Wednesday, October 20, 2010

This is where we are

In 1997 the British people elected a Labour government, because it wanted a Labour government.

A government to invest in a shattered infrastructure and a fragmented society.

A government prepared to counter the buffets of the economic cycle by an intelligent growth-oriented investment strategy coupled with a commitment to improving public services.

That government, that New Labour government no less, was so committed to change and progress and well ...REFORM

So committed was it, that it spent its time in government attacking poor public services, changing delivery, contracting out services - you know reforming.

Targets were set to deal with poor performance and when things improved new ones were set.

Every morning on the Today programme we heard about their battle.

Every day was difficult, every service needed improving (not to say reforming).

Through ten long years of economic growth all we heard was bad news - and we weren't listening to Radio Africa...

New Labour also triangulated, it took on the Tory's on their own ground - you know, it met them halfway, it used their language, it went round the back ...and then it blew a raspberry; with increasingly little success as the years dragged on.

That nice red raspberry got bluer.

By 2010 the New Labour Party had spent thirteen long years explaining to the British public why they were wrong to want a Labour government.

It took a long time but eventually they agreed.

Though they weren't sure they wanted a Tory government either. Indecision eh, its a killer, luckily the British public were helped out by some people who did want a Tory government.

Those people were called Liberal Democrats, but actually they were rather similar to the other ex-merchant bankers and global corporate economists that they looked very similar to on the Tory benches.

Today as we look at George Osborne's delight lets remember Vince Cable's prescription back in April just before the election: 'five miserable years' promised Vince. Lets hope he was right. More than five will be a killer, even more of a killer than the five coming up.

Thanks Tony, thanks Alistair Darling [have you noticed yet that as you briefed against the rest of your party just before the election by saying that their economic forecasts were over-optimistic that they were actually under-optimistic - and you were wrong?], thanks Gordon for your inarticulacy, your tiredness, your lack of ideas and above all your inability to positively motivate anyone other than Paul Dacre - whom you had far too many dinners and theatre trips with. Thanks David 'immigration is a problem' Blunkett.

You've got a tough job Ed but at least you havn't got a tough act to follow.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Brown will pay the price for Iraq; but he deserves to.

As we prepare for Blair's mesopotamiam swansong before Chilcot later today we reflect and and ponder the many negative impacts of Blair's decision to back Bush's fantasy of preemption.

In the here and now it is Brown who will pay the electoral price for Iraq, while Blair's reputation is already too tarnished for his Chilcot appearance to make any difference; but back then what was Brown's position?

Steve Richards with his usual razor-sharp analysis, explains why and how the Iraq nightmare began with what he terms, "the origins of New Labour, a frail, insecure and defensive project from the beginning".

There is much in this and he is right to skewer Brown's support for it too, he also hints at why, "Acutely aware of Labour's vote-losing past when it was regarded as soft on defence and anti-American, Blair was always going to stick with the US over Iraq and seek as broad an international coalition of support as was possible.

In terms of domestic politics, Brown made similar calculations.Working on the wrong assumption that he would be prime minister by 2004 he did not want to inherit a government that had opposed the war, sided with mediocre European leaders against the US..."

Yet there was more to it than that, Blair believed; and as a SPAD of the period put it recently: 'he understood the importance of backing America, whatever our concerns about Iraq.'

Apparently he elucidated this in one of his regular weekly briefings to his SPADs at the time. Now there is a document I'd like to see the contents of in full; perhaps Chilcot could ak for that.

For a broader view and a sharper cutting edge we should look to John Kampfner, whose article sat adjacent to Richards' in the print edition today, spread across the centre of the paper. Kampfner says, "One man bears supreme responsibility for this most ignominious chapter in British foreign policy and political life. But many others played their part too, with their sins of omission and commission. Not one, not a single person, has been held to account, least of all Blair. He got away with it a long time ago. He always knew he would."

Brown and New Labour however won't get away with it, nor will the rest of us, paying as we are a number of very real prices for Blair's historic miscalculation that Britain's future lay not in Europe but in the Lone Star state and a middle eastern bonfire of his vanity:
John Kampfner: And still no one has been held to account for Iraq

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Standing in the way of control

As Massachusetts' voters prepare to derail healthcare reform in the US, Britain's electorate are preparing to vote themselves back into recession by opting for hardcore class war Toryism 1980s-style.

What allows this apparently illogical set of outcomes?

Despite the gaping gap between reality and Cameron and Osborne's economic analysis, British voters are preparing to choose the two Old Etonians as the individuals they will trust to deliver this economic enema.

Meanwile over at New Labour Johnson and Brown were tying themseles in knots over class. Brown is middle class this week while Johnson is too, yet Johnson is nonetheless in touch with his dissolute workerist past and backing the proles right to drink themselves to death at least until the middle class take the pledge. Thus the Home Secretary rejected calls for a minimum unit price for alcohol on the basis that while this was an effective solution to alcohol-fuelled health problems it might enforce its benefits on the poor while as he put it 'allowing the rest of us to carry on as before'...

The real revelation here is New Labour's view of the poor: take away their booze and they'll vote Tory? Watch out Alan, they may do so anyhow...

The takeaway is that voters in 'big decision' elections don't welcome diffidence and won't vote for parties which triangulate their own position toward their opponents rather than robustly defending it. In big votes voters opt for clarity and the situation is exaggerated by those who are typically non-voters opting to vote in large numbers [which may be an issue in Massachusetts] and voting against encumbent parties of power.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Your Starter For Ten (to 15 percent cuts) AKA Same Old Tories Too

The temptation is to say 'this is where it starts...' but actually it started ages ago.

It started when Gordon's men got an itchy election trigger finger, swiftly followed by a squeaky political bum.

It started when the financial elite needed a new dialogue beyond Gordon's 'sustained growth that has removed boom and bust'; beyond Boris' 'Don't blame the bankers'; beyond Fred the braindeads 'blame me, I ate all the cakes'...

It started when New Labour realised through the Pavlovian masochism of the Ten Per Cent Tax Rate Removal Fiasco that it still had a base to protect, if little else.

There was a need for clear blue water. There was a need for a new dialogue.

...Once our poor benighted government, not so much a ship of fools as a pig in shit, had used its, for once useful, familiarity with global finance, to actually save our banking system (while the Tories tried to play nationalisation politics over Northern Rock and blame Gordon's alleged profligacy for global financial meltdown, which at best Brown was guilty of watching lazy-eyed from the sidelines while the longest consistent period of growth in post-war history gave his party a lengthy political blow job through two unpopular wars and a perhaps unique disconnect between manifesto pledges and Acts of Government - no student loans, no university fees... err whatever "...f**K that was good Gordon, over to you now, I'm off to make some SERIOUS MONEY"]

...De-railed momentarily by Expenses and the Telegraph's uniquely arrogant attempt to flush the toilet known as parliament [by themselves, principally] clean, bi-partisan, non-triangulated out of all linkage to reality, good, old-fashioned, British politics was quietly trying to make a comeback. was time - Time for politics as usual:

So obligingly the Tories are going to stop playing 'New Labour Vintage 97' and get back to cutting propgrammes for the poor (and the middle classes)...

Well lets face it the Tories never represented the mass of the British people did they? But they are on occasion damn good at pretending to.

Still, sometimes they help to clarify things:

Tories to bin pledge to protect Sure Start cash

The Conservatives have announced that they are reneging on their pledge to protect early years scheme Sure Start from spending cuts if they are elected.

Speaking to Haymarket-published magazine, Regeneeration and Renewal Regeneration yesterday, Phillip Hammond, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, is reported as refusing to commit to a previous guarantee that the overall budget of the Labour government's flagship early years programme would be ring-fenced. "We will be looking at individual projects and workstreams, but we haven't made announcements about individual budgets yet," he said.
Last year, at the Tory Party conference, Oliver Letwin, chair of the party's policy review, said that Sure Start would continue under a Tory government at the same level to which Labour was committed (, 1 October 2008). "Sure Start is a programme we value and one we intend to continue," he said. "It will not be cut back."

But now Hammond has signalled that the programme would be subject to the same scrutiny and possible ten to 15 per cent cuts subjected to all departments.

He also confirmed to the haymarket magazine that, as previously announced, the Tories would take part of Sure Start's budget to fund health visits to vulnerable families with newborn children.

A spokesman for childcare charity the Daycare Trust said: "We seriously hope that it is not official Conservative Party policy to remove Sure Start's ring-fenced funding. Sure Start has grown into a much needed and valued public service for families, and parents will rightly be angered if its funding is threatened."

Next stop funding the rights and localism agenda, or was that the 'right localism agenda' - lets just see...

Saturday, January 31, 2009

New Labour's Final Ecstasy? - New Labour's leaders have gone from Rabbits in the Headlights of History, to Duracell Bunnies in the Debt Disco

When New Labour came to power in 1997 Blair and Brown were paralysed by fear of a radicalism they never possessed.

They had been rewarded with a huge majority and an unprecedentedly broad coalition of support for, at the very least a programme of social investment, in a country which was literally falling apart, as both society and transport infrastructure creaked after a period of two decades where major infrastructural investment had been limited to a new bankers metro in the east end and even our great national museums were reduced to excluding the poor and charging the rich in order to remain open.

As one senior forex expert of my acquantance put it at the time - it makes more sense for me to vote Labour than to keep buying more expensive alarms for my house'.

This was the first time in the 40 or so years he had been eligible to vote that he had felt that such an action made sense, the excesses of Thatcher and the incompetence and thievery of the Major years when, as his patrician city peers used to put it, 'the shit floated to the top', had horrified him - he saw the future and he didn't like it.

Flying over the Favelas of the Future
'I don't want to end up like a member of the Brazilian ruling class,' he continued, 'flying home by helicopter to my gated compound, to avoid driving through the favelas'.

He had worked across the globe, from the States to Asia, he loved Japan and indeed New York, though more for the salt beef and beigels than for the new Wall Street ethics downtown. He respected the dynamism of the Chinese and hoped that the cultural revolution would be as strong a lesson to the emergent nation as had been the period of warlord dominance, probably the strongest cultural lychpin in the development of the Chinese nation, a sort of outrider of chaos, standing as a warning of what could befall the nation should the unwritten rules of deference be forgotten. He knew the value of money and the fact this was mobile, this after all was his trade.

And he voted Labour in 1997, because, like so many of us, he believed in society, in ethics, in the need for laws as well as returns, for values as well as valuations. Because valuations change, because markets can go down as well as up. Because one of his friends spent the cultural revolution paraded in a dunces cap for the crime of teaching and was then sent to work in the fields - but was now an international banker, employed by the Chinese state.

He was to be fair an experienced man with connections across global business, whereas the leading lights of New Labour had Peter's friends in Notting Hill, their old [Labour] friends in the unions giving them sleepless nights like a sort of postmodernist tsetzuo or bogey man; and a profound lack of experience.

Rabbits in the Headlights of History
So they started not with a Barack-style bang but witha whimper. Two Years of Tory Spending. 'No change while we think of what to do, eh, Gordon,' whispered Tony breathily, 'settle in, find our way around, chat to people a bit, reassure them; really we'll do nothing in the first term, just a sort of creating foundations thing' .

'We can play some of those tax changes Kenneth was planning as 'aid for the forgotten poor', though' says Gordon, 'they will help, after all, those who actually work, and we can do some work around the tax credit ideas I have, to emphasise that. Telling a story of hard work and reward, not scrounging and the rewards of sloth and shiftless inactivity'.

Thus followed a period in which New Labour listened. To lobbyists, to Thatcherites, to deregulators, to American republicans and democrats in equal measures, to Goldman Sachs, to a brash new city which had found ways for international markets to create money without burdening public treasuries. Growth was to be funded through a proper and realistic assessment of risk and the trading and insuring of this risk to spread it. In a curious echo of the old imperialism, the new imperialism consisted of emergent Asian economies buying Western debt in order to fund the consumerist longings of the developed world they were rapidly becoming a fully-paid up part of.

Odd warnings had sounded, banks had occasionally broken throughout this period and indeed before it, the Leeson Barings debacle the clearest parallel, as the trader tried to trade his way out of a derivatives hole in a market which notoriously lacked a ceiling and, he thought, a floor; and operated without either external regulation of any meaningful sort or even the most mundane of internal controls.

Yet New Labour, the ultimate professionals, the managerialists who thought they knew the Rulers of the World and worse still that they had been invited to join the club, took a rationalist approach. The institutions would self-police because it was in their own interests not to suffer the ignominious meltdowns that had befallen aberrant old-timers like Barings. The message they heard was that Barings were old-fashioned, unable to cope with brash new realities. The Banks of the New Church, Jesuit priests of international capitalism would take their boys at five and make them compliance-friendly men.

Duracell Bunnies in the Debt Disco
So for ten years the Duracell bunnies of New Labour danced in the debt disco. Occasionally they would turn to each other asking,
'Any idea whats going on with this economic cycle Gordon? Seems to have been going on rather a long time...'

'Huh, huh, huh, no idea Tony'
pants Gordon, his huge lop ears flopping to the pumping music,

'I doon't really care, but I'm happy to keep dancing as long as someone keeps giving me these brilliant free Es.... sorry dollars'.

And traded debt derivative dollars at that.

The bad news
The bad news is that the derivative-funded industries in the UK don't simply extend to the financial services sector.

A few days ago Home Shopping Direct [Littlewoods catalogues as was] announced huge job cuts.

The really bad news is that cheap credit card debt to fund catalogue shopping you can't afford is just another version of buying houses you can't afford, just another part of the 'debt time bomb' if you like, Daily Express. Leading to the view among some people, not least Foreign Exchange experts that our whole economy may be over-valued.

Better start making something fast, but not cars, please, Peter.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Taking Sides Against the Innocent – why is the BBC backing Hamas and the men of war?

The BBC [and Sky]’s decision to decline to broadcast the Disaster’s Emergency Committee Appeal for Gaza is wrong.

It reveals some profoundly muddled thinking by its increasingly irrational, defensive and spineless DG, Mark Thompson. Thompson’s actions over both this and the recent Ross-Brand-Voluptua-Sachs fiasco, tell us a lot about why the Senior Editor and DG roles should be separate; but a lot more about why Thompson is simply not up to the job he was given on the back of the BBC’s pasting by HM Government and the noble Lord Hutton*

[*over, you'll remember, the BBC Today Programme's allegedly inaccurate claims that the government had sexed up its Iraq weapons dossiers - which of course we now know didn't happen, after all those WMDs were found in Iraq ...oh, no, sorry... that was in an alternative dimension wasn't it...].

But muddled thinking is not the worst aspect of Thompson’s befuddled decision-making

The BBC is a news and editorial organisation – so everything that its senior editor does and says becomes an editorial statement.

So by arguing that the BBC cannot be seen to take sides, Thompson has accepted the Israeli government’s implicit argument that its well-resourced and powerfully armed ‘Defence’ forces are at war with the whole Palestinian people.

Or at any rate that Israel is at war with the whole population of Gaza, which they have conveniently given the temporary status of an independent state, in order to declare war on it and its population.

Mark Thompson today announced, in effect, therefore, that the targeting of Palestinian civilians by the IDF is reasonable.

Mr Thompson should move to the Hague immediately – after all who needs an International War Crimes Tribunal when Mr Thompson can do the job of deciding whether it is reasonable to use missiles with phosphorous warheads on civilian populations for a fraction of the cost – and indeed in an iota of the time - that it will take to convene the trials which are prompting Ehud Olmert to establish a specialist war crimes defence team, and fund, to protect members of the IDF who may be held to account for their actions in Gaza over recent weeks.

Thompson’s stance is doubly unfortunate given the sterling work being done by Jeremy Bowen, BBC Correspondent, in covering this ‘conflict’.

Worst of all Thompson is accepting the argument of all men of war, terrorist or statist, over the needs, and, supposedly internationally-assured, human RIGHTS, of civilians.

He is therefore implicitly justifying the notion of ‘total war’ which predated the Geneva Conventions and has been exploited subsequently by evil-doers as diverse as Hitler and the militias of Rwanda.

Congratulations Mr Thompson, now maybe you can try yourself for incitement to genocide as the DJ’s and hosts of Radio Interahamwe in Rwanda and the Congo were tried for crimes against humanity, for you are justifying and inciting future slaughter of the innocents as surely as they ever did.

Now perhaps you could also resign while some vestige of the BBC’s independence and moral authority as a news organisation and as an institution committed to the defence of human rights remains. Or are human rights a bit one-sided for you these days, Mark?

Though it really ISN'T about sides, is it Mark? Not at all, as it happens, since I imagine that Hamas would agree with your analysis, as much as the IDF will; for it is they who will benefit, while the civilian population continues to suffer; and with each new slight and signal of your imbalance and lack of care for the conditions of the civilian population of Gaza, greater hatred is bred.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Yes he did.

'That one' did it.

And like most of us, I'm still in the emotional phase - and in a funny way, perhaps just for today, it is an 'us'. Because Obama's universality and the universality of our interest around the globe in his candidacy, has created - if only momentarily - a community of interest.

Who knows where this may take us. Who knows how long it will last.

But just for a moment it is irresistible to savour the spectacle, the experience, the emotionally buffeting rollercoaster, of history being made. Of history occurring, before our very eyes.

Change certainly can happen. Change has happened.


The cynic in me, the realist it likes to call itself, reminds me of 1997 and tells me that another larger generation may have to grow up disappointed. As the red wedgers of the British 80's grew up when the lies and war crimes of blood red Blair came to haunt their 21st century.

But I can't buy it because, for all that the day may come when President Obama chooses to bomb somewhere back to the nineteenth century, or when a Pashtun wedding party gets atomised by a high level bombing raid on his watch, it won't change the significance of today.

As Justin Webb said last week and indeed last night, when America looks in the mirror it will see a black 'first family'.

He may not be the son of slaves but he hasn't married a white chick either. Michelle Obama and those two daughters might just turn out to be the real signifiers of change as much as their husband and father.