31 December 2011
30 December 2011
19 December 2011
Friends credit me with a near obsession with the small South East Asian country North of the 38th parallel, so the messages have been flooding in regarding the death of Kim Jong-il. A spat with Guardian journalist Owen Jones will be raised in a latter post, but I'm compelled to write by an extraordinary article by Neil Clark in The Guardian which has provoked a mixture of anger and utter bewilderment across my Twitter colleagues.
The Left is at some pains, (and I include the co-author of this blog)to distance movements such as the soon to be defunct Occupy, UK Uncut, and even Ed Miliband's Renewed Labour Party from the USSR. I am confident thus, we'll see people disavowing Clark and hoping that his truly mindbending article can be attributed to shaaring the same grief we see on the brainwashed citizens of the Korea DPR. Based on my co-author's comment to Telegraph writer Ed West:
'Can Imagine the uproar if a Telegraph comment piece contained the words, fascism, for all it's faults'
'I thought that was pretty much what the Telegraph does say day after day'
I'm not that hopefulful. For anyone, thinking I'm exaggerating, please feel free to head to Tallinn, Vilnius, Riga, Warsaw, Budapest, Bratislava, Podgorica, Ljubljana and the rest and translate this piece which you have to reread multiple times to quite take in:
'Or the fact that communism, for all its faults, was still a system which put the economic needs of the majority first.'
And who said Kim Jong- il was the last communist on Earth? - it would appear we have one right here in our midst - 'That which survives'.....
13 December 2011
12 December 2011
09 December 2011
Several diplomats said Mr Cameron emerged from Friday morning’s negotiations deeply wounded, angering fellow EU leaders and getting no trade-offs for British interests.
But was it really a disaster for Cameron? Or could it in fact be the start of his biggest triumph? It seems to me that - although he didn't go into the negotiations wanting this outcome, and Europe has been a constant headache for him this year - Cameron may have accidentally come out of this summit in a strong position. With Britain isolated at the negotiating table, Dave now has the viable option of calling a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU - which he could well (if current opinion polling is any guide) win. We know that the majority of grassroots Tories, and many of the MPs, want to leave the EU. This would be Cameron's opportunity to shore up his position and delight the right of the party, who have been in the ascendancy since the 1980s at least.
The Lib Dems would probably leave the coalition if Cameron decided to go for a referendum on Europe (although who knows? They've swallowed much more bullshit than that without complaining in the last 18 months) but if so, Cameron would be tempted to call a general election on the EU issue. As far as I know the fixed term parliament bill is not on the statute book yet so he remains free to ask for a dissolution should he so wish... CORRECTION: Chris Brooke points out in the comments that it IS on the statute book so he can't ask for a dissolution immediately (but see comment thread below). Maybe 2012 will turn out to be an election year? Stranger things have happened.
07 December 2011
What lessons can we learn about the Best way forward? Arguably the closest historical parallel in recent times (as opposed to the 1930s) is offered by the Japanese experience. Since the collapse of a massive commodity boom at the tailend of the late 1980's, Japan has experienced at least one, and some commentators would say two 'Lost decades' with anaemic growth rates, ongoing price deflation and general economic stagnation. The reason why the Japanese example is, for me, so relevant today, is I, and I'm assuming a ,lot of other 'normal' Newspaper/online news junkies have lost count of the number of 'stimulus packages' or 'deficit reduction programmes' which have been produced or mooted to bail out the Eurozone. It is eerily reminiscent of Japan during the 1990's where a succession of governments whose initially lukewarm reception sank to usually single digit poll ratings put stimulus package after stimulus package forward, and nothing seemed to have any impact. Elliott's 'zombie banks' phrase originated in the land of the Rising sun, although it was applied to any enterprise (not just bank) which was considered 'Too Big to fail'. A small recovery was only possible (in the latter part of the 1990s and early in this century) when a reforming Finance minister basically forced his country's banks to confess up the scale of their losses. Given the globalisation of the economy in the last decade, increased external pressure has meant, like every other G30 economy Japan has been buffeted by the ongoing global economic crisis, and the March tsunami has also caused major structural damage, both literally and in an economic sense for a manufacturing economy highly sensitive to production delays, but nevertheless, they are well ahead of the West on this particular curve.
The worry for Western policymakers is that having visited Japan, and seen their country's infrastructure, organisation and efficiency as immeasurably superior to almost any European country I have visited (Aside from maybe Germany, Norway and Denmark), one wonders how long it will take the UK and the rest of Europe to recover from a similar toxic scenario of wildly inflated asset prices (UK housing anyone?), massive debts and economic sclerosis. Lest we forget the Japanese savings ratio is significantly higher than the UK, their populace is amongst the world's most educated. They are culturally somewhat 'old school' and work hard, with minimal expectation of the state providing for them in the event of an emergency. Their 'Deadly Years' have already lasted for almost two decades. Given the damage wrought by 5 decades of Socialist education policies, the level of dependency created by Labour in the period 1997 to 2010 and the collapsing state of UK infrastructure, how long will our own 'Deadly Years' endure for?
01 December 2011
Matt Baker: Now, at the end of a day where Britain has seen some of its biggest strikes, what we need is someone calm and level-headed.
Alex Jones: Yep, a guest with balanced, uncontroversial opinions, who makes great effort not to offend.
Matt Baker: And we've got Jeremy Clarkson!
Jeremy Clarkson: Thank you very much.
Matt Baker: So Jeremy, schools, hospitals, airports, even driving tests have been affected. Do you the strikes are a good idea?
Jeremy Clarkson: It's been fantastic. Seriously, never had … London today has just been empty. Everybody stayed at home, you could whizz about, your restaurants were empty.
Alex Jones: The traffic actually has been very good today.
Jeremy Clarkson: Very light. Now airports, you know, people streaming through with no problems at all and it's also like being back in the 70s, it makes me feel at home somehow.
Alex Jones: Do you know anybody who …
Matt Baker: [interrupts – inaduiable] – being on strike today?
Jeremy Clarkson: What, in public service? Of course I don't. No, absolutely. We have to balance it though, don't we because this is the BBC.
Alex Jones and Matt Baker: Exactly.
Jeremy Clarkson: Frankly, I'd have them all shot!
Jeremy Clarkson: I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean how dare they go on strike when they've got these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?
Matt Baker: Well, on that note of balancing an opinion of course those are Jeremy's views.
Jeremy Clarkson: I just … ! I was just giving two views for you!
Alex Jones: Well, we will be talking to Jeremy more later.
This is a textbook example of what is called "attitudinising" - adopting a particular position as a posture. Jeremy Clarkson doesn't strikers, I'm fairly sure. And he has a fairly duff line in comedy. But he's not seriously calling for the adoption of Chile's Pinochet regime in the US.
And next time I'll do my homework better before posting stuff off Twitter. I'm trying to up the number of posts but it's no excuse for writing complete cack. Sorry, people.
There are, however, strange Double standards at work for the Left here. One of the most prominent Leftist 'Twitterati' member is the New Statesman blogger Sunny Hundal, who in this entry bemoans the fact that the remarks 'weren't comedy' and parrots the line that the BBC 'is overwhelmingly right wing'. Given Star Trek's Liberal use of alternative dimensions and parallel universes you could be forgiven for thinking you've stumbled into one here. Possibly in comparison with the
KCNA website, their output might be characterised as right of centre but otherwise it's certainly well to the Left of any political spectrum bar, perhaps an ILEA one of the mid 1980's wherein Trotskyites were defined as 'the Right'. Perhaps, most telling, is his comment that 'Let's not have Tories complain about 'PC gawn mad' and 'have a sense of humour' when they get so uppity at 'small jokes' themselves'.
This echoed my reaction on this blog to the interview given by mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone to Total Politics magazine where he equated the coming mayoral election with World War Two: (and implicitly, if not directly, Opponent Boris Johnson to Hitler) Strangely Hundal was noticeably silent on that issue. But why stop there? Prior to that point, Livingstone had also compared his rival's chief of staff to Serbian War Criminal Ratko Mladic , and subsequently, he remarked to Hammersmith and Fulham councillors proposing the redevelopment of a Council Estate, that they should be 'burned in hell with their flesh flayed by demons for all eternity', and called for the execution of Chancellor George Osborne. That's the trouble with this kind of thinking, it invariably escalates, and for the Left, the trouble as I tried to point out in my post on the Johnson/Hitler comparison, is that if you take vicarious offence on behalf of every 'minority' and try to censure the terms of the debate, then you'd better be pretty secure on the moral high ground or you'll come tumbling down. As it stands, all they've done, really is to make themselves look both priggish, petty, small-minded , and probably increase sales of 'Top Gear' DVDs by about 100,000 heading into the Xmas period.
It is worth quoting arguably one of the greatest politicians of the last 30 years, Lord Tebbit, who gives a sense of how both sides of the political fence today come across as Latter-day Neros - the fact that Mr.Ed sought to force Cameron to 'disown' the ludicrous Clarkson remarks, is on a par with Hague and Blair in 1998 debating the fate of Soap character Deirdre Rachid.:
'There are plenty of other matters crying out for attention. Despite all the promises and protestations, immigration is unchecked. While the Left wrings its hands at the appalling unemployment figures, it hides its face from the truth. Last year the number of UK nationals in work fell by 280,000. The number of foreigners rose by 147,000.
Perhaps it is time we asked why our own people are not finding work when people from overseas do. Is it our schools that are failing to produce young men and women with the skills, aptitudes and self-discipline needed to find work? Is it that the benefits culture has become so deep-rooted that idleness is the preferred option?
Whatever it is, the cost is appalling and stretches out into the future. Not just the economic and social costs of those unwilling or unsuitable to work, but the huge cost of providing infrastructure to support an ever increasing army of immigrants and their dependents. Schools, hospitals, roads, water and sewage works, power stations – none of which we would need if our own people took the jobs that are there for the taking.
The papers, but not the BBC, report on a daily basis the bizarre decisions of judges who fail to punish criminals with long records of crime, and others who think it is their duty to ignore the interest of we taxpayers who pay them. They’d rather allow foreign criminals to stay here to pursue their lives of crime.
Wherever one looks, be it Parliament, the Civil Service, the judiciary, local government or indeed the top management of public companies, the hired help behaves as though it were the owners, not the servants of the true owners, of the institution that pays their wages.'
In the context of the litany of woe above, a man known as someone 'whom the Hard Left feared'(and I would say, still fear) spells out the real issues facing us. Is it any wonder people like Sunny Hundal would have us worry about trivial, ridiculous comments?
I've contacted the Metropolitan Police hate crimes unit to ask them to investigate Clarkson for hate crimes.
It's worth noting at this point that I have severe misgivings about "hate crime" legislation as it can easily be used to clamp down on free speech. But as the Tories are fond of pointing out, if a crime has been committed then arguably it's my duty to ask for an investigation - my personal feelings on the matter are irrelevant.
(Plus there is the fact that Clarkson is a fascist bastard and it'd be nice to see him banged up. But I didn't let that interfere with my judgement on this matter. Oh no...)
Update, 5pm 1 December: As UNISON have announced they're taking legal advice on the Clarkson issue I've decided not to bother with the Met complaint - I'm sure UNISON has more resources than I have.
Another update, 9pm 1 December: the BBC has now released this transcript of the conversation which, to be fair to Clarkson, makes it clear that he was joking. (He was trying to give two extreme opinions to wind the audience up). Case closed as far as I'm concerned.
23 November 2011
The central point, and it's pretty hard to argue, is that what the financial sector, especially has become bears only the most passing resemblance to 'Free market capitalism'. Taking aim in his first few paragraphs at one of the easiest targets amongst the so-called '1 percent', Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, Monbiot lays bare the level of subsidy given to Formula One, both globally and in the UK. Avid readers of this blog may have seen mention of my passion for Formula one racing, but whilst admiring the spectacle of such advanced technology and the drivers' skill, Formula One has been a political football since really the Early 1970's, and the scandalous decision by Blair to campaign for an exemption for Formula One from an EU ban on tobacco sponsorship, laid bare the links between Ecclestone and senior politicians of both Parties. For anyone thinking the Conservatives were any better, the funding of the Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire was the subject of some very murky 'offshore tax planning' which it used to effectively run at a loss and gain sole proprietorship of the British Grand Prix amid rising safety concerns which eliminated rival Brands Hatch from the picture from 1987 onwards.
Monbiot then hits out at another sitting duck, James Purnell's Private Finance Initiative or 'PFI', a device whereby Private Sector companies would invest in much-needed infrastructure projects. First touted at the fag end of the Thatcher administration (I think the idea was a Keith Joseph brainchild in the 1970's but it took until 1992 for its first implementation), the idea was that the 'more efficient' Private Sector would be able to deliver services and infrastructure more efficiently than if they remained in the Public Sector. Despite opposing it under Smith, Labour under Blair became an enthusiastic user of PFI in the next thirteen years, most pointedly because PFI liabilities could be disguised 'off balance sheet'. I admit that my source for much of the PFI information is satricial magazine Private Eye, whose continued exposure of this scandal remains one of the greatest journalistic public services of our age. Suffice it to say, to be 'enticed' into these deals, all the risk had to be transferred from the Private Sector provider to ultimately, in the last resort, the taxpayer. Current PFI liabilities, according to Government figures released in November LAST YEAR stand at £267 billion with that figure likely to rise.
Continuing his them of shooting fish in a barrel, Monbiot then exposes Free market advocate Matt Ridley, a former Telegraph journalist whose admirable 'Acid Test' columns sit proudly in my cuttings file. One in particular 'Dihydrogen monoxide - there's a real killer' exposed how just by changing a substances name, single issue campaigners can create a storm in a teacup. Turns out he's less then keen on the rigours of the Free market when they apply to him, as Northern Rock, of which he was the nominal chairman had to be baled out by the taxpayer, his risky strategy of going after NINJA homeowners provoking the first run on a UK bank in over 120 years. I have often maintained this was a political decision by Brown (to shore up Labour support in the North East) and that had the bank been called 'Southern Rock' and based in say, Guildford, it would have been thrown to the wolves. Nevertheless, the fact that such rank hypocrisy has been exposed by Monbiot is wholly admirable.
Arguably not such much a sitting duck, as a tranquilised flock of geese, the EU's CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) is a scandal of such long standing it often escapes attention. Suffice it to say, I don't know anyone, of any political persuasion, who supports its continuance in its current form. The level of fraud is so great as to almost defy calculation, and the truth is the last estimate were that its cost to the taxpayer equated to around £2400 per head per year. Furthermore, a looming deadline of 2013 for Poland's full admission to the CAP on the same terms as the French, which due to the Polish agricultural sector's surprising resilience is estimated to increase that figure by nearly £1700, will also lead the EU to face imminent bankruptcy. (assuming the Euro crisis doesn't finish it off)
It's a truly searing critique. What we have is nothing I, or any advocate of a free market capitalism would recognise as a capitalist democracy. Call it what you like, kleptocracy(government for the benefit of the ruling class), plutocracy (government of the wealthy) or Oligarchy (government by a ruling class) - one thing it for sure as hell isn't is a democracy. The problem with his diagnosis, is what is the overarching issue for the British Left, because the one group omitted from the analysis is highly paid Council Officials, European Commission servants (for example) and other bureaucrats who also need to be exposed as basically a parasitic 'rentier' class above and beyond the ordinary people of the UK. Perhaps, what's needed is a coming together of the dispossessed from both sides of the political spectrum to unite and smash the cosy alliance of both Private Sector plutocrats and their Union Baron and Senior bureaucrat counterparts from the Left. I look forward to it....
20 November 2011
'Although outwardly polite and courteous, he represents a dangerous hidden agenda'
His first question to anyone he meets is the simply phrased: 'What do you want?'
This came back to me in my consideration of the ongoing protests at Occupy Wall Street and Occupy LSX, as well as, it has to be said the around 70 other protests ongoing across the globe. I am particularly admiring of the doughty group of protestors who have chosen to occupy a square in that famous centre of off shore finance, Newport, Isle of Wight, but I digress. I have to ask the protestors 'what do you want?' because one of the issues facing the movement is that it's demands seem so desperately unclear and unfocused. Whilst some see this as a source of strength, for me, if they are to move beyond first base (using American parlance) in offering what my colleague Hal Berstram calls 'a new paradigm' it's imperative that they get a coherent list of goals. On Twitter, where arguably much of the energy that should be put into this blog is now dissipated, the much disparaged 'astroturfing right-wing trolls' pointed me out this link which lists the latest minutes of Occupy LSX's loftily entitled General assembly. When I stopped laughing, I took the time to examine more closely this document, to gain some greater insight into what motivates these protestors. In spite of their failure to remove the Soviet banners from their encampment, I am continually informed that recreation of the defunct USSR is not the true agenda, so let's see if we can find out what it actually is.
'Well established. Working Groups can have a room each down there. National Occupy conference will take place at OLSX on Saturday and BoI on Saturday. Want books to start library, food, paint, tools, people, lamps / lighting equipment.
Most probably know building is owned by UBS. They were subject ot $60bn bail-out from Swiss government. Evidence of corruption. They gambled millions of pension money. It’s appropriate that we open this bank'
So the invasion of Private property goes on - a repudiation of one of the fundamental building blocks of human freedom. Quite what business the policies of the Swiss government is of these people is anyone's guess, but nevertheless, I am assuming they object to UK firms using UBS as a Pension fund manager? The lack of understanding of basic finance again shows through. There is no such thing as a 'risk free investment' I'd argue any Pension fund manager who invested in low risk deposit accounts with interest rates at 0.5% and even instruments like Guaranteed Equity bonds paying post-tax returns below inflation was being negligent but that's again a moot point.
'People’s assemblies are good because the the government has centralised everything. Everything on a local level would not have need for centralised government – we can achieve everything locally, through face to face contact with people – you’ll know people, they’ll be easy to contact and talk to – that’s where I will be hopefully'
This actually did intrigue me somewhat as ideally I'd be in favour of much greater 'localism' - one of the problems we see, though, is the inevitable ill-informed articles about 'postcode lotteries' in provision of such staples as old-age care and Health provision. these are stoked by the press on both sides of the political divide. Much centralisation under every government since Thatcher (and possibly arguably even prior to that there were tendencies) has been in response to such criticisms. By allowing real Local democracy, the risk is run that provision of services will be very unequal. Also, is there anything to stop say, Far-right or Islamic extremists implementing policies which to the Left would be distasteful in the extreme(banning on Eating pork or preferential housing for Whites) The proposal also shows a distinct lack of historical awareness. A number of Local authorities (most famously the GLC under Livingstone, but also Liverpool under , say Hatton) took it upon themselves to deliberately stoke up taxation and set themselves up in opposition to the then elected government. Much centralisation in fields such as education was a response to provocation from people whose extreme left wing ideology was signifcantly more important than their concerns for local ratepayers. Hence the eventual abolition of the GLC and widespread use of 'rate capping' during the 80's and into the 90's. How would such tendencies (And regardless of what Occupy believe I assume some Conservative councils would still exist? If not that's another matter entirely) be curbed under the dispensation proferred here?
'One way to spread the occupy movement is to bring in the trade unions, to appeal to as many as possible. On 20th November, 3 million public sector workers are on strike in support of their pensions. It’s an important day, you can really appeal to them. People should occupy workspaces so they can decide for themselves their conditions, working hours, benefits, and pay'
So, what I can glean from this is that workers should come in and 'Occupy their workplace' - fine. What happens then? As workers have 'decided for themselves their pay and conditions and their working hours' what will happen. I know a number of my former colleagues who would vote themselves a salary of 250K and working hours of zero, as well as a pension linked to the 2008 inflation rate in Zimbabwe. Whether any business that ran in that fashion would be able to stave off bankruptcy for even one hour would be questionable. As for enlisting the Trade unions, it seems astonishingly myopic not to recognise their agenda. UNISON and especially the RMT exist to promote the interests of their membership, not the wider society at large. Do you think Union poster boy Bob Crow gives two hoots about the commuters into all manner of industries (not just the LSX) when he calls his latest stoppage by his outrageously well-renumerated drivers over the flimsiest pretext? I'd argue not.
In fairness, a number of 'Occupy' supporters have pointed out these are 'minutes' - and I recognise that. But again we return back to the question I posed earlier in the post - 'What do you want'? The minutes read like a Student Union meeting, and if the Occupy movement want to be taken seriously, thney need to move beyond this initial stage and quickly. As New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica points out the naysayers dismissing these people as 'dope fiends and sex fiends' were lying from the start and that generalisation remains a lie. Nevertheless, he makes the point that their moving to blockade Subway (underground!- going native!) stations and block traffic for Commuter buses is unlikely to have any impact on Senior personnel at Citibank or JP Morgan, as I can vouch from a degree of personal knowledge, these guys don't take the bus or subway. On the other hand literally thousands of chefs and kitchen workers (for example) do and any sympathy they had for the movement will have been diminished by an already possibly 2 hour journey to the Outer boroughs being made an hour longer!
In short, 'What does the Occupy movement want?' remains the question, and rest assured, despite the protestations of my erstwhile colleague Hal Berstram, I remain 'outwardly polite and courteous' and there is no hidden agenda, just a willingness to perhaps find out what the 'real agenda' actually is!
17 November 2011
So here we have it....
The radio this morning tells me how I can make a 9p sandwich with toast in the middle, with salt and pepper - the cheapest meal
I million kids between 16 and 24 out of work or training
An unelected government imposed in Italy (used to be called a coup)
And this papers poster boy Clegg silent on everything, and this paper silent on the Clegg
An all time classic there - and managing to work in Nick Clegg as well... sums up where this country has got to.
16 November 2011
24 October 2011
Arguably the finest journalist in print today of any newspaper is Christopher Booker of the Sunday Telegraph. The original editor of the satirical publication, Private Eye, he is still contributing material both to its investigative section 'In the back' as well as the innumerable small jokes, often in cartoon format that litter its pages. Better known on the Left nowadays for his scepticism over Climate Change (or Anthropogenic Global Warming), he first came to my attention as one of the only (if not the only) journalists to focus on the EU's forays into the public sphere in the 1990s and early 2000s. He has been consistently vindicated on every aspect of his European observations, not the least of which was criticism of the common cross party consensus that the EU was a 'good thing'. I'd hazard this is one of the main reason why, he , like I smells a rat, when Climate Change proponents say 'the science is settled' and 'there is general consensus' , telltale phrases that imply a vested interest in something which is in many cases quite lucrative. I feel confident that, as global temperatures continue to fluctuate and fall in many cases, Booker's stance will be vindicated again. However, this is not the main thrust of the post.
In one searing work, the Castle of Lies , he and co-author Richard North (an admittedly single-minded campaigner who destroyed his photocard EU license because it had the EU's 'ring of stars' emblem on it and who went to prison for a day for withholding the 'policing' element of his Council Tax for his local force's failure to deal with a burglary epidemic in his part of West Yorkshire) laid bare the EU's true nature for anyone who was willing to see it. In the sequel, The Great Deception, they looked at the EU's roots and exposed its deliberately anti-democratic nature, as well as the fiction that British War Leader Churchill ever intended the UK to be part of such an organisation. In all honesty, I'd find it hard to nominate a journalist who has done more to influence my political beliefs in a positive, as opposed to a negative way.
Thus, I can only echo the sentiments of my co-author here on the blog in his call for a referendum. Very interesting to see the attitude of the man who he believes will be PM in 2015, who has described people calling for a referendum as 'barking' and a 'reckless distraction' thus destrying the ground his conference speech had gained him in the eyes of many Eurosceptics. whilst it's true that to agitate for a referendum at a time of global crisis might seem something of an unwanted diversion, such a diagnosis fails to recognise that the issue goes to the core of what type of governmental system we want.
What I fear is two things:
A/ The phraseology of the referendum question - will it be a loaded question to try and appease the 'Fib Dems' (who on this issue I agree with Hal are 'spineless collaborators') or will it be the question which the UKIP want:
'Do you wish Britain to remain in the EU, a deeply corrupt, utterly undemocratic institution whose cost outweigh is benefits by about 100 to 1 and which is widely believed to be run covertly from Beijing and Pyongyang?
B/ The possibility of a 'third option' on renegotiation, which as former Icelandic PM , David Oddsson (who kept Iceland out of the EU) pointed out wouldn't be offered to the UK. Indeed, I'm not even sure the preferential treatment afforded to Norway and Switzerland would be offered. that's the greatest fear for the otherwise dominant UKIP, that the 'fear factor' will drive either a 'Yes' or a vote for option three.
Thus whilst I disagree with Hal's vision, which given the lack of linguistic or cultural commonality would simply not work in countries as diverse as the EU membership, I'll stand happliy on the plaform with him and other anti-globalisation protesters and Greens who normally I would be looking to expose as in the pay of certain hostile powers to say that this issue cannot be ignored. If you truly care at all about our democracy - you need to be writing to your MP, regardless of his politics, and ask him or her why they aren't supporting democracy by defying party whips to vote in favour of it. I'd be especially pleased if any readers who might live in Doncaster North especially could ask.....
22 October 2011
10 October 2011
It also seems unlikely that Dan's persistent attacks on Ed are well crafted enough to prompt a nasty phone call from the Ed team saying "get rid of this geezer". Basically, Dan writes two kinds of articles; the Ed is Crap Article and the Article About Something Else. Sometimes the Article About Something Else is worth reading (e.g. his recent post on the Tories' problems over whether to abolish the 50p rate or not was excellent.) The Ed Is Crap Article is, and always has been, desperate Blairite trolling replete with all the tricks of the trade - asides from unnamed "cabinet ministers", the "concerned insider" saying "we really don't know what Ed's doing anymore", Tony Blair lurking in the background tutting disapproval, and some guy Dan meets up for a pint with every fortnight who doesn't know the names of any contemporary politicians at all but thinks Enoch Powell had the right idea in sending 'em all back home. Or something like that. I do computer programming sometimes and I'm thinking of producing a piece of software that will automatically write a generic Dan Hodges "Ed Is Crap" Article at the press of a button, using randomisation to generate slightly different copy each time (along the lines of the early web classic the Post Modernist Essay Generator). Maybe I could sell it to the Statesman and they could carry on as if all was well.
04 October 2011
It is difficult to avoid the feeling that this whole slow-motion car crash is coming to a close. In the words of the late William Burroughs, we may now be reaching "a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork."
It is hard to predict exactly when total economic collapse will occur. There were 14 months between the freezing of the interbank credit market in July 2007 (the first hard evidence that something was dreadfully, terribly wrong in the financial system) and the collapse of Lehmans in September 2008. The European sovereign debt crisis has been going on for longer than that now.
Things are a little scary. In the initial wave of the collapse the initiative was taken by Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling. Although Mr Brown's reputation has suffered a bit under a wave of Tory propaganda, and he failed in any way to capitalise or build on the momentum from the initial banking bailout, that you are reading this at all, rather than scrabbling for food in a looted shopping centre in a real life version of Mad Max, is probably down to him, and if there were any justice, he would be remembered as perhaps the greatest prime minister of the last fifty years, despite all his (many and deep) failings.
Do not expect any salvation from the UK this time round - the morons have taken over the pitch. Messrs Cameron, Osborne and Clegg have not an iota of economic capacity between them. More worryingly, there appear to be no other world leaders with much of a clue either.
It is impossible to predict where we will end up if the global economic system does collapse (and I still sincerely hope a way through can be found) - my only advice is as follows:
- stockpile tinned food.
- get down the allotment.
- If you join a militia group make sure it is the left wingers, not the EDL, and use violence only as a last-ditch self-defence measure.
- It will not be wise to identify yourself as a Liberal Democrat even after the political system has collapsed. Folks have long memories
- 12-string guitar may have added poser value for buskers.
'Let me urge the occupiers to ignore the usual carping that besets powerful social movements in their earliest phases. Yes, you could be better organised, your demands more focused, your priorities clearer. All true, but in this moment, mostly irrelevant. Here is the key: if we want a mass and deep-rooted social movement of the left to re-emerge and transform the United States, we must welcome the many different streams, needs, desires, goals, energies and enthusiasms that inspire and sustain social movements. Now is the time to invite, welcome and gather them, in all their profusion and confusion.'
Leave aside the fact that approximately 5000 protestors is dwarfed by the population of one Manhattan street, but the message is not that objectionable. However much I disagree with denizens of the Hard Left in any form, they are free to express their opinion (although like some other right wingers I notice this tolerance does not extend from some on the left to anyone deemed 'right wing' especially in regards to race) - Thus we see, thus far a gathering of a whole raft of single issue pressure groups and Left wing activists, which is all well and good.
However, with the ensuing paragraphs, the true agenda becomes clear:
'So permit me, in the spirit of honoring and contributing something to this historic movement, to propose yet another dimension, another item to add to your agenda for social change. To achieve the goals of this renewed movement, we must finally change the organisation of production that sustains and reproduces inequality and injustice. We need to replace the failed structure of our corporate enterprises that now deliver profits to so few, pollute the environment we all depend on, and corrupt our political system'
So the red fist within the Green glove becomes clear - we are to replace the existing 'economic system' and replace it with what precisely, Richard?
'We need to end stock markets and boards of directors. The capacity to produce the goods and services we need should belong to everyone – just like the air, water, healthcare, education and security on which we likewise depend. We need to bring democracy to our enterprises. The workers within and the communities around enterprises can and should collectively shape how work is organised, what gets produced, and how we make use of the fruits of our collective efforts'
A classic paragraph - and seemingly ignorant of the history of the past century. Richard, Newsflash for you, my old son - There was a country that did exactly what you suggested. Perhaps you've heard of it - comprising much of the landmass of Europe and Asia, and stretching across 11 time zones, it lasted from bloody beginnings in 1917 for 74 years and was so vast, even it's dismemberment into 15 separate 'official' states left it's largest statelet as the world's biggest country - it was called the USSR. As I say, I'm assuming with your academic background, you've encountered it? Ah, but anticipating that objection, what's this we see?
'We all know that moving in this direction will elicit the screams of "socialism" from the usual predictable corners. The tired rhetoric lives on long after the cold war that orchestrated it fades out of memory. The audience for that rhetoric is fast fading, too. It is long overdue in the US for us to have a genuine conversation and struggle over our current economic system. Capitalism has gotten a free pass for far too long.'
So the rhetoric is 'tired and faded' is it Richard? I'd suggest you visit Russia, or more enlighteningly for you, The former COMECON states of Eastern Europe to see just what their memories (and I agree they are fading all too quickly) of genuine socialism are - I'm not sure you offering to recreate it will win you many friends in Vilnius, Tallinn, Riga or indeed even Tirana or Skopje.
However, let us assume, for a moment, that like some political alchemist, you can manufacture a system that doesn't go down the lines of every other collectivist regime I've ever seen, and grant that what happened in Eastern Europe was a long and disastrous anomaly, - what then?
'Humanity learned to do without kings and emperors and slave masters. We found our way to a democratic alternative, however partial and unfinished the democratic project remains. We can now take the next step to realise that democratic project. We can bring democracy to our enterprises – by transforming them into cooperatives owned, operated and governed by democratic assemblies composed of all who work in them and all the residents of the communities who are interdependent with them.'
I'd argue this paragraph betrays such a misunderstanding of human nature, it's hard to know where to begin. Ask the people of another socialist icon (although unlike Cuba and Vietnam this seems to be 'persona non grata' for the Left over here and in the UK - perhaps it's too close to genuine socialism for comfort - the truth can be very painful), the Korea DPR, whether humanity 'has learned to do without Kings and Slave masters', as a third generation of hereditary tyrant is groomed for power, with a network of gulags at his disposal. Indeed, in fairness, you could look to autocratic regimes across Central Asia of an ultr-nationalist bent in Uzbekistan, Tajikstan and Turkmenistan and see much the same. As for your demand that the economy be transformed into 'cooperatives owned, operated and governed by democratic assemblies composed of all who work in them' it's been tried before, and the results weren't pretty.
However, despite it's blatant flaws, I'm grateful to this article for revealing who the intellectual influences behind the 'Occupy wall Street' protesters really are - vicious, retread socialists who were thwarted in their desire for Global Socialism two decades ago, but have seized on the admittedly dire economic situation, and taken advantage of many Americans profound ignorance of the world outside the USA, to reiterate the old rhetoric 'of democracy and economic freedom' , knowing what the actual reality was and, in places like Cuba and North Korea, still is. One of my favourite works of 'alternate history' is the Philip K. Dick novel, The Man in the High Castle, a dystopian novel posited in the alternate future wherein the Axis WON World War Two and a new 'Cold War' had developed between Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. If we follow Wolff's prescriptions, I think some future writer might posit a future whereby the USSR Won the Cold War and the World lived under primarily Communist rule. My greatest fear is that the naive 'Occupy Wall Street' protesters are doing their utmost to make that less of a dream, more a reality......
30 September 2011
One outcome of the speech (and in particular the very warm reaction that Ed's line "I'm not Tony Blair" received) has been that the Blairite hard right of the Labour party is utterly demoralised. After the disappointment of their assumed shoo-in candidate, David Miliband, losing to Ed last year, the hard right had hoped that Ed's poor personal approval ratings would somehow contrive an Iain Duncan Smith 2003 situation where Ed would be persuaded to fall on his sword to be replaced by David, or another Blairite (if they could find anyone suitable). The phone hacking scandal, and now Ed's gutsy speech, has made his replacement a very remote prospect this side of an election. You could still - just about - argue that Ed might be vulnerable if Labour does badly in the 2012 local elections, and in particular if Ken Livingstone fails to beat Boris Johnson in the London mayorality rematch; but this is clutching at straws for the Blairite hard right, who seemed to spend most of the conference crying into their beer as they realised the game is up for them.
Typifying this resignation among the hard right was an interview I saw on Channel 4 News last night with the preposterous right wing New Statesman and Labour Uncut maverick blogger Dan Hodges, and the shadow transport minister John Woodcock - who appears to be a cross between Andrew Adonis and a mannered automaton. Hodges was desperate - "Ed's embarked on a suicidal strategy", he wailed. This is very good news. The downbeat mood (reportedly) at the hard-right Progress rally at the conference was very good news. The fact that pain-in-the-ass uber-Blairite journalists like John Rentoul don't like Ed is also very good news. Demoralisation, ceasing and desisting, and - hopefully - leaving the Labour party altogether, would be the best things that could happen to the handful of Blairite ultras who have been trying to orchestrate a coup to take back the Labour leadership for the last 12 months. Note that most of the people who backed David Miliband for the leadership last year are not uber-Blairites and are happy to fall into line behind Ed's strategy. We're talking about a handful of people - just as damaging in their own way as the Trotskyite Militant tendency were in the 1980s. They are demoralised and they are on the way out. All Very Good.
That said, Ed doesn't always piss the right people off - sometimes he pisses off people he needs in the tent with him. This was most evident in the ludicrous part of his speech which attacked disabled benefit claimants as if they were all scroungers - a simple piece of Blairite triangulation totally at odds with the rest of his speech. Tim Nichols of the Child Poverty Action Group has a brilliant post on Left Foot Forward totally demolishing this part of Ed's speech - he badly needs to develop a new progressive narrative on social security (NOT, for F***'s sake, this godawful US word "welfare"), or risk alienating millions of benefit and tax credit claimants whose votes he needs to win next time.
But in general, with some severe reservations, I'm a lot more optimistic about the future of the Labour party now than I was a week ago. Hey, if Ed dropped the bullshit about demonising benefit claimants I might even rejoin, having not been a Labour member since 1992 when I resigned claiming that John Smith(!) was "selling us out". I'm in the Green party at the moment - ideally I'd like to be in both the Green party and the Labour Party, and perhaps it would be useful if such a facility could be introduced. F*** tribalism, yes to pluralism.
28 September 2011
1) delivery started well but fell off rapidly. I tweeted in the first 5 minutes of the speech that Ed was far more assured than last year, but that was only true for those first few minutes. After that, his pacing was glacial, and too often he sounded like he was reading the phone directory. I've seen Ed give some barnstorming speeches at places like the Fabians and Compass where he's spoken without notes, walking around the platform, and I think he should do that next time. As Cameron has shown, it's just a far more relaxed style of delivery.
2) there needs to be a proper investigation into what went wrong with the live TV feed. Apparently someone plugged a kettle in where they shouldn't have, it fused the electrics, and the whole thing went down. Why was no back-up available? And was it Blairite sabotage? Questions need to be answered.
3) the basic idea - that the current economic system was unacceptable - was sound, although it needs a lot of fleshing out.
4) nonetheless, too many concessions to the Tories. there needs to be an end to demonisation of benefit claimants, more commitment to reverse most of the ConDem cuts, and the commitment to sell off the banks is dangerous IMHO - it will just get us back to exactly the same problems we had in 2008. The problem at the moment is that Ed is reaching for a new broad vision - but on specifics he's still very timid. This will result in huge inconsistencies as we get nearer the election unless it's addressed.
5) The speech pissed the right people off. For example, if John Rentoul doesn't like what Ed's saying, he's definitely saying the right thing. Likewise Dan Hodges in the New Statesman.
6) Nice to see some attacks on Nick Clegg. Some commentators have said that Labour is focusing too much on hitting the Lib Dems and not enough on the Tories. I think it needs to hit both hard, but the Lib Dem vote is softer, and so hitting them gets more "bang for the buck". Remember that if Labour gets (say) 12% of the electorate transferring from the Lib Dems to Labour next time, while the Tory vote is unchanged, Labour wins the election by 5 percentage points. It's as simple as that. The Glib Dems are fair game, and emphasising that the only way to get a left-of-centre government is to vote Labour is exactly the right political strategy.
So: 7/10 for content, 4/10 for delivery. Not great, but a better average than your average Tony Blair speech (0/10, 9/10) or Gordon Brown (4/10, 2/10). Ed was also helped by the fact that the delivery of most of the other platform speakers this week has been even worse (Ed Balls and autocue: never the twain shall meet.) But yes, better delivery next time, please.
27 September 2011
By common consent, the weakest Political Leaders in the last three decades, (at least excluding the Liberal Democrats) have been Michael Foot, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith (IDS). For many on the Right, Ed Miliband was the heir to that tradition, and indeed his public persona has been one that has struggled, for me to look Prime Ministerial. I am reminded, by a most unlikely source, that a number of previous Prime Ministers have struggled to gain credibility with the media. Indeed arguably the two 'greatest' post war Prime Ministers (and for Leftists I'll sub the word 'influential' for the latter) would in one instance as Toynbee points out, have been a non -starter (Clement Attlee) and in the other instance the Lady concerned struggled to the extent that she had her own party calling for her head as late as 1977. So the pundits calling this Ed's 'Quiet man' moment can safely I think either be accused of playing to the gallery, at least for the Mail and Telegraph contributors, or in the case of Glover and Hodges, as my man Hal Berstram posits, having an ulterior motive.
Nevertheless, it's worth looking more closely at what Ed's speech contained. For me, he is not a natural orator, and often looks ill at ease, at least in comparison with Blair, or indeed Cameron. As Hal points out, it's possible that Cameron is much more about style than substance, and indeed Ed has done rather better in the set piece exchanges at Prime Minister's Question time than I thought he might have. the worry for Labour Party supporters is that Hague, in particular, regularly trounced Blair across the Dispatch box only to come out with one of the worst electoral performances in history
So to the speech itself, and it started with a couple of somewhat flat jokes. However, for me, more worrying was the lack of content. In comparative terms, the Conservatives first term in opposition was defined by Ken Clarke's comment on Hague's obsession with how he was perceived: 'Where's the beef?' in terms of looking for clear policies with which voters could connect. Reading through the speech, we can come up with the following:
1/ Education - a priority of the Blair years, and it seems Miliband wants to cap the tuition fees at £6K rather than £9K. Furthermore we will see a concerted effort to ensure that people from the lowest achieving and most difficult schools are guaranteed a place at one of the UK's 'Top 30 universities'
2/ Social policy - it seems that Social housing will be allocated in the first instance to people who are working, rather than on the basis of need. How in line with the Human Rights Act this is, I'm not sure, and it seems to sit ill with contending to care for the poorest and most vulnerable.
3/ Health - it seems that Labour will reverse the NHS reforms, because the 'Tories can't be trusted' - in terms of the details, er.... that's it?, unless by the credit card reference he means the nationalisation of the Private Sector - that would be genuinely radical!
4/ The economy - an introduction of employee representatives to decide boardroom renumeration. In fairness, works councils involving employees are a staple of several continental economies - but it's not a tradition the UK has. Also, the differentiation between producers and 'predators' with the former being supported and the latter penalised. Quite who decides what is what is not made clear but it's true this might strike a chord with people who have been the victims of some of the more unscrupulous Private equity forms operating in the murkier sector of the Financial Services industry.
Beyond that, much generalisation about certain values he wishes to embody, but on Europe, an issue for me of the utmost importance, only one sentence, which given how much of our legislation comes from it, is deeply concerning.
So, a train wreck? - not really, indeed for a conference speech, which of late have tended to shy away from concrete commitments precisely for fear of offering hostages to fortune, I thought it wasn't a bad effort. However, as the old saying goes, the Devil is very much in the detail, and I think when he delivers his speech next year, assuming his poll numbers remain steady, I'll expect much more detail of just how a reversion to almost a pre 1979 vision is going to extricate us from the very real issues facing us. Nevertheless, 'the worst speech in 20 years?' - do me a favour!
A post on Miliband has been 'in the works' for several months now, and to Conservatives he remains the coalition's greatest asset, although the redrawing of the electoral landscape under the previous government, due to a huge increase in the Public Sector workforce, unlimited immigration and a significant increase in the number of welfare claimants, means he actually stands with a healthy lead in the polls, as Hal Berstram takes great pleasure in reminding me. More on him later, for sure, but pending the arrival of Compass latest offerings, it's time to examine another blog from the Democratic Left, Left Futures
It's an interesting name, given that for many the Left has no future, but the latest post in response to the Shadow Chancellor's remarks made yesterday, is worth looking at, if only to point out to people opposed to the anticipated 'cuts' in Public expenditure, some of the logistical issues with their preferred solution. The speech by Balls was, it has to be said, something of a tour de force, quite brilliantly summed up by one of the men who is under no illusion about the dangers posed by the Hard Left, Norman Tebbit here. I've never been overly enamoured by Balls ever since he was memorably skewered by then Deputy PM Michael Heseltine, with the memorable line, 'It's not Brown, it's Balls', and even in a political age where Chutzpah is a stock in trade, the speech took some beating. Arguably the most outrageous claim was made when he blames the many issues caused by immigration, which was deliberately encouraged by his government for political purposes (to 'Rub the right's faces in diversity') on one country in particular, Poland.
Now, at this point , I must declare an interest, my previous employer's workforce profile was very much geared to take advantage of the previous government's decision to 'open the borders' in 2004 to the 8 former Warsaw Pact countries which joined the EU in May of that year. I would hazard that around a third of the workforce, even 7 years on, remains Polish, with healthy minorities from the Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovakia, Hungary and Lithuania. I'd probably now number around 40 of those former colleagues as people I would consider reasonably close friends, all from Poland. Having some contact (usually in the form of insults) with the extreme right, I'd hazard Eastern European immigration is somewhat less objectionable than many other types, due to the ethnicity, religion and background of those immigrants. They are primarily White and Christian, but Balls, deeply conscious of previous statements from Conservative Leaders that were described by members of his own Party as 'the road to Auschwitz' and 'having the whiff of the gas chambers about them' chose instead to demonise people from Poland, rather than the somewhat more concerning, from an integration perspective, immigration from the Islamic world. As I said, shameless courting of the lowest common denominator.
Nevertheless, taking that consideration aside, the Left futures blog post posits the issue with Balls' prescription is that it doesn't go far enough! The core 'solution' provided in the blog is not new, but once more the details are wanting. Let's examine the core text.
'The key problem is not indebtedness, it is lack of demand. The Tory government policy of massive cuts in public expenditure and benefits, plus the VAT increase, is drastically worsening the problem of lack of demand without hardly reducing the deficit at all because of falling tax revenues and rising unemployment. The alternative – the only way to get out of slump when the private sector contracts – is a public sector-driven jobs and growth strategy, getting people off the dole and thus hugely reducing the cost of benefits, and into work so that regain their independence as well as then being able to contribute to tax revenues.
Keeping a million people on the dole costs £7bn a year. For the same amount of money 400,000 jobs could be created. And the country gets a double whammy: jobs are created in areas where they’re urgently needed in housebuilding, in improving transport and energy supply, and in creating the new green, digital economy. And the deficit is cut faster as growth slowly but steadily begins to take off again.'
This prescription, as already mentioned is reminiscent of the film Groundhog Day. there's the uncanny feeling we've been here before. Let me just state for the reader's benefit, that my background is in Logistics, which, simply put is the 'art' of ensuring resources are in the correct places. So what logistical difficulties does this plan present?
I agree a demand stimulus would certainly help the economy. As Tebbit posited when commenting on Balls' original speech, had the previous government not created a coterie of 'Non - jobs' for its own placemen, it's arguable that the necessity to cut wouldn't be there. The problem for Balls, and by extension the Labour Party, is that such people are almost to a person Labour voters, so to jeopardise that constituency would almost certainly mean losing the next several general elections. That would be suicidal, so the bloated payrolls of Local authorities (of all hues, incidentally) and his power base in the non-productive Public Sector remain untouched.
Let's now examine the proposal to create 400,000 jobs , which the blogger suggest will be in housebuilding, transport, infrastructure, and creating the new 'green,digital economy'. Let's deal with the last of these first, shall we? The one thing adepts of the Green economy fail to tell me is what this new 'Green,digital' economy will comprise. It's adherents, men like Chris Huhne , and people like Caroline Lucas, specialise in the production of prodigous quantities of hot air so my first thought was that, but in all seriousness, what are these 'creators' doing - if it's simple IT related tasks, then Ok, there might be sufficient unemployed with those skills to simply get them into a job, but I haved some reservations. Being charitable, let's assume its in the role of facilitation, and thus creating perhaps new cabling and broadband infrastructure, a key 'enabler' if britain is to gain widely based prosperity geographically.
The issue I find fault with, and it's not the first time I've pointed it out is that the writer seems to have zero understanding of either the construction industry or the logistical difficulties faced in facilitating this work. A cursory tour of the few remaining building sites in the South East will quickly reveal:
A/ That the job is skilled not unskilled - you can't just shoehorn 400,000 people into jobs as carpenters and bricklayers. The training even to get to a basic standard is at least six months and for more skilled workers like electricians or engineers a good deal longer than that! I believe this wider ignorance about almost any aspect of either Public Sector 'frontline' or Private Sector Production, Distribution and Construction industries is partly a function of the increasingly narrrow field from which many potential political figures come. That's as much true of the Coalition, as it is Labour.
B/ That, in a great irony, it is Poland that provides a huge number of these workers. This is due to a strong traditional work ethic, and also, as many of my colleagues have said, the need to engage upon massive reconstruction after the devastation of the Second World War. Ironically, the legacy of a command economy is that there were significant numbers of skilled workers, a tradition which due to an almost Stakhanovite work ethic seems to have been passed to a younger generation. These workers manage to undercut indigenous Labour and, as many will testify, manage to do the work to a much higher standard. So unless the Labour Party is willing to echo it's former Leaders call for 'British jobs for British workers' , which would be illegal under EU law, the expenditure welcome though it may be, is likely to be dissipated by some of the money being sent in the form of remittances to Szeczin, Rzesow, Wroclaw, etc
Leave aside the merits of the funding in the penultimate paragraph, with the discredited Tobin Tax again posited , and a move to the Dennis Healey levels of taxation circa 1979, we're not left with much of substance. Sadly, reality hurts and I think the road ahead will be long and somewhat painful!