Monday, September 29, 2008


Salary Curbs in Paulson Plan Need to be Spelled Out

The hours spent hammering out agreement between Paulson and Congress(see picture) have produced a deal. Its wider ramifications I would leave to the economists to discuss but the, for me, key political aspect is left opaque. The reason why Paulson misjudged the angry political reaction to his $700bn baleout plan might just be connected with the fact that, as a very fat cat himself, he is part of the problem: the net worth of this former Goldman Sachs CEO has been calculated at $700mn.

The sheer unfairness of the deal is missed by people as rich as this. When millions were made unemployed in the US as jobs fled overseas, there was no talk of a massive multi billion baleout for them; it was only when their own were affected that Hank and co. got their arses moving to producxe a rescue plan. American people, like British people, have been infuriated by the obscene salaries handed out to these so -called 'Masters of the Universe' and, after all, it is pursuit of individual wealth through bonuses which has been the potent cause of this crisis in the first place.

We learn that financial salaries are to be curbed:

In a major concession, the bill will set limits on salary packages for Wall Street executives whose companies benefit from the bill. "The party is over. The era of golden parachutes for high-flying Wall Street operators is over," Pelosi told a press conference.

Well, as a cynical observer of this kind of thing for most of my life, I wonder just how this is to be done? Current reports give no detail but I was not reassured to find that the British device of giving shareholders the ability to question executive salaries, was rejected. People clever enough to devise the fiendishly complicated financial products which lie at the heart of the banking crisis, are not going to be outwitted by mere statements of intent.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Maverick McCain Pursues a Chancer Campaign

The 71 year-old greybeard of the Senate and veteran of the 2004 Republican presidential campaign, is anything but a sober cautious politician.

1. During the summer, he shamelessly purloined Obama's 'change' mantra and tried to make it his own.

2. Selecting Sarah Palin was another off the wall idea- an inexperienced politician with an apparently unresearched background. [Her initial impact seems to be falling off now as voters get her measure.]

3. Suddenly leaping on the US economic crisis and seeking to grandstand on it for the purposes of his campaign.

These stunts usually follow a period when he has been falling behind in the polls and needs to thrust himself and his candidature into the national mind. None of these to date exceed the bare-faced cheek of the last mentioned. By all accounts it was Obama who first suggested a bipartisan statement by the candidates on the proposed bale-out and this, as if alerting McCain's campaign to an opportunity prompted the 'I'm halting my campaign for the good of the country' announcement and his hightailing it to Washington to allegedly assist in the crisis talks.

There, as Michael Tomasky notes today in The Guardian, he has endeavoured manfully to be the cynosure of roving television cameras, while actually doing nothing, economic affairs not being his forte. Indeed, he had not even read the three page Paulson plan two days after it came out. This did not prevent him lining up with the 100 or so Republican Representatives who fear the plan will bale out undeserving Wall St fat cats at the taxpayers expense.

And yet, it seems McCain 'won' the first debate according to the BBC's man there. Obama did better on the economy while McCain scored on foreign policy. I woke up to hear a snatch of the debate and McCain sounded more assured than Obama, and made free with all the names he had met during his long career. His claim that upon meeting Vladimir Putin and looking into his eyes he had seen 'three letters, K, G and B' was a soundbite masterstroke. I expect the older man to benefit by some points after this performance but who knows what ploy he'll come up with next if he falls behind after the remaining debates?

Friday, September 26, 2008


How Much Has Has Conference Changed Things?

Much has been written about Brown's much better than expected conference performance- in this high tech media age the spoken word is still crucial-but I wonder if anything fundamental has changed? The Sun's opinion poll showed a merciful reduction in the Tory lead to 10% with better personal ratings. At last something to prove Brown can improve Labnour's political position, through his own efforts. But what about the wider perspective?

1. Distrust of Gordon's aides has been sustained by Ruth Kelly's leaked resignation. She was thought to be someone ready to jump ship with other Cabinet members, so disillusioned with Gordon had she become. By leaking her plans to leave for family reasons, she was 'flushed out' and any rebellious intent pre-empted, say those who hate Brown's backstairs operation.

2.The Evening Standard ran a story a few days ago suggesting the expected reshuffle would come in a 'fortnight's time' to 'stamp his authority' on his party; it would also have, said the paper, a 'loyalty test' attached to ensure support for the PM. This last would be a pathetic condition -and I'm sure this is just partisan nonsense- but we shall see.

3. The reshuffle will cause some pain of its own. Brown's intention to make Nick Brown, his long-time ally Chief Whip has not gone down well with Blairites who recall his earlier stint 1997-2001 when he was ruthessly partisan in the conflict with Blair. Moreover, it is said that he has acted as a 'shadow whip' or 'Brown's nark', feeding information about his colleagues direct to Gordon and thus bypassing Geoff Hoon.

4. Brown still faces acute government finance problems which have, if anything got worse over the conference period. Government borrowing will inevitably break Brown's 'Golden Rule' of 40% of national income and restoring any kind of equipoise to revenue and expenditure is likely to take years and increased taxes as Major discovered, to his political cost in the early nineties. Recession, of course reduces economic activity and hence Treasurury income. Expect much more on this in the new year.

5. Brown's vaunted expertise on the international economy was news which had not apparently reached Washington where he found it hard to find anyone to listen to him, though Bush, it seems, has come to his rescue.

I fear only those politically blind supporters of Gordon Brown can pretend everything has changed. It's back to business as usual for this troubled government, and we haven't even had the Conservative conference yet.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Brown Keeps Wolves at Bay- For Now

Well, it might not quite have been the speech of his life but it was the best I've ever heard him deliver. For one, it was not boring in the way he usually is. Some have said, quite rightly, that this was the speech he should have given last year instead of that load of old cliches and vacuous rhetoric we actually got.

I reckoned three of the narratives he introduced as having some resonance and credibility:

1. His 'reintroduction' of himself as a 'serious' person in serious times, seemed to make sense: as the economic situation has deteriorated, his gloomy demeanour has seemed increasingly appropriate.

2. Also connected with the crisis, his insistence he was best qualified to deal with the complexities of repairing the internatinal economy(and, by ijmplication not 'novices' like Cameron and Miliband) also seemed to fit the facts and the mood.

3. I liked the rebuttal of Tory claims that he had squandered the good times. By mentioning injections of cash into health and education, he was able to claim Labour had 'mended the roof while the sun shone': a good line.

But has anything fundamentally changed? We won't know until the post conference polls. There may be a slight bounce but will it last until Glenrothes? I rather doubt it. Will it stop the muttering and the plotting? I rather doubt it. Cameron will have some bullets to fire next week and we can be sure some of them will hit their target. Having his wife introduce him after he had attacked Cameron's political use of his family might have suited the conference spirit and helped his cause, but in retrospect it might appear a bit desperate. I predict Gordon has scared off the wolves for a few weeks but once the next disaster strikes(probably north of the border), they'll be back howling at his door.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Reasons for Labour to be Cheerful

Conference has met in a pretty sombre mood by all accounts with Simon Hoggart saying Gordon 'looked like a man who's been too long in the condemned cell, waiting for a reprieve.' Well, I reckon I've been a bit too negative over the past few weeks so I've tried hard to accentuate the positive in today's post.

1. Gordon's polling guru, Deborah Mattinson, told a fringe meeting that:

'55% of voters think Cameron is lightweight. This was illustrated, she said, by a focus group she conducted last week at which one participant said: "I reckon he was invented by a marketing department." Mattinson went on: "People do not understand what he stands for. He does not ring true." So maybe he's beatable after all.

2. Gordon is fighting back at last. His interview with Andrew Marr yesterday recognised some of his own failings, for once, and his argument that his long period in charge of the money, mixing with the best financial brains internationally made him the best person to clear up the current mess, did carry some credibility. Promising to crackdown on City bonuses will play well too, with his lefties.

3. Even though it is probably necessary for Gordon to step down to avoid the bloodbath which the Observer's poll predicted yesterday, I reckon he'll survive the conference without a knife being unsheathed with real intent. The economic crisis has ridden to his aid and no possible candidate has so far shown the balls to offer a challenge, though we hear that most members of his Cabinet think he's a busted flush.

4. Finally, last week's Observer ran an article on Lord (Bernard) Donoughue on his memoir of life as a Labour political insider. He thinks Labour was in much worse straits back in 1979 yet reduced the gap remarkably:

In 79, at the start of the campaign, we were 22% behind in an Observer poll. On election day we lost by 7%. We clawed back 15 points. That's why Gordon should read about that period. Things were even worse then." The current government, he points out, has still got nearly two years to erase its 20% deficit in the polls. And if it doesn't? "Opposition is always bad. You fight each other. If we go into opposition, we'll go in for 10 or 15 years."

I'm waiting for Gordon's speech tomorrow to provide a reason to be optimistic rather than merely cheerful. I'll report on whether than sentiment is appropriate some time tomorrow.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


'The Party's Over'

'This was the week the world changed', writes Larry Elliott in today's Guardian, reflecting much of the coverage of the current international economic shambles thoughout the press. Gordon has promised to 'clear up the mess', much to the unions' delight, signalling for some, the end of 'New Labour' and the return to the traditional Labour policy stances, they believe Brown has always believed in. This neglects the simple fact that Gordon was as much the begetter and midwife of this so called 'Blairite' creed as its departed eponym, if not more so if the biographies are to be believed.
Elliott, one of the few financial journalists, whose jeremiads on Brown's policies have been proved right, comments:

Over and above the extraordinary individual events, there was the capitulation of the prevailing economic model. History will show that the great postwar experiment with financial deregulation lasted from the first oil shock in 1973 to the third oil shock in 2008. Between those years the constraints on capital imposed after the Great Depression were whittled away, leaving a world of easy credit, complex financial instruments, stratospheric salaries and supine regulators..

For Middle Britain, the traders who bragged about £1,000 bottles of Krug are now as loathed as the bolshie shop stewards of the 1970s. Only rarely is there a palpable public mood swing in Britain; the Winter of Discontent was one; this is another.

His conclusion, touching on Callaghan's 'the party's over' speech in 1976, is worth quoting too:

How to mark the end of an epoch? In 1976, Jim Callaghan was undertaker for the post-war social democratic order when he said: "We used to think you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that option no longer exists.

On Tuesday, Gordon Brown should stand up and say: "We used to think you could borrow your way out of a recession and increase employment by increasing debt and setting the City free. I tell you in all candour that option no longer exists. It would bring the house down".

It would indeed.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Retuned Blair Would Be more Popular Leader than Brown

Even more pressure on Brown today. After the poll yesterday showing Conservatives on 52%, comes the poll in the Indie showing 54% of Labour activists, the group which some said would rail against the rebels at the upcoming conference, think he should be jettisoned. Yet an even worse poll result for Gordon is contained in the same poll. Two days ago I reported, laughingly, a website calling for the return of Tony Blair. The same poll shows that under Blair, the antcipated Tory majority would be cut from 182 seats to just 20. Imagine how that might play with Labour MPs in all those threatened marginal seats.

All this comes two days after a cabinet meeting when some several ministers were amazed there was no discussion of why Labour was so unpopular with voters. Martin Kettle today, in a tart little piece reports that:

Five or six cabinet ministers, perhaps more, none of them plotters and none of them looking for Brown's job, are ready to quit if someone senior gives a lead.

And as for loyalty to the boss, he asks:

'why should anyone in the party owe much loyalty to the most consistently disloyal Labour politician of modern times? Imagine the vicious briefing that would be taking place this weekend if Blair not Brown had been in No 10.'

It is now clear that, notwithstanding such assaults, more than a few would seem to prefer the previous leader back in place.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Who Will Rebuild the International Economy?

Trying to understand the international economy makes the brain hurt I find. It's a bit odd. for example, that the headquarters of world capitalism should be nationalising major businesses like some demented Marxist state. Also that companies which have been shrieking for decades that government should definitely, not ever interfere or intervene in the markets generally and their enterprises in particular, are now seeking the comfort blanket state intervention and support. 'Surely', they are bleating, 'you cannot afford to let us go bust; what about the damage it will do to the nation's economy, let alone our own inflated bank balances?'

And yet these supplications come from the authors of their own threatened demise: banks and mortgage companies whose staff, in pursuit of their huge annual bonuses, lent wildly-125% mortgages often- to thousands of those lacking the means to repay. In a typically thoughtful piece yesterday Simon Jenkins pondered the state of world finance. He points out that after World War II, socialism enthroned intervention in the markets; when that didn't work, the Thatcher-Reagan era did the same thing to not 'bucking the markets' and deregulation. Huge riches thence flowed forth, albeit disproportionately distributed to the already super-rich. He comments:

That era has ended with astonishing abruptness. Governments in Britain and the US have been nationalising and spending public money with a will that would have made Attlee or Roosevelt blush.

Successive aberrations, like Lloyds, Barings, Enron, Northern Rock were spun by financiers to be just that: light-touch regulation was still working more or less, OK? so lay off. The advantage of low inflation was exploited by giveaway interest rates which fuelled a credit boom desperatrwely vulnerable to price rises or collapse of credit. Both of which have now happened. Larry Elliot of The Guardian, has been warning of this outcome for years during Brown's soi disant 'brilliant' Chancellorship. He, at least, is entitled to indulge in a bit of 'I told you soing'.

Jenkins calls for a 'tribunal of enquiry' so that we can be told 'what needs mending, and whom we can take out and shoot'. I doubt whether any such inquiry could attribute blame in such a tangled situation in which everyone to some extent has been complicit. More important is which people should analyse what went wrong-the finance ministers of the G8?- and who should put in place controls-yes, the return of regulation- to the international economy which prevent such dislocations in the future.

PS Anyone seeking a clear map through this confusing jungle are recommended to read the blog of the BBC economic correspondent from Washington here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Clegg's Gaffe Over Pensions Undermines Lib Dem Economic Policy Stance

We all make mistakes and as a teacher I've made some pretty embarrassing gaffes, but, then again, I'm not pitching to be prime minister. The Liberal Democrats' economic policy has been rebuilt around tax cuts for low and middle income earners and yesterday, with Vince Cable's help, Nick Clegg won his conference's agreement to his proposals. The idea of such a redirection is to fight off Conservative threats to Lib Dem seats further south and to challenge Labour for key marginals in the north.

Fair enough, you might think, it's not a bad policy stance to be the only major party offering tax cuts right now. But Clegg's response to a question on the amount old age pensioners receive was a lot more embarrassing than his admission/claim that he'd had 30 lovers.

His response of 'I think it's about £30 a week at the moment' revealed someone who is wholly out of touch with the groups of people for whom he proposes to stand up. In fact a single pensioner receives £90.70 per week and a married couple £145.05. To be honest, it reminded me of those lawyers and bankers in Polly Toynbee's focus groups in her Unjust Rewards, which I reviewed a few days back: they had no idea whatsoever what anyone earned outside their own over rewarded cohort. He apologised for his 'spectacular' mistake, explaining he'd had 11 back to back interviews and just came up with the wrong figure. Hmm.

Nick Clegg went to Westminster and Cambridge and sounds no different from Cameron and Osborne: a different world from most of those whose votes they are seeking to attract. With his gaffe, he has opened up a whole flank of his party's policy programme to ridicule at PMQs and elsewhere. Would Vince Cable, whom many think would have been the better leader, have made such a mistake? I don't think so either. It's a tough old game.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Raise Your Game By Glenrothes Byelection: or Else...

It seems like the journalists with ears plugged into the unsafe ground beneath Labour have concluded Gordon will be given a few more months to turn things around. Rachel Sylvester in The Times reflects that it is the once perceived assets of the party which are letting them down so badly now: presentational skills and stewardship of the economy. She repeats the story posted by Nick Cohen in the last Observer that the story about off-message minister's Ivan Lewis's harrassment of a colleague was 'planted' by Number 10.

She goes on to suggest the Cabinet is wavering with both Hutton and Hoon giving decidedly lukewarm endorsements of their leader and a number of Cabinet members, including Miliband, Blears and Purnell refusing to endorse Brown leading the party into the next election; five others refused to say despite having been ordered to say 'yes'.

Patrick Wintour, well known as being close to the inner counsels of Labour, suggests:

Brown's cabinet sceptics were disappointed by the handling of the relaunch over the past three weeks, but have not given up hope that his performance and poll standing can improve. But they are not prepared to wait beyond Christmas.

He also passes on the rumour that Brown is planning a reshuffle whereby Balls would replace Darling and the ultra-loyal Nick Brown installed as Chief Whip.

Disaffected Hyndburn MP, Greg Pope is quoted as saying:

Possibly this is unfair on Gordon, but I think the electorate has stopped listening to him, so I think the issue of the leadership has to be forced out into the open. The fact is that in the division lobbies and tearoom the performance of the prime minister, and his mistakes, is the only topic of conversation. I am not embittered. I am not seeking a job, and I am proud to be a backbencher. Nor do I have a candidate, I am not supporting David Miliband or Jack Straw or anyone. But there is no point pretending things are OK when they are not OK."

But it does seem as if the Cabinet are going to give Gordon yet more time to turn things around: until the Glenrothes byelection, or, I suspect, Christmas at the latest. Or maybe this is just frothy talk which we political anoraks love but means nothing and, for want of resolution and a brave aletrnative candidate, Gordon will continue as front man in the toboggan hurtling down the slope to horrendous defeat? One suggestion in the blogosphere which brought a smile to me face was that Tony Blair should stand in the byelection, be elected and save Labour from extinction

Monday, September 15, 2008


Rebels Must Hope Conference Provides Answer to Gordon Problem

Jackie Ashley today delivers an apocalyptic warning that Labour could be 'on the eve of destruction'. I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I can recall a record from 1965 by a picaresque character called Bary McGuire, sharing those same words as its title. His prediction, fortunately, turned out to be premature, depending on how lengthy one's idea of an 'eve' might be, of course. Jackie's fear is that continuing with Gordon will deliver a death blow to an already bankrupt Labour Party as a political force, at the next election. Yes, it's mine too, so this particular time could be crucial for those of us in the 'progressive' political camp. To quote the above song:

Take a look around ya boy, it's bound to scare ya boy

According to Ashley his Cabinet colleagues still admire the man, his values and courage and hold back from criticism. However these same colleagues:

believe that his No 10 organisation, his people skills and his ability to communicate are too poor to allow him to stay on. Those trivial talents in the back-slapping, sound-biting, cheering-up stakes, which Blair had so richly, do matter. Brown is as good and serious a man as ever. But he is too mired in long-term thinking, too steeped in gloom to recover.

That sounds about right to me too. But the rebels are scattered, have no organisation and lack the big guns which could give them credibility. The Daily Telegraph has some interesting, though inevitably slanted contributions to make today. It concentrates on the meeting of Labour'sNEC tomorrow where the issue of leadership nomination papers, which used to be issued to every Labour MP before conference, will be dicussed. Siobhain McDonagh seems to think this would 'give every MP' the ability to 'decide whether Gordon Brown should continue to lead the party'. According to Rosa Prince, there are 35 Labour MPs who support her and 'the plan is for for between 50 and 100 MPs to refuse to sign and return Mr Brown's renomination papers'. Thereby, it is hoped Brown would be forced to stand down.

Meanwhile, the paper's front page story is that senior Cabinet ministers have given Gordon 'weeks' to save his leadership. The narrative here seems to be the Glenrothes byelection, 'which must be held by November'; if that is lost(which now seems inevitable), then, some Cabinet ministers have hinted, Gordon will have to face a contest. But this is all hypothetical.

The process is byzantine, the risks of a bloodbath high and the mood among potential challengers, subdued. Miliband, perhaps disappoiinted he did not receive much reaction to his covert candidacy, apart from a savaging by the unions, seems to have abandoned his challenge and opted to stick with Gordon. The odds must still be on a continuation of muddle, disarray and Gordon but conferences can be volatile gatherings and I'm fairly sure we'll get some major surprises next week at the conference just up the road from me.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Rebels Only a Ripple, Not Yet a Wave

It would have been so much easier for Gordon Brown, had he allowed himself to be opposed in a contest last summer when Tony Blair finally stood down. Then he could have claimed his mettle had been formally tested, his views and vision explained and any challengers bested, as they most assuredly would have been at that time. Instead, arrogance and insecurity in equal measure led him to avoid any such test. Now he faces as growing groundswell of calls for a leadership election which are likely to become louder as the conference approaches up here in Manchester in a wek's time.

The ST leader today openly calls for a leadership contest, citing the 1989 Anthony Meyer candidature which declared open season on Thatcher until Geoffrey Howe wielded the dagger in November of the following year. It also cites Major's 'put up or shut up' contest in 1995 which saw him re-elected, though with diminished authority. But the stakes now could not be higher:

For Labour MPs and cabinet ministers, the question this weekend is whether they are prepared to let things drift to an almost certain heavy defeat in 2010.

Brown's second attempt to relaunch has failed. The poll in the ST today puts Labour on 27%, the Lib Dems on 16 and Cameron's party on 46%; 73% think Brown is doing badly as PM. So far a slew of ex ministers have called for Brown to go, including government whip(promptly sacked) Siobhain McDonagh(pictured), Joan Ryan, vice chair of the party, Fiona McTaggart, a former Home office minister and Barry Gardiner, another former junior minister. The latter also writes a piece in the ST today, which says:

The public has stopped listening to Gordon Brown. He is not a popular prime minister, but he would continue to have my support if he showed sound judgment, international leadership and political vision. Instead we have vacillation, loss of international credibility and timorous political manoeuvres that the public cannot understand.

He points out that according to Part B clause 4 of the Labour Party Rulebook 2008:

“Where there is no vacancy, nominations shall be sought each year prior to the annual session of party conference. In this case any nomination must be supported by 20% of the Commons members of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.”

However, when he requested the party's general secretary, Ray Collins, to fulfill this requirement, he was not graced with a reply. Lord (Charlie) Falconer is said to be investigating the legality of this and thus earns membership of the ST's list of rebels.

So where is it all heading? So far the rebels are small fry, serving or former junior ministers, disaffected backbenchers like Graham Stringer and former Blairite ministers like Charles Clarke. Until now, the availability of Miliband and the magazine article by Clarke have caused ripples but not created any real waves. The article by Patricia Hewitt in Progress magazine, signed by six former ministers, calling for Brown to step aside, suggests the unease is widespread in the party. To precipitate a contest, 20% of Labour MPs(71) have to support an alternative candidate which is a tall order when no obvious candidate is discernible.

What the rebels would dearly love is for a clutch of half a dozen senior ministers of the stature of Jack Straw, to tell Gordon, on behalf of the party, to go quietly. As with Thatcher, this might do the trick, but Gordon might tell them to go stuff themselves and gamble those 71 MPs would not step up to the plate. The next week should reveal the true temper of the party and its degree of courage.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Greed, Ignorance and the Very Well-Off

I've always wanted to use the picture, far left, snapped at Ascot in the 1980s, ever since my racing journalist mate gave it to me years ago. It so perfectly epitomizes the British class system and the expression on the tramp's face says everything a library of sociology books could never quite manage. The appearance of Polly Toynbee's book, has provided the opportunity for me to use the pic and the book's contents certainly deserve some attention.

Toynbee and Walker present their case, basically in the first 35 pages of their book. 'Parental income pretty accurately predicts whether a child will win or lose in life: the more unequally income is, the tighter the link becomes.' And income is distributed more unequally in Britain than anywhere apart from the USA. The top 10% of income earners get 27.3% of the cake; the bottom 10% get 2.6%. In 1988 'the average chief executive of a FTSE company earned 17 times the average employees pay. By 2008 the typical FTSE boss earned 75.5% the average' An ICM poll in February 2008 showed 75% of respondents think the gap between rich and poor is too wide.

Worryingly social mobility seems to have ground to a halt in that the middle classes have ensured the lion's share of the good jobs are occupied either by them or their children. Everyone is now aware of the mega, US-style salaries being earned by top executives, some earning more money than they could ever spend in a lifetime. Toynbee points out that the super-rich can employ super accountants to minimize their tax liabilities. Out of the 54 billionaires living in the UK, thirty two pay no income tax at all and the whole group paid only a tiny fraction of their earnings. Thereby, calculate Toynbee and Walker, the Treasury and the rest of us taxpayers are denied some £12bn a year.

In the next chapter the authors report on two focus group meetings with a clutch of lawyers and bankers on the subject of wealth and poverty. They displayed an astonishing ignorance of salary levels, claiming they were way down the top 10% of earners when they were easily in the top 1%. They also had no idea that 90% of people earn less than £39, 825, the higher tax limit. They seemed locked in a denial that they were even rich in the first place. When questioned on the morality of their high incomes they justified them by citing their extraordinarily hard work and desire to get ahead. They also seemed to accept unquestioningly the 'trickle down' theory, whilst even the Conservatives admit that it's wrong to 'pretend a rising tide raises all boats'. Toynbee and Walker conclude:

'Here were people who may be technically adept, or good at deal making, but as a group-with one or two exceptions- they were less intelligent, less intellectually inquisitive, less knoweldgeable, and, despite their good schools, less broadly educated than high flyers in other professions. With minds this coarse they wouldn't succeed in the higher ranks of the civil service, as heads of hopsital trusts or good comprehensives, nor would they match up to the level of good junior ministers. Most dismaying was their lack of empathy and their unwillingness to contemplate other, less luxurious lives.'

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Is Cameron No More Than a Thatcherite in Disguise?

The Compass pamphlet out today, written by John Cruddas MP, criticises the idea that Cameron can be dismissed as a 'toff' or,in Brown's words, a 'shallow saleman'. Cruddas argues that:

"by jettisoning the language of ethical socialism,[Labour] has lost its capacity to match Cameron's pro-social rhetoric and usurp his claim to value politics. It has become a politics without sympathy, unable to engage with everyday life. In contrast, Cameron's ethical language of social life has resonated amongst many who in the past would never have considered voting for the economic liberalism of Thatcherism."

Stephen Byers, writing in The Guardian agrees the 'toff/shallow salesman' line of attack has no purchase but does argue:

Let us just take one example that goes to the heart of Cameron as a politician and as a party leader: his talk of "achieving progressive goals through Conservative means. Sensibly he hasn't attempted to give any detail as to what this would mean in practice. If he were to do so it would become clear that "Conservative" means simply "cannot deliver the changes necessary to achieve progressive goals. What it does show is that at heart Cameron is an old-style Conservative who is deeply uncomfortable with the state playing any role in our lives.

The distinguished political thinker David Marquand, however, recently added his own analysis on this topic. Recalling that Labour candidates fought the 1950 and 51 elections on the slogan 'Ask your Dad', predicting a return of the Tories would undo Attles's reforms. Yet this was not to be:

"But with trivial modifications, it[the Tory government] left Labour's economic and social legacy in being"

Marquand cites the great Whig/Conservative thinker Edmund Burke, who believed statesmen should: 'combine a "disposition to preserve" with an "ability to improve". He concludes:

'Labour's paladins are barking up precisely the wrong tree in charging him with crypto-Thatcherism. The crystalline, divisive purity of Thatcher's Tory nationalist vision is alien to him. Where she sought to haul the country out of the path it had followed for almost 60 years, Cameron is running with the grain of the troubled times we live in.'

Marquand sounds closer to the truth, for me, than Byers. Cameron's liberal Conservatism is perceived as genuine and attacking him as a hypocrite will win few votes. Instead Labour must contrive to find a message which also conforms with the grain of public thinking but which is fresh and believable. Somehow they must convince voters that they have the potential to govern effectively for another five years. Wish I could be more helpful...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Oh Lor! Palin Proves to be an Asset and not a Liability

When I heard McCain had selected a much younger woman as running mate I wasn't surprised: he needed both youth and gender to help counteract Obama's appeal. Her views on gun control and other bits of the Bushite religious right package seemed to me so appalling they could not be true. Then came the stories about the family and the possible hypocrisy over condemning of lobbying for federal aid when she had done the same when mayor of her home town. It seemed like the Repblicans had not checked her out and, although I hate the mudslinging part of US politics, I was hoping even more would be exposed to make her a liability rather thn an asset.

Yet the convention crowd loved her, especially her defiance of the allegedly liberal media, and my hopes of her negative contribution have now dwindled away. The Republican right love her, I guess, because people like me find her so awful. She balances McCain for them, not because he is old and male but because he is a bit of a maverick and has often flirted with bipartisanship. Some of the stories about her- that she was once a member of an Alaskan independence party and that her latest baby was in reality her daughter's- proved wrong, reinforcing her rants about the leftist media. She is proving, within her own national context, to be a considerable politician.

As Simon Tisdall comments in The Guardian today:

The fact that Palin not only survived this baptism of fire but came out punching, smiling joyously, is worrying for the Democrats. Her evident toughness, her ability to work a crowd, and her unusual line (among American politicians) in sarky, sardonic put-downs are skills likely to impress in the small towns of the battleground states where the McCain campaign plans to send her.

Palin stands as a standard bearer for the reigious right which has by no means gone away in the US, as Stryker McGuire pointed out in The Observer last Sunday. The Democrats lead the Republicans by 12 points in the polls yet Obama and McCain are running nack and neck in the head to head ones with some showing the older man several points in front. With Bush it was the religious right who herded votes into the the ballot boxes; with McCain, it may prove to be the culture wars between the 'liberals' and the religious, anti tax and big government, anti abortion, sexual freedom and gay marriage brigade. God help us if the Republicans get in again, but the bet looks about evens right now.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


Labour in Limbo Over Worst Crisis Since 'Winter of Discontent'

Returning from holiday seems like plunging into a country ravaged by civil war, so desperate and despairing does Labour's plight appear. In fact, I cannot think of a time when the party has been in so dire a situation since the 1978-79 Winter of Discontent. Gordon's 'relaunch', depending on energy companies playing ball with a governbment-led free handout idea, seems to have petered out into a suggestion that we insulate our lofts more effectively. Even during the week of the relaunch, that old warhorse Charles Clarke, upstaged Gordon's speech on the economy by delivering a broadside against him,foreseeing 'disaster' if Brown is left to steward what is left of Labour's time until the next election. His suggestion? Gordon should honourably stand down. As if...

Alistair Darling, too threw in his own unhelpful observation-directly at odds with his boss's more bullish view- that the country faced 'arguably the worst' economic downturn in 60 years(another seventies comparison). Next came the trade unionists, apparently determined to make things even worse with a ferocious attack on David Miliband as a proto Cameron. It just gets worse.

It seems pathetic for a great party like Labour, faced with the humiliating prospect of certain defeat, to be so bereft of answers from within. Even Clarke scuttles away from the suggestion that he might step up to the plate to challenge Brown. The result seems to be a helpless, impotent stasis. As so often on the Labour Party, Andrew Rawnsley in today's Observer gets it about right. His analysis is that, while there is much talk of removing Brown, there is 'no orchestration. There are many potential plotters, but there is no plot'. It seems that during my second half of August holiday, David Miliband's challenge has faded, with few coming forward to pick up the standard of revolt against the failed PM. Which makes David Simpson's scabrous atatck on him seem a little strange.

While it remains the case that a concerted approach of Straw, Hoon, Darling, Smith and Johnson would see him off, there is no collective will to take such a gamble for fear of the possible blood-letting. As Rawnsley notes:

Paralysed between fear of the consequences of moving against him and despair about carrying on with him, the Labour party is imprisoned in the worst of all worlds. It is clear that it ought to make a collective decision either to back its leader or to sack him. It is also clear that it is currently incapable of doing either.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


Canadian Election to test Green Policies of Liberals

With one day to go before heading for the Gatwick jumbo, I thought I'd do a brief post on the upcoming Canadian election. It's not official yet but the campaign is virtually underway. Until arriving in Montreal my knowledge of Canadian politics was limited to knowing that in the 1993 election their Conservatives had been wiped out electorally, managing only two seats. Since then they have recovered and in January 2006, Stephen Harper, their new leader, acceded to the leadership of a minority administration.

This meant accommodating the Liberal opposition and the other two minor parties, but during this summer relations have broken down and Harper decided the only option for him as an election to establish a proper mandate. This went against his previously expressed policy of moving to a fixed term system, but, as we know, politics is always a pragamtic process....

In terms of policies, the contest will be interesting for us as the Liberals, bravely perhaps, have decided to go for a green manifesto. Stephane Dion's Green Shift plan entails a new tax on oil, diesel and all carbon emitting fuels and redistribution of revenue collected (calculated at 15 billion Canadian dollars) in the form of tax cuts for business and individuals. Harper has made is his chief target and in response has spoken glowingly of the economic potential of northern and Arctic Canada which he suggests is ripe for exploitation.

So, this is, I think, the first real electoral test in an industrialised western country, of how genuine its commitment is to green-save- the- planet sentiments. My argument has always been that consumers do not really mean it when they support green arguments: they are too addicted to consuming. My cynical analysis would suggest Harper gets his mandate and Dion, the Liberal leader will be left to lick his virtuous wounds.

So what do the polls say? Well yesterday the Montreal Gazzette ran a poll showing Harper winning 50% of respondents as 'best PM' with Dion polling only 20%. However, while the environment was the key issue for 28% of people, health and the economy were no less salient. This suggests the Liberals might have to fight a personalised campaign to sully Harper's personal suitability, but it's early days in the campaign so far. At least Harper avoided the Gordon Brown error of building up talk for an election and then abandoning the idea with disastrous consquences.

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