Tuesday, May 31, 2011
George Osborne and the Economy
In its quarterly report out today, the BCC became the latest body to lower its expectations for the economy, forecasting growth of 1.3% in 2011 and 2.2% in 2012. That compares with its previous predictions of 1.4% and 2.3%, and is below forecasts from the UK government's financial watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, which expects growth of 1.7% this year and 2.5% for 2012.
This after a number of other experts and agencies have said rather the same sort of thing.
1. Barack Obama carefully avoided endorsing a cuts only approach, preferring 'a mix of cuts' plus focused thought about 'how do we generate revenue.'
2. Chief economist at the OECD who said there was 'scope for slowing the pace' of the cuts.
3. The OECD also predicted UK 's economy would grow not by 2.5% as forecast last May but only 1.4%.
4. Osborne's own Office of Budget Responsibility has also reduced growth forecasts several times.
5. The CBI reports a 'shrp' decline in consumer trade in the first quarter of 2011.
6. Household spending is suffering a slump greater than anything since 2009.
7. Business investment is down by 7.1& during the first quarter.
8. Inflation is up to nearly 5%.
9. There is no sign that cutting the public sector is automatically kick starting the private sector.
There will come a time and maybe it has already arrived when laying all the blame for our parlous economic state on Gordon Brown's tenure in office will not cut any ice with voters. On present performance, Osborne might have to discover a way of slowing down his cuts and listening to advice from sources other than his blind Tory prejudices.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Dave Reassuring on Overseas Aid to his great Credit
So it is quite reassuring to declare more than one cheer for his stance on overseas aid. He has received quite a bot of sniping from his backwoodsmen over this waste of resources on children in Africa who are not our national responsibility, not to mention a (surely deliberately) leaked letter from Liam Fox at defence suggesting his sagging budget might be topped up from this hitherto ring fenced pot of gold.
At the G8 press conference, Dave made an impassioned defence of his pledge to give 0.7% of GDP in such assistance. He argued it was 'self' interest for G8 countries as 'broken' states can eventually pose a threat to the developed world. He concluded his plea to fellow G8 nations with this peroration:
I remember as a young politician watching the 2005 Gleneagles summit, and that Live 8 concert [events at 10 G8 locations and broadcast worldwide], and thinking it was right those world leaders made their pledges so publicly. I think when you make a promise to the poorest people in the world, you should keep it. And I am proud that Britain is doing that."
Hear hear! Well said that man!
Friday, May 27, 2011
27-7 Media Has Not Helped US Move Towards More Mature Democracy
The result was a huge tsunami of condemnation from feminists, liberal pressure groups and, with The Sun to the fore, the hang em and flog em right-wing law and order brigade, Sir Herbert Gusset et.al. as Private Eye would characterise it. As Cooke asks:
Where did this new taste for taking offence come from? How is it that we have grown to like it so much that we're willing deliberately to misunderstand the Ken Clarkes of this world the better to give ourselves the opportunity to huff and to puff and to ring Nicky Campbell? I'm damned if I know.
The result, of course, is that new ideas tend to be dropped and new ones not even raised by thoughtful politicians, for fear of the collateral damage. It's precisely the wrong atmosphere in which to float new ideas. Maybe it's because the print media are in decline and seek out controversy to boost flagging sales? Almost certainly that's a factor but such spikes in sales I suspect will only prove a temporary blip in the downward trajectory. The new media however, just seem to be obsessed with anything which has a sniff of sensation about it, the better to fill up cyberspace with protesting posts and tweets. One is led, inescapably, to the conclusion that bloggers and twitterers just need to get a proper life.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Obama's Europe Trip is About More Than Drinking Guinness
Why Europe and not Asia to where the focus of his foreign policy has shifted? Easy, Obama, despite his efforts to fulfill his election promises, has not done too well, especially regarding the economy. His satisfaction rating at home hovers around 50%- not high enough to inspire too much confidence in his re-election team. But in Europe, we love him; his popularity ratings soar to 70%, ensuring huge crowds will flock to see him and provide wonderful news footage back home.
His visit with Cameron won't be all bonding and syrupy speeches though; he has tough topics to discuss. Will he, as some predict, give the green light to UK and France equipping Libyan rebels to have a chance of toppling the stubborn Gadaffi? We'll see. No doubt he'll try to encourage European nations to step up and contribute a bit more to the Afghanistan war; few of them, apart from us, seem inclined to do so.
And I daresay he'll also give the nod to Christine Lagarde's candidacy to replace the woman chasing Dominique Strauss-Kahn at the IMF. That Cameron should do his best to veto Gordon Brown's chances of getting the job- when he is enormously experienced and respected within such circles, exposes the fact that under that smooth exterior there is much calculation and precious little magnanimity.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Ken Clarke: the 'Good Tory'
Jails are overcrowded because they have become hostels of last resort of drug addicts, the homeless and people suffering from chronic mental illness. Once inside, the only change they undergo is a fast-track education in hardened criminality.
His suggestion that rapists have their sentences halved if they plead guilty, thus saving time and resources has caused outrage because he distinguished between 'serious' and less serious kinds of the crime. This set all kinds of sections squawking their indignation. To me it seemed an uncontroversial comment for a non politician to make. For example, murder is a very serious crime but someone who kills a loved one with a terminal illness surely commits a less serious crime than the killer of Milly Dowler committed? By the same token a stranger who abducts and rapes a young girl commits a much more serious and damaging crime than an 18 year-old having (consensual) sex with an under-age girl?
The problem is twofold however. First, Clarke is the Justice Secretary and must tread the line of legal orthodoxy with much greater care than you or I leaning on the bar of our local. Secondly Clarke has never been one to respect topics as sacred cows to be carefully tip-toed around. He always speaks his mind-often spontaneously and without calculation- and for that, within the stifling orthodoxy of his party, many of us on the left of centre, have admired him.
I thought it churlish of Ed Miliband to opportunistically leap on the passing bandwagon and urge his dismissal at PMQs this week. His choice of words should certainly have been improved, but both the overall policy-reduce the prison population, improve rehabilitation- and the specific example cited were basically sound.
Friday, May 20, 2011
Why we Don't Have Revolutions
Makes sense? fits the facts? Yes, just about I've always thought. But Peter Wilby offers a nuanced alternative analysis. He wonders why 'we aren't more angry' at how the rich have benefited during the recession?
* The IFS have recently shown that last year the incomes of the richest 1% grew at the fastest rate for a decade.
* the Sunday Times Rich List shows the richest 1000 are £60.2bn better off this year compared with last.
* FTSE chief executives are paid £4.2m on average annually.
*Barclays most senior executive will receive £14m this year, over a thousand times more than their lowest paid employee.
*while most people's income has stagnated or barely increased over the last decade, the top 0.1% have enjoyed a bonanza of a 67% increase over 11 years. And now inflation will negate and exceed those modest increases meted out to the majority of us.
Wilby alights on the last point to argue why the middle classes are not as angry as perhaps they should be at this state of affairs.
"the very rich[in US and the UK] are soaring ahead, leaving behind not only manual workers – now a diminishing minority – but also the middle-class masses, including doctors, teachers, academics, solicitors, architects, Whitehall civil servants and, indeed, many CEOs who don't run FTSE 100 companies, to say nothing of the marketing, purchasing, personnel, sales and production executives below them. That is why, over the past decade, some of the most anguished cries about high incomes and inequality have appeared in the Telegraph and Mail."
Wilby notes that most polls show we strongly disapprove of excessive top salaries, yet this overwhelming sentiment never translates into 'a political programme that can command mass support.' His explanation, based on US research is that people are more frightened of loss than they are encouraged by the prospect of gain. They are angered by fat cats but worried redistribution might benefit those unworthy people 'below' below them in the social hierarchy:
Americans accepted tax cuts for the rich with equanimity. Better to let the rich keep their money, they calculated, than to have it benefit economic and social inferiors.
Wilby quotes the social theorist David Runciman>
"most people's lives are governed more by the resentment of narrow inequalities, the cultivation of modest ambitions and the preservation of small differentials"
So, it would seem that if we can worry less about slipping down the social hierarchy. we'll be more likely to feel enthusiasm for clipping the wings of the super-rich who are so flagrantly soaring above everyone.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Struss -Kahn's Bonfire of the Vanities
So the current outbreak of outrage in La Belle France is quite fascinating. It seems IMF boss and putative presidential candidate, Dominique Strauss-Kahn(or DSK), has been the means whereby France has become a little bit more like us. Is that a bad thing? In this case I think not. We have to appreciate that French people love gossip just as we do. The problem is that France has privacy laws which prevent such peccadilloes reaching the light of day. So everyone knows it's going on and are left to guess the details. The result is a thriving gossip mill in which
DSK has long featured. His propensity for pursuing women was well known and in 2009 the French satirist Stephane Guillon spoke of:
Strauss-Kahn's "obsession with females" on the equivalent of Radio 4's Today programme. Strauss-Kahn accused him on air of "nastiness" and Guillon – already under fire for lampooning several political figures – was sacked shortly afterwards.
The reason why France is so aghast at the probable destruction of DSK's chance of becoming a socialist president, is that in this instance it's not just extra-marital seduction involved, it's violence as well. His friends say such behaviour is alien to the man but novelist Tristane Banon claims he attacked her in 2002 and she had great difficulty in escaping. She was persuaded not to report the matter by her mother at the time but is now again considering whether to do so.
Its all so reminiscent of Tom Wolfe's novel saga, The Bonfire of the Vanities, when Financial wizard and 'Master of the Universe', Sherman McCoy hits a black boy with his car in the Bronx and ends up in court. Humiliated,he is brought as low as other accused criminals and suffers time in jail. So far so 'Bonfire' for Stauss -Kahn, much to the horror of the viscerally anti-US French left. Another thought flits across the mind though. Think Rainbow Warrior and the French secret service, think Jacques Chirac and his portfolio of dirty tricks and could this be a put up job by Sarkozy- languishing with rubbish ratings- to take out his major opponent for next year's presidential elections? Just a thought.
Stop Press! Take a look at this just to give the conspiracy theory legs.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Labour Have a Tough and Steep Mountain to Climb
Andrew Rawnsley advises Labour' to follow a number of rules over the near future. Firstly ignore the polls. It is true they have been amazingly volatile of late with Scotland swinging from a predicted sure victory for Labour to a crushing one for the SNP. Rawnsley points out that Neil Kinnock lad Thatcher by somew huge poll leads but come the election in 1987 he was overwhelmed.
Secondly it would be fatal for Labour to imagine they can sit tight and let victory drop into their lap in consequence of the government's follies. As he points out voters acquire a pretty clear idea of a party after a couple of years into a parliament and tend not to lose it.
The time frame to think about is the mid-term of this parliament. By then, Labour ought to have demonstrated that it has learned from its mistakes in office, developed a persuasive critique of the coalition's record, and started to look like a convincing replacement. Even if this parliament goes the full five-year stretch, the midterm is now only 18 months away. That is not long at all. In fact, for the Labour party, I'd say it is frighteningly little time to establish themselves as a credible alternative government.
I might add that it is by no means impossible that the coalition will actually achieve its objectives of balancing the budget, winning voters confidence and sweeping to another period in office.
Eawnsley also warns that arguments between Lib Dems and Tories are not necessarily good for Labour as they appear to take on the role of 'significant debate' about the major issues, thus marginalising and usurping Labour's opposition role. He adds that Miliband's 27 policy review exercises have happened way beneath the public's radar. He suggests such things are too early in the cycle to have much relevance or impact.
Finally he points out that politics is now essentially 'presidential', they swing on someone having a major impact, like Salmond in Scotland, or Cameron in the AV referendum. Ed has been doing much better in PMQs but he is still not having the sort of impact Tony Blair had in the mid 1990s. This is the mountain Miliband has to climb:
An operation on his adenoids isn't going to be enough. He needs to demonstrate much more verve and daring, and articulate a much clearer sense of direction, if he is to show the stuff of successful leadership. Given a more dynamic lead by its chief, his party might then start to follow and look interesting again.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Coalition Anniversary: Cameron's Year
The journal also mentions the imminent introduction of elected police commissioners, presumably written before the House of Lords scuppered the plan. Finally it admits health has been a 'debacle' with Andrew Lansley's highly personal plan having to be 'paused' for a rethink which may see its main provisions abandoned. Not only the Lib Dems and Labour but a fair number of Tories also opposed this measure.
The Economist also applauds the Big Society theme as a 'vision of the state: more locally accountable, more plural in its provisio0n of services.' I find this bit a tad hard to accept as surely it remains merely a vision, a rhetorical flourish which served its purpose yet embarrassingly survived the election. On Cameron's governing style I was intrigued by the analysis. At first Cameron sought to be a 'chairman' in Cabinet, disdaining the hyperactivity of both his predecessors.
The result was stalled reforms and NHS crisis o Cameron assumed a more energetic mode, taking on staff and tracking the many and various aspects of policy. He has struggled, it seems with the civil service which, as Blair found, has proved hostile to change; he used a coded reference to attack them: 'enemies of enterprise' much to their annoyance. But overall Cameron has proved a 'natural' at the job of PM. he said he'd be good at it and so far he has, especially politically. No surprise that while Lib Dems lost 748 council seats last Thursday the Tories actually gained 86 unexpected ones.
Simon Jenkins' piece today says something similar:
The British have never minded the ruling class doing what it says on the packet, provided some deference is shown to the bourgeoisie. Cameron has been adept at that. Public school charm, even with a touch of caddishness, as deployed by Cameron and Tony Blair, may be scorned by the Westminster club, with its distaste for charisma and celebrity. But when combined with humour and a self-deprecating confidence, it can carry a leader over the bumps and potholes of politics, where such men as John Major and Gordon Brown stumble and fall.
His concluding paragraph I quote in full as it sums up what I have to admit, relectantly as a Labour supporter, as fair comment:
The past year has seen Cameron emerge as a political leader of real ability. He won last week's voting referendum with panache, releasing his attack dogs on the enemy while shrugging off Lib Dem cries of foul. He has sustained the "emergency coalition" aura of his government with greater finesse than did Lloyd George in 1916 or Ramsay MacDonald in 1931. He has yet to experience a serious political crisis or, with the exception of Libya, risk a possibly fatal trap. The cartoons are right. The head of school has a right to be cocky.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Dave Will Not waste his Political Capital to Assuage Clegg
"I don't accept the whole idea that the role of one party is somehow to moderate the other. The Conservative party, under my leadership, has changed. It is a new and different Conservative party."
Wintour adds that: "he also refused to give Clegg credit for imposing a rethink on the government's NHS reforms."
Oh Dear! Fact is Cameron feels no obligation to compromise with his coalition partners. Last Thursday has delivered a whole new access of political capital; Dave feels more powerful; he IS more powerful. His party is pleased to have won two such resounding victories last week and certainly are in no mood to have their wings clipped by the diminished and disrespected Clegg.
Can Clegg threaten to withdraw from the deal? Not really; he's really opted for the whole trip and without a parachute. If Dave calls an election, Lib Dems will be massacred and the Tories might even get their overall majority. So why doesn't he? Well, Labour are in a slight lead so it's risky and he wants to push through his legislation making constituency sizes more equal. So he'll probably hold back on that- though don't write off a public threat if Clegg gets rally shrill and petulant.
In the Guardian piece linked above, policy areas are assessed from the viewpoint of party influence in the coalition. Unsurprisingly all areas from economy to localism are judged to be Tory dominated with only health indicating Lib Dems as dominant. I would question even that judgement. Dark days for we left of centre folk.
Sunday, May 08, 2011
In This State of Political Flux Anything Could Happen
"Nick has been reminded that the Conservatives are a ruthless political operation that in the end serves the interests of the Conservative party. This is also a salutary example of Cameron's ruthlessness – it reveals his true colours as a classic, ruthless Tory." There will be no forgetting and no forgiving the personal attacks on Mr Clegg for "broken promises".
Another 'very senior Lib Dem' declared:
"It was a really bloody stupid thing for Cameron and Osborne to do, especially when they were going to win anyway because the Yes campaign was so useless, For the Conservatives, having asked us to make these compromises, then to attack us for making compromises, is breathtakingly hypocritical. There's bound to be payback. Some of it in unpredictable ways."
Before Clegg is dismissed as a hopelessly naive politician who sold his soul for his deputy prime-ministerial car, I'd like to sort of agree with Mathew Parris in yesterday's Times who argued the man was a 'hero'. Whilst still not sure I accept it I can see the argument. A year ago the nation needed a government to deal with the economic crisis. The only person who could deliver it, given the hung parliament, was Nick Cleggg. He braved the contumely of his enemies and, more difficult, many of his friends, to step up to the plate. He could have turned down the offer of being in government, but if he had, surely Lib Dem claims to be a party genuinely seeking to govern would have been rendered unbelievable for the foreseeable future.
So he compromised to govern and was accused of betrayal by one and all. It's been an awful time for him and last Thursday it hit a new low. Anyone who follows British politics closely would have to have a heart of stone not to feel sorry for the guy.
Thursday, May 05, 2011
Clegg set to be Biggest Loser in Coaltion
Why precisely the 'no' campaign made such rapid progress is hard to say. Because British voters are essentially small 'c' conservatives? Clearly. Because Nick Clegg is so unpopular he put the hex on the 'yes' campaign? To a degree, possibly. Because the 'no' campaign was well funded and relentlessly negative? Very probably.
Allegra Stratton's analysis today suggests the probable result of the referendum has shortened the odds on the coalition not going the full distance, hence Miliband's concern to be on an election footing. Certainly Lib Dem MPs will be dismayed their possible prize will be dashed from their grip but quite possibly Cameron, urged by his rightwing, will pull the plug himself to rid himself of his meddlesome and whingeing partners.
If this does happen, or even if it doesn't until 2015 at least the referendum campaign will have succeeded in putting lots of distance between the two parties so that Lib Dems can campaign as a separate party and not as a mere adjunct to the Conservatives. Small comfort for them after they have also counted the hundreds of lost council seats.
Fin ally, let me add a quotation from the piece by Timothy Garton-Ash in today's Guardian with which I fully concur:
It is amazing how the anger at the dysfunctional, corrupt old politics of Westminster, which exploded in 2009 over the issue of MPs' expenses, seems to have evaporated. "Our political system is broken," said the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition programme for government, published less than a year ago, and signed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Our system is broken – so don't fix it, says Cameron now, campaigning vigorously against electoral reform, stuffing an unreformed House of Lords with party placelings, and insisting only on a redrawing of constituency boundaries that benefits his party. Joining him to defend the first-past-the-post electoral system, many Labour veterans show themselves to be conservatives under the skin.
Sunday, May 01, 2011
Republican rightwingers Live in World of their own Make-believe
The Guardian journalist Gary Younge, a few weeks back explored this phenomenon:
Polls suggest there are between one in three and one in four Americans who would believe anything. More than a third thought President George Bush did a good job during Hurricane Katrina; half of those thought he was excellent. Throughout most of 2008, as the economy careered into depression, just over one in four believed Bush was handling the economy well. As Bush prepared to leave office in January 2009, bequeathing bank bailouts, rampant unemployment, and Iraq and Afghanistan in tatters, a quarter of the country approved of his presidency.
Given this level of irrationality and misinformation, it's hardly surprising that they give respectful credence to Donald Trump, the absurd property developer and TV celebrity who makes Alan Sugar seem like Ludwig Wittgenstein. The basic plank of his apparent run for the presidency was that Obama was not born in Hawaii, and hence not a US citizen, despite much evidence that he had acquired the presidency on false pretences. It is rather shameful to Americans that Obama had to issue a copy of his full passport to finally scotch this malicious rumour. Like Ed Pilkington in the Guardian last week, one is put in mind of Jonathan Swift's observation that: 'You can't reason somebody out of something they were never reasoned into'.
Younge shrewdly observes, 'what you need to say and do to be credible within the Republican party essentially deprives you of credibility outside it.' It seems natural, that given this reality distorting lens Republicans have not been able to unearth an credible candidate to stand against Obama next year. The best they can come up with is Mitt Romney, and other losers from the last contest. Trump's candidacy, if that is what it is, has certainly added colour and energy to the party's deliberations, but should you ever just ever so slightly think Donald might be the boy for the White House, just consider his views on Libya, as reported by the Observer's US correspondent:
On Libya, Trump bluntly said the US should just take the country's oil, rather than assist rebels fighting Muammar Gaddafi. "We don't know who the rebels are, we hear they come from Iran, we hear they're influenced by Iran or al-Qaida, and, frankly I would go in, I would take the oil — and stop this baby stuff," he told Fox News. It is a sentiment he has gone on to repeat several other times.