Sunday, November 30, 2008
PBR Poll Reception Kills off Chance of Spring Election
The Conservatives: despite the good performances of Cameron and Osborne in debate-the latter having compensated within his own party thereby for Corfugate- the party has not really emerged unscathed. There is something in Brown’s accusation that the Tories are the ‘do-nothing uncaring party’. To merely attack the extraordinary measures taken in a crisis as too risky is hardly constructive opposition. In power Conservatives would probably have done virtually what Labour have done- after all, it’s what most other big economies have decided to do.
But the central claim that Labour are creating a ‘tax bombshell’ which will go off for future tax payers to cope with is fundamentally the truth and Cameron is determined Brown should be seen to ‘own’ this coming disaster now. It is probably the case that it will be a Cameron government which will have to deal with the fall-out from the crisis after 2010, when incidentally, they might well choose to abort Labour measures like the 45p increase in taxation on the rich.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Is New Labour Dead?
"We still stand for rewarding hard work and entrepreneurial risk. I reportedly once said that New Labour has no problem with people becoming very rich, as long as they pay their taxes. New Labour also continues to recognise that the progressive commitment to strong public services is matched by the obligation to reform and to ensure value for every pound of public money spent."
Labour would not flee the centre gound he insisted, defending the pre bugdet report as necessary 'essential measures'. Well he would say that, one instantly thinks.
More thoughtful is the article by Ken Livingstone who points out:
New Labour's thinking was part of an international consensus that lasted for more than 25 years. A rampaging financial storm has destroyed that consensus.
He goes on to castigate Conservatives for having always been on the wrong side of the argument with their 'laissez faire' economic philosophy as opposed to Labour's interventionism. He asserts:
But nevertheless the fact that direct taxation on the very highly paid is to be raised is a symbolic and important practical step.
He favours an increase to 50p in the £. My view is that some New Labourism will remain- the involvement of the private sector in public sector activities for example. But, to be realistic, New Labour was always a political strategy to win power by a Labour Party whose natural constituency had shrunk and which needed middle class votes. That electoral aim will continue, but will now, perforce, be obliged to find different means and different arguments.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Can the Nordic Model be Transplanted to UK?
And all this achieved within less than a century from when Sweden was the 'poorhouse of Europe' and one third of its population emigrated to the USA 1900-1910. This is not to deny some of the criticisms are justified. There is a conformity to the country which can seem stultifying- everybody seems to hold the equivalent of Guardian ediotorial opinions; there are inefficiences here and there; and, of course, there are the long winter nights and the six months of snow north of Upsalla. Still, if I had to pick a European country to live in after 'Good old Blighty' it would be Sweden with Denmark a close second.
But I'm doubtful if we could transplant the Nordic model over here. For a fuller argument see here. But the major reasons are, in my view:
1. We have a different historical experience in that we industrialised earlier and developed a stronger middle class which to some extent split the left of centre political potential between Labour and ther Liberals; this let in rightwing rule for most of the 20th century.
2. Sweden's political culture is consensual in that both sides of industry seek to find solutions. Britain's is mired in class and social division which has produced a degree of irreconcilable conflict.
3. Sweden is a small, homogenous country where citizens can genuinely feel part of a 'Peoples' Home'; Britain, again, is a big divided society.
Having said this, there are aspects we can seek to emulate with some confidence. Cameron is keen to copy the 'Free Schools' whereby private schools are funded by taxpayers to educate a community; 900 have been running successfully. Also the Swedish investment in child and pre-school care is admirable and possible to transplant.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Of Crises, Tax Giveaways and Tax Increases
Max Hastings today is pleased we have a leader who, like Churchil in 1940, seems to relish the challenge and seems happy to be out front taking the major decisions. Meanwhile Jackie Ashley notes that David Cameron and his friend George, seem to be fumbling for a coherent approach which has seen them renege on the earlier 'Compassionate Conservative' agenda which won them popularity. They seem to have reverted to more traditional Tory positions, while gambling on catastrophe rather than recovery.
We'll hear about the 'fiscal stimulus' today from Darling; it will comprise a mixture of giveaways on VAT and a brand new tax on those earning over £150,000 of whom there are some half a million in the UK. They won't like it at all but I sense that the antipathy to any tax increases which deterred New Labour, mindful of the 'double whammy' disaster in 1992, has not survived the onset of this parlous economic situation. The rich have been resented thoughout Labour's sojourn in power and, as the public believe that it has been rich, greedy people who started this whole thing, I suspect the extra 5% will not be generally unpopular.
But raising £15bn as a 'stimulus' and clearing a debt next year expected to be £120bn are connected- tenuously it seems to me- by the aspiration that the stimulus will kick start the economy and the flow of revenue into government coffers. The tax on the rich will only bring in £1.2bn- a trifling amount compared with the scale of the debt. Hastings concludes his piece with the comment: "We are still only in the first chapter of this horror story."
Friday, November 21, 2008
'Global Trends' Report Paints Sombre Picture
1. Emerging countries like China, India and Brazil to ease the US aside as wealth moves from west to east.
2. The EU to continue 'losing out' in the geopolitical power game through its lack of unity.
3. There to be more conflict over diminishing resources by 2025.
4. International organisations to remain 'ramshackle' an unable to cope by the above date.
5. More nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and heightened risks of nuclear warfare.
6. A retreat to state control of economiucs in the wake of the 2008 'globalized' crisis.
7. The idea that democratic capitalism will continue to spread worldwide, to be proved to be merely a complacent aspiration.
On balance it sees the US as no longer 'dominant' but more of a 'first among equals in a more fluid and evenly balanced world.' None of this will suprise us especially though it is perhaps worth reflecting that George Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et.al. cheerfully assumed it possible for the US to throw its weight around unilaterally just at the point when such behaviour had ceased to be sustainable.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Origins of the V Sign
I've heard another explanation from feminists who say it originated as a leering provocation from men to women, indicating the threat of double anal and vaginal penetration. Likely? I think not. But now I've stumbled on another one after reading Azincourt, by Bernard Cornwell, a rattling yarn (which will never win the Booker-Mann Prize) based on the progress of an archer who fought in the famous battle in October 1415. He suggests the French, who hated the longbow- the virtual equivalent in those days of the machine gun half a millennium later- threatened to cut off the fingers used by British archers to end their military efficacy. After Agincourt, the archers are reputed to have mocked the French by waving their still intact two fingers at them.
Again, I'm a bit dubious about this explanation as I'm not sure if this sign has been in currency for the past 700 years; I thought it a 20th century phenomenon. But I offer it as a diversion from our more momentous concerns of economic crisis and John Sergeant's resignation from Strictly Come Dancing.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Brown Plays for Worryingly High Stakes
If Gordon's Keynesian solution of an invneted 'fiscal stimulus' succeeds, he will prove the hero of the hour and the financial crisis his very own Falklands crisis which saved and then made Thatcher's reputation. But if the medicine fails to work, there is a run on the pound and a much deeper recession begins to bite those poll figures might represent the relieved false dawn of popularity Chamberlain enjoyed after signing the Munich agreement. I hnope I'm being too pessimistic but right now Brown's gamble is beginning to look a little too reckless I fear.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
How Representative Should the Commons Be?
Enoch Powell, once said in a lecture he gave at Manchester University, that the precise represntation called for by some advocates of democracy were missing the point. MPs represnted the country geographically and everyone was much the wiser after a debate involving such a diverse and spatially representative chamber. I think he's right to dismiss the idea of a democratic 'mirror' and it has to be accepted that:
i) We need MPs who are educated and able to contribute to our governance in an effective way. The examples of George Bush and Sarah Palin illustrate only too vividly the hazards of electing people with inadequate educations and abilities.
ii) Many bright people from working class backgrounds who receive good educations cannot wait to escape what might have been unhappy, unfulfilling backgrounds.
iii) Selection committees will tend to go for candidates who impress with their mastery of current issues and who express themselves clearly and effectively. These requirements will tend to favour those who have received a good education, including university, in some cases the elite ones into the bargain.
Which does not hold out much hope for this state of affairs changing any time soon. Which is a pity. It would be nice to think that intelligent working class children might return, after being educated, to assist their class fellows, as was intended by the old union route of night school and then Ruskin College Oxford. Having worked in university adult education for so long I can attest that my point ii) above applied in no small measure to the latter as well. Even among the liberal elite selfishness often or even usually out trumps altruism. A House wholly without working class MPs would be gravely impoverished and it is to be hoped some of the initiatives mentioned by Harris-London Citizens and UpRising- will bear some valuable fruit.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Government and Opposition Gambling With Our Economic Future
Like City traders they are both buying 'futures'; gambling on outcomes. Rawnsley puts it this way:
Mr Osborne will have made the wrong bet if Mr Brown comes out of this looking like the bold saviour of the economy. The Prime Minister's reward will be the gratitude of the voters and a juicy big split in the Conservative party.
The big peril of cutting taxes while boosting spending is that this shatters confidence that Britain can pay its debts. Sterling has already tumbled by more than 25 per cent against the dollar in less than three months. The pound is now at an all-time low against the euro.
Meanwhile the benefits of offering tax cuts are possibly reflected in poll results reported in the ST yesterday showing Labour catching up with the Conservatives in a way which always seems to spook their high command. From being some 20 points ahead a few weeks back, the Tories' lead is now only 5 points. This will bring comfort to Labour, but Rawnsley's analysis suggests it might be shortlived. It could be that the markets will pronounce Gordon's gamble a loser This is a high stakes game being played with our economy:
The Prime Minister has to take a double-or-quits gamble. The Tories do not. George Osborne's critics are only thinking eight days ahead. He is trying to see 18 months ahead. That makes the Shadow Chancellor smarter than those Tories who want to toss him overboard.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
How Strong is Dave's loyalty to George?
Until a month or so ago, it seemed as if his star could not cease to rise but commentators are beginning to discern more than just a blip in his trajectory. His suggestion of a £2,6 tax break for business hiring the unemployed was taken apart and diagnosed as suffering from a pretty nasty black hole and, according to the well informed Nicholas Watt, a whispering campaign is in full flow urging his replacement by the talented William Hague.
In an apparent attempt to rout his critics and re-establish his position as Dave's number one number two, he has gone on the attack. In his Times interview today Osborne acccuses Brown of being 'deeply irresponsible' about the amount he is borrowing and pursuing a 'scorched earth' policy in which he lays waste the economy in the knowledge the Tories will have to clear up the mess. Has he taken a step too far, one wonders?
The fact that Brown has borrowed so much is indeed dangerous as it will deter investment and bring down the value of the pound, possibly even cause a run on it into the bargain. Already well under $1.5 and almost par with the euro, the £ could topple into a deeply unpleasant black hole. This is well known. But the convention in British politics is not to 'talk down' sterling at times of danger as this can benefit no-one whether taxpayer or in business. George is now being accused of doing just that by Labour who have alleged:
a panicking George Osborne is trying to talk down the economy in a desperate last throw of the dice to save his career."
The most serious develpment for Osborne,. however, has been the on the record intervetion by Lord Kalms, founder of electronics chain, Dixons and a former Treasurer of the party. He has suggested Osborne is not up to the task and should be replaced by the pugnacious David Davis, someone else who made some serious errors a few months back. So the question buzzing around Westminster right now is whether Cameron will be loyal to his fellow Bullingdonian and Notting Hill buddy, or give way to Osborne's enemies within the Conservative Party. And George has few friends in this organisation. He has streaked upward too rapidly for that but also, it is rumoured, he has offended by loftily criticising collegues for their Commons' performances. One senior Tory recently told me: 'George doesn't speak to us backbenchers- he's like Heseltine in that he thinks he is above such things.'
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Whiter Shades of Pale
The implication is that we are only civilised because we have a white parent.
This hegemony of whiteness seems to apply widely for black people. Someone like Diana Ross and Beyonce illustrate how the hierarchy of paler shades applies. It also applies regarding facial characteristics: the more a black person resembles a white one, the more handsome he or she is generally held to be. Examples can be found in the case of Sidney Poitier, Denzil Washington or Halle Berry all Hollywood stars partly as a result. Someone with classic 'negro' characteristics, say like the late boxer, Sonny Liston, would never have a chance of joining such a beauty parade.
But the syndrome applies to black people too. I once asked a lady from the Caribbean island of Dominica if she had had her children in the public ward of her local hospital. She replied: 'Oh no, they are for the black people'. She was black too but of a paler hue. The ultimate example, I suppose, is Michael Jackson, who went to extraordinary lengths to transform himself from a beautiful black person into a strange freaky white one. For me Obama is definitely black and I celebrate the fact he's triumphed against such absurd attitudes.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
1. First it is conceptually flawed in its assumption that the way to solve a crisis caused by too much private-sector debt is to boost public-sector debt. Brown seems to believe it is possible to return to the world as it existed before August 2007, in which individuals, financial institutions and governments can live now and pay later, if at all.
2. Second, it is economically illiterate. Brown always argued during his time at the Treasury that it was monetary policy (the level of interest rates and the pound) rather than fiscal policy (tax and spending) that affected economic growth. Now he has apparently decided that unfunded tax cuts can help prevent a deep and prolonged recession. Quite obviously, his grasp of economics was either wrong then or it is wrong now. It is wrong now.
3.Finally, cutting taxes is politically cynical. To make a real difference, Alistair Darling would need to announce tax cuts of at least 1% of GDP in his pre-budget report this month. That would mean a tax-take reduction of £15bn - out of the question given the state of the public finances. The financial markets have been softened up for tax cuts, but they would be surprised and alarmed if the package was worth more than £3bn.
He concludes that these cuts will remain unfunded until the next election after which they will be met either by cuts in spending or higher taxes. He argues that targeted cuts aimed at low earners or small businesses would have been a better strategy funded by more tax for the well-off and the abondonment of unnecessary expenditure like Trident. Seems like another ctitique which is spot-on to me.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Reflections on Obama's Win and some Predictions
1. The rest of the world will queue up to be the first to be greeted by him in the White Hiouse come January 2009. In 2000 it was Chirac who broke away from the pack to effect the touch-down. This time Gordon Brown will be trying hard to establish pole position. If he fails Cameron will heap ridicule upon him.
2. His first six months should see the rescinding of many Bushite measures. I reckon abolition of Guantanamo Bay will be the first and I would guess his people are already working on it.
3. His honeymoon will be protracted, as was Blair's, but it will fdae and by thnis time next year the ranks of his allies will have thinned and those of enemies thickened out to include some of his own people who will accuse him of betrayal of their inflated expectations.
4. Nevertheless I expect him to be a two term president. Perhaps I'm still living in that bubble of euphoric hope caused by the win, but I believe he will deliver sufficiently to get the second term. The Republicans, anyway, are not going to offer much of a challenge for a while.
5. Sarah Palin will be the early favourite as candiate in 2012 but I expect her to make more gaffes and to be discredited before the chnce to run arises.
Friday, November 07, 2008
Byelection Result Confounds Experts
Well, I was wrong, and delighted to be so. I assumed the consensus, widely shared in the press and by pollsters, not to mention top blog, Political Betting, knew what it was talking about, as is normally the case, to be fair. But instead of a narrow loss Labour won Glenrothes by a reduced but still healthy majority of 6,737 on a good turnout of 52%. John Curtice from Strathclyde University on Today this morning, judged it was cut-backs by the local SNP council which proved decisive. It now seems clear that the SNP is now perceived in Scotland as 'the establishment' and their honeymoon is now over.
So it's a famous victory for Gordon Brown, vindication too, for his decision to campaign in the constituency, something prime ministers almost never do at byelecrtions. But winning here clearly meant a lot to Brown and his gamble has paid off. This means he has avoided a disastrous 'three on the trot' byelection losses and a consequent return to the travails of the late summer when Westminster hummed with plots to dethrone him. His modest recovery, occasioned by the financial crisis, will now continue, though turning around those generally dire polling positions will take more than a bit longer. The SNP polled close to the 14000 they had predicted but Labour somehow managed to deliver an amazing extra 6000 votes.
I always tell my students that politics is an exciting subject to study simply because it's so of the moment and often so unpredictable. Pollsters might groan at another miscalculation, but I celebrate the surprise factor and am glad Labour has at last had a piece of good electoral news, the first for maybe two years.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Labour likely to lose Glenrothes
During Gordon's troubled late summer, it was said Cabinet members despairing of Brown, were prepared to give him one last chance to pull his leadership around. Glenrothes was mentioned by many commentators as a key test of his success in managaing to do this. I discerned just a hint of the same sentiment in Harmon's warning recently. In Gordon's backyard, with a huge Labour majority, this would normally be an automatic victory. But these are not normal times. Gordon has disappointed Scotland which has fallen in love with Alex Salmond's minority SNP administration.
A couple of days ago Ian McWhirter reckoned Labour had fought hard for the constituency but regal visits by Gordon and Sarah, were no substitute for activist knockers on doors and these had been in very short suppply. Now the SNP seem to have a lead Labour cannot overhaul and defeat looks the most likely outcome. This will not be received as a major disaster but after Crewe and Alsager and Glasgow East, a third successive loss of a Labour seat will put an end to Brown's mini-revival which accompanied the financial crisis.
The hoopla over Obama's win has to some extent obscured Gordon's predicament but in its wake reality will dawn again. Not only do they have a wonderful, talented new president, but we still have trhe same old depressive, lack lustre prime minister. The Political Betting site summed up Labour's poll position recently and it doesn't look good. It's back to harsh reality time for Gordon I fear.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Getting the Measure of Obama's Victory
1. Defeat of Discredited Republicans: OK, this is a partisan view but I think this party, under Bush junior, has woefully mismanaged the affairs of his own country and the wider world for which, by virtue of its power, the US has a responsibility.
2. Healing Racial Divide: Anyone familiar with Americans will know how deeply the racial division runs. Lincoln may have won a battle for black slaves, but the war continued for at least century afterwards, and to some extent still continues. The fact that the country has been able to put such dishonourable sentiments behind it is hugely to its credit and that of its political system. Even more so, though, to the quality of an outstanding candidate who resolutely refused to speak the language of racial confrontation but took the Mandela route towards conciliation and the power of example.
3. Renewing Democracy: By rousing so many new voters, especially younger ones and disillusioned blacks, Obama has renewed US democracy at a time when it sorely needed it. Now it is our ailing systems in Europe which need to be saved from atrophy.
4. Affirming the Power of Language: I used to reckon Clinton and Blair were the most gifted political communicators in the west. No more. Compared with Obama's soaring poetic oratory, which seems to be there naturally, drawn from a deep natural well of loquacity requiring no speech writers, these two seem like tawdry political hacks.
So it's done. The boos at McCain's gracious concession speech indicated all resentment is not done and the danger of a sudden spasm of resentful reaction remains close. But Obama's real challenges now lie ahead. Presiding over the parlous state of US and world finances is a job which will keep his sleeping hours to the minimum. And solving the still substantial mess of Iraq and the deteriorating one in Afghanistan, will require more than oratory. But he begins with the best possible start: a rousing, unifying victory. May his best efforts be met with eventual success.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Obama Equal to the Challenge on Decision Day
To have survived pressure like this and risen above it mark out the man as exceptional. And every day he has been out facing the public, on the public stage or and mingling with them, he has faced the danger that his children might grow up without a father. After his dignified performance in the presidential debates, I think US voters across the board, realised this was no ordinary candidate. My racing journalist friend who loves a flutter on any contest, told me yesterday that the spread betting people were only offering to 'sell' Obama Electoral College delegates at 340, meaning they expect a landslide. He says they are seldom wrong. The blog Political Betting tells us (3/11/08) that bets are now even being taken on the time McCain will make his concession speech.
Just about every organ of opinion predicts a win at minimum, yet I, and I daresay millions of others to whom this election matters so much, cannot help being highly nervous. In 2000 the result was stolen from the Democrats, in 2004 the Republican machine helped smear and destroy a worthy candidate who lacked charisma. Karl Rove has caused many sleepless nights through his Machiavellian management of Republican political fortunes. Now, finally, payback time might be at hand. Can't wait.
Monday, November 03, 2008
Farewell Then Dubya....
Reviewing a book on George Bush Rafael Behr yesterday wrote:
George Jnr was born without the intellect of a great leader and raised on the assumption that he should be one. The disparity between his aspirations and capabilities would have remained a private, personal trauma were not he afforded every nepotistic opportunity to elevate it into a national catastrophe.
Today's Guardian also contains another well written opportunity to write Dubya's political obituary before he is officially replaced tomorrow. Simon Schama flags up the creditable attention given to Aids relief in Africa by the US president and attempted far sighted reform of immigration laws, frustrated by his own party. But on the debit side... of dear! We have Iraq's hundreds of thousands dead and injured; 4000 young American servicemen dead; Guantanamo Bay and its torturous record. And that is before we get on to his criminally myopic response to Hurricane Katrina, his erosion of civil liberties at home and his denial that global warming was related to human economic activity. We could go on.
The fact that Al Gore won most votes in 2000 and that it took a Republican loaded Supreme Court to deliver a false victory to George jnr, now seems like history's cruellest joke upon the world. In exchange for a virtual electoral felony we received the most incompetent, narrow minded religiously bigoted mediocrity whose chief political asset seemed to be his ability to tell uninformed US voters the things Karl Rove (rightly as it turned out) judged they wanted to hear. Goodbye George and good riddance.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
Glenrothes Holds Key to Brown's Longer Recovery
On who is best to run the economy, Brown has narrowed the gap to 30-34 and Cameron's rating as who would be 'best prime minister' has fallen to 34 from 40 in September. These are slight improvements admittedly, but they do represent signs of optimism for the government. Of course it could still all go pear shaped but if Gordon has done enough to hold Glenrothes next week, then we can start to think and talk of a genuine recovery.