Friday, April 27, 2012


Thank Heavens for The Guardian

The sheer unbelievability of Murdoch's performance,impaled on the forensic questioning of Robert Jay QC, is made clear by the Guardian editorial today. Could any business moghul's memory be as bad as this?
"He had no knowledge that police were obstructed while trying to investigate phone hacking at one of his papers. No one told him about the 2008 Gordon Taylor settlement until it was in the Guardian – and even then he didn't believe the implications. He didn't follow the culture, media and sport select committee proceedings. He was ignorant that his company paid £800,000 in damages over a bullying claim against Andy Coulson's News of the World. He didn't read the judgment by Mr Justice Eady in the Max Mosley case alleging blackmail by one of his reporters. He didn't read a New York Times expose of the NotW in September 2010. He was "entirely unaware" until recently of the allegations – repeatedly reported in the UK – about a NotW private detective accused of murder. He was only recently told that in 2006 the information commissioner published a report listing his UK titles and their use of private detectives. Any half-attentive newspaper reader or TV viewer in the UK would – until recently – have been better informed on most of these matters."
Finally, we should rejoice that The Guardian's investigative flair and perseverance saved us from a Britain in which Cameron, Osborne, Hunt et al would have allowed Murdoch media primacy in exchange for political support. This is not to say Labour was in any way innocent of kneeling at the Dirty Digger's throne or being in his thrall. But even Labour was not willing to sell its soul as Cameron's Tories were. It is to be hoped that the next stage of Leveson will allow the wonderful Mr Jay to direct his fire at the UK organ-grinders of this near tragedy; Cameron and Osborne.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Hunt must SURELY be Toast?

Sometimes you gasp at the brass neck of Tory politicians. Just take a look here at how specious his defence was yesterday. It's like groundhog day with a person 'in charge' claiming he was not responsible for things done by his staff- so it was a 'rogue' civil servant liaising with a 'fantasist' NI PR man. How very convenient. It was sad to see his friends coming out to say what little they could for him including John Whittingdale whom I've always rather admired hitherto. Hunt is holding out for time and wants Leveson to consider it. Given the breaches of the ministerial code and the clear evidence from the emails that Hunt was certainly complicit in leaking vitally sensitive information to the Murdochs, the good judge won't take long in confirming that, as Tom Watson asserted yesterday, Jeremey Hunt, great white hope of Tory 'modernizers' and future leadership tip, 'is toast'. And deserves to be.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Sarko Still in With a Shout

Results: So the polls were not so far wrong. Francois Hollande led my four points in the late polls and managed to defeat Nicholas Sarkozy by a narrow two points (28.5% to 27.1%). Marine Le Pen managed a kind of triumph by achieving the highest ever first round vote for her far right Front National (higher than her father in 2002 at 18.1%). Leftwing firebrand Jean-Luc Melanchon, who proposed a 100% tax on the earnings of the very rich, ran a terrific campaign but somewhat underperformed his earlier poll showings with 11.1% of the vote. Meanwhile, the regular centrist presidential candidate, Francois Bayrou managed a respectable 8.1%. Certainly, these results indicated a strong rebuff for the incumbent whose loud hyperactive, populist style had alienated a large tranche of French voters. I’m struck by two features of this first stage of the election. Firstly, the French political spectrum is so much wider than the British. Ever since the revolution we have known French political culture is different to ours, with a polarised left and right and weak centre. Excluding the fringe, consider the relatively slight differences between our ‘extremes’ in the form of, say, John Cruddas and, say, John Redwood; then look at the considerable distance between Le Pen and Melanchon. Secondly, as The Economist noted (20/1/12), ‘how little anybody is saying about the dire economic straits’ in which the country finds itself. The same journal had noted (31/3/12): “France has not balanced its books since 1974. Public debt stands at 90% of GDP and rising. Public spending, at 56% of GDP, gobbles up a bigger chunk of output than in any other euro-zone country—more even than in Sweden. The banks are undercapitalised. Unemployment is higher than at any time since the late 1990s and has not fallen below 7% in nearly 30 years, creating chronic joblessness in the crime-ridden banlieues that ring France’s big cities. Exports are stagnating while they roar ahead in Germany. France now has the euro zone’s largest current-account deficit in nominal terms. Perhaps France could live on credit before the financial crisis, when borrowing was easy. Not any more.” Second Round, 6th May: Is it ‘game over’ for Sarko? It certainly looks like it but the eventual outcome revolves around two key imponderables: Firstly, how will supporters of the far left and far right decide to distribute their votes? Polls suggest far right voters will not vote en bloc for the centre right. Le Pen’s supporters, suggest the polls, will split 48 for Sarkozy and 24 for Hollande. Eighty per cent of Melanchon’s support, however, will vote for Hollande and it is likely he will also pick up a fair number of Francois Bayrou’s votes in the second round. Secondly, how will this reverse affect the volatile but resourceful Sarko? He is famed for his bold electioneering. Will he destroy Hollande in his TV debate as he did Segolene Royale in 2007? Hollande is famous for being unflappable and such an outcome is less likely this time around. But the French president is desperate to hand on to his job in the Elysee Palace and the destination of runners up votes in the first round are by no means assured for the Socialist leader. If he does win he will be the first leftwing president since Mitterand and the prospect of an ally with such totally different ideas on how to run a major European economy will worry the likes of Angela Merkel and David Cameron, not to mention the international bond markets.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Tribunal Blasts NHS Reforms

A legal ruling on the recent Health Act has senationally dismissed its vailidity. The government has consistently opposed the publication of the 'risk register'compiled to evaluate the risks attaching to the Health Act. A Tribunal was established to hear an appeal lodged by John healey MP and para 85 of its recent ruling, in language unusual for a legal ruling, slammed the whole provenance of the NHS reforms as shown below.

"From the evidence it is clear that the NHS reforms were introduced in an exceptional way. There was no indication prior to the White Paper that such wide-ranging reforms were being considered. The White Paper was published without prior consultation. It was published within a very short period after the Coalition Government came into power. It was unexpected. Consultation took place afterwards over what appears to us a very short period considering the extent of the proposed reforms. The consultation hardly changed policy but dealt largely with implementation. Even more significantly the Government decided to press ahead with some of the policies even before laying a Bill before Parliament. The whole process had to be paused because of the general alarm at what was happening”

This rling suggests the whole enterprise of reforming the NHS was possibly illegitimate and certainly adds to the imoression of a government which is incompetent and bungling beyond even the standards set by Gordon Brown's final undistinguished period in Number 10. For more on this see here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Sarko On Way Out?

Europe offers some strange kinds of ideas right now. In the wake of the world financial crisis we saw a swing to the right in Spain, the UK, plus Italy and Greece. The September 2011 election in Denmark registered a solitary victory for the left, but in Scandinavia, Finland and elsewhere, the far right seems to have enjoyed a substantial surge.

All these tendencies are discernible to a degree in the French presidential elections, the first round of which takes place 22.nd April, with the second round between the resultant two leading candidates the 6th May. Nicholas Sarkozy defeated Segolene Royale in 2007, 53%-47%, a comfortable win but scarcely a landslide. Born of a Hungarian aristocrat and a Greek-Jewish- French mother, the diminutive ‘Sarko’ has proved an unusual president, being derided as publicity seeking (he married a former model, Carla Bruni), excessively populist (especially on racial issues) and of questionable judgement (for example on economic policy). He has nevertheless sought to champion France’s role in the world, leading the NATO action to help topple Gadaffi in Libya. Having won some respect from this action, he has subsequently slipped badly in the polls.

His opponent on 22nd April include the socialist Francois Hollande, plus the far left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon and the far right’s Marine Le Pen. Hollande, who proposes a 75% tax rate for incomes over £1m and 45% on those over £150,000 plus a 20-1 ratio for bosses in relation to average pay, is level pegging with Sarkozy for the first round but once the minor candidates are eliminated he enjoys a 10% lead over the incumbent for the second round. Most betting people would consider it a shoo-in for the left this time, but Sarko is a resourceful and energetic campaigner, assuring Obama in a broadcast conversation: ‘We will will win Mr Obama, you and me together" The final week of the campaign is likely to see the gloves come off, certainly regarding the far left and far right candidates (Melenchon has called le Pen ‘a filthy beast, spitting hatred’) as well as the main players.


Thursday, April 12, 2012


Which Set of ideas Will help Form the Future?

If you go back a century and consider, had you been living then which of the political movements knocking around then would become mainstream, I wonder what most people would have chosen? Liberalism in its headline form was entering its slow decline, (though with a small 'l' it has never really gone away thank goodness). But 'socialism' muat have seemed to have about as much chance as 'anarchism'; not that the former survived moere than afew decades before reality dliuted its prescriptions into something, as Ed Miliband is discovering, hard to grasp.

Martin Kettle writes an an interesting piece todayabout the political fringe. Are our monolthic partiesbeginning to fragment as they are in Germany? Certainly support for them is in sharp decline. Is 'Respect' the shape of things to come? I still hope Caroline Lucas will be that shape but I fear, despite the excellence of the Green party's message, the crisis of the environment will only be recognised once it's far too late. If the SDP, a party for which ivoted in 1983, could not make a breakthrough, with its huge initial support, then Respect, with its eccentric, flawed though charismatic one man band, has no chance.

Perhaps, as in Germany the radical
Pirate Party
, born in Sweden, will help shape our future. What do Pirtae parties stand for? Well, they believe in civil rights, free sharing of online data and freepublic services. Maybe this sounds a bit thin for a party of the future, but it seems like a good start.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Shock Horrow- Rich people Fiddle Their Taxes

It always worries me sometimes how long it takes for widely known information to filter through to decision-makers. We've read all about fat-cat tax dodgers in the Eye, the Guaardian, even the Mail and the ST, yet our Chancellor was 'shocked' to discover so many of our wealthiest citizens paid little or in some cases no tax at all. Frankly I am shocked at his ignorance but glad that the awful truth has now hit home: wherever they live- USA, Far East, UK-rich people are very mean. Actually they are especially mean in UK where charitable giving by the richest 1% was exceeded by the same group in the USA ninefold. Osborne told the Tories daily broadsheet:

“I was shocked to see that some of the very wealthiest people in the country have organised their tax affairs, and to be fair it’s within the tax laws, so that they were regularly paying virtually no income tax. And I don’t think that’s right.

“I’m talking about people right at the top. I’m talking about people with incomes of many millions of pounds a year. The general principle is that people should pay income tax and that includes people with the highest incomes."

The Telegraph continued:

The report[by HMRC] found that Britain’s 20 biggest tax avoiders have used three main loopholes to legally reduce their their income tax bills by a total of £145 million in a year.

Two thirds of them wrote off business losses in one of their companies against their income tax bill, reducing it by as much as half .

Several of them offset the cost of business mortgages or borrowing on buy-to-let properties against their income tax bill, while others took advantage of relief on donations to charity.

Interestingly, the Torygraph's editorial found difficulty with swallowing George's determination to swat tax cheats down. While just about supporting a crackdown it warned the Chancellor, with i thought crocodile tears, that he would end up deterring philanthropists and urgiung that he 'should think again'. Oh dear, the Tories do so find it hard to admit they are so greedy and prepared to cheat to retain their unjustified swag like portions of the nation's wealth.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


Our Irresponsible 'Feral Elite'More Dangerous than our Underclass

Much has been written about the Underclass, since Charles Murray invented the term for the ethnically distinct group of low earners in the USA who, he alleged, were disaffected from society, supported mostly by welfare benefits and semi-mired in crime. Murray crossed the seas at the invitation of the Sunday Times and discovered the UK had an underclass of its own. The right has tended to leap upon the concept in order to blame excessive public spending on a workshy social basement group who cynically exploit the welfare system and create the huge budget it commands.

It would be foolish to deny such analyses have some veracity and that benefits cheating is a genuine problem. But it is only one aspect and, arguably more serious deviant group is to be found in the form of the very rich, a 'feral elite' as Ruth Lister called them last year. Writing today in the Guardian Peter Beresford elaborates the argument.

We have now entered an age when it is the divisive and damaging effects of those who are very rich and powerful that we need to fear, rather than poor and powerless.

And yet, this elite has emerged from the destructive world crisis, with its financial power enhanced, in absolute terms and politically too as the City now provides half of all the funding to the Conservative Party. This pampered elite, cut off from the rest of society yet connected those who decide how its wealth is distributed, is not hard to identify:

Key representatives of this amoral and isolated overclass are to be found among the leadership of tax avoiding corporations; unaccountable, asset stripping private equity companies; profiteers from the inordinately costly private finance initiative; corporate landlords imposing inflated rents funded by housing benefit; and outsourcing companies delivering poor value for money.

Monday, April 02, 2012


Extraordinary turn around in Burma

I can hardly believe the volte face by Burma's murderous and reactionary regime.It seems only a short time ago that In May 2010 the military backed Union Solidarity and Developmnt Party declared it had won 80% of the votes in the general election on a 77% turnout; international bodies condemned a fraudulent election. Given the Generals' apparent determination to stay in power, it seemed An Sang Sui Chi's house arrent would never be rescinded. But, suddenly, it was. The long imprisoned leader was released together with 200 others and a series of liberal reforms apparently passed.

Why did a ruling elite, one of the most reactionary, btutal and insensitive of all such rogue regimes,suddenly decide to turn 'good guys' and join the liberal democratic majority? An Sang Sui Chi herself has praised president Thein Sein for engineering such a turnaround. Her party won a huge victory in yesterday's elections and I for one am delighted that the fight of a leader who has spent over two decades in internal exile, can now maybe lead her country to a peaceful and more prosperous future.

But I'm still astonished that a ruling elite, so deeply entrenched and with a big stake in the way economic rewards are distributed, should voluntarily abandon its power. I just wonder if the story is not yet over and a few nasty surprises are in store...? As long aas one quarter of the parliament is reserved for the military the danger of thekind of coup that has characterised Burma's modern history, remains.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?