Monday, June 28, 2010


Skipper In Sardinia for Few Days

Up early to drive all the way down to Stansted for flight to an island I have always wanted to visit. At least the Italians won't be gloating over the football; on tghat topic I was really glad I'm bascially a cricket fan though even at Old Trafford our otherwise resurgent team left it to the very last few seconds before securing the narrowest of victories. I'll report back whether my picture passes the Sale of Goods Act test- do hope it does.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Reality Begins to Bite for Lib Dems

What a pity bloggers can't 'nick' the Observer's Chris Riddell's cartoons as today's is a genuine cracker. It shows on page 33 a hapless Nick Clegg sitting in a cluttered broom cupboard saying:

'Here in my office at the nerve centre of the coalition, I'm able to influence the really tough decisions- like how to make the VAT rise sound progressive.'

In his piece today, Andrew Rawnsley reflects on how satirists can undermine reputations and hold them up to ridicule. Clegg has received a good press from the right but it's the left of centre news-sheets- Guardian, Observer, Indie- which are read by Lib Dem supporters. That cartoon will have hurt.

Also beginning to hurt is an aching feeling turning into a sinking one, that they have been 'had' over the budget: used as 'cover' or figleaf for Tory measures. The Observer's analysis today nails the lie that the budget is progressive by reporting a study that the least well-off- those on less than £14, 200- will lose more than one fifth of their income while those on £50K will lose only 3.6%.

But, I hear you say, Labour was more than a little responsible for the huge deficit and would have done something very similar. Not necessarily so. Certainly, Brown bears a heavy responsibility for racking up so much debt but the Tories' 1990s debt problem was solved via a 50-50 split regarding expenditure cuts and tax increases. The 4-1 ratio adopted by the coalition will inflict the very 'swingeing' cuts Cameron said, during the campaign, he wouldn't impose and, as expenditure is directed essentially at the lower paid, the poor will suffer. A different ratio would have distributed different burdens.

Clegg and company have failed to realise the weight of suffering their complicity with the Tories will deliver at the doors of the poorest households in the country. No wonder survey evidence shows half Lib Dem supporters are prepared to defect and therir poll rating has fallen fron 23% 7th may to 16% today. Vince Cable on the Marr show today did his best to square the circle but, for me didn't really convince.

Rawnsley sums up the Clegg's dilemma:

'What will wound his sense of himself and erode his position with his party is being seen as the neutered subordinate of the Tories. There will be a voice in every Lib Dem ear whispering: "We're being used, we're being used, and everyone can see it." It doesn't even have to be all that true to start hurting. This worm of unease is already niggling in their guts. If it grows, it could gnaw away at the foundations of this coalition until it comes tumbling down.'

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Institute Fiscal Studies Expose Budget

Opinion is still split on the budget, as one might expect. I note the Daily Mail quotes the 'hugely respected' IFS but quotes its judgement very selectively. The Guardian's Tom Clark fastens onto the more significant elements in the IFS's report. He points out that figures support the claim that the rich will pay the most; the richest decile will lose 7% while ther poorest will lose a fraction of 1%.

However, Clark points out that the government's chart included the changes planned by Darling before the election. If Osborne's additions to this package are expressed in a chart you get the one above, showing precisely the reverse pattern. So Clegg and co have been party to a very unprogressive and typically Tory policy through superimposing rightwing measures onto Labour's leftwing ones.

I heard Clegg being interviewed by 'Rottweiler' Humphrys this morning and sounding as unhappy a bunny as I've ever heard when under relentless, but wholly fair questioning. Oh boy, I get a feeling he'll pay for being the person who sold out his party soon enough.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Essentially a Tory Budget

Lots of stuff about the budget, from gung ho 'bash the dole scroungers' Daily Express, to 'Oh my God, the economy's going to implode' Guardian. I suppose I tend more to the latter than the former and found Jonathan Freedland's analysis typically acute.

On the overall strategy of cutting the eficit now and deeply, he says this:

"As the Nobel laureate Paul Krugman and others have argued, there is no rationale for cutting deficits so fast and so deep when the global economy is still barely out of the hole into which it plunged thanks to the banking crisis of 2008. It's economics-for-dummies that cutting spending and raising taxes reduces demand – someone who's just been laid off can't buy much – and could choke off recovery before it has begun."

Osborne presented well enough but what if this tyro finance minister has got it completely wrong? The criticism is that the government did not need to cut so deep and so fast; the real reason is the ideological one of shrinking the state. The same doctrine, in fact which led Thatcher to apply her medicine so ruthlessly and damagingly in the 1980s. It's one hell of a gamble Cleggy has taken, hitching his wagon to these fellow public school boys(sorry, can't help it if I so dislike them).

Freedland also deconstructs the boast that the budget is 'fair'.

1. Raising VAT to 20% may not worry anyone as rich as most in Cameron's Cabinet but it will certainly bear down on those on the minimum wage.

2. 75% of the attack on the deficit will come via cuts in departmental budgets- an average reduction of 25%, apart from the NHS, with some protection for defence and education. This will hit those dependent on public services like transport, housing, benefits like housing benefit. People without the funds to pay their rents will be forced to move out into cheaper accommodation, begging trhe question about fairness yet again.

3. Freezing Council tax sounds like a favour but in practice councils will have to cut the services on which so many poor and elderly people depend.

4. Capital Gains Tax, which has enabled so many fortunes to be made in the private equity field, has been restricted to an increase from 18% to 28% and not the 40% originally intended. What is 'fair' about succumbning to the blandishments of the bankers and others in the City who did so much to land us in this predicament in the first place?

5. And a £2bn levy on the banks is a drop in the ocean to this bloated industry.

6. Finally, I have seen a number of estimates suggesting the rich will suffer most losing maybe over £1000 a year, while the poor will lose only £300. But if you lose your job as a reuslt of the cuts, as hundreds of thousands will, you will find you have nothing to reduce in the first place, and the taxpayer will have to shell out benefits to compensate you.

This is essentially a Tory budget; no wonder Lib dem MPs are so pig sick. They'll be even more so when their members start to leve in droves along with their elctoral support.

Monday, June 21, 2010


It Doesn't Have to be so Brutal

As we await the assault of Osborne and Cameron tomorrow I flag up the opinion of LSE's professor John Hills as quoted in Polly Toynbee's article of a few days back. According to this the richest 10% in the country owned more than 100 times more wealth than the poorest 10%. Meanwhile, faced with our debt crisis, the government seeks to reduce the debt by saving four pounds for every one pound raised in taxes.

The problem with this is that it is the poor who consume most public spending, as Hills explains:

The bottom half of the population are heavy users of services and benefits, with more children and elderly than the top half. To raise £30bn, half the sum Cameron pledges to cut from the deficit, means raising on average £1,000 from every household. Hills calculates that if the money is raised by spending cuts, then the bottom fifth loses 12% while the top fifth would lose less than 1% – a startling difference.

However, a tax based approach would be different and arguably far fairer. Raising £30bn in this way would produce a:

'bottom fifth paying another 3.4% of their income and the top fifth paying 3.7%. "That shows starkly how different the impact will be depending on whether the money is raised in spending cuts or in taxes. Public service cuts fall disproportionately on the bottom half."

To raise £60bn through tax would entail a return of the basic income tax rate to 23 pence in the £: a rate I can remember from 1997. As Toynbee asks:

It would certainly be hard for many – but would that still be better than throwing 750,000 people out of work while cutting schools, social care, children's services, transport, arts, benefits and almost everything by a brutal 25%?

Check out Larry Elliott today and you feel a stomach churning sense that Osborne might be about make a judgement call destined to plunge us into a situation far worse than the dire one he claims to have inherited.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Skipper away for Weekend

The season of weekends and even weeks away is upon us and today I motor down to Oxford for a Hammond family reunion. My grandmother had five children and it's their progeny who are meeting for a brief get together in Oxford. I display a pic of Aberystwyth in its sunkissed glory from Thursday as I don't have any right now of Oxford.

So no blogging for a couple of days. I'm not a football fan and this morning feel rhather grateful that I'm not. This brief period of optimism, with St George's flags and horn tooting camaraderie happens every World Cup before sinking into despaiur and disillusion- it's almost like some hugely unpalatable metaphor for life somehow. Needless to say, I'll be glad when it's all over.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Cracks beginning to appear in Coalition

Am writing this in Aberystwyth on a fabulous sunny day so don't have access to my picture file. But was intrigued to read in The Times today that Clegg is suggesting his MPs should have an independent 'policy spokesman' role to signify they are a separate party. Not surprising given the danger their 57 MPs might go the same way as the National Liberals in 1931, swallowed up in coalition with the Tories. Some Tories, apparently have objected to this though I can't think why, unless they have already assumed Clegg's troops have contracted their irrevocable loyalty to Dave's project. Expect more of this after the news of dire cuts breaks with the Emergency Budget. Now to soak up a bit more Welsh sun.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Skeletons in Political Cupboards-or Not

I'm just reading Alastair Campbell's Prelude to Power Diaries 1994-97. I was struck by Campbell's question to Blair 13th May, 1994 in the wake of John Smith's tragic death, when attention had finally begun to shift towards who would take over as leader. Blair had been bombarded with phone calls all day urging him to stand and he was now actively considering the possibility.

'I asked him if he had any skeletons in his cupboard- women, drugs, that kind of thing- and he said no.'

We know now that he was probably telling the truth and that whatever one thinks about his moral decisions over going to war so often and so unwisely, he has almost certainly been a loving and faithful husband. Think back to other future prime ministers. Attlee and Churchill were both scrupulously faithful and it's hard to conceive of the former being anything else; the latter could easily have been as his father and especially mother were, many time sover and in a more censorious moral climate to boot. Eden might have stored the odd bone or two in his closet, being a famously handsome ladies man.

Macmillan was personally faithful but the fact his wife had for years been having an affair with a bisexual Tory MP, Bob Bootby, would not have allowed hjim to become PM had he lived in the era of the modern media. Wilson might have had dealings of an amorous nature with Marcia Williams- it's hard to say from the delphic comments in memoirs by the likes of Joe Haines and others. Heath seemed not to have any sexual urges at all; Callaghan was totally faithful I feel sure; Thatcher too, was probably faithful to good old Dennis though she had her flirtations and knew how to deloy her sexual charms when dealing with all those middle-ged Tory men.

The key skeleton harbourer of course, and the least likely, was John Major. He it was who had a four year and exceedingly steamy affair with Edwina Currie. Gordon Brown I would say had insufficient charm to make it with anyone other than his very nice wife, nor would he have wished to anyway I'd guess, though Tom Bower's biography paints a picture of a brooding, quite sexually charged younger Gordon who might prove me wrong once history has had a good look at him. Blair does surprise me a little. After all, he idolised Mick Jagger, was in a rock band at Oxford called Ugly Rumours, was handsome and very attractive to women. Maybe he was closely policed by the proprietorial Cherie but, I am a little disappointed to say, I think he was more priest manque than potential philanderer.

And Dave Cameron? Well, he probably snorted a few Bullingdonian drugs and maybe had the odd unwise dalliance but so far, nobody has broken Tory ranks to suggest he is anything less than pure as driven snow. God, I'd love him to have ravished Virginia Bottomley or Julie Kirkbride, or just... been sufficiently wild and irresponsible tom produce the odd rattle somewhere inside his boring sanitised upper middle-class cupboards within!

Friday, June 11, 2010


House of Lords Should Not be Clone of Commons

Having disagreed strongly with Simon Jenkins Wednesday, I find myself more or less agreeing with him today on House of Lords reform. He argues that a new, wholly elected House, via PR, would merely increase the power of party apparatchiks who would decide who would sit where in the party lists. This would only produce a clone of the Commons, thus causing a clash of legitimacy- some would say PR made the Lords more democratic therefore more legitimate- and therefore potential gridlock. Moreover power would still be focussed on those few at the apex of party power.

He argues the Lords should continue to be a subordinate chamber and one which dealt principally with deliberation and amendment, not legislation. I tend to agree- the Lords works well as an advisory, amending and revising chamber and any reform should retain these functions as its main role.

As for elections? I think it would be better if the Lords had a different representative role. Why not use it to represent the regions along the lines proposed by that well known political scientist, Billy Bragg. His idea is that party strength in the regions should be used to send representatives to the Lords:

"There's no need for further elections. You would go on election day with the same ballot paper, cast your vote for your preferred choice for MP and instead of your vote being discarded if you lose, it would be accumulated at a regional level and lead to representation for your region, for your party of choice in the second chamber." Quite.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


Could we Really Abolish the Defence Budget?

Wow, it's a queer do and no mistake. You would expect a raving leftie to urge the abolition of all the armed forces, but a former editor of The Times? In his piece today the Guardian columnist advocates no half measures but an across the board abolition of our defence budget. To even those left of centre moderates like me, this seems bizarre. We surely need to be sure we can protect ourselves against present and unforeseen theats do we not? Jenkins argues that there aren't any:

There are many evils that threaten the British people at present, but I cannot think of one that absolutely demands £45bn to deter it. Soldiers, sailors and air crews are no protection against terrorists, who anyway are not that much of a threat. No country is an aggressor against the British state. No country would attack us were the government to put its troops into reserve and mothball its ships, tanks and planes. Let us get real.

It's a bold and provocative proposal, the more so because the Conservatives wish to 'ringfence' this item. Some of the older Establishment Tories are probably spluttering over their late morning brandies in The Athenaeum and Army and Navy Club as they discover that one whom they thought was of their own number, has unforgivably gone all pacifist and a bit bonkers with it.

And it is a bit bonkers. I can think immediately of two reasons to keep reasonbably formidable armed forces.

1. Suppose any country, in Europe, Asia or even Africa, came to be ruled by an expansionist and agressive leader; this is by no means an unlikely scenario. They could merely sail a ship into the Channel or UK waters and either threaten us or attack us until, like modern day Vikings, they had helped themselves from a country which could not resist and which, by giving up its armed forces, had virtually issued an invitation to agressors everywhere. Even a revived IRA might fancy blackmailing such a weakened state. In those circumstances, who would defend us? Ultimately, only ourselves. I'd pay insurance against such a situation developing.

2. Looking to the medium term future, climate change is likely to displace millions of people as they migrate northwards to relatively cool environments such as the UK. In those circumstances it would be foolish indeed to be defenceless.

One can also invoke the duty responsible nations have to support international initiatives to calm or sort out those 'bush-fire' wars likely to spring up anywhere. I can only conclude Sir Simon is being deliberately provocative as this suggestion is manifestly absurd. Pull out of Afghanistan, maybe, get rid of Trident certainly, but leave our shores undefended against everyone, Hamas, or even Somali pirates? It's a silly idea, more worthy of a CND supporter than a serious commentator. It's worth remembering we used to think a war in Europe was unthinkable, out of the question and then we got Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo ethnic cleansing and genocide. And once you abolish a capability nourished and practiced over centuries, it would be too late once the threats arrive. Sir Simon would do well to ponder the wise words of Benjamin Disraeli:

"What we anticipate seldom occurs: but what we least expect generally happens."

Sunday, June 06, 2010


Coalition All Over Place on Cuts

How deep with the cuts be? Alistair Darling, during the campaign warned us they would be deeper than under Thatcher; Cameron warned along similar lines and so did Cable. Yet, in an interview for the Observer today, Nick Clegg specifically says cuts will not be as deep as under Thatcher:

It is important that people understand that fiscal retrenchment does not mean a repeat of the 1980s. We're going to do this differently,"

He argues that severe cuts had been carried out in recent years by centre-left governments in Sweden, Canada and under Clinton in the USA. He explains his volte face from before the election when he said a £6bn cuts package threatened recovery in trerms of the crisis in Greece and a conversation with Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England.

Meanwhile the Prime Minister warns the spending cuts will be deeper than expected. So who do we believe? One possible reading of this dissonance is that Clegg is seeking to 'bounce' his 'boss' by denying cuts will be unbearable; another is that he is seeking to maintain a distinct left of centre identity for his party for when voters begin to complain. Either way, it suggests either poor coordiation in the coalition or the beginnings of public dissension.

Friday, June 04, 2010


Cumbrian Killings Sign of 'Broken Society' Dave?

If the tragic shootings by Derrick Bird had occurred during the election campaign you can be sure Cameron and his acolytes would have trumpteded that here was yet more evidence for his contention that Britain had a 'Broken Society'. But politicians of course, campaign in poetry and govern in prose so, confronted with this possible evidence he merely warns against 'knee-jerk' reactions. We won't see any more tightening of gun controls when, already, the Olympic shooting squad has to train abroad.

The Economist ponders what the event tells us about our society and is not too bothered. We suffer just over one gun murder per million people each year, one of the very lowest in the developed world. Last year only 39 people were so killed- the lowest for 15 years. Whilst 300 people per thousand own a gun in Germany and 900 in America, the figure for the UK is merely 56. This is not to say we don't have a problem with assaults and examples of hideous cruelty, merely that we are no different, and perhaps more than a little more peaceful than comparable countries. Dave's silence on his Broken Society theme is just one more sign that this idea was a rhetorical device invented merely for electoral purposes.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


Once Again, Where is the Proportionality?

Israel has admitted it messed up and this time it seems to have alienated the whole world, including, just possibly, their Big Brother Friend, the USA. Israel says they were atatcked by 'extremists' on one of the seven 'aid convoy' boats commandos shinned down ropes to occupy. Given that their claims no other boats offered such resistance, there might be a case here, but we still don't know the facts and I suspect the Israeli Army will not be quick to offer any. Certainly the footage available shows the activists attacking the parachutists as they landed on deck but to open fire with live ammunition was not clever.

During the Gaza War in 2008 Israel pointed out their own casualities from Gaza launched rockets. Any casualty, especially the death of innocent civilians is to be hugely regretted but there were only 13 Israeli deaths and 1370 Palestinian ones. Astonishingly disproportionate. Here again we see 9 deaths, mostly Turkish activists- which has lost Israel a vital Islamic friend in the region- compared with er.. zero Israeli commandos. Who on earth briefs the generals who lead these troops? The day is approaching when israel is left friendless and truly vulnerable in the Middle- East.

I was pleased to see William Hague departed from Labour's slavish script and openly criticised the clumsily brutal Israeli military action.

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