Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Didn't he do Badly?

I can't pretend I envied the Coalition government's task back in May 2010. I was kind of relieved that Labour were no longer there under Brown to disappoint, mess up and make me feel bad about being a supporter of his party. It was always going to be a big ask to fulfill his stated aims- and through a mixture of obstinacy, ambition and ignorance, he hasn't disappointed those who said he'd fail. It was so obvious that with an economy as fragile as ours George's cold bath treatment was going to cause the patient to weaken further. And, successive lowering of predicted growth forecasts has proved beyond doubt that his famous Plan A has flushed down the toilet.

We now see economic indicators going south at a tragic rate of knots. Inflation is running at 5.2% so all the tiny increases ordinary folk have managed to gather- as opposed to the 49% the FTSE directors have tucked into their offshore accounts over the last year- have been instantly eroded away. And the resultant lack of growth has produced an additional £158bn borrowing requirement on top of the mountain he faced 18 months ago.

He refused to contemplate a Plan B to stimulate growth and ridiculed the ideas brought forward like investment in infrastructure projects, help for small businesses and so forth. But now, with the economy gurgling down the plug hole, he suddenly discovers these ideas are exactly what wee need. And who will pay for these economic stimulations? The money required will be cut from other parts of the public sector, causing a total of 700,000 job losses by 2015. Cutting of such big slice from the public sector was supposed to stimulate the private sector to grow and produce a slew of new jobs. What happened? Nothing whatsoever- proof of the poverty of Osborne's approach. If he had palns to take over from Dave as PM, he should seriously consider another line of work.

Moreover, instead of removing the deficit by 2015 in time to win the next election, he's had, humiliatingly, to delay his schedule until 2016-7. An age of austerity truly awaits us and George has proved no magician, just a journeyman politico basing his ideas on long forgotten economic thinker- in this case Friedrich Hayek. Had he reduced the size of his cuts, as Darling proposed, the economy would not be in such a parlous state and might even be showing signs of life instead of needing intensive care.

Certainly his focus on reducing the deficit has kept lending rates down to 2.5% instead of Italy and Spain's 7-8% but experts doubt our own rates, based on long term borrowing rather than the short-term Italian variety, would have gone up unacceptably, had Osborne moderated his surgery of the public sector.

All this is bad enough- total humiliating failure- but it is predicated on the assumption that the Euro crisis will clear up and carry on as before. This is by no means likely to be the case. My reading of the euro currency crisis is that Italy might well be left to default and then the brown substance will really hit the fan dragging down UK's economy into a deep recession and an age of austerity stretching into the foreseeable future. What will the voters think in 2015? Not, I suspect what Dave and George and their well heeled mates confidently expected. Cameron will rue the day he put all his trust- and his party's not to mention the nation's future- in Osborne's economic judgement.

Monday, November 28, 2011


It's Beginning to Feel like the seventies and Eighties Again

I'm old enough to remember vividly the endless brinkmanship clashes between the employers-government and the unions forty years ago. We see a battle of strength building up with Prentis suggesting Wednesday might exceed the numbers involved in the 1926 General Strike. On the other side, pixie like Michael Gove suggests a group of militants are leading the rank and file astray.

Well, the BBC Poll today suggests 61 % support the strike, 67% disapprove of the way ministers are handling the economy. If the strike is well supported we could be entering a new era of conflict of the mind the government has been dreading.

The fact is, things are going badly. Despite all his protestations about the efficacy of his austerity strategy, the economy is not automatically responding to cuts in the public sector. The reduction in demand caused by the cuts is leeching life out of the economy and growth projections are constantly being downgraded.

Osborne will announce £30bn worth of infrastructure projects, a final admission that his critics have been right, but too late to revive the economy for 2012. George still has time to turn things around but once his efforts have registered with the public ass ineffectual, his hopes of replacing Dave in 2018 might be over. Apparently his big fear is the Boris will seek election to the Commons in that year and set himself up as Dave's successor. Oh Dear, it's all going pear shaped for him, as some of us predicted it would.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


They're Still At It

In my last post I banged on a bit about the republican tendency to lie and think it's OK to do so. The border between truth and falsehood has become so porous for the US right that they slip to and fro without any twinge of conscience. Chris McGreal's recent report reveals how blatant doctoring of Obama's filmed speeches are being used in TV ads to make it seem like he is saying outrageously self damaging things.

Romney's campaign ad is airing on TV stations in New Hampshire, which holds its primary in January. It shows the president saying: "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."

The ad appears to have the president admitting he is vulnerable on the economy. But Obama's words were from his 2008 campaign, and he was quoting a statement by a strategist for his Republican opponent, John McCain, who was the one on the back foot over the economy.

Perry's ad shows a short soundbite of Obama saying: "We've been a little bit lazy I think over the last couple of decades."

The ad switches to Perry saying: "Can you believe that? That's what our president thinks is wrong with America – that Americans are lazy. That's pathetic."

But a viewing of Obama's full statement shows that he was saying the US government had been lazy in attracting foreign investment.

When challenged on Fox news, itself not above distorting the facts, Perry defended his ad saying : "I think he's talking about Americans … I think that's exactly what he's talking about,"

Darrell West, Director of the respected Brookings Institution gave his explanation why rightwing politicians are apparently ignoring the difference between truth and falsehood:

politicians are less concerned about being exposed by reporters. "Politicians think that the news media have completely collapsed, based on the financial crisis, and so they are acting as if there's no accountability and they can say whatever they want," he said.

"They know the news media don't have the same credibility as they had in the past. They think they can say whatever they want and get away with it."

Monday, November 21, 2011


Republican Candidates Do Not Impress

Back in May Gary Younge observed that to be a credible presidential candidate within the Republican Party meant you had to be too off the wall to hack it with the rest of the voters. His current piece argues that this is still fundamentally the case. He looks at the recent performances of some of the candidates and notes how accuracy and knowledge has been devalued, just as they have in the form of scurrilous ideas about Obama were believed as gospel truth by so many on the US right:

Polls last year showed a majority of Republicans believed Obama was a Muslim and a socialist who "wants to turn over the sovereignty of the United States to a one-world government"; two-thirds either believed or were not sure if the president is "a racist who hates white people", and over half believed or were not sure if "he was not born in the US" and "wants the terrorists to win".

Never mind that the Ground Zero mosque was neither a mosque nor situated at Ground Zero, or that the foreign-born Muslim Obama is actually an American-born Christian. Facts didn't matter, So nor did lies.M

He thinks Herman Cain's disregard for not knowing things is symptomatic of his party as a whole. It doesn't matter if, like most of your voters, you don't know; getting the message, whether right or wrong, practicable or impossible, it doesn't matter. As Romney and Gingrich shed their moderate, sensible views to woo the Tea Partiers, Younge thinks the good, sensible, able candidates are sitting this one out while the GOP undergoes its convulsions. He concludes:

None of this means Republicans cannot win. Incompetence, ignorance and disingenuity are no barriers to elected office. In the only televised debate for the 2010 gubernatorial elections in Arizona, a swing state, the Republican incumbent, Jan Brewer, stopped halfway through her opening statement, stared blankly into the camera, and started giggling. She won by 12 clear points and enjoyed a 19% increase in her vote. Obama sold the nation on hope and has presided over despair. It's because the Republicans have been so dysfunctional that he still has a shot. It's because he has delivered so little that their dysfunctionality may not matter. The stakes are high, the standards are low, and the choice is paltry.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Cameron's Attitude to Integrated Eurozone has Changed

The Euro-sceptic fault-line in the Conservative Party is again causing the Coalition government no end of grief. Cameron is being urged by his gung ho right-wing to repatriate powers from the EU back to London but Merkel and Sarkozy do not want to see a major EU power fragment existing arrangements and maybe encourage others to regard EU powers on a 'pick and mix basis.

Merkel, Sarkozy and the inner eurozone nations are hell bent on forming a much more disciplined inner core. Now not so long ago Cameron and Osborne agreed with such a development in a comment to the Liaison Cmmittee, 6th September. On the same day, Osborne, agreed, saying, “In the eurozone, member countries must follow the remorseless logic of monetary union and make more progress on institutional reform and fiscal integration. This is the only way to convince financial markets that the euro has a stable future,”

However, Cameron seems to have changed his mind and is now intent on avoiding a smaller more integrated euro-zone immune from UK influence. According to the London Evening Standard, the government's position has changed. It now:

"fears the formal "two-tier" EU Britain and is trying to avoid it is trying to avoid, for fear of being left outside key decision making in the non-eurozone margins British ministers are convinced a two-tier system, splitting the 17 eurozone member from the other 10, is unworkable, particularly the setting up of a separate treaty, European court and even a European parliament "second chamber" with legislative powers, as suggested by Paris.

"The pattern of relationships in the EU is much more complex than the model of two tiers suggests," said one government source. Neither the 17 in the eurozone nor the other 10 are monolithic or cohesive blocks - there are different constellations of relationships."

Britain is also dead set against the Tobin tax, unlike Gordon Brown who favoured it. Certainly it would raise millions but when 30% of financial transactions take place in London this might cause business to divert to other centres, to the UK's disadvantage.

In the event, the outcome of the meeting has proved a stalemate which will please nobody, especially Cameron's rabid right-wing who will gnash their teeth over his failure to extract concessions from what they view as a weakened EU leadership.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


A Bleak Prognosis for Post Crisis World

The philosopher, John Gray wrote an influential book on the decline of capitalism (False Dawn: the Delusions of Global Capitalism) which assesses the destruction wrought on capitalism by the recent economic storms. His article in today's Guardian rehearses some of its not too reassuring themes.

Based on economic theories that left out human beings, the global free market was supposed to be self-regulating. Now a process of disintegration is under way, in which the structures set up in the post-cold-war period are visibly breaking up

Rather like Marx, he suggests free market capitalism was always going to produce excesses which the world's vestigial controls could not accommodate. In USA the gross inequalities are exposed of of the super-rich and immiserating social strata propped up by a growing underclass. In Europe the awkward looping together of heterogenous economies into a false unity has resulted in near collapse and growing austerity measures are making things even worse.

Gray does not see any revival of totalitarian systems of government but fears that the scapegoating of minorities which so often happens in hard economic times, might well create destructive conflict. He also warns that:

With the rise of trigger-happy politicians like Mitt Romney and the need for Obama to act tough, it would be unwise to rule out the prospect of another major war.

The worry is t hat there is no institution with sufficient authority to frame the necessary reforms. Even the relative unity of Europe cannot, it would appear, save its unraveling. Gray's diagnosis is not optimistic, but he thinks the critique of the Occupy protesters is more profound than is widely perceived:

The demands of the Occupy movement may be inchoate, or else conflicting. But it is not the protesters who threaten the world economy. The danger comes from denying the fact of systemic crisis. By trying to prop up a system that is chronically dysfunctional, our rulers are making a cataclysmic collapse more likely. So far in Britain only Ed Miliband has acknowledged the importance of the Occupy movement. It should be a warning to the entire political class. The people camped outside St Paul's may have no clear solutions. But it is they – not ruling elites in thrall to a defunct market utopia – who are engaging with reality.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Theresa Faces Difficult Week

Since my post yesterday it seems Silvio has had to accept the early bath; condign punishment for his absurd, shameful buffoonish behaviour and clear economic incompetence. As for Theresa may, she faces un uncertain future. Peter Oborne, a heavy hitting right-wing columnist in the Telegraph today lays into her with gusto. Recalling how Lord Carrington honourably resigned over something not his fault Oborne comments:

Compare and contrast the exemplary conduct of Lord Carrington with the wretched, self-serving and disreputable behaviour of Theresa May. For the past week, Mrs May has had only one objective: survival. In her desperate and apparently unscrupulous concern to save her own skin, she has tried to pass the blame on to more vulnerable people.

He goes on to condemn her blaming of a civil servant as 'despicable' and a violation of the contract between ministers and civil servants which is the foundation of day to day British government. He concludes:
A number of old-fashioned types will take the view that Mrs May should have followed the honourable example set by Lord Carrington 30 years ago, and shouldered responsibility for her own department. Reluctantly, however, I would concede that the high standards of those days are not going to return.
But that does not mean that Mrs May is safe in her job. Next Tuesday, Brodie Clark, who is now liberated to speak in public without fear or favour, having resigned from the Civil Service, will give his own account of events. Meanwhile, the Home Secretary can be forced to release the essential documents that will reveal the truth about this sad business. If it emerges that she acted unfairly towards Mr Clark, then the Prime Minister must be prepared to sack Mrs May.

Cameron has spoken up for her and it would be a huge blow for him to lose her, but for a Telegrph op-ed piece to flay her like this, is a bad sign. I'm beginning to think the odds are shifting on her future quite rapidly. Brodie Clark will have his day in front of a select committee next week and won't hold back after the drubbing Theresa has meted out to0 save her own skin.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


Two Politicians Under Threat

Another scandal, another Tory Politician in the headlights. May's ompetence has been questioned in the past and this time it's squarely in her area of responsibility. She claims the relaxation of procedures to filter into the country only those people deemed acceptable was part of a pilot plan which her head of Border Force Brodie Clark relaxed further without ministerial approval. Clark's union, the elitist First Division Association protests he has been wrongly treated.

Stand-off for the time being. Cameron has expressed his full confidence, but it's only recently he did the same regarding Liam Fox, so we have to recognise Mrs May is under the cosh for the present. I always cite Alastair Campbell's dictum that if no new revelations have come out regarding a scandal within 12 days, the minister is safe.

The real problem with these situations are the memos which are mysteriously leaked. If Theresa has signed a minute approving extension of the so-called pilot scheme and it's leaked she can clear her desk at once. But I get the feeling she'll survive on this challenge to probably the most accident prone senior job in government.

As for Silvio, I've always had a soft spot for him. He is so much the macho Italian alpha male, he is almost endearing. Italian voters have loved him in the past but now the bond markets say he must go if Italy is to keep on borrowing to survive, I think he'll have to stand down. News from Rome, suggests he will do this. 17 years in power is not bad for a man who started off in life as a crooner on a cruise ship.

Thursday, November 03, 2011


How the Mighty have Fallen

I remember when wikileaks first hit the headlines, apparently on the side of truth and transparency and against the malign and shady activities of governments keen to keep us all in the dark. It was a popular cause on the left, and in parts of the right too. He was greeted in lefty, liberal Sweden like a hero. Aftonbladet published an interview which marvelled:

"To meet Julian Assange is a bit like meeting James Bond. The man behind WikiLeaks has no public background. His name is spelled in different ways. His age is uncertain. He has no fixed address. No one has seen him in the hotel where he is staying, and when we finally meet he suddenly appears half a metre in front of me."

But then came the rape allegations and Julian's response to them. I have to say I thought they were a bit dodgy at first and blogged, I seem to recall, about him being persecuted merely for having the habit of promiscuity. Well, that might have been a tiny bit true, even in liberal Sweden and it is the case that Sweden's laws are not like our own, (though who knows, they might become so one day). Julian was terrified the Swedes were in the pocket of the CIA and muttered darkly for anyone to hear that maybe these two women were secret agents of that unwholesome institution. His fear was that the Swedes would extradite him to USA where he might face awfully punitive consequences for placing US agents and soldiers in danger This did not go down well in Sweden, which is very proud of being free and independent of any power block, especially the one led by the USA.

Then came the inexplicable spat with the Guardian, the paper who had supported him hitherto. The argument between this new hero of the left and the staff of the left's most distinguished media mouthpiece, was not edifying. We began to wonder if Jules might just be a bit too full of himself, a bit too arrogant, not to say paranoid to boot.

Then came the drama of his autobiography, for which he had received a thumping great advance which he had promptly spent, not on women but more likely on legal expenses. This ghost written book he decided was not worthy of him and disowned it but the publisher, keen to pull in some income from the lost advance, went ahead and published it. So far few copies have sold.

Reviews were not all bad, I was surprised to discover but Rod Liddle in the ST articulated a view which was gaining currency. He wrote:

"most entertaining section of the book … comes with his uncomfortable alliances with the mainstream media, most notably the Guardian and the New York Times. In both cases the relationship broke down, the Guardian making the crucial error, in Assange's view, of bothering to consider the possible outcomes of publishing secret, stolen material (such as people being shot, stuff like that)."

Kevin Donion in Scotland on Sunday was more outspoken::

"Gone is the reflective and well-crafted reminiscence, as the narrative adopts a manner which is raw, condemnatory and, perhaps inescapably, self-pitying … The final few pages consist of short-sentence rants. And then it stops … Infuriatingly then, this inside account fails to capture the significance of WikiLeaks, even if it gives a troubling insight into the current mindset of Julian Assange."

Within a very short time, as observed byKarin Olsson today, this darling of the leftwing broadsheets and student politicians had moved 'from hero to zero'. Or to quote Olsson:

He has changed in a year from the James Bond of the internet to a paranoid chauvinist pig.

It remains to be seen, now his appeal against extradition has failed, how he will fare in the country he has so badmouthed and insulted.

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