31 December 2012

Prize for most incoherent statement of 2012 goes to...

...Michael Buerk, for this attack on the BBC's coverage of the diamond jubilee.

It's a masterpiece of incoherence. Buerk rails against increased inequality in the UK while defending  one of the key institutions which perpetuates inequality and the class ossification of British society - the monarchy. And he complains about the dominance of private education in the UK's power structure while simultaneously condemning the BBC for apparently getting the title of the Queen wrong - whereas surely an attack on the entrenchment of priviledge in Britain would begin with the abolition both of private schools, and of all these ridiculous titles. Thus, Buerk's diatribe is a completely incoherent fusion of left and right-wing complaints. Buerk by name, Berk by nature.

I blame the Daily Mail for this kind of crapola, I really do. 

Politics in 2012

I think it's safe to say that 2012 was a disaster for the UK as the ConDem govt continued its insane drive to turn us into a minimal-state, free market paradigm of rampant inequality and skeletal public services. The knock-on effect of this austerity drive, coupled with similar attempts across other European countries, was double-dip recession and suffering on a massive scale. Sadly the 2011 Fixed Term Parliament Act ensures we have 2 and a half years more of this lunacy to endure before some form of sane govt can be restored

Ed Miliband and the Labour Party entered 2012 in a bit of a sorry state. The temporary boost from Cameron's farcical "veto" at the EU negotiations at the end of 2011 meant that the Tories were actually in front, or at least neck-and-neck, with Labour in the polls, despite the insanity of their economic policy and the huge cuts being made to public expenditure. In January 2012 there were the beginnings of an open revolt against Ed Miliband from the far right of the Labour Party, masterminded by the neo-Blairite Progress group and its friends in the media (in particular Guardian journalists Patrick Wintour and Nick Watt, and the Telegraph's Dan Hodges). The centre-right Policy Network think-tank published In the Black Labour (neatly caricatured by Compass as "White Flag" Labour), arguing that Labour should give up the fight and essentially accept George Osborne's economic policy lock, stock and barrel. And in January and February, as Eds Milibands and Balls made high profile speeches arguing that a future Labour government would have to accept all the Tory spending cuts, it looked dangerously likely that the right had won and that Labour was a busted flush.

But then the Tories rediscovered their 1990s ability to self-destruct in spectacular fashion with the "budget for millionaires" in March; the 5p-in-the-pound income tax cut for people earning over £150,000 a year, at a time when living costs were rising sharply for everyone else, showed the Tories' true colours. Coupled with the "granny tax" debacle (a relatively minor tax change which nonetheless threatened to become George Osborne's equivalent of the 10p tax abolition fiasco of 2008) and even weirder controversies such as the "pasty tax", the effect was that Labour suddenly leapt 10 to 12 points into the lead in the polls - and have remained there ever since. I think this was the moment when a large number of people suddenly woke up and realised what the Tories were about all along.

The problems for the Tories were compounded by a surge in popularity for the hard-right UK Independence Party - now hitting 15% in some polls - and the continued weakness of the self-immolating Liberal Democrats (below 10% in most polls, except on ICM polls for the Guardian where Alan Rusbridger has an arrangement with the pollsters to boost the Lib Dem figures so that he looks a little less stupid for endorsing them at the 2010 election). The double-dip recession just confirmed the fact that the Tories are at best incompetent and at worst a destructive and dangerous force.

The immediate upshot of this is that Ed Miliband is safe. No-one (except perhaps Dan Hodges) believes that Labour will get rid of Ed this side of the next election. And it looks likely (although far from certain) that Labour will win the 2015 election, particularly because of the one Lib Dem achievement of the coalition is to block the Tories' proposed boundary changes, which makes it considerably more easy for Labour to win even if only a few percentage points in front. My prediction for 2015 is that Labour will poll in the region of 40% or maybe a little more (gaining probably around half the people who voted Lib Dem last time), with the Tories more or less where they were last time (losing some voters to UKIP but gaining some right-wing Lib Dems). I stuck these numbers into the UK polling report swingometer and the result was a Labour majority of 46 - I think it will be a little less than that because the Tories will fight particularly hard in the marginals, and, as in October 1974 (for instance), may be able to limit the swing in some of those marginal seats by pouring everything into them. So, say a majority of around 20-30 seats for Labour.

The problems start there, really. For Labour to get in with a small majority, no economic policy besides being a pale imitation of the Tories, and a substantial right-wing voting bloc of MPs could be a total disaster. And so we look to the policy review, now led by Jon Cruddas, to produce results in this area. That, I think, is going to be the crucial issue of 2013; does the Labour Party have the wherewithal to produce a modern version of something as radical and powerful as its 1973 economic programme, 20 years on? Or are we more likely to get a reheated version of New Labour? I hope for the former but fear the latter.

Prospects for 2013 - the blog

So, activity has been very limited in 2013, in particular in the second half of the year. I've thought about knocking the blog on the head completely but I know as soon as I do that, I'll be wanting to post about stuff. So I've come up with a strategy - which is to do one post a day in 2013, even if it's really short. And that might be on giroscope, or Groscope or the Golf Ball (both of which are way overdue a resurrection, with the last posts on each having been made almost 3 years ago). This should at least ensure some kind of content - it might be total crap, but it's that or close down, really. So there we have it.

30 November 2012

Leveson: a few thoughts

OK, I'm short of time (which also explains the horrendous lack of posts this month on, well, anything at all) so I'm going to do this in the style of "five thunks" from the excellent BHaPPY website. (Although I'm not sure there will be five of them... let's see.)

1 - Dave Cameron has rejected statutory regulation outright and that is a huge tactical error. He's basically awarded this little skirmish game, set and match to Ed Miliband. All Ed needs to do is make sure that the next Labour manifesto contains a promise to implement Leveson's recommendations in full and that's a nice little vote earner right there. The perception that Dave Cameron is a friend of the rich and powerful who cares nothing for the "little people" (to use the Blade Runner term), already very widespread, is reinforced.

2 - Hanging on to the coat-tails of Ed Miliband will not save Nick Clegg. Even if Clegg backs Leveson all the way - which is still far from clear - the idea that Clegg can lie his way through an election campaign, sell out three-quarters of his voters (to the stage where most polls show him behind UKIP, for crying out loud) and then suddenly rediscover credibility by jumping on the Ed bandwagon is ludicrous.

3 - The right-wing press are going to be gunning for Ed Miliband all the way to the election. But so what? They were gunning for him anyway. In some ways this might even work in his favour as it makes him look like the candidate who's prepared to take on vested interests.

4 - The Tories jumping up and down screaming about "freedom of the press" are being extremely misleading. Press freedom in the UK is already circumscribed. The press is subject to libel law (assuming that the person who claims to have been libelled has the money to fight a case against them) and also a raft of restrictions on grounds of "national security" - for example D-notices. Introducing a statutory regulator would just be a slightly different kind of regulation from what we've already got. Ideas that it is "crossing a rubicon" are bunkum.

5 - The police are as much to blame for the phone hacking scandal as the press  (or perhaps not - maybe it's the judiciary who are actually at fault... see comment from John below.) Phone hacking is already illegal but the police failed to enforce this crime - something which happens very very often in the UK as we have a large quantity of laws and a police who either lack the resources or the will to enforce them. In this case it looks like criminal activity was deliberately ignored. I don't know if Leveson's made suggestions for police reform - probably not in his remit. But it's desperately needed. (Having said that, I have not, at this stage, given much thought as to how to ensure that the police do investigate crimes rather than deliberately ignoring them. It's an important issue as there is very little point having a legal system unless it's enforceble).

So that was 5 "thunks" after all.

02 November 2012

The US election and a cautionary tale for the right-wing left

Only a few days to go before the US election now, which I haven't covered in anything like as much detail as the 2008 election. Part of the reason is that the primaries weren't as exciting this time. Although I'd thought there was a strong possibility that Obama would face a primary challenger along the lines of Ted Kennedy's attempted assassination of Jimmy Carter in 1980, that didn't happen; left-wing discontent has been channelled through Jill Stein of the Greens. The GOP contest was interesting in 2011, before the primaries started, as a series of debates even longer than the interminable 2010 UK Labour leadership election threw up one right-wing nutjob after another. Perry, Cain, Santorum... they were all briefly front-runners before the momentum swung inexorably back to Romney.

Ah, yes, Mitt Romney. The supposedly unelectable plank who is, and now within a statistical margin of error of winning the election... based on the polling evidence expertly collated by Nate Silver, this election is going to be probably as close as 2000. At the moment, the popular vote looks pretty much like a dead heat, with Obama ahead by a few percentage points in the key swing states and thus holding an advantage in the electoral college. It's quite possible that Romney could win the popular vote and lose in the electoral college, precipitating another insane result like 2000, when the infamous election thief and war criminal George W Bush squeaked through thanks to dodgy shenanigans in Florida and the bias of the Supreme Court. Somehow I doubt the Republicans will just lie down and die in the face of such a perverse result the way (shamefully) that the Democrats did 12 years ago.... prepare for militia on the streets and civil war if Obama does get in that way.

And that, strangely enough, brings me on to why the last 4 years in the USA, and this election, is a cautionary tale for everyone on what we might call the "right of the left" - machine Democrats hugging Wall Street close in America, that strand of post-Blairite centre-right thinking which identifies itself as left in the UK, and their brethren elsewhere. The right has reached the stage in most "Anglo-Saxon" countries now - the US, Britain, Canada, Australia - where it is in no mood to shilly-shally about or compromise with "centrist" policies, and instead has decided to offer a hard-right blueprint for power. And, very often, the right is succeeding - because it is prepared to chew up and spit out its opponents, whereas the left wants to sit them down for a cuppa and a little "fireside chat". Take a look at what the last 4 years have done to Barack Obama. Elected on a wave of hope in November 2008 - largely because he was not George W Bush - his slogan was "Yes We Can". His margin of victory was clear but not a landslide - 53% of the vote, compared to 46% for John McCain. Nonetheless, this wasn't a disputed skin-of-the-teeth victory like Bush in 2000; this was a real win, and the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress with large majorities.

Faced with this, the GOP was largely expected to capitulate, bury its head in its hands for a couple of years and re-emerge with centre-right policies that might be at least vaguely appropriate for a 21st century industrialised nation. Instead, what we got was the Tea Party - a bizarre action movie remake of the Republicans as even more hard right than they had been under George Bush. The movement began as an "astroturf" affair with billions of pounds of funding from oligarchs like the Koch brothers, but, once it had dawned on the "average Joe" that Obama was completely in the pocket of Wall St, and completely behind the banking bail-out, the Tea Party became a mass phenomenon. The Republicans simply refused to cooperate with Obama's stimulus package or any other legislation, played as hardball as they could with the new President, and were awarded with control of the House of Representatives and a big swing towards them in the Senate in the 2010 midterms. Before that, it had been difficult for Obama to get legislation through (a Mitt Romney-inspired health care reform act and a badly targeted stimulus package were the only major things he managed before November 2010); after the midterms, the situation degenerated into complete stasis.

The lessons from this episode in US political history are: firstly, being an extremist is no bar to electoral support. In fact, in some situations it may help. The US has changed a lot since Barry Goldwater went down to a 61-39% pasting against LBJ in 1964 on a hard-right platform. Nowadays, if Goldwater were on the ballot he would probably win, or at least be roughly even-stevens with Obama - after all, Romney is, and in many ways he's a pretty lame candidate, certainly the most unconvincing major party nominee since Bob Dole in 1996. At some point the Republicans realised that they could win - or at least be in with a shot of winning - no matter how right wing their platform was, because they had institutions capable of distorting reality to fit that platform. I'm thinking here of FOX News, the whole network of right-wing think tanks, and all the rest of the conservative apparatus. (There is a very good discussion of the development of "movement conservatism" from the 1960s onwards in Paul Krugman's book The Conscience of A Liberal which I thoroughly recommend). There are hints of Hitler's propagandist Goebbels in modern GOP propadanga; they subscribe to the idea that the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it. In an environment in which paranoia, distrust and cynicism about authority and the government in particular have (understandably) come to be the mainstream position, there is plenty for the GOP to work with in terms of "myth-spreading". In this environment, the old Clintonite strategy of triangulation is a dead duck. If you move to a position halfway between where you were and where your opponent is, your opponent will keep on moving further to the right until eventually your house of cards collapses. Any left-of-centre politician who thinks triangulation can work as a strategy against the Tea Party is insane.

Secondly, any politician who underestimates his or her opponent is a fool. I haven't had time to watch the presidential debates yet but it's quite clear that Obama came into the debate thinking Romney was a klutz and an easy knockdown. In the end, Romney performed well and Obama ended up looking like a lame-ass. Obama was heading to a relatively easy win (though not as emphatic as 2008) before that first debate; since then, he's been in a razor-sharp contest. There is simply no point in assuming your opponent is an imbecile. The left are particularly guilty of this; I'll let you in to a little secret - DUBYA BUSH WAS NOT A MORON! Sure, he had limitations (which he was well aware of); but he was a skilled political operator and slugger within those parameters. And he was utterly unscrupulous. When the 2015 UK election starts to get down and dirty, Ed Miliband could learn a lot from studying Bush's conduct of himself in the close elections of 2000 and 2004.

Thirdly, anyone who thinks Obama's reelection next week will "see off" the Republicans, or the Tea Party, is a fool. They are very likely to hold onto the House of Representatives and thus will be able to block pretty much every policy proposal Obama makes; and they will be gearing up for 2016, when they will be hoping to bring through a much more able presidential candidate (e.g. Marco Rubio), with a much better chance of winning. Probably on an even more right-wing ticket than this time.

And on that depressing note I finally realise that I've written a mini-essay which is giving me Repetitive Strain Injury. Oh well; you wait a month for a post and then it's a book.

One last thing I wanted to address - the issue of third party candidates. What would I do if I were in a swing state? In all honesty I'd probably vote for Jill Stein. Not because Obama is just the same as Romney.... Romney is undoubtedly worse. But because simply being better than Romney isn't good enough. In the long run, unless enough people on the US left stand up and say "we have no confidence in the Democrats under the present structure, it's a piece of shit and we're not standing for it" there won't be any change. I think the Democratic party is probably going to fall to pieces in the next 20 years anyway... maybe splintering into something in the centre which would absorb all the Reaganite Republicans chucked out of the GOP for being too left wing, and then a hard left-Green bloc. And it's in that left-Green bloc that the future of US progressive politics lies. The sooner there is a left party with 15-20% of the vote, the better; when the US turns into Greece (which can't be far down the line, given the fiscal position), it will be radicals on left and right who reap the rewards. As Tony Benn said in the UK in 1979, "we are going to have a bit more left and a bit more right, and a lot less of the soggy centre". Amen to that.

Lastly I should put in a good word for Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. I disagree with him on a lot of things but this piece by him on marijuana legalisation is first class and I can understand why some left liberals are thinking of voting for him. He seems to be an honest person, something which is hard to find in either of the two major parties.

29 October 2012

Future plans

Hello again, and apologies for the recent dearth of posts. In part this is because I've been very busy, and in part because I simply haven't had that much of interest to stay. My Twitter feed provides a lot of day-to-day engagement with issues, if only at a rather superficial level.

I will be providing a few in-depth posts over the next couple of weeks - probably one on the forthcoming US presidential election, one on the EU crisis, and one on the continuing festering sore that is the Labour hard right. But in general I anticipate doing more posts through the Brother Typewriter blog - inactive since about 2010 - as I'm finding music a damn sight more interesting than politics at the moment. This happens from time to time - there are only so many ways to say (for example) "John Rentoul is an idiot", and while an honest takedown of the Labour right is a worthy endeavour and a necessary one, it becomes a hard slog when you are doing it every month. So hence a temporary shift to music, with occasional political interjections. I expect to pick up the pace on politics sometime in 2014 as we move towards the election, which is always a more exciting time for me.

Van Patten will have to brief you on his plans himself - I know he's busy of late having just started a new job, but beyond that, nothing is clear.

06 October 2012

The Boris Factor

Unusually, this year's Tory Conference contains the only speech I want to watch. And it will be by Boris Johnson (or in fact they will be by Boris, as I think he's speaking twice).

Could Boris Johnson be the next Tory leader? It seems rather unlikely, but not impossible. I'd suggest that yes it could happen, but only under rather specific circumstances.

I think what would have to happen for Boris to be leader is that the Tories would have to lose heavily in 2015. It wouldn't have to be quite 1997 proportions but I think Ed would have to be in Downing Street with a majority of maybe 70 or more, and a substantial vote lead over the Tories - maybe  5 or 6 percent at least.

The more the Tories lose by, the more damaged are the inner circle of Cameron confidantes who would be the favoured successors if Cameron were to win, and step down (say) halfway through a second term. Osborne, Gove and Hunt are probably the most obvious future leadership contenders on the "inside". And I think if there is a controlled handover on Cameron's own terms (i.e. after a win), Boris wouldn't have much of a chance. If Cameron loses narrowly - perhaps a hung parliament followed by a Lab-Lib coalition or a small Labour majority as occurred in 1964 or 1974 - one of the 'inner circle' could still take over as they could argue the defeat was a matter of nuance or circumstance rather than fundamental strategic errors.

But if the Tories went down by a big margin, I think the 'inner circle' would fall down with Cameron - because there would a mood for change. I could be wrong about that... there's a possibility that Mickey Gove, in particular, might be a slippery enough character to come out of the whole episode smelling of roses. But in any case, a big Tory defeat would give Boris an opportunity  to take over, on the assumption he gets into a safe Tory seat in the 2015 election - although he'd still have to muster enough votes among Tory MPs to come no lower than second out of three, thus going forward to the decisive ballot of party members. As I have no idea what the "lay of the land" is with regards to Boris's popularity with Tory party members, I won't speculate on this issue.

There is always the possibility that one of the new 2010 hard-right intake - e.g. Dominic Raab, or the appalling Priti Patel - could mount a 2015 leadership challenge, but I think they'd struggle to match Boris's exposure or charisma. On the other hand the Tory leadership contest has a habit of favouring the outside runners. Few people would have said after the February 1974 election that Margaret Thatcher would be the next Tory leader; likewise after the 2005 election few would have said Dave Cameron was next for the hot seat. It's a funny thing.

You also can't rule out Liam Fox, who would probably stand on a hard-right ticket, but I sort of feel that if Fox was going to make his mark, 2005 was the time to do it, and he's rather old hat now. Likewise David Davis (any of you kids remember "Modern Conservatives?" Ho ho.

So that's the most hopeful scenario for Boris Johnson: that the party turns to him as the new messiah after the failure of Cameron. And it could happen; but I don't see it as a certainty, or even the most probable outcome.

The other scenario that is cooked up (largely by the media) is that Boris will somehow be drafted into Parliament before 2015, challenge Cameron for the leadership and defeat him, and then lead the Tories into the 2015 election as PM. If this could happen it represents (in my view) the Tories' only serious chance of winning with Boris at the helm; I don't think he would have the application to graft away as opposition leader for 5 years were he to get the job after the election, and I think the Tories would perform badly in 2020 with him as leader (unless Labour were so catastrophically bad that any idiot could win against them),  regardless of his personal popularity. But if he took over 6 months away from an election he might be able to win via the honeymoon effect, a media frenzy, and his natural talent for comedy.

I do think this is staggeringly unlikely, though. At the moment, rumblings of discontent against Cameron seem to be confined to malcontents such as Nadine Dorries. Looking at the polls, Cameron is still an asset to the Tories - albeit not such a huge one anymore; he's been increasingly rumbled a proportion of the electorate as a bullshitter, a bully and a liar but can still do the Tony Blair smoothie thing well enough to get by - for now. Dave would have to be significantly less popular than the Tory party to trigger a leadership election; he'd actually have to be perceived as a significant drag on their electability (remember Mrs T in 1990, or IDS in 2003). And that seems vanishingly unlikely. Nope, I reckon Dave's safe until the election. In fact I think all three main parties will go into the election with current leadership. In any case, the mechanics of installing Boris into the House of Commons with a substantial proportion of his London mayoral term still left would look extremely dodgy. Boris getting a seat in the 2015 election - with one year of his term still to go - is probably just about OK. But before that? It would look preposterous.

So, I think there is a lot of hype and not so much substance behind the idea of the "Boris Factor" - although it is not a complete fiction. That said, I will still be intrigued to see just how Boris plays Tory conference; he will probably want to make Dave look a bit small and insignificant without appearing openly disloyal. and his speech(es) will probably be comedy classic(s).

Ed Miliband rediscovers what was always there

You lucky kids have not just one but two posts from me this morning, as I'm trying to avoid doing some rather boring work.

Amazing how one speech can turn round perceptions of Ed Miliband. Before Tuesday's Labour leader speech (incidentally why is the Labour leader speech halfway through Conference whereas the other two main parties put their speeches at the end? Is it just so there is a graveyard slot on Thursday morning to bury Steve Twigg?) people were seeing the conference as an awkward potential car crash - the general feeling was that Ed would have done well just to get through it without inviting the oppobrium that got heaped on him after his 2011 speech. (I actually thought the content of the 2011 speech was pretty good, but delivery was awful).

I haven't watched most of the speech this year - last year was just too painful - but I have seen Ed speak without notes, strolling round the stage, before, and he is remarkably effective doing that. In fact it was at the 2008 Compass conference that I first thought "maybe this guy could be the next Labour leader". His speech at the Fabian post-election conference in 2010, where he announced his  candidacy, was another good effort. By comparison, speaking from a lectern Ed just looks stilted and awkward.

This year's big idea - "One Nation Labour" - is designed to underline the fact that the Tories are a party of sectional interest who care only about a small minority of very powerful, privileged people. But this was the case from 1979 onwards anyway. What Dave Cameron and the ConDems are doing is just an extension of Thatcherism. Saying to working people, "you've had too big a share of the cake for far too long and now it's time to put you back in your place."

If the truth be told, Labour was always a One Nation party - it just almost never used the rhetoric (mainly because it was copyrighted to the Tories). But if you look at (for example) the 1974 Labour election manifesto - "a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of working power in favour of working people and their families". Given that "working people and their families" covered the vast majority of people in the UK (and still would do, if we didn't have such high unemployment), this was always a One Nation idea. The Tories, too, were One Nation from 1951 up until the Heath era, as party policy was mainly dominated by centre-left social democrats pretty much interchangeable with the right-wing of the Labour party.

Of course, the right wing tries to paint Labour as a party only interested in promoting the interests of public sector workers. But this simply reflects the fact that conditions in the private sector have deteriorated so badly over the last 35 years that it is now able to play 'divide and rule' in the Thatcherite tradition, playing one group of working class people off against another group of working class people. Fortunately, the 2008 crisis has, to a large extent, blown the gaffe on this fiction; there is now increasing understanding that Capitalism Is The Problem. If not (yet) a clearly articulated alternative (the sterling efforts of Occupy aside).

So "One Nation Labour" - a clever rhetorical move. But the facts on the ground were there all along.

27 September 2012

The Lib Dems: from willing collaborators to neoliberal lemmings

My view on the Liberal Democrats is evolving with each party conference.

In 2010, I accused them of being spineless collaborators with the Tories.

In 2011, I amended that to saying they were willing collaborators with the Tories.

Now, I just think they've got a death wish and are incapable of independent thought.

How else do you explain the party's willingness to stick with the completely discredited Nick Clegg, thus virtually ensuring that their vote collapses to less than half of its 2010 level at the next election in 2015? On a uniform swing this would all but annihilate the Lib Dem parliamentary party. Of course the swing is unlikely to be uniform and some of the party's MPs may be able to survive on a strong local vote - particularly if they are seen as mavericks who opposed the general thrust of collaboration with the Tories. However, 2015 is likely to be a yellow bloodbath under Clegg however the local voting breaks down.

Many commentators had expected open revolt at this week's Lib Dem conference - and given the general quality of political commentary, that was almost a guarantee that such a revolt wouldn't happen. In the end the only people seriously agitating for a coup were: (a) people who've been critical of Clegg since 2010 - e.g. Lord Oakeshott and Lembit Opik, who can safely be locked in the box labelled "serial troublemakers"; and (b) the very worthy but in-the-wrong-party Liberal Left group (have a look at Labour Left and the Green Party guys, and then Make Your Choice.) A floor motion aiming to commit the Lib Dem leadership to a "Plan B" and an end to austerity failed abysmally when put to the vote. I'd argue that the weakness of the Lib Dem left is what statisticians call a "sample selection" effect - a large proportion of the left of the Lib Dem party walked out after  the decision to collaborate with the Tories, and what you're left with is the right-wingers. It's the same thing that's happened to the Lib Dems' share of the national vote.

In the end, Lib Dems must be hoping for a miracle - that somehow the economy will start growing quickly between now and 2015 and they will reap the rewards. I think this is highly unlikely - we may well escape "triple dip" recession, but growth will be sluggish at best. And the signs from the Eurozone crisis are that it is likely to get worse - perhaps much worse - before it gets better. Meanwhile, almost no-one left of centre in the British electorate (which is over half of the Lib Dems' former voters) will trust Nick Clegg with their vote again - ever. In short this is collective lemmingmania from the Lib Dem grassroots and MPs alike, for which they will surely pay a heavy price in 2015. And the main gainer will be Ed Miliband, who can't believe his luck; he's secured around a 10 point increase in vote share from 2010 to 2015 without having to do anything at all.

Clegg's contempt for everything his party used to campaign on was shocking in his speech yesterday. Opposition to tuition fees, for example, was dismissed as "protest politics". Now there are arguments for and against tuition fees, but just to dismiss the whole issue like that - coming from someone who relied on the policy to get elected! - is contemptible bollocks. And the old lies on taxation were wheeled out again - "we have taken x million people out of paying tax" whereas in fact the switch from income tax to VAT results in the poorest paying more, not less. It's straight-down-the-line lies like this, coming from someone who espoused the "new politics" in 2010, that have made many voters feel that, if this is "the new politics", give us back the old politics, please. At least Labour and the Tories never pretended to be anything other than cynical grab-yer-wallet bastards.

I've written about this shower for long enough now so this may well be the last post for them (in more ways than one) until the election campaign. Let 'em rot.

18 September 2012

Apple, Android and a preference for "theft": Some thoughts on reading the Steve Jobs biography

A close friend bought me Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs for my birthday last year, and as I'm on holiday this week, I got around to reading it. As someone who's been a loud critic of Apple in the past, and someone who only owns one Apple product (an iPod Nano which I received as a freebie with an Android phone - ho ho), I was intrigued to see whether reading the biography would give me a more positive view of either the late Mr Jobs, or Apple.

I guess the main thing that the biography gave me is a more rounded appreciation of the huge contribution Steve Jobs made to the the computer and related hi-tech industries. Before reading it I knew what he'd done with Apple since becoming CEO in the late 1990s and also I knew the early history of Apple (from Robert X. Cringely's excellent book Accidental Empires), but I was pretty clueless about NeXT and had no idea at all that he had been CEO of Pixar as well. So here was a guy that was at the very least an interesting player, and for most of the time completely transformative, in his chosen field for thirty years. Not many people can say that.

So I have immense respect for Jobs the hi-tech entrepreneur and craftsman after reading the biography. However, I still won't be rushing out to buy Apple product any time soon. Why not? Well, to quote Steve Jobs's own words on what motivated him to start - and come back to - Apple,  when interviewed for the biography:

My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation.
 And I'd agree that Apple makes great products - assuming you concur with its design philosophy (which is Steve Jobs's design philosophy), which involves accepting the following aspects of buying any Apple product:

  • you will be paying a substantial premium over production costs (including R&D costs)
  • you will be using the device in the way Apple thinks is most appropriate 
  • the device will only work to its full potential when combined with other Apple devices which are also subject to the first two conditions above.
The problem for me is that - once these conditions are taken into account - Apple products are not as great as the competition. 

Take the iPad for example. The 16Gb iPad 3 costs about £400. I can get a decent 10" Android tablet running Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean for half that, or maybe even less. It will be more customisable, it won't be limited to running only those apps which Apple has decided are safe enough for me to use, and I won't have to use the accursed iTunes software (a program Charlie Brooker memorably described as a "binary turd" whenever I want to upload an MP3 to the tablet. 

With laptops, the price contrast is even more acute. You can get a great Windows 7 laptop from Samsung for around £500. A comparable MacBook will probably cost you twice that. There's a reason Apple is the most highly valued company in the world; because it's a cash cow. Every time someone buys an Apple product they are engaging in a subsidy of several hundred dollars to Apple's shareholders. A kind of philanthropy, I guess. But a strange one. 

At the end of the day, I'd rather make my own decisions on how to use hardware and software, and what combination to use, than the ones Apple thinks are best for me. Steve Jobs's view on this was very clear. He thought his decisions on which products Apple chose to bring to market, and the  parameters under which they should operate, was right, because he was smarter than the consumer.  It's a view of the world that can best be described as "conditional benign dictatorship". The Steve Jobs technological dictatorship is conditional because no-one's being forced to use Apple products. But, if they do decide to use Apple, then at that point Steve Jobs calls the shots. 

I very much doubt I'm as smart or as tasteful as Steve Jobs was, but I'm perhaps as arrogant as Steve was, and maybe that's why I think although Apple is a significant technological and ergonomic achievement, it sucks philosophically. And so I choose to stick with Android (for phones and tablets) and a combination of Windows and Linux (for PCs). Make no mistake: Windows was absolutely useless up until at least Windows 2000, and Vista was awful. But XP was pretty good, and Windows 7 is a very good OS indeed. Linux is also extremely impressive, totally customisable - perhaps the ultimate hacker OS. And I have fifteen years of experience with both of them, whereas I haven't used a Mac since 1995. 

With Android, there is an additional philosophical reason for me to want to use it. The Jobs biography is full of great quotes; the guy was one of the most quotable interviewees of the last 50 years. And he hated Android because it infringed Apple's intellectual property: 

Our lawsuit [against Android phone manufacturer HTC] is saying, "Google, you f***ing ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off." Grand theft. I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go to thermonuclear war on this. They are scared to death, because they know they are guilty. Outside of Search, Google's products - Android, Google Docs - are shit.

Strong words in anyone's terms. But now go back 30 years to the early 1980s when a team of Apple engineers were shown round Xerox's Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) and saw the world's first Graphical User Interface with a bitmapped screen. In 1984, Apple launched MacIntosh; the first reasonably priced computer with a GUI and a bitmapped screen. At that point, the CEO of Xerox would have had just as much justification to tell Apple that "you wholesale ripped us off" as Jobs told Google 30 years later. The supreme irony is that Steve Jobs, a guy whose entire early career was based on "ripping off" other people's research, couldn't take it when Google did the same thing to Apple. He could dish it out but he couldn't take it. 

For the record, I don't see what Apple did in the early 1980s or what Google did with Android as "ripping anyone off"; rather, it's a healthy - perhaps essential - part of an innovative economic system. Copying other people's ideas in a cost-effective manner may be, in the end, a more important part of technological progress than having the ideas in the first place. And this means that the patent system is complete bullshit that should be abolished. (But that is a topic for another post). 

So in the end, I'm backing Android for phones/tablets on grounds of ideology as well as on cost grounds. At least, I am until somebody else rips them off and comes up with something better. 

RIP Steve Jobs. One of the true greats of the computer age. 

18 August 2012

Nick Clegg - Labour secret agent?

(Note: this post is running a couple of weeks late because I was so busy that I only got it half-finished, but when I realised it was a month since we'd posted anything on the blog at all, I realised it had to go out, even as was. So "this week's announcement" actually means "the announcement a few weeks ago..." etc.

This week's announcement by Nick Clegg that the Lib Dems will vote against the boundary changes introduced by the Tories is further support for my view that Clegg has, in a strange way, done the country a huge service by uniting the left, and making Labour the natural party of government.

To explain this claim it's necessary to dig back into British electoral history. In the 1980s the great question in British politics was: how can the left vote be united in such a way as to stop permanent Tory government? The Labour/SDP split of 1981 led to a situation where the Tories were able to secure huge majorities with a little over 40% of the vote because the anti-Tory vote was badly split between Labour (on about 30%) and the SDP-Liberal Alliance (on about 25%).

At the time the Guardian was full of articles lamenting the problem of the split left (I know because I started reading the Guardian every day in 1987 and I used to read this stuff every day.) The Labour hope at the time was that the SDP/Liberal Alliance's electoral challenge would gradually fizzle out and we'd see a return to the 'normal' two-party politics of the post-war period. The Liberals and SDP tried their best to destroy themselves in 1988 with the formation of the Liberal Democrats, but the Lib Dems recovered to a vote share of 23% in the 1992 election - still large enough to ensure another split in the anti-Tory vote, and a 4th term for the Tories. 

Tony Blair took the different tack of moving Labour so far to the right that he hoovered up a good proportion of natural Tory voters, even though the Lib Dems still managed 18% in the 1997 election. But the split left remained a problem in the UK - masked by the Blairite centre-right thrusts in 1997 and 2001, but very obvious in 2005 where the collapse in the Labour vote to 35%, coupled with the Lib Dems increasing their share of the vote to 22% by Charles Kennedy's positioning of them to the left of Labour on many issues, meant that it was only a ludicrously unfair electoral system that gave Labour a working overall majority despite finishing only 2% ahead of the Tories. 

With the re-emergence of the Tories as an electoral force (of sorts) under Michael Howard and then David Cameron it seemed inevitable that the split in the UK's "progressive" electoral forces would help the Tories regain power - and this did indeed happen in 2010 (helped by the crapness of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister and as election campaigner), but something weird was happening to the Liberal Democrats. Under Clegg's leadership since the end of 2007, they had begun to morph  - almost unnoticeably at first - into a second right-wing party. Although with a very different stance from the Tories on Europe, constitutional reform and some social issues (most notably support for marriage in the tax system), on most other issues - particularly economic policy and public service "reform" - there was very little to choose between the Lib Dems and the Tories by 2010. This made the Lib Dems potentially a more natural coalition partner with the Tories than with Labour for the first time in decades. The electoral arithmetic - which would have made a Labour-Lib Dem coalition very difficult - and the personal animosity between Clegg and Brown also helped drive the Lib Dems into the Tory camp.

In retrospect, May-June 2010 was the high point for centre-right wingers looking for "regressive realignment" of UK politics along the lines of permanent Tory/Lib Dem majority government. Some Tory cabinet ministers like Mickey Gove were seriously thinking about backing a Yes vote in the AV referendum, which had potential to deliver a right-wing parliamentary majority parliamentary presence even if Labour recovered to between 35 and 40% in the polls in subsequent elections - as well as marginalising the threat of UKIP to the Tories from the right. But this idea of permanent coalition fell apart within a few months. The AV referendum led to huge animosities surfacing between the Tories and Lib Dems; and, even more seriously for Clegg, the Lib Dems' popular support - collapsed from over 20% to less than 10 - while Clegg found himself as the most unpopular party leader since records began.

The reason for this was that millions of people who voted Lib Dem in good faith in 2010 - wanting a "new politics" and a more attractive centre-left alternative to the increasing authoritarianism of Labour - found that they had in fact voting in an enabling mechanism for a particularly nasty and reactionary strain of Tory government.

My feeling is that those people are going to be very hard to get back, and it's not clear where the new Lib Dem voters are coming from to replace them. Why would centre-right Tories abandon David Cameron to vote for Nick Clegg next time round? We can probably assume that the 8% or so of people still in the Lib Dem camp are the "orange bookers" who are pro-Europe and keen on civil liberties but basically Tories on the economy and public services. There doesn't seem to be any huge constituency of non-Tory centre-right wingers out there - if there were, the Lib Dems would have probably won the last election (at least on vote share).

So, with Clegg having permanently alienated the centre left, as long as Clegg  remains Lib Dem leader all Ed Miliband has to do to win the 2015 election is turn up, really. This is good news on the face of it, but also carries the huge danger that Labour could win next time without any coherently defined policies and be a disaster. More on this in another post (hopefully in less than 2 months time) shortly.

Reading back on this, I'm not sure it's saying anything I haven't done already, but I was just desperate to get something into the blog domain during August. And so here it is. 

18 July 2012

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

I've been planning this post for weeks, if not years, and I feel confident that some of it will (unusually for my posts) draw sympathy from all sides of the political spectrum who read this blog. As the title is based on an episode (the final episode in the Penultimate series) of the Original Doctor Who, let me take you back in time to when I was struggling in London, stuck in an impossible job and commuting upward of 3 hours every day from one benighted part of the Capital (Hanger Lane) to another. (Hackbridge)  The date, specifically is 7th July 2005, and the Metro Freesheet I pick up from the newsagent outside my house contains the nauseating spectacle of one of the most hated figures of the last 30 years, Ken Livingstone pictured alongside David Beckham celebrating Britain's victory in its bid for the 2012 Olympics. Screwing it up in disgust, I threw it on to my car's front seat and, set off on the drive, not to my normal workplace but to the far nearer Greenford site, for a session on my then employer's new appraisal system. About thirty minutes into the session, a New Zealander working at the office said that the Underground had been shut down due to 'unspecified power failures'. The rest of the day's events will for anyone in the UK at that time need no further redaction, my abiding memory is of trying about 20 times from the smoking shelter at the site to get through on my mobile phone to find news of one my relatives, and when finally making contact via a free landline learning that he had stayed home and the feeling of relief washing over me, mixed with a degree of guilt that the families of 56 other people hadn't been so lucky.

Home to the News and obviously the news that we had won the Olympics was relegated to at best, the front of the Sports Pages, together with various prominent politicians expressing their regrets and sorrow over the incident. It is indeed, unfortunate that these two incidents happened in such quick succession, as the horrific impact of the bombings had a tendency, completely understandably, for the 18 months following it to overshadow the ongoing Scandal of the Olympics themselves being awarded to London. To fast forward the story nearly two years: A close Friend's wedding in Mexico presaged from me, having read innumerable horror stories of Travellers' ordeals at the hands of the USA's Transport and Security Administration, on an almost frantic search (as Direct flights had run out) to find a way to get to Cancun, in Eastern Mexico without going through the United States. After an increasingly desperate trawl of almost every European capital (I even looked at Moscow!) like Newton being struck by an apple, it dawned on me what language the Mexicans speak... and I was easily able to find direct flights from the moronically not until that point checked Spanish capital of Madrid. This was one of two cities (the other being Paris) which had narrowly been beaten by London to host the games. Upon my arrival in Madrid in April 2007, it was clear that the government, even having lost, had carried out much of the work outlined in the bid. Getting round the city, even as a non-Hispanophile using a Collins mini-guide and bastardised French-pronounced Spanish seemed effortless. Coming (and at that time mercifully having got out of) from three years in London, it seemed incredible that the Spanish Capital could have been viewed as inferior, and it seemed well ahead of where London's preparation at that point was, even having lost out on the bid to host them!

Ever since the link between the Bombings and Olympics bid has been made more distant by the passage of the time, I have been a staunch opponent of them being awarded to London. It transpired within less than a year, that the Bid organisers, at best naively, and at worst fraudulently though that the Construction costs of the games weren't subject to VAT, leading to an increase in the cost of an estimated £2.5 billion. In fairness, in the wake of this, a variety of UKIP bloggers (this was before the near-universality of Facebook and Twitter) estimated the cost overruns would run into £20 or £30 billion. Mercifully for the organisers, these figures have turned out to be exaggerated, but independent research still has the cost at a staggering £9 billion, which makes them the most expensive Games ever.

So like the Timelord himself, let's come crashing into the present, and as the helpful Official Site points out, (and probably by the time this post is finished it'll be less) there are now 9 days until the Opening Ceremony, and the 'Greatest Show on Earth' begins. My abiding memory of the last Olympics, held in Beijing, was the by then London Mayor, Boris Johnson, shambling on to the stage behind a Retired Routemaster as China 'handed the Games over' to the UK, and thinking, it'll come around sooner than I think - and here we are, or aren't as later paragraphs will reveal.

Of course between that point in 2008 and 2012, there has been a hell of a lot of water under the bridge: A huge economic crisis, and a change of government (Indeed it's two Prime Ministers since we first got the games!), and also a sea change in media reaction and the inexorable rise of Social media. I might have just made it onto Facebook, I think when the Beijing Olympics were on, but I had certainly barely heard of Twitter, and of course thought it basically a tool for following the meanderings of Stephen Fry, rather than a genuine revolution in the way the news is now filtered.

So here we are in July 2012, with the Olympics now days away, and as though outlining the Dramatis Personae of a play, let's introduce a la Romeo and Juliet, the two key 'factions' in this little drama - On one said, we have the sinister sounding LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) and on the other the oft mentioned here Coalition Government. Suffice it to say, the play, thus far looks like being a combination of comedy and tragedy.

1/ Revenge of the Trolls

Anyone writing on Twitter or indeed any Social networking site will be familiar with the existence of Trolls: Indeed entire websites are devoted to following the best of them. A troll is defined (quite loosely) as someone who writes deliberately inflammatory, provocative or offensive comments on a blog. I've even been described as one myself by several prominent Left of centre bloggers. Nevertheless, they are a fact of life out there in cyberspace, however much people dislike it. I even follow a number of them on Twitter. Into this dangerous minefield LOCOG stumbled like a drunkard enforcing the highly contentious Olympic Games Act 2006, one of Blair's last before he yielded to Brown. It gives LOCOG the power to potentially prosecute people:

'using prohibited terms. Under the OSPA (1995), these include but are not limited to...'the Olympics', 'Paralympics' and Olympic Rings... but also under the Olympic Games Act 2006 ... the terms 'LOCOG' , 'London 2012' , 'Team GB' or any images, logos or graphics relating to them.'

'As well as these terms prohibited from use by anyone other than official partners but also companies that produce unauthorised products bearing similar words – plurals, translations, deliberately misspelled etc. – are likely to be fined with directors of the firms liable to prosecution.'

Now, whatever my or your opinion of the Trolls, as the Kernel Mag article linked to above points out, they tend to be libertarian or anarchic in nature. As well as being often bigoted and profoundly offensive to many people of delicate sensibility,  they also don't take kindly to be pushed around by nameless, faceless bureaucrats. Their reaction was a fairly predictable one as seen here, here and here. Don't forget this is also based on my extremely limited exposure to about 300 users - god knows how many other Trolls have got similar Spoof avatars! So LOCOG have made the classic mistake of using a 'Sledgehammer to crack a nut' and have merely succeeded in at best looking antagonistic, and at worst, like total chumps.

2/ Give them a sporting chance, surely?

I think anyone who thinks the Olympics are any longer about the Sport can only be under 16 or possessed of a staggering naivete which would suggest they won't survive long in this world. On a trip back to the UK I was watching a Daytime TV programme wherein an 'Anti-Olympics' protester was being interviewed by former Relay Silver medallist Iwan Thomas, and was outlining the reasons behind this movement - Watching the 'face of the protestors' it seemed I was transported in my mind to a UK Uncut group destroying Fortnum and Mason - the same stale, Marxist claptrap, almost enough to make me sympathetic to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and LOCOG. I was instinctively on the side of the Athletes, who it must be said are not entirely culpable for what has become a modern-day circus. however, in the cold light of day, the anti-Olympics people, including such luminaries as our Old friends Richard Murphy and Owen Jones, prove the old adage 'Even a blind squirrel stumbles across the odd acorn': As the quite disparate figures of James Delingpole in the Telegraph and Nic Cohen in the Spectator make clear, it is truly nauseating to see the following examples:

Olympic Gold medallist Sally Gunnell forced to switch Tracksuit colour and remove the Union Jack flag from the photoshoot of an advert promoting EasyJet's new London- Southend service

Hanley's Florist  in Stoke- on - Trent threatened with prosecution over putting a display of Flowers in the Shop Window in the shape of the Olympic logo - as the Florist himself rightly says 'Who in Stoke- on - Trent gives a stuff about the Olympics?'

Stopping a London bound bus for four hours on security grounds because someone had sparked up an electronic cigarette - An interesting choice of weapon for potential terrorists to be sure.

I'm sure other people could add Legions of examples - The truth is that the Olympics have now become so dominated by Large corporations that the sport is entirely a secondary, some might even say tertiary consideration.

3/ The idiots themselves

And so on to our next Primary player in the drama - This Coalition government, which is against stiff, (and I must confess, I thought insuperable) competiton from its predecessor rapidly leading the field when it comes to fiascos and incompetence. The week began with Theresa May breaking the news of a Security scandal involving PFI beneficiaries GPS. Apparently the firm had no idea how many guards it could provide for security, pointing to a lack of trained personnel. The upshot of this is that the already overstretched army and Police force have had to supplement the security. Then on Monday, following the news that the M4, previously closed for two weeks following revelations that the main elevated sections had serious defects , the hated M4 Bus lane, the brainchild of John Prescott , was reopened as a ZIL lane for the Olympic duration. This caused the expected 28 miles queues going into London. Combined with the revelation that the Olympic Park isn't even ready, the impression is, however hyped up by the Press, of a government, and by extension a country, in total disarray.

Thus my initial anger, that Madrid, which I know would have been both more than capable of holding a superb games, and was fraudulently denied by either incompetence or wilful deception on the part of the Original bid team, has now turned to slight depression that the Eventual denouement of the Olympics themselves will confirm Britain's collapse to Third World status, and that the abiding memory of the Olympics will be that like their predecessors in 1948, they were characterised by austerity and 'muddling through'. The difference being in 1948 we were holding them in the wake of the worst conflict the world has ever seen. What is the contemporary excuse? it's a truism that no-one likes a smartarse and I hate to say I told you so, but the truth is 3 years of living in London (2003 to 2006) when the population was half a million people lower than it is now convinced me in no short order that London was an entirely unsuitable place to hold the games. It's sad that that conclusion is being borne out in the unforgiving glare of the new Social Media world...

17 July 2012

Army of One

I have to echo the sentiments of my co-blogger, and (to use an American aphorism) come to the realisation that there have been more debates between the candidates for the Republican nomination for the 2012 presidential election than certainly posts I have managed to come up with, and most likely than the number of posts combined this year. I can't even muster the excuse that I have been busy trying to survive in the face of the ongoing austerity programme of the Comedy coalition government. Nevertheless, there is obviously a need to try and at least emulate last year's meagre total so for the third or fourth time this year, I need to make a concerted effort to reverse the trend.

Where to begin - Well in terms of material I'm like a rabbit hunter in the fields of Northern Maine, but with the bulk of the readership of the blog (a dwindling band) at least partially in the camp of Hal Berstram politically,  perhaps time to reconnect with a sporting post. The ongoing fiasco that is Olympics 2012 merits a post all of its own, though it will require more than the time my domestic duties allow me today. Perhaps more entertaining, and the reason behind the post title, is the comic situation relating to Scottish football.

Army of One was the final episode of Season 3 of The Sopranos, and recent events over the better part of this year have exposed Scottish Football as being effectively now a one team monopoly, built on a House of Cards - an elegant summary of the potential state of the English game if certain trends that Scotland has magnified are not quickly dealt with by the authorities. As any Football Fans will no doubt be aware, Scottish football has, even for its more devoted supporters, been for decades the relative equivalent of watching paint dry, with the so-called 'Big firm' of the twin Glasgow clubs of Celtic and Rangers dominating to the extent that not since nearly my first season as a fan (1984/85) has another team won the League title there. Despite the clubs clamouring for a greater share of the Television Money following their English counterparts and setting up a 'Breakaway' Scottish Premier League in 1998, the two club dominance of the Glasgow two has continued, with Old Firm games being by far the most watched (and incidentally the most split along Sectarian lines in the British Isles)  and most physically attended.

Sadly, the game in European terms is now so dominated by the spectre of the 'Champions' League' , that the Two Glasgow clubs have looked on enviously as whilst they were devouring the relative toddlers of their fellow Scottish clubs, their European ambitions have come to look decidely forlorn, especially when, as in the current season, Teams from 'Smaller Leagues'  such as Sweden, Slovenia and even for the delusional, Portugal proved a bridge too far in both the revamped European competitions. After the hubris, at least for one has now come what the Greeks termed 'Nemeis' and as a result one of these 'titans' now lies, almost in ruins.

The donwfall of Glasgow Rangers could probably provide enough material to keep a filmaker busy in the cutting suite for the thick end of two years, but at the end of the day, the reasons are, I think clear enough. Desperate to cling on to past Glories, the Board spent money it didn't have chasing the elusive chalice of the 'Champions League' (and not even the most ardent fan would presume that a Scottish club could have or indeed would have been allowed to win it) and salaries skyrocketed to levels that mere domestic competition couldn't begin to pay for.

The coup de grace was signed in February this year, when an unpaid Customs and Excise bill of over £9 million pounds put the club into administration, and the ongoing investigation revealed overall debts of £134 million, making the club insolvent and last month, Customs issued a winding up order and effectively the Original version of the most successful Football club (using Domestic success as the barometer) in the World ceased to exist as a going concern.

Events subsequent to that point have reached levels of farce that would have gladdened the heart of the late Tommy Cooper. A ludicrous sounding entity, Sevco 5088, effectively a shell company appears to have taken over the 'name' of Rangers. Despite petitioning for entry to the Top tier of the League, their bid has been rejected, and those numerous clubs outside the top tier (Anyone who recalls listening to the football results either on the Radio or on the now departed Grandstand, or indeed who ever played the football pools will be familiar with the names for the most part!) when presented with the options voted for the new 'Sevco' team to be put into the Third tier. The resultant shakeup means that the bookmakers have now installed cross town rivals Celtic at a staggering 33/1 ON to win the title. (Bookmakers no longer appear to offer 50/1 or 66/1 on strangely) I'd advise anyone with a substantial sum of Disposable capital over,say, £60,000 to make their way to the Bookmakers to invest it as soon as possible. though the old adage, 'There's no such thing as a sure thing' is one bearing in mind, I cannot see barring an Act of good any of the meaning teams even being within 25 points by the season's end, and with a ZIRP still being followed by the calamitous coalition administration, you're likely to get a better return than keeping it in the bank.

Naturally reactions to the fiasco (and I have some sympathy with the players who are otherwise, relatively speaking,  innocent victims) have varied. Several Rangers fans have publicly stated they will have nothing to do with the new entity if it is in the fourth tier, whilst a minority (a not insubstantial one) has said that they will stage a boycott if the team is NOT put into the Third division! More interesting is the reaction of the parties both in the Third Division itself, together with the reaction of the Scottish FA and the remaining Premier League Division clubs.

The latter teams have warned that if the Rangers team is not placed immediately into the First Division (One below the Premier) the decision could lead to a Domino effect, as the following story outlines, with five of the remaining 12 clubs looking at administration inside a year, and most believing that they wouldn't survive the year in their current form. The reason for this is that Sky TV, which has provided much of the funding for the Scottish Premier, has said it will pull the plug on its Scottish Television coverage if Rangers are plunged into the fourth tier. My response is: If you're that dependent on TV money, then you're not a viable business and you need to cut your cloth accordingly.

What is the long-term future for Scottish football? Well, the national team having been a fairly permanent fixture in my youth in both World Cups (1982, 1986, 1990, 1998) and even the Euros (1992 & 1996) has not qualified for an international tournament in over 13 years, and as already mentioned their European performance in the bastardised Club competitions has continued to slide still further. This despite living on a diet of Sky Money, expensive imports and aping all the razzmatazz of their English equivalents. I'd say the death of Rangers, and possible mass bankruptcy of smaller Premier League rivals could see genuine community clubs emerge as possible viable business models. If 6 or 7 teams fell out of the Premier League a la Sevco, then teams that have had for years to exist as part-time small clubs might have a taste of potential glory, rekindling local interest and encouraging a much wider talent base than merely the 'Big Two'. The ramifications for Scottish football (and it's by far the biggest sport up there) could be profound. English football fans, amongst whom I count many readers of this blog and its co-authors, need to look with interest at the fate of the Scottish League because given the inherent unviability of our Top tier domestic football and the far greater wage inflation rampant in the Premier League, it's no mean stretch to argue that the Premiership could quite easily also become an Army of One, unless steps are taken to remedy excessive dependency on Sky Money......

10 July 2012

House of Lords reform: nice idea with little chance of happening (this time)

It's hardly the most important issue around at the moment (and that may be part of the problem) but for what it's worth, here are my thoughts on reform of the House of Lords - both what I think should happen, and what will actually happen.

Given the undemocratic nature of the House of Commons due to its idiotic "First Past the Post" voting system (which allowed Tony Blair's Labour Party to form a majority government on only 35% of the vote in 2005), it's very important to have a second chamber with some capacity to delay - and possibly block - legislation which it considers to be not up to scratch. I'd argue that the current House of Lords does not perform this function effectively. Partly that is because there are a lot more party apparatchiks (including a high quota of tedious reactionaries from all three parties) in there than the defenders of the current set-up give it credit for. But more importantly, the blocking function has been whittled down to almost an irrelevance under this government. The Commons can use a mechanism known as "financial privilege" to stop the Lords introducing amendments to legislation. Previously this was only used for Budget-related legislation (e.g. the Finance Act) but the ConDems have extended it to (potentially) any legislation which might impact on the public finances (which is just about any legislation at all, of course). See, for example, what happened earlier this year on the appalling "Welfare Reform Bill" (aka the abolition of social security for working age adults bill.)

So the House of Lords is now emasculated to the point where we have a de facto unicameral legislature. This would be somewhat concerning even if the House of Commons had a democratic and accountable electoral system. With First Past the Post it's a recipe for disaster. What we need, really, is a second chamber with substantially more revising powers than it currently has - and also, perhaps, with the power to initiate legislation in certain policy areas.

My ideal system would be for PR voting for the House of Commons - perhaps through a system similar to the one used for the Euro-elections at the moment (7-member constituencies operating on party lists) with a different system used to elect the Lords (perhaps First Past the Post in very small constituencies - maybe 1,000 or so of them). That way, the Commons would be truly representative of the public vote, but the Lords would have local "micro-mandates" and would be able to raise local issues effectively. It might also be good to set a higher threshold for the Commons to be able to overcome defeats or amendments to legislation sent back from the Lords - for example it could require 60% of MPs to vote to overturn a Lords amendment rather than the usual 50%.

Given that we are unlikely to get PR for the Commons any time soon, PR for the Lords makes sense - although this then results in the odd situation of the second chamber being more representative than the primary chamber, which seems kind of topsy-turvy. I'd push hard for a PR Lords to acquire as much procedural clout as possible, given that it would have more of a democratic mandate than a FPTP Commons.

Turning to the prospects for Nick Clegg's Lords Reform Bill, it looks pretty dead in the water to me. Labour will be voting against the programme motion setting a limit to the amount of time allowed for debate, and it looks like there are enough rebel Tories who are going to vote with Labour to ensure that the Bill drags on and on, gets filibustered and finally talked out. Charles Kennedy has accused Labour of "playing political games" but this isn't a very effective criticism, frankly, because given the sheer destructiveness of the ConDem political agenda, it's no surprise that Ed Miliband is jumping at the chance to f*** up the timetable for the rest of their appalling legislative programme. It's the only honourable thing to do. Charles Kennedy, by contrast, needs to spend some time thinking about just how it is that a once progressive political party - the Liberal Democrats - has been produced to annihilating itself providing lobby fodder for the Tories.

I think we will see Lords reform soon; but it will be under Ed Miliband's first administration sometime between 2015 and 2020. But if the tendency to use financial privilege to override any amendments which the Lords make to legislation persists into future parliaments, it isn't going to matter much WHAT system - if any - is used to elect the second chamber. It'll still be a completely toothless talking shop.

05 July 2012

An example to us all...

...I'm very pleased to alert readers of this blog (if there are any left after a 3-week layoff, and less posts this year than dodgy banker scandals) that my friend Chris Brooke is back as an active blogger at the Virtual Stoa. Chris is always a quality effort and serves as an example to us all: it's time to dust off the PC, stop eating Pringles and get yer ass in gear to write some serious blog. Good luck to ya, Chris.

I will be doing a few posts on minor topics like the forthcoming collapse of the banking system, the € and Dave Cameron's quiff over the next few weeks. My output has been abysmal this year, partly because I was working my ass off until May, then took a long holiday, and then I was easing back into it. So easy, in fact, that I did f*** all electronically speaking.

There is so much to say and I'll certainly fulfill a quota of posts in July/August... but my medium term ambition is to set up a new blog, probably under my real name, as I think I've taken giroscope about as far as it can go. Van Patten will of course be free to carry on here as long as he so wishes, and we may introduce other writers as well.

But anyway, do check Chris's blog out... it's excellent.

22 June 2012

Ed Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Moans

Firstly, many apologies for being inactive on the blog for almost a month. I was on holiday for a few weeks and then it took a while just to get back in the groove of things. I've got a lot of stuff to catch up on, so the next couple of weeks will (hopefully) several posts, and many of them will be on the long side. But increasingly I'm using Twitter for the soundbite stuff and so this blog will be picking up the slack on slightly longer, polemic-style, outings.

So, without further ado.... what a difference six months has made for Ed Miliband. At the end of last year, with the Tories temporarily in the lead in the polls due to David Cameron's ludicrous "veto" in Brussels, you could tell that the Labour hard right were sharpening the knives. This anti-Ed activity was covered in some detail in my previous post "The Bantam Menace" - referring to the rather small size of the threat Ed faced. I always thought it was unlikely that Ed would face a challenge this side of the next general election, even when the Tories were marginally in front, because the Labour right - who have (mostly) hated Ed ever since he announced he was standing for the leadership in May 2010 - had no obvious challenger. The most high-profile right wingers at cabinet level are Liam Byrne, Jim Murphy, Stephen Twigg and Caroline Flint, none of whom look like they could attract enough support across the Labour leadership electoral college to beat Ed. Other torch-bearers for the Labour hard right are mostly in the Lords (e.g. Adonis, Mandelson) or have retired hurt from front-line politics (Milburn, Purnell). Very few of the visible faces in the new crop of MPs look like Blairite right-wingers, either. And the original great hope of "continuity New Labour", David Miliband, crashed and burned so spectacularly in 2010 that it's unlikely he would ever want to put himself through such a gruelling process again.

So in short, it is looking rather desperate for the Labour right in terms of a direct challenge to the leadership, and has done since October 2010, really. Progress (surely the most Orwellian misnaming of a political grouping ever?) realised very early on that, lacking a candidate of their own for the leadership, their best hope was a "Manchurian candidate" figure - a pliable centrist who could be leaned on to be more receptive to hard-right ideas than Ed is. In terms of "big hitters", Ed Balls was out because despite largely agreeing with the Labour right on financial regulation (i.e. we don't really need it, despite everything we've seen since 2008) he's too statist and too Keynesian, and too  arrogant, to be a conduit for Blairism. Also, he performed dismally in the 2010 leadership election Yvette Cooper on the other hand, who had stayed out of the 2010 election in deference to Balls (her husband), was a distinct possibility. And so last year we began seeing a wave of pro-Cooper articles from Dan Hodges and the like. The idea was that the anti-Ed barrage would build to a crescendo if Labour's performance in the local elections in May 2012 was as weak as May 2011, building momentum for an autumn 2012 challenge from Cooper.

The strategy failed dismally, largely because Labour stormed into a poll lead of around 10 percentage points in the wake of George Osborne's extraordinarily botched Budget of March 2012. This laid the ground for a good - although not exceptional - local election performance for Labour. The one beacon of hope for the right was that Ken Livingstone's defeat in the London mayoral contest would prove a big blot on Ed's copybook - but this doesn't seem to have happened, largely because Ken's sheer eccentricity as a candidate this time round has led to him taking personal blame for the defeat, with Ed largely insulated from criticism.

Instead, Ed has been consolidating his position - something that's much easier to do now that shadow cabinet elections have been abolished and he has control over appointments. Key allies in the 2010 intake like Rachel Reeves and Chuka Umunna have been quickly promoted to the shadow cabinet, Balls has been brought inside the tent and is performing reasonably well as Shadow Chancellor, and last month the Blairite Liam Byrne was replaced as head of the unweildy and labyrinthine Labour policy review by leading "soft left" thinker Jon Cruddas. It is this last event that symbolises the intellectual exhaustion and capitulation of the Labour hard right. Reduced to arguing for Labour to become an anaemic "lite" version of the ConDems in pamphlets like Policy Network's In the Black Labour, they have been caught completely unawares by Labour's improvement in the opinion polls, and would probably have started to fade away completely had it not been for the rather ham-fisted intervention of the GMB Union, which attacked Progress at its annual conference, with GMB general secretary Paul Kenny promising to submit a motion to the Labour Conference in the autumn which would "outlaw" Progress as part of the Labour party in its present form. This was, frankly, a daft intervention, which makes Progress look like martyrs being hounded out of the party by the union paymasters. As things stand, Progress is yesterday's organisation. Just as the high point of the hard left within the Labour party was Tony Benn's narrow defeat to Denis Healey in the 1981 deputy leadership campaign, which was followed by a long period of decline for that faction, similarly the high point of Progress was David Miliband's narrow defeat to Ed in 2010. Progress is an organisation on a downward curve. It has considerable funding from Lord Sainsbury and various corporates, but is being progressively marginalised by Ed Miliband, and will probably be only a minor force, with a couple of token cabinet members, in the next Labour government. The GMB's interests would be best served by letting Progress continue its slow decline rather than giving it publicity and a moral high ground it doesn't deserve with comedy motions to "outlaw" it.

27 May 2012

On holiday

Hope blog readers are enjoying the thoughts of Van Patten... I'm currently in the middle of a 3-week holiday in the US and will hope to post some thoughts from this side of the Atlantic soon but to be honest, after a very strenuous start to 2012, I'm really trying to recharge the batteries at the moment. Stay calm and normal service will be resumed soon.

25 May 2012

Shades of Grey

Which was the 48th episode, and the final episode of the Second Season of Star Trek: The Next Generation,  and essentially consists of about 10 minutes of new footage involving one of the actors lying on a bed in a set interspersed with Clips from previous episodes. It's widely considered one of, if not the worst episode in the entire Star Trek pantheon. I was moved to write by the latest offering from the already mentioned Owen Jones, who, having left the sanctity of the Guardian to move across to the other fount of predictable idiocy The Independent has, in the face of strong competition, produced what has to be the most idiotic article I think I have ever read in any supposedly 'respectable' newspaper.

The articles byline is 'If Socialists really did run the show then working people would benefit' and as already stated the sheer number of inaccuracies and calumnies within an article is, I think unsurpassed in the history of 'quality' journalism. There's probably too many to list not to make this the longest article in the site's history, but I'll do my best:

'When I glanced at the Telegraph's front page later that day – which revealed that multi-millionaire Tory donor Adrian Beecroft had accused Vince Cable of being a socialist – I realised it must have been Karl Marx spinning violently in his Highgate Cemetery grave. The great man shouldn't take it to heart:'

In fairness, it's questionable whether a man should be held to account for crimes committed in his names after his death but I am moved to quote the late Lewis Namier, who was moved to inquire of the brilliant philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin, when informed that the latter intended to compose a treatise on Marx as to why he was studying such a Poor thinker and one so blinded by class and racial hatred. However, given how influential (Disastrously) his ideas have been, to describe him as a 'Great man' (in the sense that Possibly Hitler and Stalin were 'Great men') is not beyond the realms of possibility.

'....it does demonstrate how "socialist" is regarded as the ultimate insult by much of our wealthy elite, who have been in a virtually uninterrupted triumphalist mood since Margaret Thatcher defeated their political opponents in the 1980s'

From reading this you might think (as indeed my co-blogger might well argue) that Thatcher gained her victory through franchise restriction and use, possibly of paramilitary forces to vanquish her and, by definition 'The elite's political opponents'. Never mind she won thumping victories both in 1983 and 1987, winning a majority of voters in the C1 and C2 Sociological demographics,two strata referred to quite frequently (and witheringly, for the most part) by The Guardian as 'Thatcher's children'. I can only assume that from Jones' perspective, these people, often amongst the early self-employed, small businessmen or employees in parts of the Public Sector where Union Leadership had had their restrictive practices curtailed by the Employment reforms of Norman Tebbit , would not be classified according to his eccentric world-view as 'Working people'

'In what was fortunate timing for Thatcher's acolytes, the Soviet empire began disintegrating as her project reached its climax. Although almost all socialists abhorred Stalinist totalitarianism (by the 1980s, at least), these were regimes that described themselves as "actually existing socialism". Their collapse was portrayed as the final discrediting of socialism, and the ultimate vindication of capitalism.'

Given that even the most Conservative estimates of the extent of Warsaw Pact influence within the Public Sector, Civil Service and other prominent parts of British civic life puits the number of COMECON country agents at around 15,000, it is something of a stretch to make the statement that 'Almost all Socialists abhorred Stalinist totalitarianism'. Besides which 'Uncle Joe' had been dead for almost three decades by the time Thatcher came to power. If my blanket use of the terms 'Soviet sympathiser' and 'Sino/north Korean agent' is to be disproved (and I apologise to readers as they have been over-used) then at least one should distinguish between the Stalin, Kruschev and Brezhnev eras. As is so often the case with Journalists of the Left, the absence of historical context is truly shaming and shocking.

'Beecroft's use of "socialism", then, relates to a theory called the "Overton window", which describes what is seen as politically acceptable at a given time. Rather than having to engage in a debate over the merits of bosses being able to dismiss their workers at will, an opponent can be dismissed as a "socialist", which – for Beecroft – is code for "extremist" or "someone with views outside of what is politically acceptable".'

A theory which is used regulaly in debates by (not Jones himself, curiously, which is to his credit) journalists of the Left to circumscribe debate on a whole raft of issues, most prominently race or sexual orientation - almost any mainstream politician daring to question the status quo that we need to do something to put limits in immigration into the UK has to lace such a statement with caveats and platitudes about ' the contribution diversity has made to the country' lest he be branded 'racist'. Similarly on the issue of Climate Change (Or Anthropogenic Global Warming), currently under severe pressure, the term 'Climate Change denier' is regularly bandied about. The issue being that unlike Socialism, neither 'Racism' nor 'Climate Change Denial' can put 90 million dead across two countries in their debit column. Forget Al Gore's vapid meanderings on the state of the planet. This is the real 'Inconvenient truth' that the Left would like airbrushed out of history.

'If socialists really were running the show in Britain, they would be building a society run by, and in the interests of, working people. Our banks – propped by the British people – would be taken under genuine democratic control, forcing them to operate in the interests of society as a whole. Our booming wealthy elite would be forced to pay a fair share of tax (or, in some cases, any tax whatsoever)....'

Again here, he hits on a partial truth - the banks shouldn't have been baled out by the taxpayer, for if markets are to work, however imperfectly, then there has to be the possibility of failure. Sadly it was the previous administration, by firstly propping up Northern Rock for heavily political reasons, then intervening in the difficulties of HBOS and RBS who set in tow the kowtowing to the Banks, who know that whatever their misjudgements, the taxpayer will now act as backstop.

I also like the idea that the Banks under state control would 'act in the interests of society as a whole' - And just who decides what that interest is? Are we going to have referenda on interest rates (for example?) Which well-paid coterie of bureaucrats will decide 'the popular interest'?

'After the disastrous failures of market economics, real socialists would be taking our utilities – such as the railways and rip-off energy companies – into social ownership: not old-style, statist nationalisation, but democratically run by workers and consumers. They would bring down welfare spending, not by kicking people at the bottom, but by building social housing, introducing a living wage, and creating jobs. And they would be reversing the scandalous lack of rights that workers have in the workplace, which is what ensured that wages were declining for many before the crash had even happened...'

What I find amusing here is that Jones (I suspect) is too young to remember the situation in the 1970s, and certainly too young to remember the 1945 to 51 government - which was a genuinely impressive administration, easy to knock with the benefit of hindsight but filled with ministers who had served patriotically during the warf, and with a genuine concern for working conditions and familiar with pre-war deprivation which the modern LEft have, frankly zero familiarity with. The Industries were taken into Public ownership with the intention of running them 'democratically'. That was quickly hijacked by the Unions themselves, who took over acting in the interests of producers, rather than consumers. A quick look at the scene today sees (for example) the London Underground, which is already partly in Public ownership, and under 'Workers control' - a scenario meaning a job that for the most part mechanisation should already have removed is paid a base salary of £59K. Is Jones saying that's the kind of wage levels he wants across the economy? It sounds like a rekindling of Tony Benn's laudable but ludicrous idea of a 'siege economy' to prevent Britain being battered by the then relatively nascent Capital markets, or at worst, something like the reaction of Apartheid South Africa in the face of global economic sanctions - Build up our own industries heedless of what is going in the outside world.

As I said in the previous post on Murphy, I wouldn't normally consider either party worthy of such detailed comment, but as these are two intellectual scions of the Ed Miliband Labour Party, I think it's worth seeing the level of intellectual rigour and total failure to understand historical context or even take a cursory look at history before coming out with suggestions. Ironically one thing both contributors lack is the realisation that things aren't always black and white - and in between, there are many Shades of Grey....

24 May 2012

Mr. Murphy's Greenhouse Stone throwing

In my 10 months or so on Twitter, which is arguably responsible, at least in part for the paucity of posts here which I am forever seeking to rectify, I have encountered a myriad group of 'Twitterati': the Good, the learned, the Bad and the downright offensive. However, aside from a spate of so -called 'Pornbots', I have never felt it necessary to Block anyone who has cause to disagree with me. Nor have I had much cause, despite some strong words at times, to be blocked by anyone bar two Leading Tweeters, the baby-faced (and, sorry to say, Rather immature, at least in terms of his real-world experience) Owen Jones and the almost megalomaniac self-styled 'Number 1 economics blogger in the UK', the Norfolk - based former tax accountant, Richard Murphy, author of the tome 'The Courageous State', and rumoured to be one of the Leading advisors on Tax policy and overall economic outlook of the (potential) incoming Ed Miliband Administration in 2015. I think my jibe at Jones when he made a reference that with the death of North Korea's Kim Jong-il, 'Robert Mugabe's Christmas Card list was getting a bit shorter' to the effect that I'm sure he was still on it probably rankled but I know for a fact I am not the first to get the 'blocking treatment' from Murphy. This very cocksure blogger likes to boast about his advocacy of a 'Courageous State' but his courage doesn't seem to extend to allowing dissenting voices to post on his blog or indeed even follow his Twitter feed, thus rendering his credibility immediately suspect.

Arguably his most prominent and incisive critic, is Tax exile and ASI writer, Tim Worstall, disparagingly referred to on Murphy's blog as 'Tim Worstofall' (Such cutting edge humour..) who regularly blows holes in Murphy's master plan, much to the chagrin of my fellow blogger (who collaborated on the Courageous State) . Unlike Murphy, Tim operates a fairly open access policy on his blog and critical comments there don't tend to be banned or silenced, a policy I'd argue is far more courageous than Murphy's almost medieval inquisition-like 'silencing' of counter-voices.

Anyhow, ranting aside, I wouldn't normally pass comment on anything Murphy has to say, only that to anyone taking a passing interest in Global economic news of late, the situation in Greece is becoming increasingly desperate. Mired in a downward spiral of falling demand, cuts in expenditure and prisoners of a massively overvalued currency, rumours persist of people foraging through bins for food, together with reports Many businesses have folded with many more on the brink and of children being abandoned to churches due to their parents being unable to afford to feed them. With the situation in Greece being so intrinsically linked to Europe, and a perfectly titled episode of Star Trek (Plato's Stepchildren) available, a more lengthy post on Greece is surely in the offing, but what took my eye on the 'Tax Research UK' blog was this almost unbelievable piece by Murphy on how Greece can effect recovery.

A few choice examples of how misguided the man is:

'The present emphasis on export-led growth as a key solution to the Euro crisis, whilst benefiting successful economies like Germany and China, will not be enough to enable the rest of Europe to deal with its collapsing effective demand.'

Which obviously begs the question as to where the money to pay for anything is going to come from for Greece in the First instance, with other potential 'Exit nations' (Spain, Italy and Portugal waiting by the door) - But, wait, here's the answer....

'the European Central Bank (ECB) should immediately announce a Green Quantitative Easing (QE) Emergency Programme for Greece. It has been estimated that there are more than 4 million households in Greece and so its first investment should be 9 billion Euros spent on fitting free solar panels for the occupants of one million south facing roofs in Greece, and a further 4 billion Euros to train a ‘carbon army’ to install energy saving measures in all Greek homes'

And where exactly is the skilled Labour going to come from, Richard? who is going to be training them? and more importantly who is going to be controlling them? Murphy appears to be advocating, in effect that the EU continue its policy of treating Greece like some satrapy from the Middle-Ages. Arguably the most shocking incident thus far seen in Greece was 77 year old Dimitris Christoulas, who shot himself in Athens' Syntagma Square, with a strongly-worded letter condemning the austerity pursued by the 'Tsolkagolou' government - a reference I needed to look up to explain. Georgios Tsolkagolou was a Colonel in the Greek Army who signed the surrender of Greece to NSDAP forces in World War II and was tried after the war for treason. Is Murphy suggesting that another government programme imposed (or seen as being imposed) from Berlin will be acceptable to the Greek people. I cannot read Greek but those of my correspondents that can warn the language being used to describe both the former Papademos government and the EU itself by the Greek press is inflammatory and laced with references to the German Occupation of 1941 - 45.

Also, Murphy displays his profound ignorance of the EU, which for ordinary Greeks has become synonymous with a cosy coterie of Private businessmen (who, to give him credit he will condemn) and CRUCIALLY, senior Bureaucrats, both within the Greek State and at EU level (which, due to some misguided belief shared by my fellow blogger that all Public servants have a saint-like lack of self -interest and all Public expenditure is axiomatically good he won't) who have carved up the contracts and much of the resultant money that Greece has received since joining the EOK (Greek for EEC) in 1988. The money for his solar panels will simply disappear into the same well of corruption and nepotism that it has done over those intervening two decades.

'Of course, a Green New Deal is only part of the picture to regenerate Europe. Face to face caring and wider infrastructural renewal such as housing, schools, hospitals, water and sewers systems and maintaining the local road networks will provide the backbone for a labour intensive transition for most countries. The personal care can be paid for by the state, particularly once domestic and international tax dodging are tackled. With some modest state pump priming, the majority of the funding for the rest of the infrastructure programmes can be provided by pension and insurance funds and from personal savings via bonds. The secure returns that can be earned from such investments are just what such funding sources need. The local jobs and business opportunities provided will help rebuild the tax base and allow for an eventual reduction in public debt.'

Despite Murphy's insistence that tax havens are the problem, Greeks facing down the consequences of refusing to leave the euro have been piling their money OUT of the country. Even former Communist neighbour Bulgaria, itself no paragon of economic and bureaucratic virtue is seen as a relative safe haven, with huge deposits flowing in to those unable to afford to deposit in one of Richard's prime Bete noires, Switzerland (prosperous, DEMOCRATIC and with a limited state that seems to work quite nicely for them - no wonder he dislikes them so much) Again, the infrastructure projects thus far funded by the EU have been in many cases catastrophic(Visit the Parthenon if you want evidence of this), and Good luck using either Greek bureaucrats themselves or more likely, foreign 'Independent' Tax experts to chase down tax evasion, which in Greece, due to corruption is seen as a National Sport.

In short the article completely misses the point on almost every level. It show almost zero knowledge of Greece or the Greek psyche, no respect for national boundaries or Freedom of choice and overweaning arrogance characteristic both of the Man's blog and his Twitter feed (what I can discern of it since being banned) I have said that the state most like the 'Courageous State' that I can see in historical terms is the now -defunct USSR. In advocating a key rule for that unlamented behemoth's Spiritual successor, the EU, Murphy has unwittingly (or more likely unashamedly) showed his totalitarian side. Lord help us if he has any influence over an incoming Ed Miliband administration