has publicly commended the students for a ‘magnificent demonstration’ .
This is all much needed, as the establishment is clearly on the march with this one. The Torygraph has published an irresponsible and frenzied ‘shop-a-student’ piece and the Met are clearly under pressure to produce ‘results’ after what they have admitted was a policing ‘embarrassment’.
51 people have been arrested so far, and the police have claimed they took the details of a further 250 people in the kettle using powers under the Police Reform Act. There may be more arrests to come.
Students who are worried should consider taking the following actions:
If you have been arrested, or had your details taken – contact the legal support campaign. As a group you can support each other, and mount a coherent campaign.
If you fear you may be arrested as a result of identification by CCTV, FIT or press photography;
DONT panic. Press photos are not necessarily conclusive evidence, and just because the police have a photo of you doesn’t mean they know who you are.
DONT hand yourself in. The police often use the psychological pressure of knowing they have your picture to persuade you to ‘come forward’. Unless you have a very pressing reason to do otherwise, let them come and find you, if they know who you are.
DO get rid of your clothes. There is no chance of suggesting the bloke in the video is not you if the clothes he is wearing have been found in your wardrobe. Get rid of ALL clothes you were wearing at the demo, including YOUR SHOES, your bag, and any distinctive jewellery you were wearing at the time. Yes, this is difficult, especially if it is your only warm coat or decent pair of boots. But it will be harder still if finding these clothes in your flat gets you convicted of violent disorder.
DONT assume that because you can identify yourself in a video, a judge will be able to as well. ‘That isn’t me’ has got many a person off before now.
DO keep away from other demos for a while. The police will be on the look-out at other demos, especially student ones, for people they have put on their ‘wanted’ list. Keep a low profile.
DO think about changing your appearance. Perhaps now is a good time for a make-over. Get a haircut and colour, grow a beard, wear glasses. It isn’t a guarantee, but may help throw them off the scent.
DO keep your house clean. Get rid of spray cans, demo related stuff, and dodgy texts / photos on your phone. Don’t make life easy for them by having drugs, weapons or anything illegal in the house.
DO get the name and number of a good lawyer you can call if things go badly. The support group has the names of recommended lawyers on their site. Take a bit of time to read up on your rights in custody, especially the benefits of not commenting in interview.
DO be careful who you speak about this to. Admit your involvement in criminal damage / disorder ONLY to people you really trust.
DO try and control the nerves and panic. Waiting for a knock on the door is stressful in the extreme, but you need to find a way to get on with business as normal. Otherwise you’ll be serving the sentence before you are even arrested.
This post is also available on google at: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:qv4goBQOpDYJ:www.fitwatch.org.uk/+fitwatch&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-a
14 November 2010
But instead, we get Alan Johnson on the BBC Politics show saying he doesn't think the 50p tax rate should be permanent.
Well excuse me, but isn't this a direct contradiction of the policy Ed won the Labour leadership campaign on? What is this, the Liberal Democrats?
Alan seems to have got on top of the brief reasonably quickly but Ed needs to bring him into line pretty quickly - or replace him with someone else who's more comfortable with Ed's policy.
Otherwise, what on earth was the point of getting Ed elected leader in the first place?
Given that polling consistently shows that the 50p income tax rate is very popular, it seems crazy that Johnson - or anyone else in the party - wants to drop it.
But that's the way the Blairite faction in the Labour party works. No-one's happy unless they're pushing a policy which is an exact approximation of the Tories. (or nowadays, the ConDems).
This is the kind of crap that resulted in me joining the Green Party. And I'll be extremely vocal in calling it out whenever I see it.
Because Labour can easily win the next election IMHO, but only if it starts offering a genuine alternative. And I'm pretty sure Ed knows that. So why the hell isn't he putting his foot down on this?
09 November 2010
OK then, a few more words. Losing my Google G1 phone (subsequently recovered... long story) was one of the best things that's happened to me recently. The Googlephone had the luxury of a slide-out keyboard but was bulky by modern standards and felt rather underpowered - email, in particular, was damn slow.
The Galaxy S? A whole different ball game. Very thin for a smartphone, superb screen, and a slick, rounded user experience. And it's still Android, kids... f*** Apple!
I'll say it again. F*** APPLE!!!
And f*** Microsoft Windoze shitemobile as well.
Now, the Galaxy Tab? Good if you like an oversized phone. But Trigger Happy TV was years ago, kids. Get over it.
It's still better than a f***ing iPad though.
26 October 2010
In retrospect the euphoria that accompanied the Obama victory two years ago was overdone. I can understand why people (including myself) went over the top like that: after the stealing of the 2000 election by the election thief and war criminal George W Bush, and then the major league disappointment of 2004 when the likeable John Kerry went down to a narrow defeat, there was so much worry that those f***ing Republicans would pull it off again. And indeed in early September 2008 I remember being very worried; Obama's campaign against McCain (rather than against Hilary Clinton) took ages to get going because the Democratic primaries were so protracted, he was behind in the polls and he wasn't getting traction. Then the banking system collapsed, McCain gave the impression of being a senile lunatic, and Obama romped home.
Or did he? Not really. He won by 6 percentage points - the US electoral college system makes that LOOK like a big margin of victory but it isn't really. There have been huge electoral victories in US presidential victories before - for example Reagan vs Mondale in 1984, or Nixon vs McGovern in 1972. By contrast, 2008 was a respectable win but it wasn't a wipeout. And it was largely driven by the economy imploding at just the right time for the Democrats.
This meant that there was still a sizeable body of opinion marshalled against Obama. The economic stimulus plan which got through Congress in 2009 stopped the economy imploding completely but was too small and not enough focused on infrastructure investment to get unemployment down below 10 percent - which has created an impression that the stimulus in some way caused the slump. This is economically and historically incoherent but it is the message that has been pumped out by Fox News and the other right wing outlets that control huge swathes of the US media.
This has been compounded by Obama's failure to get anything through the Senate bar the most brutally compromised healthcare bill - still an impressive achievement compared with anything his predecessors managed, but the bill is a largely inadequate measure which stops short of full healthcare coverage for the population, let alone the establishment of a publicly funded US Health Service (which would be the optimal solution). The need for a 60-40 "supermajority" to overcome filibusters in the Senate has meant that from January 2009 onwards, when the Democrats had precisely 60 senators, Obama was dependent on every single one of those playing ball - or on help from the Republicans. Neither of those happened. The right-wing of the Democrat party has obstructed him on many issues and his efforts to reach out for a bipartisan approach to problems have failed because the Republicans would rather be completely obstructionist and refuse to cooperate on anything.
I would wager that very few Democrat voters put their cross in the box in November 2008 for this - another holding pattern presidency a la Carter or Clinton. The problem of getting elected on a "change" ticket is that there is a danger people might actually expect you to provide some change. And overall, Obama hasn't.
There is also the small matter of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars going to the banking sector, which brought the economy to the brink of destruction in 2008. Voters see high unemployment and mortgage foreclosures for the ordinary working person and an unreformed government-sponsored casino in the financial sector. A complete betrayal of any 'progressive' political perspective, in other words.
In these circumstances, is it any wonder that voters turn to the Tea Party - which is really just a more intense version of the anti-Washington, anti-big government rhetoric used by Sarah Palin in 2008? I'm not going to try to defend the Tea Party's ideology as it isn't really coherent. There are a few libertarians in the movement with a genuinely worked out policy platform (Rand Paul, who is the Republican candidate for the Senate in Kentucky), is a good example): I don't agree with Paul on pretty much any issue but he does have a coherent ideological stance. But most of the Tea Party candidates are pretty much incoherent on most policy issues - Christine O'Donnell, for instance. And there is an essential incoherence about the whole policy position, which claims to be anti-big government but is largely financed by wealthy individuals and corporations who are the major beneficiaries of the way the US government is currently run to favour big corporate interests.
Intellectually speaking, the whole Tea Party shtick collapses after a moment's thought about who really runs America. But it is an obvious consequence of the complete dysfunctionality of a system which claims to be one of the world's strongest and best run democracies but is actually one of its weakest and most corrupt. The Tea Party may be the start of the final phase of the American experiment, ushering in a period of genuine totalitarianism. I would say that is not the most likely outcome however. I think that it is more likely to be absorbed into the mainstream Republican party pushing it even further to the Right, and making the prospects of a successful Republican challenge to Obama in 2012 pretty remote.
Meanwhile, Obama will struggle on, almost certainly securing re-election in 2012 but delivering pretty much nothing in his remaining 6 years in office. Why? Because the current US political system makes it impossible to deliver anything unless you are prepared to work with the grain of what entrenched big business interests, and particularly the financial sector, want. That is why George W Bush was so comfortable in the job. And that is why the next Republican president won't be Rand Paul, but will be a corporate-friendly mogul.
21 October 2010
George Osborne's Spending Review - combining a bludgeoning withdrawal of demand from an already weak economy with a raid on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society - has made it much more likely that Labour will win the next election, and by a long way. This is quite simply a blueprint for austerity and economic depression (or if you prefer, a blue-yellow print, although Danny Alexander's blue tie on the front bench yesterday said it all) and the numbers produced for the fiscal deficit going forward are straight out of a fairytale. It is most likely that Osborne will be returning to the despatch box in a year or two outlining another round of cuts, with not just the easy options for spending cuts gone but many of the harder options gone too.
And yet Labour will face huge problems when it does get in in 2015 because the economy will have been so wrecked by these crazy policies that it will be extremely hard to deliver any package combining social justice with economic prosperity.
With huge numbers of unemployed and people plunged into poverty by the cuts, Labour will be picking up the pieces of what is left of British democracy and the welfare state during its first term... perhaps paving the way for Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Conservative) in 2020.
Utter insanity, on every level.
14 October 2010
The amazing thing seems to be the level of surprise about this: did they really think Ed was that bad, or Dave that good? Anyone who saw any of Ed's speeches on the (interminable) Labour leadership campaign, or any public speech or interview he gave between 2005 and 2010, will know that the guy is no duffer when it comes to making a point. For example I remember a Newsnight interview in the summer of 2005 - just after Ed had become the MP for Doncaster - where he destroyed Philip Hammond (then Shadow Chief Sec to the Treasury) on the flat tax (George Osborne's first big idea - expect to see it pulled out of the bag again if the Tories win in 2020). I actually thought Ed was good without being spectacular: he's still pretty nervous at this stage, but I think that's just inexperience. It'll be good to see how he's doing 6 months into this job.
Meanwhile, I always thought Dave was a smooth and slick operator at PMQs but not as brilliant as many others seem to think. He's had a relatively easy ride at the despatch box since becoming Tory leader. First he had 18 months of the fag-end of Tony Blair, who was getting mighty bored of proceedings by then (to be fair to Blair, in his early days as leader he was a brilliant at PMQs), followed by one of the easiest targets in Labour history in the shape of Gordon Brown. Brown can be a brilliant set-piece speaker (any Labour conference speech before about 2004, or his London Citizens speech on the last weekend of the election campaign for example) but working interactively in a format like PMQs, he's mostly appalling. Again I'd say that Cameron is good, but not great, as a speaker. So really they are pretty evenly matched - and given the amount of shit that is going to hit the fan as the spending review leads to the near-collapse of many public services, Ed is gonna have better material to work with.
I must confess that I don't always watch PMQs as - like Question Time - I find it a little knockabout for my tastes. But despite its flaws it is a useful piece of the parliamentary calendar - I'm always struck by the number of political commentators from the US who wish they could have a weekly "President's Questions", although of course one unusual feature of the US political system is that there is no "leader of the opposition" except for about 3 months every 4 years during the presidential campaign. So they would have to do it slightly differently. But anyway, nice to see Ed doing well, and hopefully he will only improve from here.
13 October 2010
At this early stage I'd say: pretty well. I thought he gave a fairly good conference speech - although next year's will no doubt be a lot better - and most of the shadow cabinet appointments look pretty sensible. (In passing: I don't agree with Peter Mandelson much, but I do agree that shadow cabinet elections are a bit daft. If the Labour Party leader was just elected by the PLP - the pre-1981 system - it would make more sense. But this system runs the risk that a leader with relatively little support in the PLP suddenly gets a load of frontbenchers who don't really agree with him. Ed's shuffled the cards a bit to try to ensure unity, and it's not too bad in general, but I still think it'd be better if he had a free hand to pick people as he sees fit.)
Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor is a bold move - the contrast with Osborne couldn't be greater, and I think that's quite deliberate. Personally I'd have been happiest with Ed Balls given his depth of economic expertise but I can see where Ed M was coming from - he doesn't want a repeat of Blair/Brown wars. Commentators who have claimed Johnson is unsuitable because of lack of knowledge of economics underestimate the guy - he is extremely bright and will be up to speed on the brief v quickly (just as well, with a week to go to the spending review, although of course the full implications of the spending cuts won't unfold for another year or two, so in fact there is plenty of time to build a campaign around opposition to the cuts).
With Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper I'd probably have swapped them round - put Ed in the Shadow Foreign slot but with additional responsibility for international economic policy - banking regulation and the response to currency wars, etc. - leaving Alan to concentrate on the response to the spending review. My worry with Ed B at the Home Office is that he doesn't seem to be particularly liberal and it'll be sickening to watch Labour attacking the ConDems from the right on issues like migration and civil liberties. So there is potential for a Balls-up there. Meanwhile, Shadow Foreign Sec looks a bit like a waste of Yvette Cooper's talents.
Looking down the list of other Shadows, the key departments at the moment seem to me to be Health (John Healey), Education (Andy Burnham), Work and Pensions (Douglas Alexander), CLG (Caroline Flint) and Culture, Media and Sport (Ivan Lewis). This coalition govt is unique in living memory for attempting huge, and generally ill-considered, reforms in a large number of departments (including all of the above) simultaneously (and you'll see, not coincidentally, that all the Secretaries of State in those five departments are Tories - which gives you some clue as to the real ideological centre of gravity in this administration.)
Just look at what we've got: in Health, Andrew Lansley's plans to break up the NHS, unmentioned at the election. In Education, Micky Gove using the academy blueprint set up by Labour to create a two-tier state school system, deliberately increasing inequalities so that working class kids should "know their place". At Work and Pensions, IDS - perhaps well-intentioned, but about to preside over a car-crash of reforms. At Communities and Local Govt, the truly abominable Eric Pickles trying to destroy any semblance of local democracy we have left while encouraging local councils to be run like Ryanair. And at CMS, Jeremy Hunt trying to destroy the BBC while creating a UK version of Fox News.
Is Labour's shadow team up to the job in these five key areas? Healey - probably. Burnham - yes. Douglas Alexander - probably. With Caroline Flint and Ivan Lewis I just don't know enough to say. I hope Ed Miliband does because this is make-or-break stuff: I can't emphasise enough how important it is that Labour wins the next election. Because it's gonna be a hell of a lot harder to reverse the huge damage that the ConDems are doing to Britain in 2020 than it is in 2015. No-one should be under any illusions about this.
More on those five key areas as the current parliamentary session unfolds.
If the absence of posts to giroscope has been unfortunate, the other two blogs posted here - groscope and Brother Typewriter's Golf Ball - haven't seen action in months. With the Golf Ball I think it makes more sense to fold it into this main blog, so expect to see the odd music post (and it will be some pretty odd music, believe you & me) here as well.
With the allotment blog, it feels like more of a stand-alone piece to me. So in the next few days I'll be posting a round-up on this year's crop (outstanding, mostly, although I'm glad I like marrow because we've got A LOT of them), and then setting out plans for next year.
It's good to be back. (at 6am).
07 October 2010
Child Benefit row.... ho ho ho.
25 September 2010
Much more on Ed next week when I've got more time...
18 September 2010
Unless you have been locked in a cupboard by the Revd Ian Paisley, you will not have failed to notice that the Pope is visiting the UK for the first time in an official capacity at the moment. Crowd numbers have apparently been way down on the previous "pastoral" visit by Pope John Paul II in 1982. And there have been far, FAR more protesters this time round. That's not surprising because the child abuse scandals had not broken in 1982.
There certainly is a lot of Pope-bashing - antagonistic statements towards the Pope himself and some of his more hardcore followers (like the adviser who said Britain was "like a third world country") - out there on the web. And I think that's fully justified. The previous Pope was certainly a conservative; but this guy is something else. He believes he is fighting a war against "aggressive atheism" when in fact, he's presenting an extreme-right, homophobic, misogynist and authoritarian view of the world - a worldview which, were it to come from an atheist, would be roundly condemned. And then he expects to get praise from the wider community for touting this crap. Well I'm sorry sir, it just ain't on. So I make no apology whatsoever for Pope-bashing. Quite the opposite.
Some of my Catholic friends have reacted defensively to this criticism of the Pope as if it were a criticism of all Catholics. This is very unfortunate, as I don't believe that the objective of the Pope's (sensible) critics is to attack all Catholics; and it would be quite wrong if they did. To the extent that any of the current anti-Pope sentiment spills over into a moronic and offensive sectarianism, it is completely abhorrent.
The main point to make here is that the current Catholic church hierarchy has very little - in fact nothing at all - to do with the rank and file churchgoers. The congregation has no say in which Pope is appointed and they have no input into Vatican policy. Therefore, it would be completely wrong to blame them for the crap the Pope is coming out with. Quite the reverse, in fact - the Catholic congregations are the people I feel most sorry for, as they have to put up with this crap week-in week-out - which puts them in a very difficult position. In the same way that residents of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s had to put up with Stalin.
So really, what I'm saying is that the criticism is aimed at ONE person, the leader, not the rank-and-file. Actually, I'll qualify that a bit: there are a few Catholics out there who slavishly follow every word of Vatican doctrine and appear to have no minds of their own, and the criticisms would apply to them equally - but that's their own fault for believing unquestioningly in whatever drivel is handed down to them. The vast majority of religious believers are not like that. They will always question what they are being told to do, and most of them will reject obvious bullshit for what it is. And for that, I give them huge respect.
04 September 2010
I may have to buy the Blair book just because some of his comments are so unbelievable: it falls into the "so deluded it's fascinating" category. But many of you, on both left and right, may find the purchase of the book just too grim a prospect. In which case, Chris has done the hard work for you. Nice one Chris!
02 September 2010
But one interesting thing on C4 News was an interview with all 5 leadership candidates - Jon Snow called them "the Final Five" which must be some sort of coded Battlestar Galactica reference. Why, I'm not sure.
Anyway, on this performance, the smoothest two - the guys who could slot into PMQs and immediately start massacring Cameron and Clegg - are David Miliband and, perhaps suprisingly, Andy Burnham. Both were slick as hell. Ed Balls wasn't quite as smooth but he was razor sharp on policy. Neither Ed Miliband nor Diane Abbott were in any way slouches but I don't think they managed to get their points across quite as well.
I'd still vote for Ed M, though, because it's not just about smoothness. After all, Tony Blair was (and maybe is still) smooth as f***; but he managed to win 3 elections and delivered - well, more than nothing, but nowhere near as much as he could have done. (And the reason why, it turns out, was that he was basically minding the ship for the Tories to get back in).
I think Ed Miliband has a vision of where Labour should be at the time of the next election and more importantly, what to do if they win. David Miliband may have that as well, but as yet I'm not convinced. And the Blairite backing for David (which he has admittedly tried to distance himself from) shows the real risk of right-wing influence on his candidacy.
The main thing that came across, I think, was that the two Eds could work very well together as their policy platforms are quite similar. It's, if you like, a sensible soft left version of Blair/Brown; Ed M providing the public face and overall political strategic thinking while Ed B handles economics (minus immigration policy, where I still can't work out quite what he's saying about Central and Eastern European migrants but could he please change it as it sounds like a half-baked version of UKIP?)
So, if - as I expect, Ed Miliband wins the leadership, Ed Balls would be a good option for Shadow Chancellor. Osborne is a good political operator but an economic incompetent and will be regularly slaughtered at the dispatch box. Andy Burnham is certainly capable of taking one of the major shadow portfolios, as indeed is Diane Abbott (if she wants to do so). The real question mark is what will happen to David Miliband if Ed wins. Because of the inquiry into renditions and torture that may have taken place on his watch, it would be inadvisable, to say the least, to keep him in the Shadow Foreign Secretary platform; but anything else would feel like a demotion.
01 September 2010
My relationship with Blair is similar to my mentor, Hunter S Thompson's relationship with Richard Nixon - indeed HST once dedicated a book "to Richard Milhous Nixon, who never let me down". He is the inspiration for my long-standing hatred of Tories masquerading as the centre-left. And so how appropriate that Blair should be interviewed by the Guardian's leading "stealth" Tory, Martin Kettle, in today's Guardian.
The one thing Blair gets right in this interview is that Gordon Brown - sadly - was simply not psychologically fit to be Prime Minister. (After Iraq, Blair wasn't either, but we'll let that pass.) Of course, that in itself raises severe questions about Blair's capacity for leadership. Pretty much any other post-war PM - certainly Thatcher, Wilson or MacMillan - and probably Major, Callaghan, Heath etc. - would have either moved Brown to a safer department (the Home Office?) or terminated his ministerial career after maybe three or four years of the guy's paranoid lunacy at the most. Blair was simply too weak to do so. If he had done, he would have taken a hell of a lot of flak - from thousands of sources, including me. But he would have been right and we would have been wrong.
On everything else, it's Blair who is wrong. I'm not going to criticise his decision to donate proceeds from his book to the British Legion - whatever his financial situation, it's a positive move, and should be welcomed. But it hardly atones for making such a huge foreign policy mistake in the first place. Blair's view on the reason Brown lost is laughable - "because he abandoned New Labour." Really? Brown was the co-architect of New Labour for f***'s sake. His policy platform from 2007 to 2010 was a note-for-note continuation of the New Labour policy. He lost, partly because of that, and partly because he was unable to string a coherent sentence together on camera. I do believe Tony Blair would have done slightly better in the 2010 election than Brown had he stayed on. But only slightly - maybe, say, 31% instead of 29% of the vote? (Don't forget Blair already managed to lose 6 percentage points between 2001 and 2005 - some "success story".)
And his view on the fall-out from the banking crisis is asinine, and shows that, whatever Brown's failings as an economics student, Blair doesn't even understand the first thing about the economy (rather like Cameron and Clegg, who are very much his clones, of course). It makes me shudder to think what would have happened if the banking crisis had erupted when Blair was still in Number 10. He might well have precipitated the collapse of civilisation by letting them go to the wall and thinking that John Birt and a bunch of management consultants from McKinseys would sort it all out. Or something.
Sadly it looks unlikely that Blair will offer an endorsement of David Miliband in his Andrew Marr interview - which is a real shame. Ed Miliband probably needs just that final "anti-endorsement" to put him over the hump - and Tony Blair could have done the job.
The most quixotic thing about Blair - apart from the permatan - is his insistence that he loves the Labour party. Why, when he stands for everything that is Tory? It really is hard to avoid the conclusion that the fucker somehow ended up in the wrong party by mistake in 1983 and the last 15 years of British politics have been a horrible retribution for that mistake.
I do think this'll be pretty much the last hurrah of Blair as front page news though. So if you kids can just stick the next couple of days out, you'll never have to hear from this bastard again. I just wish I could say the same about Martin Kettle.
30 August 2010
The recent (albeit coded) endorsement of David Miliband by Peter Mandelson - who has warned against a return to a "pre-New Labour" party - is probably the best news the Ed Miliband campaign has had so far. If Tony Blair decides to endorse David Miliband - or at least endorse a continuation of the Blairite political cul-de-sac - in his Andrew Marr interview on Wednesday, that will be even better for Ed.
The idea that Mandelson - long a Labour hate figure, now an object of derision after publishing his ludicrously self serving memoirs The Third Man earlier in the summer - and Tony Blair, FFS! - are helping Dave Miliband's chances of election with these interventions is absurd. These guys play badly with the electorate at large, and abysmally with the Labour party and trade unions, who hate their guts. It's almost as if the Ed Miliband campaign was orchestrating shows of support for David from the people most likely to influence people to vote the other way.
Only the endorsement of David by Jon Cruddas earlier this week could be described as in any way helpful to the David Miliband campaign. But even there, I think most of the left - Jon's natural constituency - will conclude that he has made a misjudgement, and it won't influence the final vote very much.
If you look at the supporters that David Miliband has in the media commentariat it's very revealing; mostly ultra-Blairites like Martin Kettle and John Rentoul, who are so right wing that they find the Coalition a bit wishy-washy. If the Ed Miliband leadership precipitates a departure of Blairite dinosaurs and no-marks for the wintery climes of the coalition, it could be the best thing ever to happen to Labour; get rid of the duffers and replace them with people who can actually Do The Job.
Likewise, the fact that Dave Cameron is reported to be backing Dave Miliband for Labour leader is important. Dave C claims to be "scared" of Dave M but in fact he knows that Dave M, while not actually a Tory (let's be fair here) is least likely to reverse any of the gigantic vandalisms currently being carried out on the UK economy and public services in the name of "deficit reduction". Dave Miliband, like Tony Blair, is the Labour leader Tories can trust. It's trolling of the basest sort.
All in all I'm entering September pretty confident that Ed Miliband is going to do it. Especially as the three other candidates - Diane Abbot, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham - are all running pretty left-of-centre "surrogate Ed Miliband" campaigns. It would be odd - although not beyond the realms of sanity - to vote for any three of those and put David above of Ed Miliband on second preferences.
This means, I think, that while Dave M may enjoy a narrow lead on 1st prefs, Ed M is going to be way out in front on 2nd prefs - and that should carry him over the top. The resuscitation of the Labour party as a true political force - maybe for the first time since the 1960s - is about to begin in earnest.
14 August 2010
Ho ho... only joking. I will have quite a reasonable amount to say on just how shit this government has been in its first three months, and how we could well be headed for a Labour landslide in 2015 or maybe even before, but it will have to wait to next week. Work has been extremely busy and I've basically been getting out of bed in the morning, working pretty much 14 hour days, and then going to bed.
But things will ease up next week and so I'll have a bit more time to comment.
In the meantime here's Ed Miliband in the Guardian podcast, curated by my erstwhile friend Tom Clark.
06 August 2010
A group of influential conservative members of the behemoth social media site Digg.com have just been caught red-handed in a widespread campaign of censorship, having multiple accounts, upvote padding, and deliberately trying to ban progressives. An undercover investigation has exposed this effort, which has been in action for more than one year.
As Mr Spock might have said - "fascinating". This might begin to explain why so many political and current affairs blogs, including Comment is Free, are filled with hundreds of extremely similar comments by right-wing nutters.
There may well be just a handful of extreme right-wingers co-ordinating the whole thing.
This could be THE story of the year on the net. More news as it comes in.
02 August 2010
I think if there had been more thorough and genuine engagement on some of the bills, especially, for example, in some of the equality legislation, it could have been less confrontational. Another example would be around the school admissions scrap that we had.
26 July 2010
21 July 2010
- Andy Burnham: the blog post which said "there is a token candidate for the leadership - his name is Andy Burnham" says it all. A nice guy, but hopeless.
- Diane Abbot: not as bad as many people have been saying, and will probably pick up more votes than most pundits realise. She's unlikely to win, though.
- Ed Balls: good, hard-hitting soundbites attacking the coalition's economic policy fatally underlined by a neanderthal stance on immigration, as previously taken apart on this blog. Also not the most popular flavour in the jelly bean pack with voters... in fact probably the hardest sell of all 5 candidates. (Diane has a lot of voter recognition through being on the TV a lot, and who the hell could dislike Andy Burnham? He's the Ronnie Corbett of Labour politics. But if you remember Ronnie in Sorry! that's what Burnham would be like as leader... a bit of a laugh.
- Dave Miliband: now we start coming to the real contenders. He has been steadily trying to move away from his 'microBlair' days with a spirited pitch to the soft left on some issues, interspersed with splashes of the old Blairite rhetoric. In short, a little something for every voter in this leadership contest - and therefore maybe tickling all the bases and not nailing any of them. His campaign team is good and features some real radicals, the delivery is smooth and assured, but I still can't quite convince myself that Dave really means it. I just sense the dead hand of Tony Blair lurking round the corner. I'd be happy to be proved wrong, but I'm sorry Dave, I couldn't vote for you even if I was eligible (and unless I join the Labour Party I'm not - more on that later). Also, what is the government's enquiry into torture going to come up with? As Foreign Secretary at the time, did Dave knowingly go along with extraordinary rendition? If he knew the British state was complicit in torture there's no way he should be anywhere near the Labour leadership. Or indeed anywhere at all, apart from a prison cell.
- Ed Miliband: for me, the obvious choice. A smooth soft left pitch with maybe a dash of something harder in the mix. Can be smooth, like Dave, or more of a rottweiler, like Balls, depending on what's required ("the emissary from planet f***", he was nicknamed by members of the Blair entourage when he was a Brown special adviser). Also has enough cabinet experience to avoid looking like a novice but is a recent enough entry into Parliament to still seem pretty fresh (and wasn't in Parliament during Iraq, which helps A LOT.) If I do end up joining Labour my vote will be for Ed.
And that in my view, is A Very Good Thing. Perhaps we should be nervous though that Simon Heffer, of all people, is suggesting that Ed could be prime minister within a year. Now one school of thought is that support is a good thing wherever it comes from. But when it's the Heff, that seems crazy. I haven't read the article in any detail yet.. it was linked from LFF. I'll read it in a minute.
So anyway, carry on Ed. You can do it. Just don't f***ing let us down if you do win. I'm already minded to join the Greens... not because of anything Ed or the other candidates have done, but because there's no way Caroline Lucas is gonna sell anyone out. And in these days of duplicity, double dealing and splintered manifesto commitments, I find that reassuring.
16 July 2010
Really this tells you all you need to know about the world's most reactionary and corrupt religious organisation.
Some people are fighting the good fight for sanity and liberal tolerance within the RC Church and I wish them all the best. They've got a real fight on their hands though, the poor bastards.
13 July 2010
In 2008, when discussing Redbridge Council's decision to ban smokers from fostering children, Gaunt called Redridge councillor Michael Stark a "Nazi" and an "ignorant pig".
Perhaps strangely, this kind of thing doesn't faze me as I wouldn't expect Gaunt, or Richard Littlejohn, or any of the other stupid little fascist wankers who've ever tried to create their own version of Fox News on the British airwaves to behave any differently.
Banning Gaunt probably isn't the best response though (not that Ofcom have actually suggested doing that - he's been fired by TalkSport but remains available for hire by anyone else mad enough to take him on). Instead, EVERY person who gets interviewed by Gaunt should just say "how's it going today you Nazi? Alright, you ignorant pig?" etc. until listeners switch off from the flood of incoherent abuse. It's always been a one-way flood of abuse from Gaunt - my proposal is that we make it a two-way flood of abuse and see how he likes that.
Ofcom, in their justification for censuring Gaunt, rightly point out that "the offensive and abusive nature of the broadcast was gratuitous, having no factual content and justification".
Very true. But for consistency's sake they should also point out that the Daily Mail, the Express (complete with appalling headlines referring to "ethnics", the Sun, most reality TV programmes, the Dutch football team, and Prime Ministers' Questions, not to mention at least half the current cabinet, are also gratuitous, with no factual content or justification. It's a big septic tank out there once you dig a little.
11 July 2010
So much stuff on the government during the week I was away that it's hard to know where to begin. I'll try to do some more detailed posts on just how awful this administration is later this week. But it was nice to see Micky Gove taking some real flak over letting schools fall down rather than refurbish them. Once Labour gets a new leader they will probably be running at something over 50% in the opinion polls. And, under just about any electoral system, that translates to a wipeout for the coalition next time round. So Bring It On.
28 June 2010
Extraordinary allegations of vote-rigging for the election of FIFA president Sepp Blatter (he who is opposed to 4th official video replays in games), match-fixing and intimidation by FIFA of anyone who dares to speak out against corruption.
I should stress that I have absolutely no idea whether any of this stuff is true. But even if halfway true, it seems to me that the best course of action for any countries who think the current system stinks would be to form a breakaway international football association and hold their own rebel world cup.
FIFA is like any unaccountable monopolist: that power corrupts, and in the absence of any democratic mechanism to hold them to account, a bit of competition would work wonders.
I've always liked the fact that boxing has about 3 or 4 separate world titles as it makes things somewhat more messy and unpredictable - which is the essence of generating any interest in sport, really. Maybe football will end up going the same way. It would be much more exciting than what's going on at the moment, anyhow.
27 June 2010
Willie played Glastonbury this year - just seen the footage and it was f***ing EXCELLENT. It was basically a small club set in a stadium venue - rough and ready, superb vibe. I recommend that y'all catch this one while it's still on iPlayer.
The cries of "we wuz robbed" have predictably arisen after a clear England goal by Frank Lampard (which would have taken them to level pegging on 2-2) was disallowed by the assistant referee, who said it didn't cross the line when it certainly did. However this just seems like an excuse to avoid focusing on the fact that England were utter cack. Is there anyone out there who seriously believes England should have won this game? Get a lobotomy. They were good for about 10 minutes and utter shite for 80.
Fabio Capello won't resign... well, would a change of manager really make any difference? Four weeks ago everyone seemed to think this guy was a genius. Is it his fault that players of the calibre of Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney can't pass the ball or put together any kind of fluid attacking play? I'm not sure. The media have a lot less of a clue even than the England management, in my book.
The one thing I couldn't understand was the presence of David Beckham. A "bridge" between the manager and the players? Why was one needed? Perhaps he was only there for the beer.
A more interesting question is whether there should be video replay technology involved in games to stop crappy refereeing decisions affecting the outcome. I'm not sure. FIFA says it would slow the pace of the game down. But rugby union uses it and it takes a few seconds, at most. So it seems a pretty weak reason not to have it.
It's not really something that's unfair on a macro level, though (as opposed to in an individual incident), as both teams have to put up with the absence of video replay, so essentially it's just another random factor. And in this case it would be hard to argue it determined the result - just made it 4-1 rather than 4-2 IMHO.
F*** it all anyway. I'm a casual fan of football at best - enjoying the Glastonbury footage a lot more at the moment. Dizzee Rascal with Guthrie Govan - now that's rock'n'roll.
23 June 2010
And that seemed to me a fine metaphor for England-Slovenia today. I have not been to Slovenia but by the accounts of friends and family who have done, it is a fantastic place, and I wish them all the best in today's game. To win, England will require at least a two-dimensional approach; but against Algeria they were at best one-dimensional, and perhaps still lower.
One of the advantages of being self-employed is that you can bunk off to watch football anytime you feel like it. I rarely do, but today will be an exception.
Will England bounce back, as in 1990? Or will they fall apart with the incredible lameness of France?
The good thing about it is that, assuming the next Labour leader can walk and chew gum at the same time, he/she has the next election sewn up. Because these measures are gonna be just unbelievably unpopular.
But anyway, more later.
21 June 2010
"Why is it that I only understand economics when I read this bloke?"
Simple - because Krugman (and several other honourable mentions like Joe Stiglitz and Martin Wolf) are talking sense on Keynesian fiscal stimulus, whereas most politicians - particularly in Europe - don't have a fucking clue.
We have somehow gone from a situation where fiscal stimulus was patently inadequate in Europe, but at least it was being done a bit, to a new and dangerous phase when governments are intent on creating a new Great Depression by cutting spending when the economy is least able to cope with a fall in demand.
Led of course by a couple of twerps called Dave and George. To be honest Gilbert and George would be a better bet for a PM/Chancellor duo. At least they're not malicious.
My advice to politicians if we want to get out of this one alive is to keep reading Paul's blog, combine two parts Paul with one part Richard Murphy three times daily follow advice three times daily and swallow hard.
Why is it I only understand rock guitar when I hear this bloke?
19 June 2010
No "almost" about it in fact, folks: this was pants-wettingly lame.
Topped off by a hilarious outburst from Wayne Rooney - the Phil Collins of English football (to be fair, probably extremely frustrated at not being 100% match-fit): "it's nice to see your own fans booing you". Well sorry mate but what do you expect based on that performance. I guess the fans would love to lie and say it was great, but it was in fact piss poor.
Based on this evidence, if we encounter even mildly good opposition, let alone class teams like Argentina or Mexico, we are toast.
But we may well not even get far enough to find out. On this form, Slovenia will probably beat us. And that would add up to the lamest first round effort for England since the infamous Euro 1992 tournament: with Capello becoming the new "turnip" hate figure. We hope something will turn up but what we get is turnip... actually I think Graham Taylor was underrated, the poor bastard.
Although I am too young to remember it first hand, the public and media reaction to performances like this seems to recall the super-lame Don Revie era of the mid-seventies. While Kevin Keegan is often held up as the archetypal England manager I would make the case for Revie: great on paper, a bust on the pitch, an enigma to media and players alike, and finally pissing off for a big cheque at the United Arab Emirates.
If England lose the final group game I expect a delegation from UAE to be landing at Heathrow to meet Mr Capello with a Very Big Cheque forthwith.
I will miss Fabio's facial expressions though. Top class. If it was decided on facial expressions we would already have won the tournament.
Actually there's method in England's madness this time out. If you can't win, at least lose badly. That's a lot more exciting for fans and pundits alike. No-one really remembers World Cups 2002 or 2006, when we were OK but not brilliant; but people do remember the farce of Euro 2000, when we was bloody awful. Something To Put The Boot Into. That's what football in this country is about. I don't really like it, but it does make me laugh.
16 June 2010
Since then I've been up against so many deadlines at work that I probably shouldn't be taking the necessary 5 minutes out to write this email. But it's nice to have a break.
I loved the England-USA game in the World Cup. It was the classic England start... an OK performance marred by dodgy goalkeeping (a perennial bugbear for us over the years) and bizarre managerial facial expressions (again, something of a standard for us.) Sadly as it was just a group match there was no penalty shoot-out, otherwise I bet we'd have lost out with a real howler.
The same things seem to recur every time in the World Cup, regardless of players or managers. England and Spain always underperform, Germany always overperform. Amusing but a bit dull really.
My prediction? We'll draw or maybe scrape a win in our second match before thrashing the opposition in our final group game and going through to a second round match with Germany, which we'll lose on penalties. A German bistro in somewhere like Coventry will be vandalised by English morons. And so it goes.
08 June 2010
It's not always the most effective technique - we could have ended up with Norman Tebbit in charge instead. But if a more moderate Tory - Heath or Whitelaw, for example, had been in charge rather than a rabid right-wing lunatic, many, many lives could have been saved.
It's a less extreme version of the dilemma faced by Christopher Walken's character in "The Dead Zone" (a classic which I implore you to watch if you haven't already). If you know that someone is going to precipitate global armageddon if they come to power, and you have the chance to take them out before they do so, is that wrong? It's a hypothetical situation to be sure.
But then so's getting a time machine and assassinating Thatcher. And to be fair, Thatcher didn't start World War III (Galtieri wasn't a big enough player).
She did a f*** of a lot of damage though. Jesus Christ.
Within the EU, free movement of goods and services works to our advantage. But free movement of labour is another matter entirely.
Why's that, Ed? Apparently because:
There have been real economic gains from the arrival of young, hard-working migrants from eastern Europe over the past six years. But there has also been a direct impact on the wages, terms and conditions of too many people – in communities ill-prepared to deal with the reality of globalisation, including the one I represent. The result was, as many of us found in the election, our arguments on immigration were not good enough. We faced rising anti-European sentiment with small parties claiming they could seal the borders.
Really, Ed? Has there been a massive negative impact on wages, terms and conditions of people? If so, how come every single empirical study of the impact of migration from the EU on UK wages and/or employment has found almost no impact - and in some cases positive impacts? I know this research extremely well - I've done some of it, in fact - and I also know that Ed Balls is talking out of his arsehole on this issue. Ok, the local level (Super Output Area) data is poor and there may have been adverse effects in a few areas. But if it was that widespread it would show up at regional or local authority level, or at local authorities - and it simply doesn't.
For sure there are some people experiencing poor working conditions - but that's nowt to do with migration. That's due to failure to regulate the labour market properly - for example failure to implement the EU agency workers directive (which Ed does mention to be fair.)
Migration has also caused pressure on public services in certain areas - but that's because the funding formulas are based on population size and demographics in previous years and don't respond quickly enough to population shifts. Again, Balls is shooting at the wrong target.
But I'd wager that his intention here isn't to present a balanced evidence base anyway. Instead, he's trying to exploit the meme that's emerged since the election that Labour lost because it wasn't tough on immigration (and welfare claimants). And trying to turn Labour into a reactionary Sun readers football-hooligan parody of what a left-wing party should be. It's not dropping all the way into the cesspit of the British National Party to be sure. But it is dipping a foot into that stinking morass of hatred and xenophobia.
In any case, free movement of labour is a cornerstone of the EU. Some countries (e.g. Bulgaria, Romania) are subject to temporary labour movement restrictions to be sure (in my view, unfairly - if a country's ready to enter then it should be a full member from day one). But the restrictions are meant to be just that - temporary. I'd have more respect for Balls if he was trying to go for a left-wing version of UKIP - suggesting leaving the EU. I wouldn't agree with him but at least it would be consistent But of course he doesn't have the balls to do that - he'd rather play to the galley in the most disgusting way possible.
Balls - and Andy Burnham, who has said very similar things - can go f*** themselves as far as I'm concerned. We have to hope and pray (even as atheists) that Eddy Miliband wins this leadership campaign. If not, I'm off to the Greens and fuck the Labour party. It can kiss my ass. This kind of reactionary shit from Balls is what no-one needs right now and particuarly the deprived communities whom he professes to be on the side of.