Thursday, 31 March 2011
Just a quick postscript to yesterday's PMQ's: should Tories be worried that David Cameron routinely refers to his own backbenchers as honourable gentlemen and ladies and does the same to those on the opposite benches but yesterday referred to Menzies Campbell as my honourable friend?
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
In so far as we can tell, because they prefer not to talk about it if they can possibly get away with it, Labour's economic policy is only slightly different from that of the Coalition - that's the Tory led coalition governing us, not the coalition that the Americans are desperate not to lead but which is currently embroiled in Libya. Labour want to cut a little less quickly than the Government, except they refuse to detail what they would cut and when. Oh and they keep making uncosted spending commitments too.
It is this serial dishonesty tinged with delusion which allowed Forrest to head out last Saturday and speak to the protesters thronging the streets of London and make all kind of comparisons between himself and freedom fighters, Chartists, Suffragettes and civil rights campaigners. It was only a wonder he didn't try to invoke Robin Hood too. Not that he had a memorable slogan like some of those he was trying to be mentioned alongside: What do we want? Slightly slower cuts. When do we want it? We'll tell you when we've finished our policy review.
Still, Forrest's union paymasters decreed that this march was necessary and that the cuts were leading us all to doom, and so Forrest turned up and did his duty. He did his best but he is no rabble rouser. The rabble roused themselves. The unfortunate law abiding majority went along to Hyde Park and listened to the leader of the opposition. Perhaps if there had been better speakers the other rabble would have stayed in the park and not nipped up the road to occupy posh grocers' shops and tried to set fire to Oxford Circus. If only Forrest had a dream about noble things rather than shameless opportunism dressed unconvincingly as principled opposition.
Forrest doesn't even do romance. He announced earlier today that he and the mother of his children are finally to marry. Presumably he left it this long in the juvenile belief that this would make it look like he was doing so voluntarily rather than because it was politically astute and would look good in the tabloids. What a lucky girl Justine is.
Dave added his congratulations to the soon to be happy couple, wished them luck and hoped that they would soon have lots of new little pandas born in wedlock. Forrest less than graciously accepted these congratulations and asked for tips about stag nights. Or maybe he was sincere. He famously doesn't really know how to have a good time, preferring to talk politics at university. Then again since he will now be legally entitled to half of Justine's million pound north London house perhaps that is reason enough to celebrate. If he gets into power he may well end up taxing it of course.
Speaking of students, Forrest raised the issue of tuition fees. Cameron was in combative, slightly Flashmanish form. He pointed out that Labour had introduced the fees in the first place and defended the new mechanisms.
It was then on to police cuts with Forrest trying to pose as being tough on crime, albeit not at all tough on police waste and inefficiency. Again Dave came back at him hard. Since he so commendably stuck around to debate Libya the other week he has seemed to enjoy himself taking on critics in the house and frequently does so without notes. He was on fine form again today calling Forrest's performance at the weekend ridiculous when it was his party that had necessitated the cuts. He finished with his opposite number by invoking Martin Luther King and contrasting him with panda boy. King had a dream, but it was time Forrest woke up.
This was not a vintage session and Forrest performed pretty well by his standards. But he was up against a confident PM who dealt with him with breezy efficiency and even took on the permanently heckling Ed Balls sitting further down the front bench. Is Balls the most annoying man in British politics? Quite possibly. But few will disagree with the PM's assessment that Forrest may soon consider him the same way as Balls does his worst. Forrest hasn't had a honeymoon as leader as Dave pointed out. He is actually less popular than his party or even his Shadow Chancellor. Perhaps that's why he feels the need to create a honeymoon of his own with the long suffering Justine.
Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Do you think that BBC2 inadvertently had a theme night last night? I only ask because there were some recurrent ones late at night in Newsnight and in Michael Mosley's illuminating The Brain: A Secret History.
First, in Newsnight, they had an interview with a nauseating, sanctimonious, simpering half wit from UK Uncut, who adopted a tone of voice which was presumably meant to make her sound caring but in fact made her look like she was auditioning for CBeebies. The proposition was put to her that her organisation should take part of the responsibility for the thugs and vandals who marauded around London's West End on Saturday, occupying shops, breaking windows of shops and hotels they disapproved of and generally being obnoxious to anyone and everything who has got on in life and achieved something. UK Uncut's campaign is similar, if slightly less violent and the case was pretty much closed before their spokesperson opened her mouth. If it's okay to occupy shops of which you disapprove, then the logical next step is to start smashing them up.
But then they do not take all of the blame. The unions and Labour should take their share too. If you campaign constantly about how terrible cuts are going to be, how unfair the world is and how 'the rich' aren't paying their fair share, it is only to be expected that some people will believe you and react in extreme ways. The dishonesty of our politics, the politics of spin and smear taken to its zenith in the last decade, is now starting to turn into violence.
Also in Newsnight, the excellent Sue Lloyd Roberts reported from Saudi Arabia on the plight of women. She found, unsurprisingly, that this medieval nation is resistant to change and that there are even some women who are willing to argue that the present system is a good and beneficent one and that 'your guardian (a man) knows best.'
What links these two items? Social conditioning and norms allied to peer pressure making people behave in certain ways, even when this is patently wrong and immoral. Michael Mosley told the story of those famous experiments by BF Skinner et al which showed how prone humans are to reacting in certain ways whilst imagining that we are exercising free will. Thus in Saudi Arabia, Harley riding young men subscribe to the notion that men must provide for and be responsible for their women, and women themselves submit to this imprisonment, often cheerfully. It's not as if this is restricted to Saudi Arabia after all. It is common throughout the Muslim world and even here in Britain where many Muslim women wear their ridiculous burqas or niqabs, submit to men and get bullied into marriage. Newsnight has more than once interviewed intelligent, burqa wearing young women who are prepared to argue that they find it liberating.
But it's not that this well understood aspect of the human psyche should be seen as an excuse for abhorrent behaviour. It should however be borne in mind when defenders of multiculturalism argue about people's right to choose. Just how much choice do women have when they are born into a conservative Muslim household and are sent to a Muslim school? The same is true of all religions to some extent, but few brutalise people like Islam does whilst claiming, wholly erroneously, holy sanction. Happily the wonderful Ayaan Hirsi Ali was also on Newsnight last to point all of this out.
And the thugs and morons who descended on London at the weekend are the product of a media conditioning which has talked incessantly of cuts for the last year as though the world is about to end. Some talked of the terrible damage about to be done to the NHS, despite the fact that it is not going to be cut at all. The government itself is to blame for this too. The cuts are simply not that bad and they are very very necessary.
But instead of facing economic reality and accepting that we can no longer live in this fool's paradise of expecting the money to appear magically without having to repay it, the left have alighted on a solution which seeks to blame the rich, the Tories and the Lib Dems, conveniently ignoring the fact that it was their greed, selfishness and economic ineptitude which caused us to overspend in the first place. Yesterday BA's unions once more voted to go on strike over the perks they lost for trying to grind another British company into the dirt. How many years of brainwashing will it take before the unions face reality?
Monday, 28 March 2011
What's wrong with science and scientific programming on television was nicely illustrated by two different shows running back to back on BBC2 last night. In the second, Brian Cox's high budget, high production values Wonders of the Universe, the producers' search for arresting images meant that the grinning prof was sent on various high octane adventures with only tenuous links to the subject matter - all to get good pictures. At one point he spent five minutes in a plane breaking the sound barrier in order to then reveal to us that the same is impossible with the speed of light. Honestly, it's almost enough to wipe that permanent smile off his face, except of course he was having a great time. It was the viewer who was bored and confused, not least by this high cost attempt to repeat the success of the previous series by doing the same things all over again. But that's television for you.
But because so much time was spent doing this kind of mildly diverting if pointless activity, little time was spent explaining what he was there to explain. So one was left with questions like: if entropy always increases how do stars and planets form out of nebulas? If gravity is not a force in the conventional sense but the Earth is held in place by falling into a valley carved out of space time by the Sun, how does the Moon pull our oceans around?
It's why tonight's less fancy but more interesting series, Everything and Nothing on BBC4, presented by Jim Al Khalili, is more satisfying. Less time and money has been spent on the series and so the science is given space to breathe. Result: he explains things properly.
And Professor Al Khalili cropped up on the earlier show on BBC2, Iain Stewart's fascinating attempt to explain what happened in Japan just 2 weeks ago. This Horizon special, put together with old stock footage and Professor Stewart in a room with good old fashioned maps and pieces of paper, managed to impart real knowledge and understanding because that, in the absence of fancy graphics and foreign destinations, was all it had available in so short a time. Result: a genuinely interesting programme which covered all of the bases about seismology, earthquakes, tsunamis and even nuclear power - at one point Professor Jim explained all of this sitting on a bench with a piece of paper and a marker pen - and revealed that this huge earthquake had shaken the whole planet, knocked us a little off our axis and shortened our days by a small amount.
The best part of this programme, in contrast to Brian Cox, was the humility on display. They were frank about what we do and do not understand with regard to these cataclysmic events. Geology and seismology are sciences that have the good grace to admit that there is much we do not understand about earthquakes and we still, despite all of our sophisticated devices for measurement, cannot predict them. If only the same were true of cosmologists and physicists who claim to know how the whole universe came into being and yet cannot explain all of those perplexing sub atomic particles that nobody ordered, the weakness of gravity and why the universe is not only expanding but accelerating whilst doing so. Dark energy? Pah!
I love these scientific programmes, but even I become irritated by the scientific hubris on display. But it's a recurring theme across the disciplines. Scientists are good at explaining things with the benefit of hindsight but hopeless at predicting. In our own solar system we have constantly been surprised by what we have found, from Galileo to Brian Cox and his pals who have sent out probes to the outer planets and seen ice volcanoes and heat where they expected to find cold lifelessness. Not that you would know this by some of the programmes
But whilst it is irritating on television, it becomes more dangerous in real life. Japan is reeling from the consequences of our inability to predict earthquakes and build sea defences high enough, although buildings stood up to the earthquake itself. As I, a layman, said at the time, this could be part of a pattern of more earthquakes across the region. But nobody really knows.
So if we cannot understand the complex processes involved as rock and lava moves around under our feet, why do we think that we can model the infinitely more complex and chaotic interactions of sea currents, winds, and the air above our heads? Why do we take seriously the predictions of climate scientists in their profession that has only existed for a generation? They claim to know what climate is going to do 50 years ahead when, as we see constantly, predicting the weather a week ahead is beyond them most of the time. Some humility would be welcome. Perhaps someone should make a TV programme about it.
Saturday, 26 March 2011
So they're marching in London again this afternoon, protesting about cuts and indulging themselves in fantasies that there is an alternative; that there is, in the words of Ed Balls 'a fairer way.' What is this fairer way? Well they prefer not to say, just as they won't tell us what they would cut. Forrest even told a BBC interviewer that he had been clear that Labour would have cut, when he knows they have been about as clear as the average bathroom window.
Presumably those marching have not noticed what is going on in Brussels and Lisbon this weekend. They have not noticed that yet another European government is in crisis because they are spending money that they don't have and their creditors are crying foul.
So who are those marching, apart from mendacious, opportunist Labour politicians claiming to be in touch with the masses? Well they are public sector workers who are alarmed at the prospect that they might have to join the real world of job losses, pay freezes and falling living standards to pay for the illusion of plenty that the last government created whilst borrowing at a rate that is seeing governments around Europe fall.
The sort of people marching are the sort who think that we shouldn't let the markets dictate to us how much money we spend. But the reason the money markets can and should do so is because our government is spending their money because they cannot raise enough in taxes.
The sort of people marching are the sort who ignore the fact that we will soon be spending two thirds of the budget of the NHS on debt interest.
The sort of people marching are the sort whose solution to all of this is simply to tax the rich more. This ignores the fact that sadly this country does not have enough rich people to pay that kind of bill and taxing them more tends to mean that their number declines further as they head off to countries that are better run. That is perfectly rational behaviour. Confiscating half or more of someone's income is lunacy because, people resent it and vote with their feet. We live in a globalized world and this kind of policy just makes Britain less competitive. Labour used to appreciate this point. They now conveniently ignore it.
Forrest likes to tell the government that they are out of touch, but it is he who lives in a world of his own in which bills never have to be paid. The cuts we will soon see being implemented will take public spending down to the levels seen only 3 or 4 years ago. I don't remember the TUC complaining then that we were in the grip of a savage and uncaring government. The only reason that cuts are needed at all on the level we are seeing is that so much of the budget is being eaten up by those interest payments. That makes Labour's solution of slower cuts and more borrowing utter idiocy, like a family paying for groceries on a credit card. It would mean that we would have to borrow more, tax more and make business in this country ever more uncompetitive. Nobody wants to cut but there really is no alternative. Most people can see that because it really is remarkably easy to understand provided you don't put your fingers in your ears, close your eyes and sing la la la which seems to be the economic policy of the Labour Party.
Forrest tells us that we are going back to the 1980s. He's right. That was a time when the Thatcher government drew a line and told the public sector unions that their gravy train had hit the buffers. We as a country could no longer afford to subsidise loss making, unproductive industries and whole sectors insulated from economic reality by taxpayer largesse. For a time they claimed to have learnt the lesson and to have adjusted their thinking. Today's march proves otherwise. Public sector unions want their cosseted existence in perpetuity paid for by everyone else. That ultimately is what they are demanding and what the Labour leadership are tacitly accepting.
Friday, 25 March 2011
Now at last the repercussions of this arrogance are being realised. The price of Euro membership, always glossed over by its advocates, is now being presented in the form of a huge bill and years of austerity. The various electorates of Europe are objecting and forcing their governments to do the same. Inconvenient democracy is at last asserting itself. This is why the EU is so hostile to it. This time they may not be able to ignore it.
There is much speculation that Britain may well be asked to contribute to yet another bail out, this time for Portugal with more sure to follow. The Government has thus far avoided the question, arguing that Portugal has not asked for it. But they ought to rule out any British involvement. It is time that new solutions were found, solutions that do not require various countries to endure years of austerity to salvage political pride.
The Euro has failed as it was always doomed to do in its present form. Britain had the good sense to stay out. It is hard to see why we should throw good money after bad to prop up what we always suspected was an accident waiting to happen when it will only postpone the inevitable. That postponement has nothing to do with economic reality and everything to do with inconvenient democracy. It is time for leaders to listen and act in the best interests of their countries rather than their own pride.
Thursday, 24 March 2011
Do tou think that the propagandists in Libya are taking lessons from our own Labour Party? There are remarkable similarities between the lies and spin being propagated by both. After all in Libya they are seeking to blame the coalition for causing civilian deaths whilst at the same time deliberately using civilians as human shields.
Here in the UK, Labour's desperate attempts to win points over fuel prices also ignores some inconvenient facts, namely that the level of fuel duties was a central raft of the last government's party - one they were actually rather proud of at one point. They also, as with many things, left an unexploded bomb in the form of sharply increasing fuel duty starting from next month. Now suddenly they are on the side of the hard pressed middle - the same middle they spent 13 years squeezing with stealth taxes.
Osborne's little trick of hitting the oil companies to pay for a reduction in the fuel duty was worthy of Gordon Brown himself. That is not a compliment. But that's what politics is all about these days. It's is Brown's one lasting legacy. Perhaps that's why Labour are so desperate to demolish it. How dare he use their own tricks against them. So they are now simultaneously claiming that the levy on oil companies will simply be passed on to consumers but that it will also damage UK oil exploration. It may well be one or the other, but it can't be both.
Forrest's response to the Budget yesterday was full of this kind of sophistry and double speak. The fall in growth is a matter of concern of course, but it is not being caused by the cuts because the cuts haven't started yet. Public spending grew this year. So Forrest was complaining about growth that is as much a legacy of Labour policy as it is of the present government's. Nobody yet knows what effect the cuts will have on the economy, in the same way that we cannot predict what the weather or nature will do and what surprises international politics still has in store for us. But what we can say is that the Labour approach of just keeping open the spending taps has not worked. We know this because they have been open now ever since the economic crisis first hit and the weak growth figures prove it. Osborne is gambling that the spending cuts allied to tax cuts and other measures to make business in the UK more attractive will provide a boost to growth. I wish he could do more and no doubt he does too. But the economic forecasts are neither here nor there. I firmly believe that he is taking the right approach and that growth will follow. That will be the story of future Budgets, not that Labour will ever admit it.
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
I'm not going to rush to judgement about the Budget, except to say that my first impression is that George Osborne managed to pull a few rabbits out of hats, stymie many of Labour's best attack options (not that this will stop them) and deliver something that makes all the right noises. There were some welcome ideas about much needed reform, plus some tax cutting meat even if some of it is deferred. There was more progress on taking the low paid out of tax, the prospect of ending the ridiculous National Insurance and Tax system, much needed cuts to corporation tax and early signs that the Government will grasp the nettle on 50p tax. It all sounded hopeful and impressive.
Whether or not it actually does what it says on the tin remains to be seen. Experience has taught us to wait until the experts have pored over the detail before delivering a verdict and so that is what I intend to do.
But the success of the Budget thus far can perhaps best be seen thanks to the response of Ed Balls who has been reduced to saying that he too will have to wait and see the detail before delivering a verdict. That the man who served that master of spin and sleight of hand for so long (and whose Budgets usually unravelled within 24 hours) is now saying the same of his opposite number is hilarious (see yesterday's post about fuel duty). But it may well also be a sign that Osborne delivered a Budget that Labour will struggle to develop a critique of, except by claiming characteristically that they would somehow be able to spend more, tax less and create jobs all at the same time.
Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Inflation is up again. Are you surprised? Those of us who live in the real world and do so on a budget are not at all surprised because we have seen this happening now for years and not just the few months when it has made headlines. Prices of staple goods have been rising inexorably for years. But it is now starting to become a political issue.
And this is where the unpleasant and serially dishonest Ed Balls comes in. He and his pointless leader are going to make this a big issue because they know that this is something that voters are noticing and that they are hurting. That is why they are also starting to talk up the issue of fuel prices and VAT. It is smart politics. This resonates.
But, when they bleat about these issues, let us remember why we are where we are. As I mentioned above, sliding living standards are not a recent development. They have been sliding now, as Mervyn King has pointed out, for 5 years. Why? Because the Labour voracious state has been gobbling up an ever bigger slice of the national GDP cake. That affects all of our living standards, especially if we are unlucky enough not to be in the welcoming embrace of the public sector. As the unions march to protect that public sector in the coming weeks we should remember that what they are demanding is the protection of their jobs at the cost of increasing penury for the rest of us.
Furthermore we should also remind ourselves that inflation and the system for combating it is also of Labour's creation. The Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee that keeps being surprised by inflation was appointed by Labour and was created by them. Gordon Brown changed their target from RPI to CPI in a further example of his penchant for fiddling the figures. It always amuses me when they quote the Office for Budgetary Responsibility. Would they have been happy to hand over the power to present facts and figures to an independent body?
And what is Labour's cure for our present ills? They won't tell us. Reading between the lines however it seems to be more of the same, more spending (they refuse to say what they would cut) and this belief that ever higher spending will magically create growth when the experience of the last 13 years shows that it simply sucks the life out of the productive parts of the economy in the form of ever higher taxes and costs. The reason we are feeling the pinch now is as a direct consequence of policies the Labour Party are still wedded to. Inflation is a product of that too.
And when they tell us this week they are in favour of helping us out by reducing fuel costs perhaps Mr Balls should be reminded of what he said about fuel duty increases back in 2007: "That is exactly what we have been doing over the past 10 years with action to shift the tax burden from 'goods' to 'bads,' and with the work that we have done to support and, indeed, to pioneer international emissions control and trading. In the Budget, we have set our further actions to advance the environment agenda, including a fuel duty increase of more than inflation."
Labour are trying to rewrite history in so many ways. But the performance of the economy and our rising inflation can be laid entirely at their door. If we're being charitable, we could perhaps acknowledge that they were simply mistaken about spending money we could ill afford - albeit it's a mistake they still won't accept. In the case of fuel duty, it was a conscious decision that they are now pretending has nothing to do with them by trying to talk about VAT instead.
Monday, 21 March 2011
There's far too much news around at the moment. Even in these 24 hour news days our TV channels are struggling to fit it all in. Top hacks just don't know which part of the globe to fly to. Should they be dodging bullets and missiles in Libya? Should they hotfoot it to Yemen to see the latest domino fall? Should they be in Bahrain to expose the double standards of western foreign policy and the seeds of world war 3?
Thank god that those nice, sensible and stoical Japanese seem to have got over their earthquake and tsunami without all of the wailing and crying and hair wrenching that would have been seen in other parts of the world. That would have made for great pictures and copy but where would it have fitted in to the packed news agenda? And they seem to have averted nuclear catastrophe which, this time last week, was almost a given according to breathless reporters ignoring expert opinion. That the Japanese have done so by setting up the world's longest extension cord is quite amusing but nothing like dramatic enough and so it is going unreported.
Oh and here we had a supermoon. If that had happened during August we would probably have had a live feed of it. Now it's just mentioned in passing. Honestly, could someone ensure that our international crises and notable events are more evenly paced in future? It would be nice if the next one didn't get started until the beginning of the next financial year too. Oh Christ we've got the budget to fit in too! Can we lengthen the day?
The House of Commons is set to debate our involvement in operations in Libya today in contrast to the Gaddafi regime which just claims to talk for the people and then shoots at them if they say the wrong thing. That is ultimately what we are fighting for - the right of the Libyan people to decide who leads them and not to be slaughtered for having the temerity to ask for such a thing.
Presumably, other than a few of the usual suspects, there will be broad consensus that we are doing the right thing in parliament today and possibly even grudging admiration for Cameron's bravery in calling for and then getting a UN backing, given that only a couple of weeks ago Labour were trying to ridicule him and call him incompetent. I wonder though, given Labour's hostility to the word coalition, whether they will insist upon calling this latest example a US led coalition. Maybe someone could ask them.
Sunday, 20 March 2011
It's Budget week this week, one of the defining moments of the political year and one of those rare times when most people's eyes turn to parliament. In many ways this ought to be a comparatively low key event in contrast to George Osborne's first setpiece when he set out most of the heavy lifting in terms of spending cuts and tax rises.
But this week represents an opportunity for him to move the debate on. Whatever the dishonesty and denial of the Labour Party with regard to the need for cuts, the Government has, by and large, won the argument. If course as those cuts hit home in the coming year there will inevitably be moments of political difficulty as specific cases of hardship and rough justice make the headlines. This is why Osborne should now broaden the argument and show that the cuts are being implemented for a reason.
Growth is key and this has to be the overriding priority of the Government now. The private sector is already making a contribution. The unemployment figures have not made especially happy reading in recent months, but look behind the headlines and we can see that jobs are being created in the private sector. This is a hopeful sign.
George Osborne will almost certainly set out his plans this week for growth including simplifying the burdensome tax system Gordon Brown created, cutting the spaghetti of regulation with which businesses have to cope and setting out further plans for cutting taxes when possible.
And this brings up the vexed subject of our ridiculous 50% top rate of tax. This was supposed to be a temporary measure to deal with the deficit. It was never that. It was a political gimmick which will have raised very little money but is a bear trap for the Tories. The moment they talk of or actually abolish it Labour will talk of them helping their rich friends at the expense of us all. The fact that such punitive tax rates have been demonstrated to be counter-productive is immaterial to Labour who have demonstrated their lack of principle on most issues but tax and the economy most of all. This was never a measure which had anything to do with raising money and it has done real damage to the image of the UK as a place to do business.
This is why Osborne might as well announce either that he is reducing the rate or plans to do so and get the political pain out of the way. He might commission a study to see what the effects have been. Perhaps he might reveal that reducing the top rate now would raise more money and then use this additional revenue to cut taxes for the low paid. That would be an appropriate Brownite sleigh of hand to despatch a piece of Brownite mischief making.
Taxes need to come down for everyone, from corporations to people at both ends of the pay scales. People earning at or near the minimum wage should not be paying tax at all and it is simply wrong for any government to help itself to half or more of people's earnings, however they dress this up as fairness. The 50% tax, when allied to national insurance, means that Brown's Britain was confiscating two thirds of people's earnings. When governments do that it is a form of tyranny. It is also economic illiteracy of the sort for which the left have become famous. This week Osborne should ignore the mendacious taunts of the left and reverse this idiotic policy. Ultimately, wherever you are on the earnings scale, we will all benefit.
Saturday, 19 March 2011
Do you think we should have a in or out referendum on the EU? Do you consider this a more important issue than our voting system on which our elected representatives, on an issue of concern only to themselves, are spending millions?
Then why not tell your MP what you think? Look them up on this website and see if they support a referendum on the EU. If not write to them and tell them what you think. This is an issue which the British people have consistently said they want to vote on. Yet our MPs and political parties won't let us. They prefer to prop themselves up in power and change the electoral system to suit themselves. Tell them what you think of them via the links on the site.
Friday, 18 March 2011
Tony Blair always wanted a legacy. He has one. It is one that may well result in bloodshed this weekend as Libya slaughters those who dare to demand freedom from tyranny. Blair's legacy is that the world, and in particular America, now hesitates on the world stage. Barack Obama's silence on this issue until the last couple of days has been a dereliction of duty and responsibility but it is the left's natural knee jerk response to the Bush/Blair years.
If we're lucky the courageous persistence of David Cameron against the ridicule of the leader of the opposition and the craven silence of the Obama administration will mean that Gaddafi's bluster will now be exposed for what it is. If we're unlucky he will try and finish his opposition off while there is still time and before we and our allies get our forces into action.
The other Blair legacy is that the left is even more beholden now to the bizarre notion of international law. What exactly is international law? It is just the dirty world of diplomacy but with an added layer of bureaucrats, lawyers and diplomats who can live the good life in New York and ignore traffic laws. The same dodgy deals are done, the same quid pro quos are exacted, certain countries are above international law and certain countries can wilfully ignore it. Others however feel the full force of it. Gunboat diplomacy was at least honest and straightforward by comparison. Instead now we have the farce that is the Security Council, in which the democratic west does deals with totalitarian dictatorships and pretends that this is the rule of law. The price of intervention in Libya has probably been that we must turn a blind eye to events in Bahrain. Who knows what price the Chinese and Russians have exacted for their abstentions.
Still, David Cameron and his French counterparts are to be congratulated for doing the right thing. We had no choice but to go down the UN route because we cannot go it alone to protect the people of Libya and because the politics of coalition decreed it necessary. If we're lucky this has all been done in the nick of time. Whatever happens our government can congratulate themselves that they did the right thing at the risk of failure and ridicule at the hands of their opportunist opponents. Leadership is about taking risks to defend one's principles. Someone should tell that to Barack Obama and the Labour Party who seem determined to learn the wrong lessons about the Blair era.
Thursday, 17 March 2011
It would be easier to take the doom laden reports about the events in Japan seriously if journalists could get the basic facts right.
Take the BBC's Matt Frei last night on Newsnight, who didn't know the difference between nuclear fusion and nuclear fission. The irony is that the night before, on the same channel, Professor Brian Cox explained in great detail exactly what nuclear fusion is, and that, notwithstanding current ongoing research, not least here in the UK, it remains something that currently only happens in stars. The series has won rave reviews - although to my taste Jim Al Khalili's BBC4 series Atom a couple of years ago was better - but you have to wonder if anyone at the BBC has been paying attention to anything more than the viewing figures and Cox's winning smile and infectious enthusiasm. You would think that people who use words as their tools would understand what the word fusion means and contrast it with the well known 65 year old concept of splitting the atom.
I'm not saying that there isn't a real danger from the Fukushima plant and that, in the politician's phrase, we shouldn't learn lessons if there are any to learn. But we may just learn what we already know: that it is a bit risky, notwithstanding Japan's lack of natural resources, to build nuclear power planets in one of the world's most notorious earthquake zones. They did after all give the word tsunami to the world.
The remarkable feature of this story has not only been the famous stoicism of the admirable Japanese people but that of the nuclear experts too. They have, by and large, refused to feed the media disaster frenzy and have been sanguine about the chances of avoiding disaster. Things have taken a turn for the worse in the last few hours but, despite what you read in the media, there is still an element of control about what is happening. I know it's not so compelling a story but, serious though this is, it actually shows that, even when the worst happens, we have the expertise and skills to avert the sort of disaster routinely being talked up in the press. What we should worry about is the tendency of other less developed and scrupulous nations around the world to seek to acquire this technology for whatever reason.
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
I have this theory about the Labour Party and of lefties in general and that is this: deep down, in places they don't like to talk about or admit possessing, they really prefer being in opposition to being in government. The trouble with government is that, if you are honest and not suffering from a spectacular case of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, it does tend to disabuse you of certain cosy assumptions about what the world and the people in it are like and how they can be transformed. Much better therefore to sit perpetually in opposition, railing against evil Tories, making all kinds of claims about how much better the world would be if only you were in power waving your magic wand. It should be noted that Lib Dems are currently going through this realisation too as the weekend showed.
This is the comfort zone that Labour, in power less than a year ago lest we forget, now occupy. Their inability to end unemployment, child poverty, turn the NHS into a world class service, make our schools work and generally make the country fairer, healthier and just is now conveniently forgotten. To this end the fact that Labour had temporarily called themselves New Labour is extremely convenient. Forrest and his chums now pretend that all that was inconvenient about the previous 13 years was some kind of aberration and that the present leadership would do things differently. But then that's what they said when Tony and Gordon turned the party into New Labour. They did that because people remembered and actively feared old Labour.
That's what Forrest was about today. The latest bandwagon he is jumping on is NHS reform, this despite the fact that the reforms proposed are just a continuation of what his party tried to implement until Gordon erected his roadblocks. Dave had a good line about this: Forrest, he said, was the son of roadblock.
It's the eternal condundrum of the NHS. It has become the great untouchable of British politics and yet we all know that it is fundamentally flawed. Brilliant in an emergency and replete with many examples of excellent, skilled and dedicated staff, it nevertheless contrives to strangle excellence with bureaucracy and Kafkaesque idiocy. Efficiency and productivity are permanently in retreat. But Labour cannot or will not see this, at least not now.
A couple of weeks ago Forrest claimed that the sign that Dave is losing an argument is when he starts talking about Forrest's family. This was actually a sure sign that the attacks were getting to Forrest and that he knew they were damaging to him. The same is true of Cameron's repeated reference to Forrest's inability to think on his feet, constantly using pre-scripted questions that he sticks to regardless of the answers.
What to do? What to do? Forrest and his advisers must have asked. Then they had a Eureka! moment. Say the same thing back to him. And so Forrest spoke of Dave's pre-scripted answers, an odd allegation unless of course Forrest gives him advance warning of his questions. But Forrest seemed very pleased with this. He said it twice. It's rather like the 'and so is your Mum' line often deployed in school playgrounds. He might as well have added nyah nyah nyah and stuck out his tongue. No doubt he used to deploy similar wit against school bullies as they shoved his head down the bog. If only camera phones and You Tube had been around in those days.
Forrest was on better form today but he still wasn't landing any punches, and this despite the fact that he seemed to have identified an issue of which the PM was unaware, namely that NHS reforms would mean that EU competition laws would apply to the NHS. But he failed to press home his advantage. Yes Dave wasn't answering the questions, or at least answering them in his own way. But Forrest, other than telling us this more out of frustration than anything else, can find no way of getting the better of his opponent.
The reason that the pre-scripted line rankles with Forrest is because he knows it is true. Even when on half decent form with these lines, he still cannot get the better of a relaxed and imperious prime minister who defended the NHS reforms with vigour and identified that Forrest was siding once again with the vested interests like the unions and this time the BMA. How Forrest and his chums must have hugged themselves when they thought of throwing the charge back at Dave. But the PM can think on his feet. He can extemporise. He manages to come up with the better lines or to adapt better.
Once again Forrest ought to have had the ammunition to get the better of him and ended up missing the target. Opposition is easier than government because you can pick and choose what to talk about and avoid having any policy at all where it suits. Yet somehow Forrest manages to make even opposition look tough. The pre-scripted questions are not the problem. The man delivering them is as incapable of any more.
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
I don't watch Midsomer Murders. The reason I don't watch it is because it's crap - harmless crap, rather like Downton Abbey, and the recent South Riding - but crap all the same.
Yet this piece of wallpaper television is attracting the opprobrium of the right on bien pensant classes because it depicts an English country village in which, shock horror, there are no black or ethnic minority faces. Apparently this rather realistic depiction (I used to live in such a village) offends people. Apparently the demographic reality of rural Britain seems to have passed them by.
We shouldn't worry too much about this however. These are the same people who used to worry their heads about Christmas offending people from a non Christian background and so imposed Winterval on certain cities instead. Were they offended by Eid or Diwali? Of course not. So why do they imagine Muslims or Hindus would be offended by Christmas? Doesn't that make them the racists?
I shall continue not to watch Midsomer Murders, just as I don't watch the equally crap EastEnders with its representative cast and characters and storylines designed to open our eyes to different cultures, viewpoints and socio economic backgrounds. TV execs should worry about our inability to make good drama of the quality of The Wire or the (very white) Mad Men rather than our tendency to think that all television should not be hideously white to use Greg Dyke's characteristically right on phrase.
They shouldn't worry too much about Midsomer anyway. Given the murder rate in that town, perhaps ethnic minorities are sensible staying away. It's much safer here in the melting pot of Hackney.
Monday, 14 March 2011
Today sees the countdown to London 2012 start in earnest. It's 500 days until the games get underway. Ticket sales also start today.
And let's just for once blow our own trumpets. The planning for this great event seems to be going remarkably smoothly. Whereas other recent Olympics have been beset by chaos, huge overspends and white elephant infrastructure, we are on budget, on schedule and with the luxury of being able to test the various stadia well in advance to ensure all is well. Future use of the facilities is also being factored in. Rivals have been getting into a fight over their desire to take up permanent residence in the main stadium.
And, for all that we may have objected to the cost, there is a palpable sense of pride and excitement starting to grip London and the rest of the country now. There have been no major bad news stories about delay and excessive costs. The most contentious issues have been about things like public art selected to adorn the site and that silly logo. Even that has had an upside though since Iran has decided it is a Zionist slogan and is threatening to pull out
It is all going remarkably well. As a showcase for what Britain can do, London 2012 is looking good.
When in power, one of Gordon Brown's favourite tricks was to keep spending the same money over and over again, or at least making the same announcement of spending over and over again to make him sound more generous than he was. He later abandoned this, when rumbled, and actually started spending the money. We are now all paying for the consequences. Perhaps we shouldn't have let on that we had figured out his ruse and allowed him to keep pretending to keep spending. We would all be a lot better off now.
His successors however seem to think we all buy into their year zero rewriting of recent history and are trying similar tricks again, presumably also hoping that we won't notice. They are promising all kinds of spending without worrying about where the money is going to come from except by alleging that it will all magically appear by raiding the wallets of those evil bankers over and over again. The bonus tax they like to point to has actually not raised as much money as envisaged. Why? Because, as has to be pointed out over and over again, raising taxes changes behaviour.
People don't like paying taxes. They therefore, where possible, avoid them. Given that politicians keep coming back for more to pay for their own recklessness and willingness to spend other people's money to keep themselves in power, this behaviour is actually perfectly rational and sensible.
Saturday, 12 March 2011
This weekend, instead of writing a piece on this ongoing scandal myself, I refer you instead to this piece written by the ever excellent Nick Cohen. I agree with every word. Why is the world not scandalised by what is going on in Pakistan? Why aren't there marches about this regression to medievalism? When is the human race going to grow up, leave behind its fantasies and start behaving rationally?
Friday, 11 March 2011
There will be many reactions to the unfolding disaster in Japan and the Pacific, which thanks to the nature of this kind of disaster and the size of that ocean, we may well get to watch in real time. There will be grief, sadness, horror and helplessness. In a year that has already seen more than its fair share of natural disasters in this part of the world, many will ask if this is part of a new pattern as this notoriously volatile part of the world does its worst.
We will also of course see the various reactions of world's religions. Some will merely try to offer comfort and succour to those devastated and bereaved. They will do so whilst conveniently ignoring questions about why their god wreaks this kind of havoc on the world whilst also calling any small scale escapes miracles. Other more hardline religionists will inevitably claim that this is all the act of a vengeful god sending us a message to mend out ways.
And what of that other great 21st century religion, the environmental movement? They tend to think of our world as a benign and cosseting place which we humans are ruining. Yet in a matter of seconds our planet, this ball of cooling rock which just happens for the moment to be a place on which life is viable and tolerable, can create the kind of devastation that man has only recently become capable and which we have thus far had the good sense not to deploy. In just a few seconds this violent and hostile planet shows what it is capable of when stirred out of its current state of comparative calm. Who knows, certainly not the geologists and seismologists, if this and the recent activity in New Zealand is the start of a period in which the Earth bares its teeth in a way we know it has done many times in the past?
The ingenuity of man and our resilience means that this greatest of recent earthquakes will not wreak the havoc it could have done had it been located elsewhere. There's a lesson in that. I wonder if the green meanies will heed it.
Thursday, 10 March 2011
Is the war on cigarettes and smoking going too far? Yesterday's announcement of an impending ban on displays of cigarettes in newsagents and supermarkets looks an awful lot like overkill.
Let me be clear: I don't smoke. I still walk into pubs today and marvel at how nice it is to not have to breathe in other people's smoke and not have your clothes and hair smell like an ashtray the next day. But there has been a price to pay for this generally sensible and rather lovely change, and that is that pubs are going out of business on a daily basis. It's not just because booze can be bought more cheaply in supermarkets. It's also because smokers don't see the allure of spending the extra for a pint only to be sent outside like a leper every time they want a fag. I see their point even if I enjoy the clean air.
This new example of nanny Britain risks doing the same for corner shops and newsagents, which are already suffering as we stop buying newspapers and buy our groceries from the all conquering supermarkets. It's hard to see how this measure will put people off their cigarettes. Out of sight is not out of mind where addictions are concerned, and it risks making the habit look more glamorous for the impressionable young who are the next generation of smokers this measure is presumably aimed at.
Perhaps it is time to accept that people do stupid things, and smoking is the stupidest legal habit you can have. There can't be many or any people who don't know what smoking will do to you (I've always thought that the best argument the campaigners could use is to deploy the sexual angle by pointing out that smokers don't smell nice and aren't so good in the bedroom in the long term) but they smoke anyway. In a free country that is their choice. It's not as if they don't pay through the nose for it. It's just that nowadays they are no longer allowed to get up my nose while doing so.