Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Dr King's Medicine Unlikely to be Taken

A delicious sketch-now on Youtube- by the brilliant Johns, Bird and Fortune, set the current credit crunch in perspective for me. Its punchline comes when the merchant banker's interviewer says: 'So when you make a profit, you keep it and when you make a loss, we the taxpayer have to bale you out?' 'That's about it' answers George Parr, smiling smugly. I'm a huge fan of the Johns' well researched satire and it's reassuring to discover none other than the Chairman of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, seems to agree that one couldn't even make it up.

Giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee he:
i) laid into their astronomic salaries:

'Banks have come to realise in the recent crisis that they are paying the price for having designed compensation packages which provide incentives that are not, in the long run, in the interests of the banks themselves, and I would like to think that would change,".

ii)criticised the way excessive pay attracted the brightest graduates:

'It's not a very attractive situation that such a high proportion of our talented young people naturally look at the City and think it is the only place to work in. It shouldn't be. It should be one of the places, but not the only one,".

These criticisms chime in with other claims that young City brokers, in pursuit of sky-high bonuses, take irresponsible risks, thereby putting the system at risk. Such risks- like lending money to people who cannot possibly repay large mortgage loans- were at the very heart of the 'sub-prime' mortgage crisis which has swept across the Atlantic, laid low one major bank and wounded several others to the extent that first time buyers cann ot raise the money to make their start in life.

As always, it would seem, it's the taxpayers who have been called in to apply their healing financial balm and to keep the over privilieged financial community in ther manner to which they are accustomed. Dr King's sotto voce clarion cry is to be welcomed but do we seriously think it will have any effect? Tony Blair, I'd say, has about the same chance of becoming a socialist.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Have Tony and Gordon Kissed and Made Up?

When Gordon is doing so badly(sorry about that picture- couldn't resist it) it's easy to look back a while to when Blair was in charge and think of their sometimes visceral rivalry. Today Anthony Seldon, Blair's brilliant biographer, suggests Brown would have been better doing his stint first- as a serious introvert politician he would have set about doing things right away while Blair would have been better later on when his rhetorical gifts and inherent optimisdm would have lifted the party as it went through bad times.

I wonder if this can possibly be true when Seldon later on goes on to state:

No prime minister since Eden more than 50 years ago had more time to prepare for office. No prime minister has come to No 10 more ill-prepared for power.

How could he have succeeded earlier on when he was so useless at preparing for power when he had so much time?

He goes on to tell us that Levy's disclosures about Blair's views on Gordon come not from the inner circle but very much the outer. Most surprisingly to me the Guardian leader suggests that the relationship is now far from toxic:

But the big thing about the Blair-Brown relationship is its resilience as well as its recriminations. Mr Brown is said to be leaning heavily on Mr Blair again these days, talking regularly about strategy, sending him speeches to vet. There is talk (or maybe spin) of a new love-in rather than the old TB-GBs.

Again, I don't really believe this and I'm sure Cherie would banish any such thoughts of a new entente cordiale between the two.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Voting System Open to Subversion Says Rowntree Report

When most constituencies are 'safe seats' and the number of voters in swing constituencies who win or lose elections is numbered as low as 8000, the question of the security of voting from malpractices has to be a concern. The report by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust into voting today, therefore, makes uncomfortable reading. In 2004 a judge quashed two local elections ihn consequence of widespread postal voting cheating. Moreover, during the last seven years there have been 42 cases of electoral fraud.

The report, by Stuart Weeks-Heeg of Liverpool University, also argues that:

1. The benefits to turn-out claimed for postal and electronic voting have been exaggerated.

2. Ministerial 'quick fixes' to improve turnout have reesulted in ther system b eing made easier to cheat.

3. The system is vulnerable to party spending in marginal constitruencies where there is:

"substantial evidence to suggest that money can have a powerful impact on the outcome of general elections, particularly where targeted at marginal constituencies over sustained periods of time,".

The report urgews that photo ID be required for all voters and that campaign spending at the local level should be capped.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Second Preferences Key to Mayoral Contest

Because I met Labour leader Joe Anderson recently I'll be watching Liverpool's results closely on Thursday-Friday but, like most political anoraks, I'll be drawn to the big personality stand-off between Boris and Ken. The Observer runs a perceptive editorial on the topic, pointing out that:

i) Ken's solid record as mayor is sullied by his wooing of Yusuf al-Quaradawi, an apologist for suicide bombers and absurd allegations that critics of his adviser Lee Jasper were guilty of racism.

ii) Boris is totally untested at running anything '(even as a magazine editor he shirked managerial responsibility)'.

iii) Boris has been forced to don a personality not his own by Central Office 'to test pilot a campaign for the next general election'.

Unsurprisingly, as a Labour leaning newspaper, it opts for Ken. Certainly Gordon will hope his old enemy will do him a favour by reversing the succession of apalling headlines he has recently had to absorb. But will he do it? Too close to call, of course, but it will all hang on the second preferences. The Economist points out that, 'three of England's 12 other elected mayors have at one point taken office only thanks to second preferences'. Some polls suggest Brian Paddick's 2nds will go disproportionately to Boris but The Economist casts doubt on this polling and quotes Nick Sparrow of ICM:

“We have a long history of casting one vote rather than two. The pollster may be asking about something that the poor old respondent has not previously thought about,”.

Let's hope for the sake of Gordon, Labour and, not least Londoners, that he is right.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


What Has Gordon Brown Achieved in his Year in Power?

This portrait by Phil Hale of a Tony Blair's fag end days in power last June should be salutory for Gordon Brown; this is what ten years in power does to you. Simon Hoggart even suggests it's the equivalent of Dorian Grey's picture in the attic. Well, at least Blair had a reasonable hit list of achievements to his name, including Northern Ireland.

I've asked my students in Liverpool, for our last session next Tuesday to list Godron Brown's achievements during his first year in power. I'll be surprised if the list is a long one. Can anyone think of one or two to get my own list going? Setting the ball rolling on constitutional change? Some alleviation of poverty in the last budget? Reducing British troops in Iraq? These are small potato items.

To be honest I'm hard pressed to think of a single major achievement to stand in the Brown trophy cupboard. After a stint of reasonably successful crisis management last summer, it seems to have been downhill all the way- I won't bother with the familiar depressing list. It's just when things are getting bad though politically, as John Major discovered, that they insist on getting even worse. It's probably over-egging it to perceive shades of 1979 but the public service disputes seem to be building ominously. As well as the Grangemouth Refinery strike and those by teachers and civil servants, there are disputes pending in locaal goverenment, ther health service, police, prison service and FE colleges. I wonder if Mr Hale is washing his brushes to do Gordon while he's still resident in Number 10?

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Brown Climbdown was Right but will Create More Problems

I heard Nick Robinson interrogating Brown on the PM programme and was wholly unpersuaded by his insistence he had not backed down over the 10p tax band issue. For Frank Field, this was a major victory by one of the outstanding MPs of his generation; typically, he eschewed triumphalism and described it as a victory for the lower paid. Brown would have done better to admit that he just got it wrong rather than keep on that he had not reneged on his determination to abolish the 10p band. But the question remains, how come he missed the significance of the measure to 5.3 million of the poorest people in the country?

Maybe this (for a former Chancellor) schoolboy howler was the reason why he insisted he would not back down as his budget produced only beneficiaries and no losers; and for a Chancellor who prided himself on alleviating poverty, this piece of humble pie was too bitter to eat. But in the end, he had to. I'm sure Michael White is right that the public tends to overlook U turns as long as problems are remedied, but the climbdown does suggest some future problems will be harder to solve:

1. He has provided a convenient stick for Cameron to beat him with- as was demonstrated cruelly at yesterday's PMQs. Brown's authority has taken a severe dent and the accusation of weakness will be harder to refute from now on.

2. He will have emboldened those who want to wrestle more money out of the Treasury, having, as The Guardian's leader suggests, shown 'the public purse strings loosen when given a tug'.

3. He will also have encouraged the growing group of rebels on the backbenchers and the leftie camp of those such as the Guardian's Seumas Milne, that they have a chance of seizing the agenda from the party establishment.

4. He will almost certainly lose his vote on the 42 days in June not least now that his rebels have won such a signal victory.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Poll Cheer for Depressed Labour

In his poll analysis in the Telegraph, 12th December 2007 Anthony King, described Labour as in 'free-fall', trailing the Tories by 11 points. Since then the polls varied but generally have stayed below a level likely to deliver victory to the Conservatives. After a brief recovery in January, a succession of problems afflicted the government culminating in the poorly received budget delivered in funereal tones by his Chancellor. Then Dave really took off and Shadow ministers began to think of those cars and red boxes with gleeful smiles of anticipation. Meanwhile, Labour supporters swung(well, me anyway) between a fatalistic acceptance of defeat and a determination not to go down without a fight.

Yet today there are two glimpses of, if not sunshine, then at least a gap in the clouds. The Guardian's ICM poll today shows Cameron's lead cut to just five points, again, enough to lose Labour its majority but enough to deliver nothing more than a hung parliament to the power hungry Tories. I can only assume that Gordon's trip to the States has perked up his image and shown him in a positive light which has overshadowed the huge gaffe over the 10pence tax band issue.

Even better news came the Evening Standard poll showing Bozza's lead over Ken shrinking yet further to 44-37 in Boris's favour. When 2nd preferences are counted his lead is 53-47; not brilliant you might think, but this 6 point lead has come down from 12 two weeks ago and 14 two more weeks before that. If Ken comes through- though he'd hardly pat himself on the back for it- he'll do his old enemy Gordon a power of good.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Labour hopes to Revive Liverpool's Relative Decline

Opportunely, Michael White writes a piece in today's Guardian on Liverpool's upcoming local election. A few days ago, I attended a bloggers' interview('we thought we'd try a less confrontational way of communicating than the usual media') with Joe Anderson, leader of the Labour group for the past six years, to discuss the issues and his chances of becoming leader of the council on 2nd May. Joe, former merchant seaman and publican, has been around a bit before becoming a local politician. He self effacingly describes his face as 'one only a mother could love' though I'm fairly sure he's never suffered the bulimia associated with another Labour ex merchant seaman. White's article gives an overview but I'd like to pick out three or four elements from our extended chat(see picture) with Joe to give a flavour of the contest from his side of the fence.

Joe agrees Manchester has effectively shown the way regarding regeneration, even allowing for the 1994 bomb which provided such an unwelcome imperative to rebuild; clearly Liverpool watches its neighbour at the other end of the M62 very carefully. Manchester has a 'can do' attitude, he says, and works with agencies and partners more effectively than the Lib Dem regime has been able to manage: many 'missed opportunities' he concludes. He elaborates enthusiastically how a Private-Public Partnership could transform the city.

Anderson reckons the quality of senior officers in Liverpool has not been good and that this helps explain why the city has ben so badly mismanaged with a current debt of over £60m and a recent adverse Audit report to its discredit: 'a one star financial basket case' as White puts it. Joe reckons he could take advantage of available government assistance-ignored by the Lib Dems- to solve the financial crisis.

Image of Labour nationwide
Anderson reckons Gordon Brown's poor ratings have little relevance to Liverpool. His experience oin the doorstep is that its local issues- dogshit on the pavements, not the war in Iraq- which move local communities. As evidence he cites the regular inroads made by Labour in Liverpool- against the national trend into the Lib Dem lead at successive recent elections.

Vision for the City
Joe's passion for his city seems genuine and not the ersatz version so common amongst politicians. He wants to bwe a fulltime leader and to lead Liverpool out of the darkness(see Labour's manifesto here). He rages against the splits in the Lib Dems and their dirty tricks, vowing to be a fulltime leader if the elections go Labour's way.

The Election
Labour has been whittling down the ruling group's lead for ther past few elections and Joe is confident this will continue on May 1st. They have 48 to Labour's 36: 'a big ask' admits Anderson, but one he genuinely thinks he has a chance of pulling off. As White points out, the balance of power might eventually be held by the four strong Liberal group, they of the anti-merger in 1987- persuasion, and recently stengthened by a defection from the Lib Dem group. Joe is convinced there will be no overall control after the election and is hopeful he might do much better.

Nationally, Labour expect to face losses, possibly even greater than four years ago, but Liverpool has always been a kind of island, separate, maybe proudly so, from the rest of the country. Having exorcised the ruinous Miltant extremism of the last two decades, Labour in Liverpool may well be poised to make a return to the driving seat in City Hall. This is a contest to look out for as the results come in. The survey of local byelections shows Labour in third place with a national equivalent of 25%, three points lower than in 2004 at the same time before the poll.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


You'll Have to do Better than that Alistair

I've just watched our Chancellor being interviewed by Andrew Marr and fear his story just won't wash over the 10p tax issue. We all know the abolition of the lowest band was designed to pay for the reduction of 2p off the standard rate- part of Brown's surprise slieght of hand 'gift' shortly after coming to power. It has taken 10 months of dawning realisation for Labour MPs to register that this measure will be at the expense of 5 million of Britain's poorest earners.

Polly Toynbee got to the nub of it when she argues Labour's taxation policy has overall helped 'the rich to get richer':

Labour has sold a sackload of the state's family silver in tax cuts. It is easy to make an income-tax cut, but politically too expensive for any future government to restore. Basic income tax has been cut from 23% to 20%, corporation tax from 33% to 28%, and capital gains tax from 40% to 18% (a bonanza for second-home and buy-to-let owners); inheritance tax (IHT) allowances now give a tax-free £700,000 to the middle-aged children in the best-off families.

Scores of Labour MPs are lining up with the Tories and Lib Dems to support Frank Field's critical amendment to the Finance Bill on the not unreasonable grounds that they did not enter politics to assist the impoverishment of 5 million of the poorest people in the country to whom losing a sum of £30 a year means so much more than it does to the better paid. And people who, incidentally, comprise a foundation stone of Labour's core vote; something which applies not only to the next election but to local lections and voters ihn Crewe who will shortly be choosing a replacement for Gwyneth Dunwoody.

Darling's defence that the losers will be compensated in future budgets and citing Labour's commitment to assisting the lowest paid, won't help in the locals or the
London mayoral election and will be greeted with cynicism by most I'd wager. On the broader political front, Labour MPs, as Andrew Rawnsley argues, should not resort to ideas that changing leader provides an escape route. It's too late to do that; there are no electable alternatives; and such ideas always lead to disappointment, just as hopes that Brown would turn around the damage inflicted by Tony Blair, have turned to ashes. My suspicion is however, that despite the government's brave words about no surrender on the 10p, a package of palliatives for the poor will somehow be discovered before that crucial vote on the Field amendment.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Why are so Many Terrorists Muslim Converts?

Today's report on the incitement of terrorism case stimulated a thought that a fair number of these fundamentalist firebrands are converts. My pictures show Germaine Lindsay, one of the 7-7 bombers, Richard Reid, the 'Shoe Bomber' as well as Abu Izzadeen, the Muslim cleric sentenced yesterday to four and a half years for 'inciting and funding' terrorism.

Why should 'converts' provide such a substantial slice of this irregular army of young malcontents who want to do such awful things to the 'kuffar' as they call us non Muslims? Of course I don't know, but from the depths of my ignorance, I can hazard a theory. All three of the above believe non Muslims are infidels whose lives are worthless; as Izzadeeen preached to one audience:

"He who joins the British Army, the American Army, he is a mortal kaffir and his only hukum (punishment) is for his head to be removed. Indeed, whoever changes his deen (Muslim code of life); kill him."

Abu wss once Trevor Brooks, born to a Jamaican family and trained as an electrician. He is thought to have been radicalized by Omarf Bakri and Abu Hamza in the nineties, experiences which he followed up by terrorist training in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Already married to an Arabic wife, he advertised on an Islamic matrimonial website for three more wives so that he could increase his children from three to nine. Anyone who has seen his heckling of John Reid some time back or heard his interview with John Humphrys, will have doubtless spotted a permanently hyped up hysterical kind of guy.

Germaine Lindsay, also from a Jamaican family, had a troubled early life along with rumours of drug dealing before he completely abandoned his circle of friends and became a devout Muslim, changing his name to Abdullah Shaheed Jamal. Richard Reid was also linked to Jamaica in that his father from that island, spent much of his life in prison. Reid was involved in street crime and converted to Islam when in Feltham Young Offender's Institution.

It seemed to me as I read about Izzadeen that Islam seems to offfer a convenient and spiritually comfortable refuge together with a cause for disturbed young people who are already at war with our society. From feeling alone and outcast, with little to lose, conversion enables them to belong to a new and welcoming group which offers answers for every question. Once converted they become, like so many such, 'more royalist than the king' and push themselves to the front of the cause, volunteering for the most dangerous and eye-catching missions. Even without conversions I suspect these three would have posed problems; once converted they were able to feel valued by comrades and justified in their anger against a society in which they had not prospered.

Friday, April 18, 2008


China is Becoming Identified as Supporter of State Terrorism

President Hu Jintao of China(seen left with friends) needs to consider seriously how the image of his country is evolving. The world is well aware of the Peking government's repressive actions in Tibet and aware of the close relationship with Musharaff in Pakistan when he was in charge. The Spielberg resignation must also have illustrated the anger in the west felt at the staunch Chinese support of the governhment responsible for the Darfur tragedy.

Now we see that the Chinese desire to wield power in Africa leaves no room for respect for human rights whatsoever. Today The Guardian leads with the story that a ship (see picture) loaded with arms has arrived in Durban with arms destined for the ministry of defence, Harare. Included are 3milliion rounds of ammunition for AK47s; 1,500 40m rockets and 2,500 mortar shells. Ordered shortly after the Zimbabwean election it seems clear such arms are intended for Mugabe's armed forces to quell any possible internal discontent.

If China's leaders are genuinely concerned to be liked and respected in the world- and their concern to promote and protect its image in relation to the Olymics suggests they are- they should appreciate siding with the most brutish regimes in pariah states is no way to achieve such an objective.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


US visit plays to Brown's strong sides

Having sided with the 'fatalists' yesterday, today I come to praise Gordon rather than bury him. So far I think Brown's visit to the US has shown him in a much better light. OK, so ther clash with the Pope's visit was unfortunate but scarcely a reason to continue the kicking currently being meted out by the British media. I heard his performance on the Diane Sawyer US chatshow and thought he came over surprisingly well(Nicholas Watt, in the linked article thought the interview 'stilted') . He lacks the elan and brio of Blair who tempermentally shines in the spotlight, but his answers were sincere, managed passably at being humorous. Moreover, I thought his slightly over ther top flattery of all things American was suited to the US way: Americans just love visitors to praise 'God's Own Country' and Gordon has laid it on with a trowel.

As some have pointed out, Brown has a long history of admiration for the USA, taking annual holidays to the east coast and moving easily with leading US intellectuals of left and right. I also thought his speech to the UN where he bollocked Mugabe in the clearest possible terms, was effective. His naturally stern manner was well suited to the occassion and it was good to hear him express himself clearly for once, not stutteringly hedge everything with reservations. Almost certainly his visit will go under-reported and the UK media will exploit and expand the smallest hic-cup, but so far I think his visit has shown him at his best. If only he could manage the same trick at home.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Have the 'Fatalists' Got it Right?

My drinking mates will confirm I essayed on Monday night the same argument used by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in yesterday's Guardian. This is that Labour probably have to accept that their three terms is all they are going to get. The Conservatives were the party which logged two plus successive victories during the fifties and the eighties but by the end of both the feeling that the pendulum just had to swing next time was palpable.

I know it would place me in the camp of what Rawnsley called the 'fatalists' in his Sunday piece, but I think the signs of a similar change of national mood are now discernible in the polls and in the media. This doesn't mean Labour are going to lose, of course(high employment figures today suggest the economy is standing up pretty well), but it does suggest that we probably will. Wheatcroft goes a little further in suggesting that it would be better for democracy and, indeed for Labour if this happens. There is much in such a view: three terms stalls the democratic renewal process for just about the maximum time.

A fourth term for Labour would overstretch it and encourage more of those those silly claims that we have become a 'one party state'. It might also prove disastrous for Labour. Already reeling under a succession of disasters and acute problems, a further four years would hammer nails into the coffin of Labour chances of getting back into office by the mid 2020s. It will be a shame for Gordon, who, his supporters will claim, is entitled to another term, but, quite frankly, I disagree. I would argue that his conduct in office to date establishes that he does not deserve another term.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Gordon's Running out of Time while his Problems Multiply

I'm not sure about the Sun's claim that Brown's

rating fell from PLUS 48 last August to MINUS 37 – a bigger drop than Neville Chamberlain after he tried to appease Hitler in the 1930s.

To my knowledge-though I could be wrong- the polling industry was in its infancy back then and anyway, polls on such specific questions were not run. However the current poll in the FT which forms the basis for The Sun's piece contains enough doomy news for Gordon even without the historical comparison. Further to my Saturday post when I quoted ther likes of Toynbee(he's chasing fickle popularity and failing badly) and Kettle(he's possible finished and should be replaced) there have been yet more blows landed since:

1. 68% of respondents in the FT poll said they had 'no confidence' in Brown to solve the nation's economic problems.

2. Ed Balls has had to deny waging a covert campaign to become leader; I think he'd be a disastrous choice but ther fact that there is even talk of such a thing, reflects the gravity of the situation.

3. Andrew Rawnsley yesterday in his piece quoted a former Cabinet minister:

'No one knows what Gordon's core purpose is. I've lost count of the number of colleagues who have said to me, "At least you knew where you were with Tony."' Talk to any minister and they don't know where the government is supposed to be going.'

4. Rawnsley draws a distinction between 'fatalists'(not a small group) who think defeat is inevitable and 'never-say-dies' who think there is still a chance of nicking a victory next time around.

5. The Cabinet and the PLP are badly split over:
i) the decision to abolish the 10p income tax bracket thus leaving some 5 million lower paid people worse off.
ii) the foolish idea of extending the detetnion without trial period to 42 days from the present 28, despite the oppostion of a phalanx of experts, the former Attorney General, Jack Straw and the Muslim community.

6. The housing bubble has burst with prices now plunging, and the credit crunch is beginning to impinge on everyday life as prices, especially for food begin to rise.

Oh Lor! And I haven't even mentioned Iraq, the ongoing worries about public services, the drift of thre public finances into excessive debt and the distinct possibility that Labour's 'Red Ken' will be beaten by ther Tory 'Blond Boris' on 1st May.

I conclude this(for Labour) gloomy prognosis by quoting a current PM admiring Cabinet member cited in Rawnsley's article:

'It's not all over. But there's only so long that we can say that we need time to turn things around before people say you've had enough time. We have to be clear about where we are going in a way which we are not being.'

Note: I was wrong re the ratings; I learn from Justion Fisher at Brunel Univeristy that they began in 1938.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Seems like Life will get even Tougher for Gordon

Polly Toynbee yesterday bemoaned Brown's apaprent chasing of every wispy fluctuation in public opinion:

The story that Gordon Brown fumbled the Olympic crisis was so credible because it seemed to fit a pattern. It turns out that it was announced long ago that he was never due to attend the Olympic opening: the Chinese already confirmed his attendance only at the closing ceremony. Brown, anxious to offend neither side, failed to clarify that he was not attending and not protesting either. It was a bum rap.

Today Martin Kettle plays a similar tune:

A spectre is haunting the Labour Party- the spectre of Gordon |Brown's failure.
Questions about Brown abound in Labour ranks. The concern is not, as far as I can tell from many conversations this week, primarily about Brown's policies or about the changes at No 10. The quewstion is maihnly about him. Rigtht now, the problem is Brown himself.

The Guardian's leader points out that changing leaders- as Kettle goes on to essay, is out of the question: who could do it? Jack Straw maybe but no-one else even begins to measure up. Maybe this is just something drummmed up by underemployed hacks at a time when news is not too exciting but I think we're beginning to realise that poor old Gordon is just not up to the job of leading; by contrast, however much we hated him, Blair did manage to sustain that role. I reckon it all hangs on the mayoral election. If Boris gets in Labour support will begin to implode as Major's did in the seventies; if Ken gets back in Brown has a chance of rebuilding.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Whatever Happened to our Liberal Values on Sex?

I posted a few days ago in Max Mosley's 'exposure', opining that I derived a rather guilty pleasure from reading about it but that it was essentially his business. Today I read Alexander Chancellor expressing astonishment that:

'Mosley sees no reason to resign as president of the FIA, the formula one governing body, and apparently feels no sense of shame. He insists he has "done nothing wrong" and that his behaviour in the prostitutes' den was "harmless and completely legal".

Well, I'm astonished that Alexander is astonished. For two excellent reasons:

1. Mosley is a public figure of sorts but he is not elected by the public and the FIA is not a public body.

2. Chancellor implies quite clearly, that he disapproves of such sado-masochistic goings-on. Well, so what? He's old enough, at 68, to know that sexual tastes are amazingly diverse; my view is that whatever people get up to in private is their own business. OK, I might be interested in finding out about such business but it most definitely is not my business or anyone else's.

The only aspect of the affair on which Mosley is vulnerable is the accusation of anti-semitism; no organisation would wish to have in charge of it someone subscribing to the vilest prejudice of the 20th century. To check this out I also viewed the NoW video which we can now see quite legally courtesy of a high court judge. I have to say that it is pitiful; pitiful that is, from the outrage point of view. It is so tame as to be risible. The girl in the 'concentration camp uniform' was merely wearing a striped prison uniform in my opinion. The 'prostitute' is heard ordering poor old Max to obey in a voice which sounds as if it was formed in a girl's private school.

She is then seen whacking his bare bottom with a whip a few times and then he is seen sipping tea with his coven of scarlet wantons. Even Ian Paisley might have seen this and not called down the wrath of God upon Mosley. Oh boy, Mr Chancellor, you must have been born in Victorian times to disapprove of this harmless frottage. Max may well lose his job over all this, but it will be without any moral foundation of which I can think.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Intellect no guarantee of political success

I'm not sure about anyone else but I always reckon it better that the boss is cleverer than most of the people in his/her charge-certainly cleverer than me. But the converse does not necessarily apply: it doesn't follow that the cleverest politician is the most qualified to be leader. Look at Ronnie Reagan, reckoned by many experts to be among the most effective presidents of the last century: he was most definitely challenged in the brain-box department. But he had one towering gift that made his ambition to be president credible: his ability to communicate.

This is why I was so surprised to read today that Ed Balls, is rumoured, according to Michael White to have an:

'underlying 24/7 motive is to manoeuvre himself into winning the post-Brown Labour leadership.'

The problem is that Balls, like his uber clever fellow prodigy, Ruth Kelly, may have hoovered up all the clever genes, but neither seems to have the communication skills required to direct a taxi driver to the desired destination. Both stammer and struggle their way through speeches in the Commons and interviews on Today. If Balls thinks he has a chance of replacing Brown- himself no Demosthenes- I have two words for him: 'Dream on'.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Check Reinfeldt and Beware Cameron's Blairite Strategy

Polly Toynbee yesterday hit bullseye for me with her piece on 'wolf in sheep's clothing'. She points to Sweden's Fredrik Reinfeldt(seen with soul-mate in picture)who lulled Swedes into thinking he was so liberal the social democratic superstructure of their lives would not be affected if he were to come to power.

What has Reinfeldt done? A lot more than voters bargained for. Welfare reform has been radical: benefits are cut and so are taxes. Everyone in work gets new tax credits: in Britain tax credits are benefits aimed at the poorest, in Sweden they are tax cuts for all. National insurance contributions have been raised sharply, with the unplanned effect that nearly half a million of the lowest paid have walked away from the scheme, leaving them nothing if they lose their jobs.

This chimes in with a feeling I have long had that Cameron and co. have a definite strategy in mind and which explains why so many died in the wool Tory types are tolerating his heretical denial of all those Conservative shibboleths. I was watching an excellent programme recently on BBC4 on advertising in politics when Tim Bell was shown commenting on the 'Faustian Pact' political ad which Major pulled in 1997 as too tendentious. You may recall this entailed a Blair-alike character bleating that he must win the election.

A sinister voice-we are to assume its old Beelzebub- says he can help him; he must say he'll not increase taxes but once in power can forget what he promised. Brilliant! I don't think. But Bell reckons this is exactly what Blair went on to do and that the film should have been shown. My theory is that Dave is simply following Blair's template-as he has slavishly done to date- for shifting from leader of party rejected regularly by voters into Number 10. Whether or not Blair did fulfil this Faustian narrative is not the point- it's the one Cameron, like his Swedish ideological brother, I reckon is definitely following.

Monday, April 07, 2008


Should we Re-embrace Nationalisation?

Will Hutton yesterday was justified in writing about nationalisation, given what has happened to Northern Rock; he adds an apposite quotation:

The chief executive of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann, has announced that he no longer believes in 'the markets' self-healing power' and wants extensive government intervention. It was always true that companies, the market and the state are inextricably linked and that public action is crucial to a well functioning market economy. Now it is newly legitimate.

Hutton makes the valid point that Brown left it up to the very last moment before daring to re-enter the atavistic world of nationalisation. He goes on to claim that 'fears over public ownership' are 'silly'. Why fear the 'n' word, he says, when so much of the nation's infrastructure- essential to business success- has been set up by the state in the first place? He goes on to suggest that nationalised enterprises were anyway more successful than we are led to believe and that a more 'arm's length' relationship, as adopted by France, would have made them even more so.

I have no doubt as to the value of state investment in a wide range of areas and that the occasional, if short term embrace of ailing concerns might be advantageous for all concerned. However, my memories of state-ownership is not good and I rather welcomed New Labour's deliberate amnesia regarding promises to renationalise those privatised industries. I can also say that I worked for a nationalised industry for a while: British Railways, as they then were, as a porter 1963-4.

This experience proved to me that the 'socialism' bit of nationalisation was a chimera. The lads did not give a toss about the 'people'(see picture) for whom they notionally worked; the BR management was loathed just as venomously as that which had preceded it. Later on, in the seventies, I recall enlisting the support of the electricity and gas boards for installations and repairs.

It was common practice to be asked if one wanted the work done 'by the Board' or 'as a foreigner'- the term used to describe the officially overlooked moonlighting whereby fitters would arrive early to work effectively privately and leave early in the afternoon to do the same for someone else. This was, in effect sanctioned corruption and I was never surprised to hear both concerns were running at substantial losses. Northern Rock is a temporary necessity but- to my mind- we still need to beware the notion of state control of business activities.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


'Exposure' of Mosley Might be Fun but it's not Justified

Being as honest as I can, I have to confess I enjoy reading a bit of scandal in the popular newspapers. Finding out that someone famous has been doing the sort of things I have only done behind closed doors, and having grown up when such things were never talked about, probably explains this weakness. For weakness it is.

Tabloids try to disguise their marketing strategies by claiming they are fulfilling a democratic duty to call our rulers and so-called 'betters' to account. But we know this is disingenuous; they use this as fig leaf to cover up a ploy which experience has proved, sells and sells. Are they justified? Seldom, in my view. Let's look at the current Max Mosley furore. Mark Lawson writes some good sense on this today, pointing out that Mosley, is in no sense one of our rulers, despite his father's desperate ambitions. The Federation Internationale L'Automobile(FIA) of which he is president, is a non profit organisation which represents the interests of car owners worldwide and is the controlling body for Formula 1 motor-racing. Neither can he be accused of hypocrisy in that he has never, to my knowledge, claimed that anything resembling Nazi costumed sado-masochistic sex games are sinful or should be banned.

The only reason the tabs went for him with a sting operation was because he's pretty rich, married, connected with the mega-lucrative Formula One racing and is the son of someone who admired Hitler and wanted to be Britain's fascist leader. The fact that he enjoys group sex with working girls dressed up like Nazis, seems to me to be wholly irrelevant to the rest of us. We might be tittivated and curious but it really is none of our business is it? Our tabloid press really is the worst in the world and why? Because people like me and millions of others continue to buy and read their trashy stories.

Friday, April 04, 2008


What Qualities Define 'Charisma'?

[sorry the pics are higgledy- piggledy but that's just the way they uploaded] I've always been intrigued by the concept of 'charisma'; it is at once so nebulous, individual and yet so powerful. Max Weber's definition was not all that helpful:

"resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him."

Put more prosaically, it's the 'wow' factor which some people have and others don't. When I walk into a room people carry on exactly as before, yet with others they stop, look and stare. What are the ingredients?

1. It helps to be tall and very good looking of course but ugly people are not excluded from having it- why else Hitler?

2. It is connected with what the person does: someone-like so many actors- can be charismatic on a stage but characterless in person- Peter Sellers?

3. It is connected with what people want to see to some extent; after all, the quality is only a function of perception.

Three people help to illustrate the idea.

Martin Johnson has just been appointed as England's rugby manager. The sports presenter described him as a man of 'immense charisma' and he was right. Rugby fans will recall from 2003 how his presence sent a thrill of confidence down their backs just as he sent a chill down those of his opponents. His size was probably the main factor but also that overhanging brow which shielded his eyes and gave him a brooding, menacing look. But as a politician, some experts reckon Abraham Lincoln, he of a similar overhanging brow, would never have made it in the television age as he would have looked like an extra in a horror film.

William Hague was ridiculed when he wore that baseball cap back in the late nineties and his callow appearance helped to sink his hopes of standing up to the definitely charismatic Blair. Yet now, bald of head, older and (much) wiser, author of a two masterly biographies as well as a thousand witty after dinner speeches, he definitely has that X factor.

Finally, to Bernie Ecclestone, seen here with his (much) taller wife Slavica in my picture, demonstrates a powerful sense of charisma absence. OK, so it's to do with looks and height but those of us who lack the magic quality can take heart that of the three men displayed, Bernie is by far the richest.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


Stand by for the Bozza and Ken Show

For the last few months political junkies have had to cross the Atlantic for their kicks but now looming on the horizon is the London Mayoral election on May 1st. Recent polls have put 'Bozza' 10 points ahead and he had begun to look like a shoo-in. However, today we read in The Guardian that it's possibly much closer than that.

These figures suggest Boris is only one point ahead of the veteran incumbent: 42% to 41%; after second preferences have been allocated the result is 51-49 in Bozza's favour. The way the poll breaks down provides a potentially exciting backcloth to the

For Boris
1. 'Do you think Ken or Boris will maintain the highest standards of public life?' Boris 41-37.

2. Who 'is the most honest?' Boris 38-28(males 42, females- maybe influenced by his adulterous activities- 34 ).

3. 'Most likely to reduce crime' Boris 42-34.

For Ken
1. Who 'most likely to get on with the job?' Ken 44-34.

2. 'Has Ken been good or bad for London?' 51-39(non whites 64 to 46 whites).

3. 'Most for the Environment?' Ken(congestion charge worked for him) 44-34.

4. 'Most likely to understand the needs of London?' Ken 46-35.

However a few other crucial factors are in play here:

-Ken is more popular with inner city mixed race voters where he has a lead of some 7%
- Boris draws support from the outer London, traditional Tory country, where he leads by 9%.
- second preferences of Lib Dems show a complete reversal from the last election with Boris favoured 43-30.
-perhaps most crucially, Boris benefits from those certain to vote: 48-40.

So, with a long month to go, Boris's Etonian nose is definitely in front but is by no means out of sight. So it's nicely poised. Does it matter who wins? For Londoners not that much: Ken would continue being Ken of course but I suspect Boris would make quite a decent mayor if for once he took his work seriously. It would matter enormously for David Cameron though as this is the next general election by proxy: if Boris comes though Cameron will receive a big gust of wind into his sails and will continue with confidence hugely enhanced.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Surely Mugabe Can't Defy his People Yet Again?

The Times today describe Mugabe being in the endgame; the Independent too. But the BBC reports anything but such a cut and dried situation. We hear the best information says the challengers have won a majority both in seats and for the presidency, yet Mugabe dithers on, delaying results while he seeks to finesse yet another defiant fraud on his voters.

Some sources say a 50% vote for him as president might not be wrong and that a run-off election might be the next stage- one which, of course, Mugabe's control over the police and military, might even yet deliver to the 84 year old idealist turned tyrant. What astonishes me that even a single voter, assuming no intimidation or inducements, would consider voting for the re-election of a man who has: turned the 'bread-basket of the continent into its basket case' (to quote Radio 4's Thought for the Day this morning); reduced male life expectancy to 34; caused inflation to reach 100,000%; and applied draconian control on democratic activity and free speech.

If its not yet the 'endgame' for Robert Mugabe, one is sorely tempted to hope any sustained attempt to cling onto power will result in the same denouement as that which met similar attempts by the likes of Nicolae Caeusecsu.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Damned Lies and Statistics

A recent comment on a post of mine, took me to task when I cited the public's suspicion of official statistics. But I'm not the only one worried: the government have just established-today- the UK Statistics Authority: this body comes into being today, 1st April 2008. It is independent of government, with a brief to oversee all official statistics.

Polls show that a large majority of the public believe official statistics are produced via political interference and an even larger one that the government uses such figures dishonestly. Unlike the Statistics Commission the new authority will have the power to enforce remedial action.

Concern surrounds figures from departments dealing with crime, exam results and health statistics like waiting lists that policy staff-who usually have a week’s notice of new statistics- massage the figures or ‘spin’ the best possible interpretation of them.

Under the new regime they will have only a day for such creativity- still more than best international practice where such a period is three hours or less. On 17th March Lord(David) Lipsey set up a ‘Campaign for Real Statistics’ to complement the work of the new authority. Will the new authority dispel public doubts of government figures? Almost certainly not as politicians will still do their best to bend and distort key indexes to suit their own arguments. But at least this is a big step in the right direction.

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