Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Hypocrisy of Coalition Government

Private Eye frequently nails topics so effectively and it's often months until the mainstream press catchup: as on PFI (see page 3 of current issue) and the hacking scandal. The satiricaljournal often descends to the sort of petty character assassination of which it accuses others but usually it's on the side of truth and decency in its news reports. The itemI'd like to quote though relates to goverment attitudes towards the bankers and rioters and the contradictory approaches taken in relation totheir misdeeds.

'Those who make the wrong decision, engage in criminality, must be identified, arrested and punished, and we will make sure of that.'

11 August. Home secretary Theresa May outlines her no nonsense approach to criminal justice.

'The United Kingdom further states that the criminal prosecution of bank employees due to participationin tax offences is highly unlikely.'

23 August. Clause in UK-Swiss tax deal agreed with CVhancellor George Osborne, proving there's one set of laws for Britain's teenage miscreants and another for bankers.

Monday, August 29, 2011


What on earth is Sally Bercow Up To?

I really wonder what Sally Bercow is up to. This article by Carol Sarler gets to the root of the problem she poses. Doing that near naked shot in a sheet and giving the interview about how she used to binge drink and then sleep with men she picked up in bars is one thing, but appearing on a down market reality show was taking it more than a bit too far. Two reasons stand out why she should not have done all this.

Firstly she has no real accomplishment to trade in exchange for celebrity- no skill like a sportsperson or an actor-merely the fact, as Sarler points out, that she is married to someone important. Other women take this route- footballers wives, or those, like poor Jade Goody, who only notable skill was to be totally devoid of any. Surely this is not somethjing any self respecting or intelligent woman should do?

Secondly, I know she is a bit of a rebel, but does she not owe her husband some loyalty for being his partber and for being the beneficiary of the goodlife he has bestowed upon her? It is patently clear John Bercow is mortified by his wife's antics and yet she is now apparently angling to do the jungle based celebrity equivalent.

Why does he put up with it? Call me an old pub bore chauvinist but I think it's because she is very, very sexy and has given him the best sex he's ever had or, is ever likely to get. Well, what other explanation fits the facts?

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Is ian Hislop to Blame for Cynicism Towards Politicians?

Martin Kettle in today's paper, suggests cheeky chappie Ian Hislop is themost influential journalist in the country. He asks what:

is Hislop's principal message? Week in and week out, it is that most pretty much all politicians are corrupt, deluded, incompetent, second-rate and hypocritical. Hislop's message is delivered with enviable deftness and wit, and very often it is irresistible. But it is also good-naturedly merciless. And extremely repetitive. There is never any sign that Hislop allows of exceptions; or that he has a political hero; or even, with the occasional honourable mention for Vince Cable, that there are politicians whom he respects. The impression he always gives is that today's politicians are uniformly unworthy of their inheritance, not to be compared with some previous golden age of statesmanlike effectivenes.

I tend to agree with this though reject the suggestion Hislop is most to blame for this widespread attitude. Cynicism towards politicians is healthy up to a point as the alternative, naivety, can be fatal. Democracy is an imperfect system but it is a prize worth rubies compared with someof the alternatives. British politicians have shown themselves to be venal, selfish and dissembling onmany occasions but we have also produced scrupulously honest MPs and ministers who have done their best for their country.

It's all a little reminiscent of the debate provoked by John Lloyd's book, Whatthe Media are Doing to our Politics (2004) which discussed the tendency of the media as a whole, not just Ian Hislop, to demonise politicians ands propogate the idea that ll politicians are lying cheating bastards. My own experience is that most politicians enter politics with a genuine desire to make a difference and most of them maintain that desire for most of their careers. I'm thinking people like Tony Wright and Chris Mullin, (whose wonderful third volume of diariesis just out). It's the awful legacy of th likes of David Chaytor and Elliot Morley that has done so much recent damage.

The fact is politicians are not so very different from any of us-trying to do their best but vulnerable to mistakes and occasionally, to temptation too. And if wwe have no faith in them, we are voting no confidence in our society as a whole and discouraging future generations from shouldering the crucial burden of making our democracy work.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Toppling Gaddafi has- so far- been Worth the Effort

[This post a day late as I've encountered technical problems getting access to Blogger.] I was struck yesterday by the piece by Simon Jenkins who argues the apparent 'victory' in Libya was not justified by the cost. Jenkins is a superb columnist whom I greatly respect but I fear he writes some odd columns from time to time. I recall the astonishing piece last September when he urged the abandonment of the complete defence budget.

It seems to me however that the Libyan action was fully justified. Intervening when you can, as Blair argued in his Chicago speech in 1999, must surely be justified to get rid of a murderous dictator; just as it was with Milosevic. And did we not 'intervene', too late of course, in the wholly justifiable cause of Poland in 1939?

So far it really does seem as if NATO, at Cameron and Sarkozy's prompting, has succeeded in getting rid of Gaddafi but the crucial period in the operation is now, according to Allegra Stratton in today's Guardian. She makes clear how central to the Libyan episode Ed Llewellyn, Cameron's chief of staff has been. He used to work for Paddy Ashdown in Bosnia and is well aware of the danger of allowing lawlessness to take hold once the fighting is over. As long as the post conflict phase is managed properly, I think Libya will go down as a good example of assisting an oppressed people to be free. It was a gamble for Cameron but, with good political management from now on, it should now come off and buttress his claim to re-election when he faces accountability in 2015.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Blair-Cameron Argument Not Really an Argument

Seems to me the debate between Cameron and his role model, Blair, is a bit silly as both analyses are correct. Cameron says in The Sunday Express:

"The greed and thuggery we saw during the riots did not come out of nowhere, there are deep problems in our society that have been growing for a long time: a decline in responsibility, a rise in selfishness, a growing sense that individual rights come before anything else."

Of course it's easy to take the 'moral crusade' line when you don't want to spend any more money. One is reminded of the old saw, 'Fine words butter no parsnips'. Blair on the other hand argues that this 'trashes our reputation abroad':

ritain, as a whole, is not in the grip of some general 'moral decline'," Blair wrote. Young people now were generally more respectable, more responsible and more hard-working than they were when he was young, he said.

"Instead, the rioting was mainly caused by "the group of young, alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour". Blair said that his government developed specific policies to deal with these people and that they required intervention "literally family by family and at an early stage, even before any criminality had occurred".

Well, it seems obvious to me that both approaches are correct and necessary, but the most sensible one, likely to deliver results, is the Blair analysis. I heard a columnist, Jo Phillips, rubbish Blair's intervention as 'all about me, me, me.' which I think is unfair. Blair was very concerned about about anti-social behaviour and it's natural he should want to say something about it after the riots. In any case Cameron had already pledged to use intervention to 'improve the lives of 120,000 problem families by 2015.

Another shrewd analysis is offered by Jackie Ashley today when she wonders if the riots have not pushed a natural middle roader, like Cameron, into a more Thatcherite direction? She cites a 'triple whammy' attack upon social stability:

"There is a squeeze and a crack-down on the poorest – many, I admit, now culturally hostile to work and social order. Meanwhile, we are cutting government spending radically, and at the same time we face economic stagnation. This is an awesome triple whammy. It has an ugly potential to further divide us, and it is going to dominate the rest of the life of the coalition."

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Real Cause of Social Unrest To Be Found In Early Stage Development

Rightwing columnists have had a field day during the riots. Melanie Phillips opines, that 'most of the' rioters were products of single mother parents. Max Hastings that 'they are essentially wild beasts' while the tender hearted Richard Littlejohn wanted to know why the police were not 'clubbing these looters like baby seals.' I agree the looters shamed the nation but I think these columnists shamed it just as much. Closer to the truth and the key area of concern was Anushka Asthana in The Times yesterday.

Her view is that we are likely to suffer riots every decade or so as the children of former rioters hit the streets; its a 'cycle of deprivation and dysfunction.' And so much of it begins when the mind is not fully sentient but when the human state is just a mass of feelings and impressions. Even after 22 months the life chances of deprived children begin to decline compared with middle class ones whose toddlers are exposed to four times the number of words as their poorer counterparts. Professor Melhuish of Birkbeck College reports that whether or not parents spend time with their babies or not- reading stories, singing songs- has a 'huge impact on their adult lives'.

Ashtana reports on programmes piloted in Washington involving early stage intervention which have saved huge expenditure in likely costs later on. The return on such programmes as Sure Start and Family Nurse Partnerships in Nottingham (providing one on one intensive support for single mothers from the moment they become pregnant) is startlingly cost-effective. Local MP Graham Allen claims the latter city spent £700,000 on FNP services to 250 mothers, the same cost as placing three 16 year olds in a secure unit for a year.

Treating the symptoms when outbreaks of disorder occur is not substitute for aiming at the causes. That has always been the difference between right and left approaches to social policy and, despite the Lib Dems presence in government, I have no confidence this basically right-wing outfit will do anything different.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


At Last, the Smoking Gun Does for the Murdochs

Well, we all knew the truth but we couldn't prove it, until now. The 2007 letter from Clive Goodman to News of the World executives appealing against his dismissal makes it clear: he hacked phones with the approval of senior executives; the person who p[aid Glen Mulcaire is named- though redacted for the time being; he was promised his job back after serving his time as long as he kept his mouth shut. No more incrimninating piece of evidence could have been unearthed as a result of the select committee's digging, for which this investigation is a triumph.

Brian Cathcart, professor of journalism at Kingston University picks out the bones of the latest revelation, predicting James Murdoch cannot survive it and pointing out:

As for James Murdoch, he is haunted now by 10 words he uttered to MPs, which he will now have to defend: "No, I was not aware of that at the time. He was telling Watson he was unaware of the famous "for Neville" email at the time he authorised a half-million-plus payment to Gordon Taylor in 2008 to withdraw his legal case about hacking and remain silent. That email offered – on any normal reading – firm evidence that Goodman had not been the only News of the World reporter involved in illegal hacking.

Almost certainly, some of these once limo transported executives will be contemplating terms in the slammer, both for their law-breaking, and, as is so often the case, for their subsequent incompetent cover- ups.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Inequality at Root of Rioting Tendency

There is much discussion about the cause of the riots. Rightwing analyses focus on the 'criminality' and dismiss there might be any mitigating context in which such terrible crimes could be committed. Gaby Hinsliff points out that Britain is far from 'broken':

It's a country where people are living longer and feeling healthier, where household wealth doubled between 1987 and 2009; crime is at a historic low, divorce rates falling, abortion rates, too.

Yet we cannot explain what has happened in our inner cities and Tory MPs are slavering for a tough response to exact revenge on a collection of 'feral rats' as the rioters were characterised; round them up in Wembley Stadium was one, chuck them out of their council flats was another or stop their benefits. Yet none of these public spirited rightwingers care to mention the widespread looting of the economy which was conducted by the bankers causing the recession after 2008 or the expenses fiddling by MPs either. Peter Oborne provides a timely reminder of this fact for his rightwing audience when he points out that the moral decay is just as bad at the top of society as at the botton At least some of the latter have been banged up; not one banker has paid any price as yet, and Sir Fred Goodwin, emerged more or less unscathed.

Now if you are an ill educsted unemployed youth from a broken home-i.e. classic underclass- and you daily see images broadcast to you of such felonies occurring with no penalties paid together with a flood of images of all the things which are deemed essential by young people- designer clothes and trainers, mobile phones-then I think I can almost begin to understand the mindset of some of them. It doesn't justify violent rioting and pillaging, but it does enable us to get closer to the context in which these events took place.

The Observer editorial called for 'a new ethic of responsibility', a kind of moral renaissance to recover from the depths to which we recently sunk. I'm sure this is necessary but who knows how to achieve this? Exhortation won't do it and our political elite is too complicit in the system to effect the wholesale restructuring of society that the newspaper reckons is required:

Blaming a "mindless minority" of thugs for scenes that shocked the world and confounded our idea of what England is and how it works is not good enough. The looters and arsonists must be charged and convicted. But we must resist any attempt to create an enemy within dealt with by a more politicised police force. Instead the rest of us must attempt to make sure that never again will people feel such contempt for the communities they live in. In the battle to restore England's tattered social fabric, we really are all in it together.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Why Our Young People Riot

'There exists in Britain an underclass which does not exist anywhere in Europe. White, little educated, without any means of social evolution, they are a perfect example of the results of Anglo-Saxon capitalism and its dehumanizing programme. The English perversion is to make this population proud of their misery and their ignorance.' [ confession: didn't translate- was quoted in Guardian yesterday].

I reread it and realised I more or less agree with it. You can't say our economic system has a 'programme' per se, but it has a series of virtually predictable consequences. You can't say our underclass is proud of its 'misery' but my brief experiences in secondary school teaching suggest to me a fair proportion of kids at least affect to despise study; e.g sabotaging attempts by the rest of the class to study and comments like: 'I don't want to end up as a geek'.

But it's true that Germany, France, Italy and Spain, not to mention Scandinavian countries, appear not to have any comparable almost immovable mass of a working class seemingly indifferent to education and training containing a substantial sliver unafraid to transgress the law or wider rules of social behaviour.

Having watched the debate today I think Cameron did well, as he usually does on these set piece occasions. The worst of the rioting appears to be over now that London has been calmed and Dave is well placed to claim he has been the b ringer of peace, law and order. The real problems will soon be forgotten, mores the pity, until the next outbreak of rioting.

Monday, August 08, 2011


I Fear This Could Be Just the Start of It

'The riot was a symptom of there being something really wrong with our society. We smashed our own community up, we destroyed our own homes. There had to be something wrong.'

Comment from one Leroy Cooper. A Tottenham rioter? No, he was involved in the 1981 Toxteth riots which moved Michael Heseltine to submit that paper to the Cabinet suggesting special funds to develop inner city Liverpool.

Writing today's Guardian Dave Hill reckons similar explosions could easily happen in a dozen other London boroughs. High youth unemployment, particularly within ethnic minorities, declining youth services and a dearth of new vacancies characterise many areas of the capital, and for that matter, other big cities like Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham.

Given this 'tinderbox' quality it does not need much, as we saw back in the early 1980s for it all to kick off. It seems groups of disaffected youth are just a twitter message away from filling up their milk bottles with petrol, grabbing a baseball bat and a supermarket trolley and heading off to the latest trouble spot to harass the police and loot a few shops. And the recent cuts by the Coalition government are only just beginning to bite; when they do I fear we can expect nights like those over the weekend to become commonplace.

Sunday, August 07, 2011


Why Do We Respect the Ratings Agencies?

Will the world economy be likely to assist recovery of the UK economy? Well, there is quite a bit of slack to make up. Our economy shrank by 6.4% from January 2008 and December 2009. Since then it has managed just 2.2%. Whilst Germany's economy and even the faltering US one have recovered to 2008 levels, we are still languishing at 4% behind that benchmark.

And ONS figures show we are now flat-lining, teetering on the brink of the dreaded double dip. Unfortunately, while sterling has fallen by 25% in value, the markets we usually serve, rich developed ones, are struggling, making our plight even worse. And on top of that we see the euro-zone crisis, locked in indecision at government level, and the loss by the USA of its triple A credit rating. So I was struck by the piece by Mehdi Hasan who questions why we should be in such thrall to these self appointed, non accountable credit agencies.

In recent weeks, we have witnessed elected leaders in the world's most powerful nation dancing to the tune of David Beers. He's the moustachioed, chain-smoking head of sovereign credit ratings for S&P, the largest and arguably most influential member of the big three. "You may have never heard of David Beers but every finance minister in the world knows of him," noted Reuters in a recent – and rare – profile of the analyst, who doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. It is Beers who recently downgraded Greece's credit rating to near-junk status, thereby making the EU's proposed rescue plan much more difficult. And it is Beers who now demands the US reduce its long-term budget deficit by $4tn – rather than the congressionally approved $2.4tn – and threatens to impose the first-ever US government downgrade, from AAA to AA. It isn't just the Tea Party holding the US to ransom.

He argues that national economies should ignore these bodies, who, after all, did much to cause the 2008 crisis by giving their coveted triple A rating to all those derivatives which proved so worthless and highly toxic. Hear, hear.

Friday, August 05, 2011


Where is Gordon When We Need Him?

Anyone who has read this blog in the past two or three years will know I'm no fan of Gordon Broon. The book of his time in power by Lodge and Seldon- Brown at Number 10- did a little to ameliorate my view though the current one by Jonathan Powell -The New Machiavelli- is brutally critical of the former Chancellor and PM. Yet maybe such criticism ignores his greatest contribution to British and world politics?

Every economist and columnist seems to be saying in respect of the current crisis that the banks are in much better shape for this one but we are still teetering on the edge of the precipice because of the total lack of political leadership offered by EU leaders and by Obama who is seen as having mishandled his own debt problem.
Maybe this is all fair comment but it cannot be denied that in autumn 2008, it was Brown, who, suddenly shedding his characteristic caution, boldly provided the lead which other countries followed.

And finally, I am very sympathetic to politicians who often work 18 hour days, who choose to take proper holidays in the summer- its good for them, their families, and ultimately the county itself. But for Cameron and Osborne both to be away at this time of peril is not good politics at all.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011


Why Can't Governments do IT?

The NHS IT scandal is one which never fails tom take away one's breath. The idea was to create a nationwide system of computerised records for the 55 million NHS patients. According to the Public Accounts Committee, the project, despite costing nearly £12bn and already nine years in, is 'unable to demonstrate' any benefit to the taxpayer.

It seems shed-loads of cash were spent on consultants. Apart from straightforward incompetence BT, one of the contractors involved was selling systems to NHS sites for £9m while hospitals were receiving the same kit for only £2m.

It's so strange as when I visit my GP he is able to check my records- formerly contained in a fat buff envelope- on his computer screen; so why can't all these GP systems be linked up? Moreover, when a huge store like Tesco can track tins how many tins of salmon are held in stores in Edinburgh or Manchester, why on earth can't a hugely funded national system of patient records be constructed? One of the reasons i never supported an identity cards system was because I feared a similar humungous cock-up would be made of the related IT systems.

Monday, August 01, 2011


Oh Boy! Rightwinger's Damascene Conversion?

I was so gobsmackingly delighted to read this quotation today by super dry Tory Charles Moore in a Guardian piece entitled, astonishingly, 'I am beginning to think the left might be right':

"The rich run a global system that allows them to accumulate capital and pay the lowest possible price for labour. The freedom that results applies only to them. The many simply have to work harder, in conditions that grow ever more insecure, to enrich the few."

Well, it's what always has seemed the case to me Charles and I can only applaud the fact you've at last seen the light. I would also hope that Moore opposes the suggestion by George Osborne that the 50p tax rate on those earning over £150K a year should be abolished as the ST leader demanded yesterday. Danny Alexander has rightly called this idea 'cuckoo':

The idea that we're going to somehow shift our focus to the wealthiest in the country at a time when everyone's under pressure is just in cloud cuckoo land," the chief secretary to the Treasury told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1.

Vince cable, weighed in reinforcingly:

Cable told the Independent on Sunday: "It would be politically inconceivable for government to take some of the tax pressure off high earners at a time when people on low pay are suffering public sector pay restraint and cuts in real incomes because of high commodity prices."

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