Sunday, 31 October 2010

Housing Benefit Reform Was In Labour's Manifesto

It seems that the promise to reform Housing Benefit to ensure that 'we do not subsidise people to live in private sector accommodation on rents working families cannot afford,' was in the election manifesto just six months ago - the manifesto of the Labour Party, who this week have been accusing the government of social cleansing for proposing exactly the same common sense measure. And who wrote the Labour manifesto? Forrest himself.

Labour are looking more and more confused and out of touch on this and a number of other core issues to emerge recently. John Rentoul explains why here. Indeed he points out that they were actually doing pretty well over the summer without a leader which is presumably why Forrest has decided to show no leadership whatsoever. He has not had a good first month. How long will it be until his enemies start their whispering campaigns?

Labour used to be very good at opposition, but then they did get a lot of practise throughout the 80s and most of the 90s. Perhaps they need to relearn the art. It's not about opposing absolutely everything that the government says and it certainly isn't about name calling as Hattie did yesterday or making ludicrous allegations about social cleansing. They are supposed to look like a government in waiting not a bunch of teenage reactionaries, although it helps if you don't have a talentless dweeb as your leader.

I know Forrest is trying to draw a line under his party's past and start again. But is he really saying that everything in the manifesto he wrote is now to be junked, even those parts which are actually perfectly sensible and reasonable and have the overwhelming support of the electorate? Despite the spending review and all of this talk of cuts the Tories poll ratings remain ahead of Labour's for the most part and in the low 40s. It's still early days but few will have been expecting that state of affairs at this point.

A Bomb in the East Midlands Should Make Us Think Again About Afghanistan

The story about the attempt to put a bomb on a cargo plane and either blow it out of the sky or blow some Jewish Americans sky high tells us that Al Qaeda or their affiliates are still out there, still bent on mayhem and destruction and still searching for any and all opportunities, any complacency on our part. They have not gone away. They still only need one stroke of luck while we need to be lucky or remarkably efficient always.

But we knew this already didn't we? Earlier this week when the head of our Secret Intelligence Service, Sir John Sawers, gave his speech he told us much the same. The threat, he said, is constant and evolving and further attacks on Britain and in particular London are very likely.

These two events in the space of a week then. Neither should come as any real surprise. We knew that the threat was still there and both real events and a speech about them have served to remind us.

But perhaps the real question both should be prompting is: what the hell are we still doing in Afghanistan? The original purpose of going there was to destroy the training camps which were used to plot the 9/11 attacks. This was accomplished years ago. Since then we have been told that this is the front line in the war against terrorism. Yet that bomb proves that the front line can and will be moved and the plotting, though disrupted, continues. Bin Laden remains on the loose somewhere in Pakistan - apparently in great comfort. British citizens are going to that country to be trained, although now our authorities have come up with the idea of simply stopping them going there as we stop football hooligans from travelling to football matches abroad.

To me that sounds like a more practical solution than sending our troops to a lawless country in the forlorn hope of turning it into a western style democracy. We also learned in the last week that the president of Afghanistan regularly receives plastic bags full of cash from foreign governments including Iran and sees nothing wrong with the practice.

So I ask again, in the light of these events and the last 9 years, what are we doing in Afghanistan? What are we trying to achieve?

If it's the continuation of the war on terrorism well that war has long since departed. If it's the defeat of the Taliban then who are we kidding? This is not a conventional army that can be routed and made to surrender. These are fanatical insurgents who can melt away into crowds, recruit soldiers by fair means or foul and don't play by the same rules that our soldiers must adhere to. If it's the democratisation or at least stabilisation of the country then again who are we kidding? It's theoretically possible but only by committing ourselves to that country for the next two generations, pouring in ever more cash and losing thousands more lives. Is that going to happen? If it is the defeat of Al Qaeda then we have come as close to achieving that, at least in this one country, as we ever will. We have had more success in Afghanistan and Pakistan with drone and special services attacks in the last few months than thousands of soldiers can ever hope to achieve. That remains our best and most cost effective strategy because it ignores the need for building infrastructure, changing a culture and winning hearts and minds.

The only reasonable conclusion is that our presence in Afghanistan is pointless. We should have left years ago. This is not a war we can win because it is not a war in any real sense of the word. Our troops are there propping up a corrupt and cynical regime that will do whatever it likes regardless. We are hostages of our own rhetoric. Since Afghanistan is not and is unlikely soon to become a proper functioning democracy it was an act of supreme folly having elections for a government. We should have just been honest and installed a governor to rule a dysfunctional and broken country, or maybe we should have invented some new UN law for taking over failed states. As it is our politicians have told us what they are trying to achieve and must now pursue that goal either until honesty prevails or until they identify a decent lull in the fighting to declare a fictional victory and get us the hell out of there.

Now, when our politicians finally have enough, we will withdraw from the country and it will quickly revert to its former ways. It's inevitable. If we're lucky it will be carved up between various tribal chiefs. If we're unlucky the Taliban will be back. But perhaps we will have learnt the lesson that this not a country which can have western values imposed upon it. We can subdue it for a while and if they threaten our security by hosting terror training camps we can bomb it into submission. Trying anything else is an act of supreme folly. We can weep for the plight of the poor benighted people and of the women denied an education and the most basic of human rights. But there really is nothing we can do about it and anyway that isn't the reason we went in there in the first place. We have paid a heavy price for that piece of wisdom, that harsh lesson in reality. That bomb this week and the head of MI6 informed us that the world has moved on, the tactics have changed. Isn't it time we did the same?

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Go Ginger, Hattie!

Is gingerism the last acceptable form of  prejudice in these politically correct times? Even if it is, it remains remarkably impolitic of the deputy leader of the Labour Party to go down that road surely? It's not just that she is a ceaseless crusader for equality and fairness to the point of obsessiveness. That's why she is known as Hattie Harperson after all. It's also that she represents the Labour Party, which is reliant to a great extent on votes in Scotland, a country where being ginger is not uncommon. Indeed being fair and ginger is actually a sign that one has a great deal of Celtic blood coursing through one's veins. You could argue she's being racist - and against the British. How very Labour.

I've pointed out before that lefties like nothing more than resorting to insult and spite rather than reasoned argument against those with whom they disagree. It's par for the course. Conservatives are used to it. Lib Dems however aren't. And of course there are rather more Scottish Lib Dems (many red headed) than there are Scottish Tories these days. Hattie's assault on them will have come as a shock.

Still, it's all part of the rough and tumble of politics, especially when you happen to incur the wrath of those who consider themselves 'progressive,' but who think nothing of slurring and slandering their opponents. It's all deliciously ironic. That Hattie, the scion of all things equality said these things just makes it more so. She even made the speech at the Scottish Labour Conference. Doh!

So how can she make amends? Well it's obvious isn't it? Does she dye her hair? Given that she is a lady now into her sixties, I would imagine that, like many women of the same age including my Mum, she probably does. So perhaps this ceaseless crusader for equality and fairness and not being nasty to minority groups can undo the damage her speech has done to her right-on credentials by altering her usual hair regime and asking her hairdresser to make her ginger next time. Come on, Hattie. Show some solidarity with another oppressed minority. Go ginger.

Our Twittering Stream of Consciousness

Who could ever doubt that we humans are communal, herd animals and need the comfort of a crowd? Even in these days when we all live in our private little boxes, often alone and discrete from one another - hence the housing shortage - we still want to communicate and share.

This is why Twitter, Facebook, chat rooms and message boards are so successful. Even when we are engaged in solitary activities like reading a book or newspaper or watching television, we still feel the need to share and tell the world how good/awful/irritating/illuminating/entertaining/thought provoking it is. When a politician speaks we rush to praise or condemn. Yesterday David Cameron made a comment about how many BBC reporters were covering the EU summit and questioning him about it and was immediately condemned by various Tweeting lefties in their usual calm and temperate way as 'vile,' for speaking this way about their beloved auntie.

But this is what our interconnected world allows us to do now, sometimes rather dangerously. Many people have got into trouble for immediately disseminating their gut reactions to events via Twitter or other forums without waiting to think first. Jokes which can seem funny at the time may be regretted later. But it is certainly a more honest form of communication. We are often told that we should take great care when sending out e-mails and maybe wait until the next morning to hit the send key. It's good advice. We've all written those e-mails, the angry ones which we convince ourselves are perfectly rational and calm until we read them the next day through our fingers and discover to our alarm that they are in our sent box.

If it easy to make such mistakes with e-mail then Twitter is a trap of elephantine proportions. Its practically begs us for instant reactions which we might not necessarily want the world to see. We've all made drunken phone calls or sent text messages after a heavy night on the falling down juice. Twitter, thanks to the ubiquity of the smart phone allows the whole world a window on our night out or even our night in. Tonight it will be full of reaction to dancing celebrities or wannabe celebrities murdering another song. If you have had a glass or two of Chardonnay your reaction may not be charitable or printable.

And I am not immune from this phenomenon, even though I don't feel the need to Tweet my every movement or activity. Just the other night Newsnight featured an item about the trial all of those years ago concerning the publication of DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. The reporter, Stephen Smith, clearly enjoying himself, took the opportunity to quote some of the book's more lurid passages full of four letter expletives which would not usually be heard on the BBC, even BBC2 late at night. He tried to explain what it was about the book which had so shocked and outraged those who were trying to have it banned. And the view was expressed that, since those days, the use of such words, specifically the C and F word which Lawrence used so freely, had become more common. We had, they opined, become coarser as a consequence.

And that was when it happened. I Tweeted the following, without the excuse of drink but just because I thought it funny. Fortunately I still do:

"Fuck me! Newsnight says we are more coarse thanks to Lady Chatterley's Lover and D H Lawrence. Cunts!"

If I were a politician my career would have been over within half an hour.

Friday, 29 October 2010

EU Budget: Just Say No

Is limiting the EU's budget increase to only 2.9% a triumph as David Cameron and his team are claiming? No it bloody isn't. It may not be a bad outcome under the circumstances given the way we know that the EU works but it is by no means a triumph. A triumph would have been a budget cut. Even a budget freeze would have won our admiration.

What I don't understand about our politicians is the way they go off to Europe and allow themselves to be railroaded into these shabby compromises only to then have to lie through their teeth about how much they have achieved. On this occasion in particular why not simply refuse to accept a new deal?

Just last week Britain had to listen as our government, quite rightly, cut back on welfare spending, police, defence, higher education and innumerable other measures. Local authorities will have to make huge savings, libraries may well have to close along with other savings on things like social services. Tens of thousands of people will lose their jobs, again rightly, because money has to be saved. We are abolishing quangos and making redundant thousands of civil servants. We are going to have empty aircraft carriers for crying out loud.

Yet at the same time the EU is growing ever larger. And these are not those much vaunted front line services politicians always pledge to protect. These are yet more highly remunerated bureaucrats issuing their directives and monitoring us all despite the fact we seem to have been getting by perfectly well without them until now.

The EU is in the process of creating its own vastly expensive new diplomatic service duplicating those which already exist to represent proper nation states rather than this one which is still moving surreptitiously in that direction whilst claiming not to be. The EU has recently opened a new embassy type building in London's Smith Square at vast expense. Ironically and quite possibly deliberately they have chosen the building which was once the headquarters of the Conservative Party in which Margaret Thatcher once celebrated her election victories so that she could carry on handbagging the Eurocrats.

All of this Euro spending is increasing while across the continent governments are making the kind of cuts ours announced last week and enduring strikes and riots at the same time. So why are they putting up with this increased budget? What will we have to show for the money? Cameron apparently won backing from Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy and yet still we have seen an increase in the budget rather than the cuts this corrupt and incompetent organisation so richly deserves. Abolish the extra parliament in Strasbourg, that should save a pretty penny. Abandon plans for all of those new and pointless diplomats. Join the rest of us in the real world.

I have applauded David Cameron and his government for their political bravery in forcing through cuts. But I cannot applaud him for this abject surrender presented as a triumph. Why not just say no? The French do it all the time. It's their idea of diplomacy. Why not just say circumstances have changed, the government has changed? We will not ask the British people to pay an extra penny to the EU when people are having their benefits cut, students are going to have to pay more for their education and VAT is increasing. Furthermore, although NHS spending is ringfenced, the EU will be receiving a bigger percentage increase, even with the lower 2.9% deal than our protected health service. How can that possibly be justified? Why would anyone even try to justify it?

I know it would have been difficult for Cameron to go in to his first major summit and to have immediately taken such a combative stance but it would also have been the right thing to do. They would have respected him more in the long run.

But it's not too late. The negotiations are just beginning and the European Parliament will try to stick to its initial demands backed by the cash hungry Commission. If and when they do we should simply say no. No more money. We are unilaterally freezing our contributions for the foreseeable future while we are having to endure cuts at home. We invite every other member country to do the same. After all we were denied the right to vote on whether we wanted the EU to continue its relentless expansion. So why should we pay for it?

The Law of Unintended Housing Consequences

Government and politics is as much about the law of unintended consequences as it is about carefully drawn up policies and plans. The new rules on Housing Benefit have drawn a great deal of attention and drawn both bitter criticism and widespread praise. The usual suspects on the left have used ridiculously inflammatory language to condemn the plans but I think the broad consensus, even amongst the more thoughtful members of the Labour Party, is that this is a reform which is overdue and will indeed be fair in the long run.

The idea behind the reform, quite apart from saving money on a benefit which has exploded out of control, is part of the wider notion that work must be a better option than a life on benefits. Since the current system frequently enables those on this benefit to live in better conditions than those in quite well paid jobs, this is clearly imperative.

Another corollary of this reform could actually be better for all. It could lead to a general reduction in rents. The current system of Local Housing Allowance has been inflationary because it has been so generous. It has become a kind of minimum rent standard, using astonishingly generous and unrealistic standards which could only be set by bureaucrats. This became a baseline which landlords can achieve by renting to benefit recipients and so raise  all of their rents accordingly. By changing these standards and lowering what benefits are available, the overall effect may well be lower general rents for all - an extremely desirable outcome when we need greater social mobility to push down unemployment and move people to where the jobs are.

So far so good then? Absolutely. But there is a but.

House prices are already under pressure because of the banks requiring larger deposits from borrowers and being generally more choosy about to whom they lend and on what properties. Prices in large parts of the country are already falling and set to either stagnate or fall further in the next year. One of the drivers of house prices and of the building of new flats in the last few years has been the rise of buy to let. If rents are set to fall, many landlords, particularly those who own just a couple of properties, may find themselves starting to struggle and thus start to sell up. That would push prices down even further.

Now this outcome is not necessarily a bad thing. For the economy and for society as a whole it would be largely beneficial. More affordable housing better linked to incomes would have clear advantages. But again there is a but. Housing has been seen as a one way bet and an investment as much as a place to live. What would be the attitude of homeowners to a government which created the conditions for a general fall in house prices? How would it impact our general feeling of wellbeing and wealth? Would people end up in serious negative equity as in the 90s?

Britain has a seriously dysfunctional housing market because of the bubble in house prices, shortage of supply, inflated rents due to shortages and thanks to those inflated benefit entitlements. It needs reform, many more homes need building and prices need to come down for the benefit of us all. But unwinding all of this is not going to be easy. It will probably cause a great deal of pain and anguish. The government is committed to doing the right thing on this issue. But knowing the relationship of an Englishman and Welsh, Scot and Northern Irishman to their castles, this may well be the area which brings them the most trouble.

Boris Being Boris

I hate to diverge from the general news and political consensus, but what is all the fuss about with regard to what Boris Johnson said yesterday morning on BBC London? He said that we will not see Kosovo style cleansing in London on his watch.

Everyone is focusing on the Kosovo element and his echoing of the line from Labour's front bench. But as I heard it he was saying that this was a nonsense and that he and his party would ensure that the process would be fair and would deal sympathetically with people.

Could he have expressed it better? Definitely. But I just don't think he was saying what he has since been reported as saying. He was actually trying to be supportive.

Journalists have this strange idea about politicians. They seem to think that every word that comes out of their mouths is deliberate and carefully chosen and must therefore be analysed for every nuance of intent. And yes politicians are careful about their words and choose them deliberately. But they also make mistakes. Sometimes they phrase things badly or are misinterpreted. They are being asked constantly for their opinions and to answer questions. It would be astonishing if they didn't sometimes get in a mess, allow tiredness or irritation to show or simply forget what it is they meant to say thanks to nerves or any other human failing. Journalists and interviewers do it all the time after all. Tonight Kirsty Wark referred to writers penmanship, when she was actually referring to something sexy they had written. On Wednesday night Nick Robinson told us that the government 'were sighing a huge heave of relief.'

And anyway this is Boris we are talking about. Boris is a fine writer but his mouth is rarely in the same gear as his brain. This is the man who became famous and a figure of fun for his shambolic appearances on a comedy news quiz and who, when a shadow minister, frequently had to apologise for his gaffes - not least to the entire city of Liverpool. His appearances at the Conservative Party conference are legendary for their rambling incoherence. One of them was even watched by Arnold Schwarzenegger one year. Arnie watched in bemusement at this odd and bumbling figure, a kind of wild haired version of Hugh Grant.

Yet now he is being painted as some kind of calculating Machiavellian figure, a more fun Tory version of Peter Mandelson. Are you all mad? I like Boris. He is hard not to like and often very funny. But this notion that what he said this morning was a deliberate distancing between him and the party leadership as he positions himself for the mayoral election is a nonsense. Stand back and take a look for yourselves. It was just Boris being Boris.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Your Country Needs You, Dave

What issue is most likely to bring about the downfall of the coalition government? Is it tuition fees? Is it the cuts? Is it Housing benefit? Is it energy policy? Any of these are possible given how they make Lib Dems squirm in their seats as the harsh reality of power rather than opposition hits home. But thus far the government seems to have navigated its way through these difficulties very successfully.

The most likely way that this coalition will be torn apart I would argue is over Europe. The Lib Dems are Euro enthusiasts and for once their leader is entirely in step with them. Prior to the election I wrote on this blog that I find myself in agreement with Nick Clegg on many issues (it was remarkably prescient of me given what happened after we had voted) but I could never vote for him or his party because of his European enthusiasm. It is the great dividing line between the two parties. The large new intake of MPs on the Tory side are even more Euro sceptic than their predecessors. On this issue the party is very much speaking for the nation as a whole.

And the leadership know all of this. They are perpetually fearful of the Bill Cash types in their party kicking up a fuss.

But this makes their stance on the summit this weekend more difficult to understand. Why is the government now trying to argue its way out of having a referendum on any new treaty deemed necessary to deal with issues surrounding the Euro and the southern indebted states which should never have been allowed into the single currency and still threaten to destroy it? This is a fantastic opportunity handed to us by the folly of our fellow nations which we were saved from. It is Gordon Brown's one lasting legacy.

Cameron has a strong negotiating hand. He is a recently elected prime minister who promised no more treaties and no more surrender of power. His government is implementing spending cuts while the rest of Europe riots at being forced to work a little longer. Cameron should demand a freeze in the EU budget, repatriation of powers which should never have been handed over because we should have had a referendum and our budget rebate back. If not, he should tell his fellow leaders, he will feel duty bound to give the British people a referendum. And we all know what would happen then.

But what about the Lib Dems? What about them? They are at 10% in the polls and their stance on Europe is entirely out of step with the rest of the country. Are they going to argue for even more power and money for Europe? Are they going to argue that the Euro has been a good move? Are they going to give up government based on all of this? Or is this another U turn just waiting to happen?

The prime minister should go to Brussels and do a Maggie. Not only is it the right thing to do for Britain, it is the right thing to do for the rest of Europe which was ignored when the Constitution Lisbon Treaty was rammed through against our will. It would not make him popular amongst his fellow leaders as Tony Blair always liked to be, but it would make him a legend of Thatcher like proportions back home. Go on, Dave. You know you want to.

Biggest Biography of the Year? Aleksandr Orlov. Simples!

You might think that the big bibliographic event of the year has been the publication and endless publicity surrounding Tony Blair's book The Journey. In this book we read what we already knew about the internecine rivalry between His Tonyness and the mad man who should be in the attic next door. We also learnt more than we cared to know about his need for Cherie's special brand of loving during key moments in our recent history. He has recently been nominated for a bad sex award. 

But the real publishing event of the year will be hitting the book stores tomorrow. Aleksandr Orlov has become as well known as any prime minister could ever hope to be and considerably more popular. His story 'A Simples Life: My Life & Times' will I'm sure be an inspiring story of an entrepreneurial meerkat whose family started out with just a cart and an enforced sideline comparing Muskrats, to the all conquering Compare the Meerkat.Com we all know today. You can order the book here

It's an inspiring tale and one which Sir Alan Sugar and his apprentices should take on board. There is nothing complicated about running a business. It's simples. 

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Pass the Poppy

Extraordinary scenes at Westminster today Tweets the BBC's Michael Crick. What happened? I hear you ask breathlessly. Did the front benches have a sword fight to see if those lines drawn on the floor of the Commons chamber are really two swords apart? Did half a dozen Lib Dem MPs cross the floor and sit with the opposition over Housing Benefit reform? Did David Cameron tell the leader of the opposition that life is like a box of chocolates but that his party seems to have chosen a nutty cluster? Did Speaker Bercow bring in a small box to stand on so that those at the back can see him?

No. Sadly, nothing like this happened. The easily impressed Mr Crick considers that someone passing an envelope along the front bench to George Osborne was extraordinary. The envelope contained - a poppy since the Chancellor had entered poppylessly.

As I pointed out just yesterday, perhaps the Chancellor was just of the opinion that, since it is still October,  it is not yet time to wear a poppy. He certainly declined to put it on in front of the watching TV audience. Perhaps, since they are not yet on sale, he hasn't been able to get himself one. As it is one had to be borrowed from a police officer. Presumably the Met have their own supply. But doesn't the fact that they had to beg one from those helpful chaps on the front gates of the parliamentary estate instead of just buying one from a vendor suggest to those who were worried about this that it is perfectly permissible at the moment to go poppy less?

Climate Fool's Day

Take a look at this brilliant illustration of the idiocy of our current energy and climate change policy courtesy of James Delingpole and Simon Barnett. Why not print it out and send it to your MP? Ask them why we are spending all of this money (and handing some of it to the Royal family as part of their new settlement linked to the Crown Estate) when it will produce no measurable effect other than impoverishing us, pushing up fuel bills and destroying jobs. Ask them why, when we are rightly cutting public spending on many areas which will inevitably hit some hard, we are nevertheless prepared to fritter away money on a fantasy. And even if you don't think it is a fantasy then do you seriously think we in this little island can make any difference whatsoever. Are we really happy to be funding this so that our politicians can grandstand at the world's hot air festivals and claim to be combating climate change?

PMQs 27th October 2010

Forrest versus Dave number 3. The Times(£)  had a leak this morning of Labour's advice to their new leader of how to deal with these sessions. Presumably he has received this since last week because he was better than last week's car crash even if he is struggling to match his first performance. One of the authors of the advice is Stuart Hudson, who performed a similar role for Gordon Brown which hardly inspires confidence. But perhaps he is the kind of coach who will counsel for attack being the best means of defence. It's certainly easier.

To be fair these sessions tend to be about the subject matter as much as anything, although this is something over which the leader of the opposition has control and the PM none at all. Today Forrest decided to talk about Housing Benefit and continue Labour's spectacularly cynical approach to this topic given how few homes they built and how out of control the budget became. 

This put Cameron on the defensive and he is less effective under those circumstances. The prize, according to that leaked memo, is to make the PM look evasive and he did for a couple of today's answers. But Forrest rather let him off the hook and, just like the first week, Cameron rallied and came back at him with all guns blazing. 

The government's line on this as with many of the cuts is that yes it is going to hurt but that it is necessary and it will ultimately be fairer. It's hard to see how Labour can make much headway with attacking this. Yes it has caused outrage amongst Guardianistas whose only knowledge of benefits is of the universal ones they receive to give them a sense of solidarity. For most people struggling to pay their mortgages or rent, the fact that this benefit will now be capped at £20,000 still seems considerably more generous than their own situations which, as the government keeps pointing out, doesn't seem terribly fair. This will resonate with the majority.

Perhaps Forrest sees that this is not a particularly advantageous area for his party because he was less than convincing about it, for all of his bluster about the government thinking again. He tried to create divisions with the Lib Dems and made a weak joke about Nick Clegg's smoking habit, but Cameron struck back with reference to that memo and Forrest's cheer line. 'He's got a plan for PMQs,' he said 'but not for the economy.' 

For once some of the backbench questions were actually more interesting and illuminating than the usual top clash. Europe is raising its head as an issue again with Germany pushing for a new treaty to get it out of its constitutional difficulties. Cameron's backbenchers will be urging him to use this as leverage to push through changes to existing treaties or maybe get some of our money back. Kate Hoey from the Labour benches urged him to do the same and nodded when he pointed out that it would be easier to pursue this line if Labour MEPs didn't vote for increased EU budgets. 

Clearly though, Housing Benefit is the issue de jour and for a while one imagines. Cameron, though he acknowledged it is a difficult issue, stuck to his guns impressively and ultimately won the encounter because Labour still have no solutions only criticisms. It is they who allowed the ridiculous current situation to evolve which allows people to claim more than the average salary in Housing Benefit alone. In order to remedy that failure the government are going to have to be tough and fend off attacks. No doubt there will be stories about families having to move. But it remains the right and sensible thing to do. As Andrew Neil just asked on The Daily Politics, how do other major cities like New York cope with these problems? Do they subsidise the poor to live in Manhattan or do they live in more affordable areas? Labour have no answer to that or to where the money is to come from which is why their line on this is doomed to failure. Forrest failed to discomfit Dave on the issue today. It was now or never. 

Leftie Intolerance

I've written before about the remarkable tendency amongst those on the political left to hate those of us who disagree with them, particularly Tories, although these days this also extends to Lib Dem 'collaborators.' Dan Hannan has written about it too. He did so again yesterday, on his blog in which he pointed out that there have been a number of recent examples of this peculiar and disturbing phenomenon from quite prominent Labour politicians and writers making outrageous slurs. The links are in Dan's piece.

He also refers to this piece by Conservative Home's Tim Montgomerie on the Guardian website. He writes about how he has been spat at,  accused of spying and how socialist marchers carried placards looking forward to the death of Margaret Thatcher. Other writers at the Tory conference earlier this month, including some like the Telegraph's Bryony Gordon who was there just to write about the event itself rather than the politics and is non aligned so far as I'm aware, were routinely called Tory scum by those who gather around such events.

In Tim Montgomerie's piece however he points out that, though those who glory in the prospective death of Margaret Thatcher are few and far between, those who contend that Tories are dedicated to putting people out of work, closing hospitals and generally wielding the axe for ideological purposes are now pretty much mainstream. There is, they seriously allege, 'a vicious Tory determination to make the poor suffer'. New Labour MP Tristram Hunt who actually looks and sounds like a stereotypical Tory himself is perhaps overcompensating by claiming that the Tories are trying to send the poor back into Victorian style workhouses. The ever ridiculous and tendentious Polly Toynbee has written of 'a final solution' for the poor. Can you imagine the spittle flecked outrage which would come from the left if a Tory were to say something like that?

Montgomerie asks a reasonable question. Do you really think that Tories want to make these cuts? Or do you have the intellectual honesty to see that Labour were promising the same but hadn't the political bottle to do it?  Do you really think that Tories are just out for themselves and for the rich or is their approach a different philosophical approach to our nation's problems? That great hate figure of the left, Margaret Thatcher, is always portrayed as having hit the poor and yet she was the prime minister who gave people the right to buy their council houses, who never dared tinker with the NHS and did in fact increase its funding throughout her tenure and spoke of the need to do more for the inner cities. Under Labour the gap between rich and poor became wider, social mobility decreased and unemployment became worse and more entrenched for large parts (the poorest parts) of society.

Yet still the left prefer to stick to their caricatures of those with whom they disagree. Still they lazily prefer to make accusations about evil intent rather than address the actual arguments. That's why this week Labour have spoken about social cleansing of the poor with regard to the new limits on housing benefit. It's an absurd accusation but that won't stop them making it, and this week even against the Lib Dems too. It also ignores the fact that the British people can see that our benefits system is out of control and is doing the opposite of what it is meant to do.

Perhaps we should just put this rising language of hate down to Labour making the adjustment to opposition. Perhaps they are just making that transition and trying to find the right language. Except of course they used to speak this way when in government too. Gordon Brown's famous dividing lines were all about painting Tories as heartless cutters, even when what they were proposing was for spending to grow slightly less quickly, an approach which would have actually meant that we would not now have such a massive deficit and thus less need for cuts.

And what is very noticeable about lefties is their unwillingness to even allow those who disagree with them the chance to debate with them. They prefer instead to just spray their soundbites and propaganda around without actually being able or willing to defend themselves. And take a look at the way some of them engage in debate when forced to on TV. It happens almost every night on Newsnight. The Tory on there will make his point and will then politely listen to his Labour counterpart. His counterpart will not allow him to get a word in and will keep interrupting. It happened last night between Angela Eagle and Phillip Hammond. And it's not just politicians. The film director Ken Loach was on the same programme with Lord Heseltine a couple of weeks ago and constantly interrupted  in a brusque way which made his contempt for a Tory very obvious. Watch Newsnight again tonight and you will almost certainly see the same thing.

I've remarked before that sometimes David Cameron can be too polite for his own good. But perhaps it is  that lefties are just rude and contemptuous of those who disagree with them. It's true of those who have a semi religious belief in their world view and literally cannot understand why anyone would have a contrary view. I can't help thinking of the way some have tried to close down debate on climate change and vilified those who have asked questions and doubted the science. Matthew Parris has remarked before how friends on the left have told him in wonder that they can't believe that he, a reasonable and nice man they rather like and respect, can possibly be a Tory. Similarly Johnny Speight, creator of Alf Garnett, wrote contemptuously of working class Tories as though we are suffering from some kind of mental aberration. It's a remarkably common attitude even now in the 21st century, and it is set to get worse these next 5 years.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Go South Young Man

The Times reports(£) that South Korea is to spend £42 billion encouraging its population to have more babies. Like many advanced economies which are not top destinations for incoming migration, South Korea is struggling with a low birth rate and an ageing population which will rapidly lead to a demographic timebomb of too many pensioners being supported by too few workers. The money will be spent on encouraging couples to marry or undergo fertility treatment along with supporting child care facilities.

In the 1960s South Korea had the opposite problem and tried to discourage its people from having so many children. Now that population boom is rapidly ageing with all of the concomitant effects troubling the government. It proves that the best way of cutting the world's population is through economic growth and prosperity.

Of course there is a short term solution to this population problem. They could always send some of that £42 billion up north and ask them to send a million or so of their starving and oppressed people south in return. Above is a picture of what North Korea would look like if such an offer were made. It's a cheering thought and well worth a few billion quid.

Labour's Ideological Economics

Today's GDP figure is good news in a number of ways which the government should be thankful for and which should put a spring in all of our steps. GDP grew by 0.8% in the last quarter, more than many analysts were expecting.

First and foremost the new figures show that the British economy is remarkably robust given the uncertainty around the world and still afflicting many other economies from America to Ireland.

Second it means that talk of more quantitative easing, which will probably still happen in America, can now be put to one side again. Given that inflation is already higher than expected and set to stay high when VAT is increased next year, this can only be a good thing too.

Third it shows that cutting now is absolutely the right thing to do and less of a risk than many are alleging including those much vaunted Nobel economics laureates.

Fourth other figures showing that our corporate sector is in good health and set to increase dividends illustrate that the private sector can indeed create the jobs the government is relying on them to do.

Fifth the government policy to set out cuts has been rewarded with an improvement in our credit rating and low interest rates which is good for growth.

Sixth it further undermines what little policy Labour have with regard to the economy. Their argument that cuts risk a double dip recession are looking more and more out of step with reality. Alan Johnson is still arguing that the cuts are reckless. Yet this is what they were saying in the run up to the election. They were opposed to the modest cuts implemented in the emergency budget. And we shouldn't forget that they themselves put taxes up at the start of this year when VAT was returned to 17.5%. We can now say for certain that this has had no effect on the economy.

The recession is now in the past, yet still Labour tell us that we have to be careful about cutting. At what point does caution over the recovery give way to caution over our vast deficit and growing debt? The coalition says right now. Labour say not now and not much else.

I tried to have a Twitter debate with someone who has since asked me to remove his name this week. He asserted that cuts in a recession are economic illiteracy. But even if that were true, which it isn't, we aren't in a recession. The Tweeter then decided he didn't like it when his assertions were challenged and declined to debate further. It's quite common for those on the left to do this when anyone challenges their version of reality I've found, which tends to demonstrate the fragility of their arguments.

Labour are fond of claiming that the coalition's cuts are ideologically driven. Yet this is a much more accurate assessment of their position. Budgets have to be balanced at some point and their sole argument for not doing so now is that this will damage the recovery. The latest figures show this is simply not the case. So maintaining spending we cannot afford is the real economic illiteracy. Or is it ideological?


My now anonymous Twitter interlocutor has now completely retracted his former position. I'm not sure whether to punch the air in delight at this victory. Are all lefties so intellectually fragile? I'd like to think so. Perhaps this is why they decline to debate so often. Anyway, I have removed his name at his request. Perhaps he has seen the light and now regrets his former allegiance.


On the day when Paul the Octopus died here is another animal fast becoming world famous. Otis the hippo of San Diego zoo decided to get involved with the Parker family's holiday snaps.

Paul the Octopus: Predicting Until the End

Sad news this morning. My namesake, Paul the Octopus, predictor of football results and Nostradamus of the cephalopod world has sadly died.

Aha! say many on Twitter, he didn't see that coming. Of course he did. Paul predicted his own death. He also predicted taxes. A sage until the end.

Wear Your Poppy With Pride - In November

We're accustomed to Christmas goods going into the shops earlier and earlier every year. The mince pies are already around as are chocolates and other confectionery treats. It won't be long until the decorations start going up and we start hearing those Slade and Wizzard songs we sort of like until we've heard them for the thousandth time.

But why is it that we are now getting competitive poppy wearing? TV presenters have been sporting them over the weekend and they are now appearing on the news. Yet we are still in October. I haven't seen them being sold on the streets yet have you?

I'm a supporter of the Royal British Legion and always make a point of buying my poppy every year. But it should be something which starts once we are in November not before Halloween has taken place. And if they are wearing them now before they are being sold does this not mean that they are wearing last year's? Is that entering into the spirit?

Monday, 25 October 2010

Lord Owen of Blog

The government, it is being reported, is about to appoint several dozen new members of the House of Lords. Contrast this with its plans to reduce the number of MPs at the next election. The commons will be reduced to 600 MPs while the Lords will have had a further 100 plus members added just in the last 6 months.

But these additions, we are told, are needed to ensure that reform of the upper house cannot be blocked by the upper house. Thus a bunch of new ermine clad turkeys must be created ready to vote for Christmas.

And yet these new members will presumably be chosen as usual from amongst the great and good - or failed politicians and party donors as they are often called. Presumably they will hang on to their titles even once their constitutional entitlements have been amended.

But if these are to be mere lobby fodder why not create a few lords and ladies from elsewhere? Surely the coalition partners have deserving supporters who are able and willing to enjoy the delights of parliament for just a few months before voting themselves back to obscurity? I for one would happily make that commitment. And Lord Owen of Blog has a certain ring to it I'm sure you will agree.

Revolutionary Zeal Required

In the run up to and then in the wake of last week's spending review there has been wall to wall media coverage, there have been many ministers interviewed, public meetings and there have been panel discussions. There was much comment last week when Phillip Hammond was given a particularly hard time by the audience on the BBC's Question Time with accusations in the usual places that there had been a deliberate strategy on the part of the Beeb to host these debates in places which are inherently hostile to the government and the Tories in particular. Judging from the media coverage and the treatment of the likes of Hammond and the Spectator's Fraser Nelson one would imagine that the atmosphere is unremittingly hostile to the government.

Yet look at the opinion polls and the picture is nothing like so stark. Labour took a narrow lead over the Tories in one poll over the weekend but the Tories poll rating remains higher than their share of the vote in the election. The Lib Dems have of course plummeted but this, I would argue, is more to do with the fact that people voted for what they thought was a protest party who then had the temerity to enter government.

And the reaction in the polls is nothing like as hostile to the spending cuts as the discussion shows would suggest.  By and large people are supportive of the need for cuts even if they think the cuts may be too much too soon. The government needs to get across its message not only that the cuts are necessary and will ultimately be good for the economy and for growth but that those cuts are being brought in over the next four years not in one go. They have been remarkably poor at getting this message across, although at times it is because they are being shouted down.

As Guido pointed out yesterday, all parties are agreed that welfare needs reforming, yet we keep getting into these debates about the alleged progressiveness and regressiveness of reforms. Reforming welfare is inevitably going to mean that those on the lowest of incomes through benefits are going to lose out initially. Reform will be impossible otherwise since work cannot be made to pay without that essential first step. And reforms to Housing Benefit are long overdue. How can it be fair that those in work and under the age of 35 have to stay at home with their parents or live in single rooms in shared households when those on benefits are given flats of their own? Similarly those who bleat about the unfairness of requiring the poor to move out of more affluent areas to those which fit in with the new lower budgets forget that those in work have to make precisely the same choices according to their budget. If we are again going to allow those on benefits to live wherever they choose through some perverse notion of fairness then how is that an incentive to work? It may be progressive by one narrow definition but it is deeply unfair to those who pay for it with their taxes whilst living in bedsits.

Welfare reform is said to be supported by most voters who can see how inimical it is to a just and fair society to have one rule for those on benefits and another for those who work. They can see the damage that has been done by handing free accommodation to teenage mothers and the problems that single parent households all too often create in our schools and on our housing estates. Just this weekend a teenager was shot dead in east London at 3 in the morning. He was 15 years old.

So how do we explain the reactions of those audiences in the debates? Simple. It's the herd instinct. Those on the left have been shouting for weeks or months, before they even knew what the cuts would be, that any and all cuts were unnecessary, dangerous and unfair and this has permeated its way into the collective consciousness. It is true that some economists argue that cutting now may well make matters worse but it is equally true that a large number of economists disagree. Those on the left point to the experience of Ireland and ignore those of us who point out that Ireland is an economy utterly unlike ours. They also ignore the experience of America which has been stimulating its economy endlessly since the crisis hit and is not noticeably better off than us with a burgeoning debt problem their political system may be unable to get to grips with.

Yet people seem unwilling to stand up and agree with the need for cuts, even if they may think that privately. It is a well known phenomenon that people generally agree with cuts that will not affect them. But put them in a room or studio full of people and most will take the path of least resistance and agree with those who make their points the most forcefully - almost always those on the left who also use the most emotive language.

The government has done a good job of blaming the need for cuts on Labour but has done poorly when it comes to justifying them as a means to making Britain leaner, healthier and yes, fairer. When Iain Duncan Smith pointed out last week that jobs were available to those prepared to commute for an hour or so those on the left erupted in outrage. Yet the working population of Britain  returning home after their similar length commutes might well have wondered what the fuss was about. Unfortunately for the government the left have a tendency to shout long and hard without listening to the counter argument, to propagandise rather than debate. They do it on Twitter yet if you respond few are willing to actually debate.

The same was true with previous governments. The Thatcher government has been branded as one of the most callous and uncaring in history and yet it increased funding of the NHS and welfare state in real terms throughout its tenure after taking the tough decisions to repair the damage it inherited. Prior to Thatcher's election, Jim Callaghan admitted that spending our way out of recession was not an option. Yet when she came to power and put those words into action she was reviled for accepting this consensus.

Similarly her insistence that the country couldn't afford to prop up loss making industries ought to be as obvious as us now saying that the jobless cannot afford to live in Kensington, yet the collective consciousness has bought the left's line that she wrought unnecessary destruction across swathes of the country. Those doughty miners led by Arthur Scargill have been celebrated in numerous movies made by Islington and Hampstead based luvvies. Yet at the time they had little public support even from the Labour Party led by Neil Kinnock. They were demanding that they should keep their jobs subsidised by the rest of us. Now the left  are just trying to fight that fight again but on different territory and with the label of progressiveness attached.

In the run up to the election I remarked that David Cameron's problem could be that he often was too polite and reasonable. It remains the problem of the entire government, especially when faced with opposition which deliberately confuses debt with deficit and complains about how unfair and regressive all cuts are without setting out any of their own.

Cameron and his government are pushing at an open door with their reforming agenda because most people can see that cuts are necessary and reform vital. The unions and left are determined to resist all change and to demand, just like Scargill 15 years ago, that their jobs and livelihoods are special and should be put on some protected list. The language has changed but their demands now are as unreasonable and unaffordable as Scargill's were then. But to get that message across the government are going to have to sound less like reasonable accountants trying to balance the books and more like revolutionaries fighting for fairness and prosperity for all.

Tower Hamlets: Still A Non Islamic Borough

Last Thursday an event took place which has been largely ignored by the media except in one or two places, probably because of the much bigger story of the spending review. An independent candidate and recently expelled Labour Party member, Lutfur Rahman, won the election to be mayor of the London borough of Tower Hamlets. This is no position high on ceremony but low on power. This is one of the new executive mayor positions, the mayor has control over the council's budget and is reponsible for its delivery of services.

The reason Lutfur Rahman was expelled from the Labour party was because of his links to a Islamic supremacist  group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, whose goal is to transform society and its institutions 'from ignorance to Islam,' a laughable goal for any religion, let alone one as backward as Islam.

With the exception of one or two journalists, like the Telegraph's Andrew Gilligan, this development has largely been ignored.Why has the media largely ignored this development? Well first and foremost because it happened when the biggest political story of the decade thus far was taking place. But perhaps it is also because of the traditional British sense of fairplay. Perhaps we are prepared to judge Mr Rahman by his actions.

It should be noted however that, as Andrew Gilligan has reported, when he was leader of the same council under previous constitutional arrangements, Mr Rahman was accused of channelling public money to front organisations of the IFE, of appointing a man ill qualified to be chief executive because of similar links and of forcing out the qualified but non Islamic former chief. He was also said to have made efforts to Islamicise the borough in various ways, although I can't quite see that working any time soon.

It should also be noted that various reporters last Thursday observed some of his supporters telling women on their way to vote that they should be dressed more modestly. It is to be hoped that these women responded to these imprecations with all of the traditional robustness of London's east end, although this has not been reported.

But the fact is that Mr Rahman won the election fair and square. Well, he won the vote anyway. His campaign was said to be dishonest and potentially libellous at times. It should also be noted that he won on a turn-out of 25%. The white working class, which still makes up the majority in this poor borough, stayed at home as they so often do. Whatever happens now, they will have little cause to complain.

But perhaps this story has been ignored thus far, despite one or two hysterical headlines about the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets because most of us can see that this is a nonsense. Yes Mr Rahman has control over a billion plus budget, but the vast majority of that will be spent on schools, refuse collection, libraries, social services and the like. Thanks to that spending review last week his budget will be severely stretched and he will have to make tough choices about which services to maintain. You can bet if he tries to divert cash to his pet causes or cronies he will be met with very stiff opposition as will any politician in these straitened times.

Many are saying that this has the potential to be another Liverpool type debacle as seen in the 1980s under the absurd cartoon-like figure of Derek Hatton. And this may well be true. But it's best to wait and see. I think that elected mayors are a good idea and good for democracy and so it would be wrong to condemn a new one once elected even if we wish he hadn't been. These mayors have more power but they do not have the power to Islamicise a London borough. Mr Rahman will not be enforcing Islamic dress on the people of Tower Hamlets and forcing their children into madrassahs.

The IFE has got one of its 'brothers' into a position of power. It remains to be seen what he does with it. But one of the advantages of elected mayors is that the prominence and high profile they enjoy also makes them much more visible than their councillor predecessors. That should make them more accountable.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Tabloid Tales Part 10: Carey Mulligan Stays in Cheap Hotel Shock

According to the Mail website, the gorgeous (and newly single) actress Carey Mulligan is 'slumming it' in a budget hotel in LA whilst working on her latest movie. You would have thought that the puritanical Mail would be rather approving of such abstinence but instead revels in revealing how the actress eats food from a local supermarket, frequently looks tired and dishevelled and keeps herself to herself. This counts as top gossip in tabloid land whereas to the rest of us it looks like someone being pleasingly level headed and normal.

Read further however and the article reveals that the hotel is only 15 minutes from where she is working on her latest film and she grew up in high quality hotels as her father worked in a succession of them and so perhaps feels no need to avail herself of their facilities which are really not all that they are cracked up to be - especially now she has to pay for them herself. It's probable that, after her recent split from her boyfriend, she just needed a place to sleep at night and went for the most economical and convenient place to do so. It's not hard to understand is it? Indeed I suspect the Mail's writers understand it very well. But they thought they would write about it anyway.

The Dear Leader on Tour - Speaking to the Bovine Masses

When the Dear Leader asked his minions to take him on a tour to see the bovine masses this isn't quite what he had in mind. But at least these aren't malnourished.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Dear Leader on Tour - The Glorious Urine Sample

Official propaganda from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea says that the Dear Leader was born on a mountain, under a rainbow with a bright shining star in the sky - how this could be seen at the same time as a rainbow is not revealed. That is all part of the glory of the Dear Leader. They don't quite say that the sun shines from every orifice but they might as well. Indeed above is a rare photograph of the great one handing over a urine sample so that this theory can be tested.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Pompey's Plight

This time last week Liverpool was sold in a last ditch deal to avoid administration. It was never likely that the club would fold because it is a profitable business when not saddled with debt.

Other clubs are not so lucky. Tonight it has been announced that Portsmouth FC is going to be unable to exit administration and may now be liquidated, its assets sold off.

It's a sad but inevitable outcome for clubs which allow themselves to pursue the dream without considering the potential nightmare. As so often some white knight may emerge and rescue the club at the last moment; but then this situation has come about because one of their previous white knights has become their nemesis. Alexandre Gaydamak's reign at the club was typical of so many of these foreign owners who come because they are tempted by the idea and glamour of  owning a football club but are unaware or choose to ignore just how much of a drain it can be on resources. Portsmouth is just the latest example of the hubris football can engender in even the most level headed businessmen.

Now there is a real possibility that a major club, a recent member of the gilded Premier League and winner of the FA Cup may soon be just a fixture in the history books. On a day when Wayne Rooney has secured himself £160,000 a week pay package and possibly much more dependent upon which reports you believe, perhaps those who run our clubs should have a long hard think about where football in this country is going. Football clubs are not like normal businesses. They are a part of our culture and our communities. It's time we started being more careful about who we allow to own them and how they are run.

Euromillions Winners: The Press Pack Are Zeroing In

I see that the rabid dogs of our feral press are hot on  the heels of the £113 million Euromillions winners. The irony is that, if the rumours are true and it's 4 men between the ages of 25 and 40 - probably workplace friends one would surmise - who have won this, then the fact that it is shared means that they are only nominally the biggest ever winner. Individually they fall short and are only fifth in the all time UK rankings. Not that this will stop the press trying to track them down.

The four are said to be holed up in a hotel somewhere in central London. No doubt the press will be watching the bars and clubs looking for four blokes out on the lash and looking a bit lost and stunned.

Given all of this the four might be advised to just take publicity and enjoy their moment in the sun because they are going to get it anyway. The Sunday papers, including the one which first revealed that the winning ticket was bought in Coventry last week, will be on the case. Best to just give a press conference and have some publicity from it on your own terms. If you do it this weekend and then head off to the bright lights of the West End with the press pack in tow you might even get lucky again this weekend. There are lots of girls out on the town looking for some footballer to shag who might settle for an overnight millionaire instead.

Wayne's World

So Wayne Rooney has agreed a new contract at Manchester United, just hours after saying he wanted to leave because of the lack of ambition shown by the club. What excellent advisers he must have. He has now been given a new 5 year maga contract, probably on 150k a week or even more. I suspect this convinced him more.

Because here's a lesson in economics for you, Wazzer. If the club has to pay you this mega salary then necessarily that means they have less money to pay some other mercenary looking for a big payout, the very sort of player you said you wanted to see at the club - the absence of whom somehow demonstrated a lack of ambition. And by handing you this kind of pay deal the club will now start getting similar demands from your colleagues and this will be the benchmark for any new stars they want to bring in who will want parity.

Manchester United has never been a club that lacked ambition. What it is is a club saddled with vast debts and players who want to be paid stratospheric salaries and are prepared to go on a form of strike to achieve it. It almost makes you sympathetic to the notion of a new higher rate of tax for greedy bankers and two-faced, spoilt, sulky footballers.

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A New Ideology

In the wake of the spending review on Wednesday, and as the policy wonks continue to go through the figures and the fine print looking for its true meaning, the government now has to go with all guns blazing to make the case for what it is trying to do.

The last few months have been about them pinning the blame on Labour for the fact that they have to make cuts at all. But now they ought to be making a more nuanced case, rejecting the language of progressive spending and regressive cuts and arguing for something more, something truly radical.

Labour tested to destruction the notion that government spending alone can lift people out of poverty and make the country better for all. Their traditional blunt instruments of tax and spending have simply not worked. They have taxed the successful and handed money out to the workless. The result has been there for all to see. It is lunacy for politicians to keep millions just above some arbitrarily drawn poverty line through some perverse notion of fairness. Yet that is what tax and spend has achieved and at vast cost.

It is a leftist fantasy that government can create jobs. It can invest in new hospitals and schools and can employ more ever more public sector workers but that is not creating long term jobs. This is why the government was right to maintain investment in transport and other infrastructure projects along with science and education. A modern and vibrant economy needs these things to compete in the world. This is proper investment in our future.

We also need a well trained and educated workforce able and willing to work because it pays them to do so. That means a fundamental realignment and reform of our bloated and counterproductive benefits system. It means that at first people will lose out. But that is an inevitable precursor to progress.

Newsnight last night interviewed a man in south Wales bemoaning the fact that there were no jobs local to him. He found the concept of moving or travelling to work utterly bemusing. Perhaps if he had been better educated in British history he would know that towns and cities were created and then grew exponentially because of industries that were founded there. The population moved en masse to where the jobs were. Why do we think that we should now be different?

And it is these kinds of entrenched attitudes which this government needs to address. It has to take a more holistic approach to all areas of government to make this country work again. We need proper joined up government starting with a tax system which doesn't discourage innovation, hard work and enterprise and which goes back to being relaxed about people becoming filthy rich. Such people are vital. In a week when someone won £113 million tax free on the lottery we are entirely relaxed about that but resentful towards those who work for it and so want to keep taxing them ever more. It's bizarre.

We need an education system which actually educates in a disciplined environment and a university system which competes with the world's best. And that means we have to pay for it. Again here our attitudes are parodoxical. We are happy to tax the rich and successful but are resentful at the notion that those being educated in order to become rich and successful should contribute to the cost of their education.

But most of all we need to combat this entrenched attitude encouraged by the last government that the state will provide and that we are all there to be provided for. That is not what made this country great.

Thus far this government has shown a willingness to take radical and unpopular action for the long term good of the country. They are prepared to be unpopular. Interestingly this has resulted in the Tories poll ratings improving since the election and remaining in the high 30s or low 40s. Its early days yet but for a government being compared to the early Thatcher years this is an encouraging sign that the public accept that something needs to be done and that they reject the Labour argument such as it is. The Lib Dems seem to have ditched all of their social democratic supporters and are now back down to their true Liberal grassroots. Perhaps we are seeing a fundamental political realignment as well.

Those on the left are arguing that these cuts are ideological. It is a simplistic argument and ignores the fact that we have just had 13 years of ideological higher spending which demonstrably failed. Yes we have lots of nice new hospitals and schools but we have a failing education system and millions who are trapped in poverty because they cannot or will not work. The only jobs created were in the public sector. We cannot afford to grow the economy that way any more, if indeed we ever could. Arguing for a continuation of the same approach with borrowed money is madness. It is also ideological and dogmatic.

The necessity of cuts is also an opportunity for new thinking, for a new revolution which will create real productive jobs and give people a proper stake in a prosperous and thriving society. Call that an ideology if you like. It's certainly a good idea.

The Dear Leader on Tour

The Dear Leader is shown a peasant's weekly food ration. 'Well, it serves them right for eating all of the frogs,' he is said to have observed.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Crocs Away

This may well be the best story in the history of aviation. I love this story so much I want it framed. I want to hug this story and possibly have children with it.

A small plane in the Democratic Republic of Congo was brought down - by a crocodile. Is this an example of a new and terrifying species? Is this last surviving relic of the dinosaurs intent upon re-establishing dominion over the planet and attacking us from the skies? Has this news come just in time as the government prepares to cut our air defences?

No. The crocodile in question brought down the place because it was smuggled on board the plane in a sports bag and then escaped. It may have been angry because it recognised that the sports bag used to be its uncle. The perfectly understandable panic which ensued on the plane as the passengers tucked into their inflight meals meant that they all rushed to one side of the aircraft and thus destabilised it. It then crashed into a house to the horror of its owners who were fortunately outside at the time. The pilots had to battle both with the controls and with a large and angry reptile. Interestingly the crocodile survived, only to be bashed over the head afterwards which doesn't seem very fair. Ryanair would have tried to charge it first.

If nobody makes a movie of this then the world has gone mad or at least has lost its sense of humour. I want to see the scene when the large wriggling bag is taken through the airport check-in. I want to see the classic double take as the slightly sozzled passenger takes a sip of his wine and then sees a crocodile bearing down on him down the aisle. I want to see the pilot strap a parachute to his back and open the door announcing that he is going for help. And I especially want to see the owners of that house watch as the plane crashes into it and then a crocodile crawls from the wreckage. They might even ask it 'why the long face?'


Blog Standard

Nick Robinson has been named blogger of the year. The blogosphere is up in arms.

The mainstream media can't make up its mind whether to be snooty about bloggers or not but still manages to stitch up awards for it to one of it own. Even then they get it wrong. Why not Paul Waugh who blogs constantly, entertainingly and with real insight. He tweets too.

I like Nick. He's good at what he does. But blogging is not a big part of it.  

There are many excellent bloggers out there, many of them required reading. Some are regular journalists, like the excellent Paul Waugh or Fraser Nelson who also blog but do so regularly and with bite and wit. But there are also some outstanding bloggers who just blog. It would be invidious to name names, there are too many of them but you will see a few down the left hand side down there - I've recently removed Iain Dale since all he writes about now is his latest book publication, his media appearances and now his radio show. If he's not careful he will lose the very thing which made him the in demand figure he now is. Even those of us who do not have the contacts and sources - like Dale and of course the indefatigable Guido - to come up with original stories have been known to come up with some original ideas or takes on stories which the mainstream media then take up. Blogging is about opinions and making them forcefully. This is why handing an award to a BBC journalist is such  nonsense. BBC staff have to be impartial which is only right and proper, but it makes for dull blogs.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Debt and Deficit: A Short Lesson for the Hard of Thinking - Again

Steve Richards of The Independent just Tweeted the following:

Are the cuts ideological? Yes. Osborne will pay off the deficit when he sells the banks. And then: smaller state and big tax cuts. 

Fucking hell! It's enough to make you want to scream! It's bad enough when politicians spout this crap but when journalists do it you despair. Why is this so hard to understand?

Let's go through it again since my last lesson, written in the style of The Sun clearly didn't do the trick.

The deficit is the amount of money the government has to borrow in a financial year to pay for all of the public services which aren't met by its income - mostly taxes. It's like the government's overdraft, except that at the end of each financial year they get to wipe out that overdraft by adding it to the national mountain of debt and then start all over again.

In recent years the deficit  - that's each year - has been around £150 billion. This is because the government has not raised enough in taxes to pay for schools, hospitals, tanks and aircraft carriers. It has got sod all to do with the banks. The government was borrowing money - running a deficit - long before the financial crisis. This was back in the days when Gordon Brown spoke about golden rules and only borrowing over the economic cycle.

The debt is the cumulative borrowing of all governments. It now stands at around a trillion pounds. It doubled under Labour.

The money given to the banks was around £100 billion. This was done in the form of cash for which we were issued new shares. You may be getting confused with the other guarantees given to the banks which, at least in theory, could have amounted to 500 or 600 billion. But these were guarantees against bad debt and were never exercised. It was an insurance scheme which was never called upon. It was therefore never added to the debt or the deficit.

It is true that when those shares in the banks are eventually sold they will recoup us some money. But it will not reduce the deficit but the debt. Without cuts we would need to sell banks every year to reduce the deficit.

The deficit is said to be structural because Gordon Brown entrenched spending assuming that the good times would last forever. He assumed that boom and bust really had been abolished and that the taxes would continue to flow. He was, in other words, spending money before he got it. He was borrowing money - running a deficit - even during those good years. This is the opposite of what Keynes advocated. Once tax revenues dried up because of the recession that meant that the deficit ballooned out of control. The permanent damage done to the economy means that those revenues will take a long time to come back, if they come back at all. So spending has to be cut in line with lower revenues. But as the BBC among others has pointed out, government spending will actually increase in cash terms over the next few years. The only reason cuts are necessary is thanks to ring fenced spending in some departments which will enjoy real if modest increases and higher interest payments on the growing debt eating up the extra money.

So, Mr Richards, the answer to your question is no. The cuts are not ideological. That is Labour spin because they too were committed to spending cuts just not so quickly. Not reducing the deficit would lead to higher interest rates and difficulties selling our debt as has been experienced in Greece. Instead interest rates have come down. This is good for growth and jobs.

You can argue whether we should be reducing the deficit so quickly but that is a question more of economics than ideology. But not reducing it so quickly means that the debt grows and we pay more in interest which would be better spent on services. Ultimately not cutting now just means postponing hard choices. It would mean higher taxes in the future or lower spending. It's really not hard to understand.

The Easiest Cut of All

I support the government's spending cuts for the most part, although like most I am still digesting them. And, though a supporter of the BBC, I think there is plenty of scope for this vast organisation to save money and so have no problem with the frozen licence fee. It can do so in a number of ways, by cutting some of the many layers of useless management and cutting the services which are unnecessary such as many of its local radio stations and the recently founded Gaelic service.

But on this basis and on the basis of fairness why the hell should licence fee payers support S4C? This pointless and viewerless channel is a spectacularly expensive gesture to Welsh nationalists just like those dual language signs all around the principality which nobody can pronounce let alone understand. Yet the cost of this channel is foisted on all of us, including the poor who struggle to pay for this universal tax as it is.

This spending review was supposed to be about working out what we as a nation can and cannot afford and cutting out waste. We are going to be sending out aircraft carriers without planes, cutting libraries and adult education and grants to arts projects across the country. The BBC itself is going to have to cut back services and probably show more repeats. So why are we continuing to fund a channel that no-one watches? What could be more wasteful than an entire television channel devoted to a few thousand people in the north of Wales whose official ratings are often zero. Absolute zero.

This isn't even a hard choice. It would be an easy one in times of plenty. Scrap it, scrap it now. Or if they really insist upon its retention let the Welsh Assembly pay for it. That's what devolution is supposed to be all about isn't it?