Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Hester and Goodwin Won't Draw Line Under Bonuses and High Pay

One cannot feel much sympathy for guys rich enough to buy all the property one can see in all my local estate agents offices combined, when the average age of first time buyers is heading towards 40. But Fred Goodwin, as we- not to mention Fred- must now call him, has suffered a humiliation usually reserved for criminals; yet he has broken no law.

Hester, we learn was, like Fred, a gifted comprehensive school boy who just had loads of talent at banking and did a remarkable job at RBS in clearing up the mess Fred had created. Hester was entitled by his contract to a bonus but it was discretionary, as Lord Myners, who wrote it, tells us. Maybe, by the standards of his peers, Hester has not been paid such a huge amount. By any other standard he has though. We have also to acknowledge that Hester has drawn nearly £12m from RBS since 2008 and a long term pay deal in the works might soon deliver him a further £8m.

These sums were conceived when banks still thought they were entitled to continue with their mega-wage culture but since then the cuts have bitten; people has grown angry and bitter. Politicians have noticed the change of mood and are reacting to it at last. The two bankers have both been scapegoated to a degree, but they have received no more than recipients of such huge socially unjust salaries deserve.

In the political game on 'reforming capitalism' this set must go to Miliband; he launched the line of thought with his 2011 conference speech and has been effective in pursuing the RBS bonus issue, finally precipitating Hester's decision to forego his bonus. Cameron and Osborne have both seemed reluctant to move by comparison and Ed has chalked up a small but significant victory, for which I say at least two cheers. And it won't end here. Bonuses to other RBS staff are due in the near future and Cameron will find he faces the same dilemma all over again. Moreover, other mega-bonus payments to the likes of Bob Diamond are also hanging fire. Creating a 'fair' form of capitalism for the 21st century might prove to be the theme which Ed Miliband can both build on and from which he can prosper.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Obama Must Be Loving prospect of Newt as Opponent

Being a political junkie/anorak, I love election contests and the Republican candidates for the presidency are putting on a great show. That most unlikely candidate, Newt Gingrich, won South Carolina, thus upsetting the assumed lordly progression of Mitt Romney towards the big fight with Obama in November.

I say unlikely because a) he looks much odder than Ed Miliband- yet, like Robin Cook, has attracted three wives and at least a couple of extra-marital affairs. b) his personality has not exactly impressed his colleagues. He rose to be a formidable Republican politician in the 1990s as speaker of the House of Representatives. In 1994 he helped write the Contract with America which detailed then ten policies the party would introduce during its first 100 days if successful; this included lowering taxes and shrinking the state as well as reforming welfare. But Gingrich can be argumentative and irascible and fell out with colleagues. He lost the Speakership in 1998. He has married three times and his first wife accused him of divorcing her when she was in hospital with cancer.

In the mid-1990s, Gingrich began an affair with House of Representatives staffer Callista Bisek, who is 23 years his junior. They continued their affair(hypocritically by Newt, who played the morality card against Clinton) during the Lewinsky scandal. In 2000, Gingrich married Bisek shortly after his divorce from second wife Ginther.

Having trounced Romney in the last round, Newt is riding high in the Florida polls. It seemed his fortunes changed when he exploded in the last primary's televised debate and attacked the 'liberal' media for focusing on his unorthodox emotional history. Apart from being the most monstrous example of the pot calling the kettle black- what about Fox News and the shameless lies about Obama's birth and religion?-Newt cannot think he has laid this to rest- in the real thing he can expect an infinitely more merciless examination.

Moreover, the Tea Party, so effective in winning more seats in the Mid Terms, will surely serve Newt ill in the big contest, should he make the final. Newt is so far to the right his views will be exposed as out of step with mainstream voters. Obama, who has certainly underachieved in his first term, will, I suspect, have another four years to make amends. But, a small voice whispers, we never thought Obama would make it back in 2008 and just as he caught the imagination of voters back then, who is to say Gingrich might not succeed this time? But the odds must be against this. However, in this volatile contest, Newt's early lead seems to have evaporated and Romney now seems the firm favourite. Either way Obama can still sleep soundly for a while longer.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Ed Has Better Days to Come

It seems like nothing is going right for Ed Miliband. In the national polla. the ST showed Tories on 41 and Labour on 36. Even the poor old Nick Clegg's party on 9% could not distract the media from focusing on poor old Ed. Asked whether he was doing 'well or badly', a heart sinking 86% answered the latter with 65% saying he is not the best leader for Labour. Moreover, one BBC interviewer recently asked him if he was too ugly to be a party leader. Now this used to be said about Herbert Hoover, had he been standing in modern elections and, famously, Robin Cook was deemed to look too much like a garden gnome to become Labour leader (not that it seemed to reduce his attractiveness to women, but that's another story).

His former 'guru, Maurice Glasman has criticised Ed recently for having "no strategy, no narrative and no energy" Given that politics is now so presidential and
so dependent on charismatic leaders, these indicators are not just disappointing, they are dire indeed. Yet Ed was right on phone hacking, made a valid distinction between 'predatory' and 'producer' capitalism at his party conference which Cameron, Cable and Clegg have sidled up to and quietly appropriated. The problem is the public either don't notice or don't care. Should Labour begin to look for another leader?

It's a long and often bloody process, selecting for another leader in the Labour Party, or any party for that matter. And the public are turned off even more by the inevitable sniping and feuding such contests produce. But even after only 16 months I still think it is too early to jettison this calm, courageous, bright young man.

Even Tory Mathew Parris says in last Saturday's Times that:

'attacks on (Ed) are cruelly overdone. Mr Milband may not set the Thames on fire, but he isn't crazy and he isn't wicked and the public may yet warm to his quiet intelligence and essential moderation.'

Parris goes on to suggest that the union attacks precipitated by Ed's acceptance of the government's cuts programme, offers a golden opportunity for Miliband, a Clause Four' moment whereby he can illustrate his fighting spirit and independence by en ding the link between his party and the unions. Sounds good Mathew, but only two tiny flaws in your argument. Firstly, Labour was born out of the trade union movement and ending the link would be much more controversial and fratricidal than rewriting Clause Four. Secondly it would remove the party's chief source of funding, which would surely cause the whole party to founder. Disingenuous Mathew? Seems a bit like it. But on Ed's looks... well, I'm no kind of expert, but I would have said he's quite a good looking guy, certainly more so than smoothichops Etonian Cameron.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Hint of Daylight on Clocks Going Back?

Readers of this blog will know of my passion to change the practice of losing the hour in winter which we have mistakenly followed ever since the trial period back in 1968-71. An article today updates the situation regarding the bill proposed by Conservative MP Rebecca Harris and backed up staunchly by the Lighter Latercampaign.

The devolved assemblies are being consulted about the possibility of a three year trial to test the alternative. Various arguments are adduced:

These include the creation of up to 80,000 leisure and tourism jobs, lower electricity bills, fewer accidents, lower carbon emissions, reduced fear of crime and more sports participation in the evenings. Supporters also argue Britons will be happier, with fewer people suffering seasonal affective disorder

Moving forward an hour would remove us of Greenwich Mean Time but bring us into line with most of the rest of Europe. So many bodies, connected with Tourism, health, motoring, sport and, significantly the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, have now come on board to support the move.

Over 100 MPs debated and voted in favour of the Bill at the second reading. At the forthcoming third reading on 20 January a majority vote is required and at least 100 MPs must be present for the Bill to pass.

It's so much like commonsense, one's cynical side doubts it will be adopted simply for this reason. But the signs, for once, seem auspicious. My main fear is that with the Coalition desperate to spike SNP guns on independence, that this potentially emotive issue for northern Scots, will lead the government to squash the idea.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I think Dave is Right On This Happiness Thing

God knows, it's hard to say it, but I agree with David Cameron. Not on everything of course, but specifically that a General Wellbeing Index is of more significance than a GDP one. A recent report by right-wing think-tank, the IEA, suggests that the only thing that will make people more happy is more money, so attempts to compile a happiness index are a waste of time. Dominic Lawson, as one might expect, chips in to agree. The whole idea was to debunk what the right derisively label the 'touchy feely' brigade's notion that there is more to life than making money. Even though Cameron's study to gauge national happiness will cost only £2m, this is thought to be a complete waste of time and money by such critics.

I'm not so sure. Richard Layard's study of Happiness several years ago now, suggested that above a minimum amount required to live like most other people- he suggested £25K a year- increases in happiness do not correlate positively with increasing levels of prosperity. Our living experience surely tells us that while our wealth has trebled or more since the 1950s, we are nowhere near three times happier. Moreover, the media provides us with abundant evidence, in the form of celebrity depression, drug addiction and suicides, that plentiful supplies of moolah are no guarantee of a life lived happily. Most studies of well being reveal the country where people are happiest is Denmark, a country characterised for many by socio-econmic equality and rejection of crude materialism.

The IEA purports to show that the richer a country is, the happier it becomes.I can see that data might be assembled to prove this argument but there is another consideration. This is that finite resources dictate that continuing our pell-mell pursuit of wealth creates an immovable imperative: it will eventually leave a husk of a planet, of no use to anyone, whether a brilliant entrepreneur or a humble 'hewer of wood and carrier of water'. The IEA purports to show that the richer a country is, the happier it becomes. I seriously doubt such findings as they conflict with the evidence of good old commonsense.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Salmond Better Political Hand to Play than Cameron

The stand off over Scottish Independence is intriguing and compelling. The initiative of David Cameron in suggesting his government might intervene to ensure clarity is achieved on the subject of an independence referendum, seems to me to be wholly political. Salmond, who won a huge majority in the 2007 elections for his SNP nationalist party, knows majority public opinion is currently against independence, but thinks it will swing that way by the second half of his four year parliamentary term. He hopes to hold it on the anniversary year of the famous Scots victory over the English at Banockburn (24th June 1314). Is this a sensible political strategy? Well, opinion has swung markedly since 2011 from something like one quarter of Scots’ polled to a figure closer to 40%. Salmond is one of the cleverest politicians in the United Kingdom and, given his immense popularity, one cannot rule out the chance that he will succeed.

It seems logical that the UK should have a say in the issue and all kinds of problems need to be clarified if the issue is to be resolved in an effective fsshion: what share of North sea Oil would go to Scotland? What would happen to the Nuclear sub base in Scotland? and what share of the national debt would Scotland have responsibility for? These are mega questions on which the future of both countries to some extent depend.

One might interpret Cameron’s intervention as a sign that he is nervous, his stated aim not to preside over the break up of the Union is going to be frustrated. If the referendum is held earlier, according to the polls, it is more likely a negative judgement will be returned. Professor Robert Hazell, one of the leading experts on the constitution, says Cameron holds most of the legal cards. The Scotland Act of 2008, which established Holyrood, also makes clear that constitutional powers remain with London. The SNP cannot stage a binding referendum on independence without Westminster’s imprimatur.

Interesting that on this question all the big parties in Westminster are united and key roles seem to be offered to Darling, ass well as Charles Kennedy. So Cameron has full legal authority to ‘stage manage’ a Scottish referendum, but where does the power advantage lie? My view is that it lies with Salmond and the SNP. Firstly, he has made clear from the start that he aims to pitch the poll in the second half of the parliament. Secondly, he may not be able to hold a ‘binding’ poll, but if he gets a majority for independence, using, crucially, his own wording, it will be very hard for London to deny its legitimacy.

Speaking with the authority of ‘the Scottish nation’ Salmond would have an immensely compelling argument to knock down Cameron’s legal defences. Thirdly, by intervening, as he has, Cameron has both confessed his nervousness and given Salmond a potential stick with which to beat the Coalition government: that of resisting an attempt to ‘interfere’ in legitimately Scottish affairs. Cameron might win in court but lose in the ballot box. At the moment Salmond appears to hold all the key political cards.

Monday, January 09, 2012


The Iron Lady Hugely Enjoyable Film

It's hard for dyed- in -the- wool Thatcher haters like me to offer an objective view of Phyllida Lloyd's Abi Morgan scripted film. The eighties was a harsh decade, full of class conflict and loathing which I felt keenly; like so many of those of us left of centre folk, I have tended to blame Thatcher for it. The Iron Lady did not remove that belief but it did put my feelings towards her in a wider and more sympathetic context.

Much criticism has been directed at the depiction of her as an old lady with dementia, talking to an imaginary Dennis and so forth, but I thought this perfectly justifiable as it put the focus on Margaret Thatcher as a vulnerable human being, like the rest of us, and an apt, Ozymandian reminder that pride is a very temporary satisfaction. The film covers her life in a series of flashbacks, from helping Alderman Roberts in his Grantham grocery shop to her ramming through the Poll Tax in the teeth of opposition from her own party.

We saw how her father insisted life was a struggle in which one had to labour hard to make a difference and in which one had an obligation to help other people. Inevitably, his concept of 'help' cleaved to the Conservative belief that that the best help is self-help rather than a recognition that many lack such resources. She had to fight the appalling, derisive sexism so rife in the party she went on to lead and I think this helped compound her conviction that life is a struggle you have to fight with all your might. More than that, she was also one of those born controversialists who love to argue and to wipe the floor with opponents, their feelings notwithstanding. We saw her treat Geoffrey Howe with icy and humiliating contempt in Cabinet [one wonders how he reacted to seeing such galling scenes brought back to life]. But Oh Boy, did her wreak a sweet revenge- an event the film rather downplayed I thought.

We also saw that she was essentially someone who regularly eschewed feminine persuasion and charm for the alpha-male methods of winning: aggression, humiliation, no remorse. She 'joined' the male world of her father, preferring her feckless, uncaring son to her daughter Carol and only appointing one woman to her Cabinet in all her time in Downing St. She also preferred the company of men, basking in their flattery, making favourites out of the better looking colleagues.

The film has been criticised for being narrowly biographical and neglecting the political context. I disagree. The film pays substantial attention to the big issues- the miners' strike, widespread social conflict, the Falklands- and surely a film-maker has a right to focus on the central character of the time. In a male dominated world of politics, she disproved the notion that our political system is so bureaucratic and averse to change that achieving it is impossible. I'd say such an achievement justifies two hours of sensitive interpretation of this remarkable life.

The film left me thinking that it was her greatest triumph, the Falklands War which ultimately led to her downfall. She was so filled with hubris after this spectacular victory that she began to believe both in her own infallibility and the terminal fallacies of her opponents and detractors. Like Blair after Kosovo and Sierra Leone, she acquired the idea that the same trick could be played indefinitely and for even higher stakes. So she became imperious, colonised the royal 'we' for herself and managed to convince, correctly, all those acolytes she had elevated on high that she was now beyond her sell-by date.

The film, rightly allows Dennis to share the focus; like everyone of us, Margaret Thatcher needed someone's unconditional love and support and Dennis, despite his head-banging rightwing views, provided this in abundance. Jim Broadbent, excellent old trouper that he is, managed to recapture much of Dennis's charm but not his voice, which he offered up with a touch of cockney I never detected. Meryl Streep was almost as majestic in her role as Maggie was within the Conservative Party- she must surely win the best actress Oscar for it. But her faultless impression of the central character of the drama set the bar too high for others who aimed to evoke supporting roles like those of Heath, Howe and Heseltine. Yet this is a magnificent film which brings to life a politician who dominated a decade many of her opponents would still prefer to forget.

Friday, January 06, 2012


Republican Dilemma: Rearm or Rethink

Already two of the faces on the left have disappeared: Herman Cain, caught out by sexual misconduct accusations; Michelle Bachman, once leading in the polls, then coming last in the Iowa Caucuses, deciding she's had enough; and Texas governor Rick Perry probably going to do the same. The Republicans are in a bind. Martin Kettle, offers an unusual take on the contest today. He compares the Republicans with British Labour, suggesting parties in opposition either have to 'rearm' or 'rethink'. Rethink is clear enough but 'rearm' is to increase conviction or, to simplify, 'get more angry'. Together both approaches can achieve success but alone an opposition party will founder.

He suggests Labour have always been ready to rethink- hence Revisionist Labour in the 1950s and New Labour in the 1990s. Despite Maurice Glasman's attack on Ed Miliband in the New Statesman recently, Kettle sees some merit and originality in the piece: parties will always cast around for a while and 'thinkers' will often prove loose canons.

However, he sees only an angry attempt to 'rearm' in the US Republicans, a route doomed to failure if it continues. Also useful is the recent Economist piece which lists the positions from which currently, it seems, all candidates must not waver:

Nowadays, a candidate must believe not just some but all of the following things: that abortion should be illegal in all cases; that gay marriage must be banned even in states that want it; that the 12m illegal immigrants, even those who have lived in America for decades, must all be sent home; that the 46m people who lack health insurance have only themselves to blame; that global warming is a conspiracy; that any form of gun control is unconstitutional; that any form of tax increase must be vetoed, even if the increase is only the cancelling of an expensive and market-distorting perk; that Israel can do no wrong and the “so-called Palestinians”, to use Mr Gingrich’s term, can do no right; that the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and others whose names you do not have to remember should be abolished.

Within the closed world of Republican supporters, these beliefs merely seem bankable 'commonsense' but to independent and mainstream voters they are looney tunes. John McCain did some corkscrew turns to fit in back in 2008 but since then his party has 'rearmed' like mad and shifted hugely to the right under the imperatives of the Tea Party movement; poor old Romney has been recanting his moderation like a Catholic adulterer in confession. All this bodes ill for success in November. The Economist, however, suggests that if the stalemate persists then some credible moderate candidates, who have till now stood back, might enter the fray even at this late stage; in mind are the likes of Jeb Bush, John Christie or Mitch Daniels. So Obama scores well against most current candidates and, with the economy beginning to show signs of vigour, must now have a good chance of winning, for which three cheers!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


Emphasis on Ideas and Morality Preferable to 'Modernisation'

This piece by Peter Oborne I thought provocative and
perceptive.Noting that for the past 20 years British politics has been dominated by the 'modernisation project', he tries to unpack what the concept really means in practice. He notes Blair was the first exponent and Cameron his attentive pupil. Oborne argues, however, that 'modernisation'

.....is not a political philosophy. It is really about a set of techniques for securing and then keeping power. Modernisers are actively hostile to political ideas. Indeed, the antiheroes of the modernisation handbook – Foot, Benn, Livingstone, Thatcher – are all figures of powerful conviction.

1. He sees leading modernisers-Blair, Mandelson, Brown, Cameron as 'evasive' about diffult issues; they have 'preferred to insinuate ideas furtively or indirectly into political discourse rather than make their meaning open and clear.'

2. 'Winning' was the key objective, never mind the means- this proving disastrous to public life in that it bred cynicism and lack of trust.

3. Modernisation has proved useless in solving underlying national problems like:

i) the single currency
ii) spending cuts being seen constantly as bad.
iii) talk about immigration being constantly seen as racist.

4. Modernisers' obsession with focus groups and the manipulation of public opinion have proved a hindrance in troubled times to the decisive government required to deal with such problems.

5. Oborne has some good words to offer on Milband:

One of the reasons why Ed Miliband has been consistently underrated as Labour leader is that he is trying to reintroduce values into British politics, and to move away from the manipulation and cynicism of the modernising era. He has done this on a number of fronts. Miliband has consistently and with admirable courage stood up for trade unions as a legitimate voice for working people, launched attacks on the greedy and irresponsible rich, and was the first party leader to take the bold step of condemning press criminality when the phone-hacking scandal broke last summer. All of this maddens Labour modernisers, whose numerous allies in the London-based press have as a result been hard at work trashing Miliband’s reputation. New Labour’s strategy, from the start, was to isolate or ignore the unions, while awarding tax breaks to the super-rich, and special privileges to the Murdoch empire, now so deeply compromised by evidence of widespread criminal conduct stretching into the higher reaches of the organisation. It comes as no surprise that Labour modernisers should regard Ed Miliband’s leadership with antipathy: he is against everything they stood for.

6. Oborne sees Cameron as more complex. He was accepting of the basic modernising agenda: the preference for presentation over substance, the need for the Murdoch press as a strategic ally, a fondness for advertising slogans and rebranding the Tories as 'nice'. However in Brussels recently he tore up the modernising rule-book by apparently choosing isolation in Europe. He is also beginning to re-emphasise morality and ideas.

Oborne concludes his insightful article with:

It is greatly to be welcomed that the leaders of our two greatest political parties seem to have chosen such a moment to abandon the facile discourse of modernisation in favour of tentatively addressing the great, defining moral issues of our age.

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