Monday, 31 October 2011

Turn Back the Clocks?

The newspapers and commentators over the weekend seemed fairly evenly divided on the current buzz issue of whether we should abandon GMT permanently and stay on what some have ludicrously termed Berlin time. The only general consensus seems to be that there is no good reason why we should be prevented from moving to this new arrangement because of the objection of the Scots. Why do they get a veto? So what if Alex Salmond makes hay with this separation? The bulk of the population in this supposed democracy might prefer lighter evenings. Scotland can always use devolution to go its own way if it wishes.

There are good arguments either way for this move though. It is depressing and arguably dangerous for it to get dark at 5 in the evening just when we are all heading home. Then again the reason that we have a different time to the rest of Europe is because the sun rises and sets later here because we are further west. No change in the law is going to alter this.

But perhaps we should just try it out. Let's give it a go and then make up our minds about the pros and cons. Is it really a contributory factor to accidents or does that just happen anyway when the nights get longer, the wrong kind of snow falls and leaves turn to mulch underfoot? I have always had a kind of affection for good old fashioned GMT but would be the first to admit that this is no rational basis for the retention of a policy that may no longer make sense. They used BST and BST + 1 during the war because it saved energy and boosted production. Well why do those perfectly sensible considerations not also apply in peacetime?

And I hate to bring up the dreaded referendum word again but ultimately this is a decision that we should all make and not leave to politicians. We're told that we cannot be trusted to decide about the EU because it is all too complicated (and not because all of the main parties disagree with us in a rare outbreak of consensus) but, even if this patronising tosh is not just an excuse for the political class to shut us out once again, changing the clocks is something we can definitely all understand, especially those of us who were working at the weekend when they went back and so had to labour for an extra hour in the middle of the night. It's unlikely your average politician has ever had that problem.

So let's try it for a couple of years and then let the people decide. It's called democracy, we should try it from time to time. It might catch on.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The Euro Pro Quo

If Europe's leaders are not yet ashamed of themselves, history is sure to judge them harshly over the coming years. As they did their latest deal, not so much to save the Euro and the world economy but to save them having to admit their own disastrous policies, they also held out the begging bowl to China. How is that ever going to end well?

The Chinese are always good at getting the best deal for themselves. The French ought to respect that. Now the Chinese have the whip hand. What will they demand in return for their largesse? What will be the Euro Pro Quo?

Perhaps their terms will include acceptance of their aggressive trade policies, their theft of our intellectual property, our silence on their appalling human rights record, their manipulation of currency or their increasing assertiveness over their sphere of influence in south Asia. They will probably want more say in all kinds of international policy from the IMF and may demand greater recognition of their own status with additional  accrued benefits. China was always going to rise to greater power and influence in the coming years but did the likes of Sarkozy, Merkel and Obama need to hand it to them on a plate?

The irony of all of this is that it comes just over a week since Sarkozy, the little Napoleon with the monstrous ego, was justifiably proud of his leadership in bringing down Gadaffi and his vile regime. He stood up for democracy and freedom he told the world and allowed the Libyan people to at last assert themselves.

Less than a week later he is running cap in hand to the most dangerous and assertive nation on the planet and preparing to sell out billions of Asians, 300 million Europeans and uncharacteristically even his own country so as to save face and continue defying economic common sense. Instead of admitting how broken the EU and Euro model is, he and Merkel are selling our future to the Chinese and at a bargain price.

The only consolation is that this supreme act of diplomatic and economic idiocy may well add to China's burgeoning confidence and they will overreach themselves. They are well on the way to becoming as hubristic as the French and committing their own economic mistakes.

The Chinese economic miracle is based on western short termism, market failure, political stupidity and cupidity and their own demographic peculiarities which look suspiciously like a ticking time bomb. Their economy is a bubble waiting to be pricked and this slow motion Euro disaster has the potential to do so with extreme vigour. Already their inflation is taking off and growth slowing as their customers head towards a double dip recession.

If only our alleged leaders, not just in Europe but in America too, would play hard ball with the Chinese instead of indulging them and begging from them we could infact bring the Communist Party down and free a billion people without a shot being fired. Or perhaps that is our leaders cunning plan. Perhaps they intend to borrow money from the Chinese and then default on the loan like the Greeks.

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Camp of Cretins Issue Their Demands

The Camp of Cretins have issued their demands. Quite why erecting a tent with permission in front of a national icon entitles you to issue demands is a mystery. What are they going to do if their demands are not met, be beastly to a bishop? Order fewer skinny lattes? Erect bigger tents and actually sleep in them this time? Refuse to sign on the dole and then blame the government for them going without their macrobiotic yogurts?

It should be noted by the way that, according to George Monbiot who has shocked the world by taking the side of the protesters, it has been definitively proven that those pictures of the tents lying empty were falsified. Actually they haven't been falsified, it just wasn't a very good or efficient camera, or else the tents are spectacularly well insulated. But then these do seem to be extremely well heeled protesters as is so often the case. Perhaps their tents have recently returned from a trip to the arctic to prove how terrible global warming is.

Anyway, they have now got together around a laptop, presumably hooking up to Starbucks WiFi in so doing (although it remains unclear where they are charging their laptops and phones for communicating with the world - perhaps that's where they were when the tents looked unoccupied) and have issued their initial demands:

A Demand For The Democratisation of ‘The City of London Corporation’

The City can no longer be tolerated as a State within a State governing above and beyond the authority of Parliament. This situation is undemocratic and unsustainable.

In the City and its anachronistic institutions our collective betrayal is writ large. The City is an anomaly in British politics – it has more power than the Scottish parliament. Democratic reform of The City Of London Corporation is urgently needed. The ancient political institutions of the City are surely unconstitutional and unfair. By permitting City firms to vote in elections the banks are afforded a disproportionate level of representation at the expense of local residents.

This is not in keeping with our Democracy.

The risk taking of the banks has made our lives precarious – they are accountable to no-one but themselves, unduly influencing government policy across the centuries both at home and abroad. This is not Democracy. Standing in the tradition of Clement Attlee we demand Democratisation of the City of London Corporation.

Reform of the Corporation’s political institutions will mean: An end to business block-votes in all elections – full democratisation of the City’s political institutions.

Abolition of the office of Remembrancer in the House of Commons.

Abolition of existing secrecy practices within the City and total and transparent reform of its institutions in order to end corporate tax fraud.

The City of London police to be decommissioned and its officers brought under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police Force.

Abolition of the offices of Lord Mayor of London, the Sheriffs and the Aldermen.

A truth and reconciliation commission to examine corruption within the City and its institutions

These are our initial demands.

Well why didn't they say so? The City of London Corporation? There's an issue to enrage the public. The Lord Mayor of London? Outrageous. A truth and reconciliation commission? What a fine idea. They won't have seen crowds like it since they cut off Charles I's head. Decommissioning of the City of London Police bringing it under the jurisdiction of the Met? Brilliant. Let's abolish British Transport Police while we're at it. And handing things over to our fully functional and inspiring Metropolitan Police is sure to win the applause and respect of the nation.

What has the Corporation of London done to incur their wrath you ask, other than being run by a bunch of bankers? Well this is the body that is threatening to have the protester evicted. But I'm sure this is just a coincidence.

The banks we are told are accountable to noone, which must come as a surprise to the various regulators who exist for that purpose along with the soon to be abolished City of London Police who could have sworn they arrested and charged a banker just a few weeks ago. That's probably one for the truth and reconciliation commission.

Yes the professional protesters camped out and refusing to move from the front of St Pauls clearly are everything that their media supporters claim. They object to the fact that the banks who occupy the square mile that is the city and where hardly anybody lives (just take a look at it at weekends when all the shops are closed) get to have a say in its running. Quite why is not explained. But then these are demands not a coherent argument. They had to come up with something I suppose.

But this is a movement that is clearly going to revolutionise the world and create fairness and prosperity for all starting with abolishing the Mayoralty. I can't imagine why we didn't think of it before. Perhaps, like all great ideas, it just seems obvious in retrospect.

Poppies in November

Around this time last year I wrote this post about poppy fascism, the insistence by some that everyone has to wear a poppy for fear of giving offence. This is particularly the case for anyone who happens to be in the public eye, be they politicians or television presenters. Indeed I wouldn't be surprised if there is a BBC edict telling radio presenters to wear poppies just in case. I have a confession to make: when I was a BBC announcer I often used to introduce programmes without a poppy in my lapel, if only because I used to do so in my shirt sleeves.

It should be pointed out that it is still October. To my mind the wearing of poppies should not actually start until the beginning of November. Yet they are already in evidence in the House of Commons. Where did MPs get these from? They haven't kept them from last year have they? Is that really in the spirit? And are they doing so purely to be competitively respectful?

And some are trying to make an issue of the absence of poppies from the lapels of government ministers this week in the Commons, particularly at PMQs. Is Remembrance Sunday slipping further forward in the year now like Christmas and Easter? Will we soon be able to buy poppies in July? Will it be frowned on not to wear them for half of the year?

This blog is all for remembering and honouring our fallen and the sacrifice they made so that I can write this blog without fear of censorship. But I am for doing so at the appropriate time. And if people choose not to wear a poppy is that not their right, the very sort of right we fought two world wars for? Wear your poppy with pride from 1st November. Or don't. It's a free country.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

This Tottering House of EU Cards

Does anyone seriously believe that the deal done last night is really the end of the Euro's travails? Has our pusillanimous political class finally seen the light and done what needs to be done? Of course not. This looks a little better than the 'historic' deal proclaimed by the same leaders only 3 months ago, but it is sure to unravel.

And even if the technocrats get the details right, bail the banks out and write off half of Greece's debts while inventing some funny money for if and when it all goes wrong again, it still doesn't solve the real problem which is political. Our politicians have invented a house of cards which is never going to last. Worse than that it's a house of cards that is narrower at the bottom because they have incrementally added new competences and powers to the EU without worrying about whether the structure could stand the strain. The Euro was the worst example of this tendency but by no means the only one.

Greece is bankrupt but is holding the continent and the Germans to ransom for fear of what will happen if anyone admits this. Does anyone believe that Italy's dysfunctional political system won't do exactly the same when push comes to shove?  We are all critical of Greece's phony accounting which allowed them to enter the Euro but then several other countries did the same, including the sanctimonious Germans. Now they are all up to the same trick, using sleight of hand and magic money from nowhere to convince the world that all is well.

This is a problem of debt. The solution is not more debt. How will it be repaid? Where is the growth going to come from to do so? Will the countries most exposed be willing or able to repay? Will those currently willing and coping stoically with austerity remain willing if they see others being let off debt?

There is no easy way out of this crisis, yet politicians keep creating relatively painless panaceas for the Eurozones ills. Ultimately, at some point in the next year or two, the Euro will fall apart, nations will become bankrupt and we will be plunged into an even worse crisis forcing politicians to at last face reality. Let's hope that the catalyst for that dose of reality is not violence, mayhem and anarchy. But it's an increasingly likely outcome.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

PMQs 26th October 2011 - The Political Class Edition

The modern political animal is a peculiar species as is clear to anyone who spends any time watching them in their natural environment here at Westminster. Yet I use the word modern advisedly. The career politician of which I speak is a comparatively recent development and one from which we may all be about to suffer egregiously. There was a time when our leading statesmen had some kind of experience in the wider world having achieved things. At the very least they used to enter Parliament at a more mature age and with greater experience - although of course there are many exceptions. But nowadays politics has become a career that almost starts from leaving school when they make their first speeches at party conference and apply for their PPE course at Oxford.

This is not a British phenomenon. It has spread across the democratic world and even beyond to the likes of China and Russia. It is this class that is leading us to potential catastrophe in Europe and is struggling with the fallout from a decade of profligacy in America.

Today at PMQs we saw two of these animals face each other across the dispatch box. They are recognisably the same species and yet very different in their own ways. David Cameron is the breezily confident and charismatic politician blessed with a superb start in life thanks to wealth and the best education money and the state can provide. His opponent, for all of his man of the people pretence, isn't so very different in background and yet has turned out utterly different. People think he's weird. It's because he is. So is Cameron in his own way, it's just that he hides it better behind his more charismatic facade. It can only be a matter of time before he adopts a glottal stop and claims to like next years big pop phenomenon.

Forrest fluffed his lines again today. When presented with yet another own goal by a fumbling government he missed and fell flat on his face. It wasn't that Cameron answered the questions, that's one of the first things you learn not to do as a kind of rite of passage into the political class, it's that he did so with style and perhaps a little bit of the Flashman. But, as I have observed before, I fail to see why that is a problem.

Forrest's problem is that dweebish earnestness of his. One can't help remembering tales of his preferring to spend his university time not out on the lash like the rest of us but in political meetings talking about Malawi. For all that Cameron hasn't really had much of a proper career outside politics - although enough to make a bit of money - at least he was not a political obsessive like Forrest. Seriously, how do they think that they are qualified to govern us when they have spent too much time in the Westminster and associated bubbles?

Cameron was on feisty and bullying form today precisely because he needed to be. The vote on Monday could have been damaging and so he came out all guns blazing, even using what sounded suspiciously like unparliamentary language as he branded Forrest a mug. Of course he is a mug but you're only supposed to say that in blogs and newspaper columns, not in the House.

Labour's line on Europe is as dishonest as on the economy and the cuts. Later Dave pointed out their flip flopping tendency on schools too. He scored a clear win.

Oh and we saw the emergence of a new theme which is this current fashionable belief that the government is unpopular with women as though they are some kind of homogeneous whole who think and act in concert. This is just one of those media memes that has gained currency much like last year's that William Hague had lost his mojo. The government would be better off quietly ignoring it. Instead Dave and some friendly (or at least friendly since Monday) backbenchers pressed the point of how women friendly they all are.

And now Dave is off to another EU meeting, one that will be full of the European political class trying desperately to save the project they have foisted on us and which risks bankrupting an entire continent. There will be haggling, there will be missed deadlines and at the end there will be a deal which kicks the can down the road a little further until they once again have to come back and contemplate what some of us have been saying is inevitable for months. This is the political class in action. It is undemocratic and worse it doesn't work. Europe, for all of the fancy theories about what it can achieve, does not do so because it is unwieldy and is trying to forge together nations that have too little in common. It's why some of us think we should get out. It is a view that is gaining ever greater popularity. It's only the political class who refuse to see it. Their cherished project - not just the Euro but the EU itself - is going to fall apart because it is too unwieldy to survive. We should get the hell out and then maybe others will follow and restore some sanity. It's the only way of saving us from the political class and the political class from their dithering selves.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Utterly Delicious Lorraine Pascale

I think I'm in love with Lorraine Pascale. It's not just that she's spectacularly beautiful, with the most gorgeous smile; she's lovely too and so wonderfully normal. Unlike so many presenters on television, and utterly unlike most models, she has the gift of talking to a camera but making the viewer feel like she's talking straight to them. And then there is the way she uses words like plop and pop and dollop and squish, not to mention chocolateyness. The fact that she is also showing us how to bake cakes and pastries just adds to her perfection - although how she stops the chocolate from melting when she unleashes that smile is a mystery. Until recently I had found the television's current obsession with cooking and baking something of a mystery. But then I saw Lorraine. Now I want to bake cakes. Honestly, how does one get invited to one of those get togethers that sample her food?

Monday, 24 October 2011

Our Democratic Deficit

Back at the start of this month, I wrote this post arguing that it is time for the UK to leave the EU. Poll after poll shows that a large percentage of my fellow countrymen agree with me, possibly even a majority. Today however, as part of a new petition mechanism which this government has come up with to show how open and democratic they are, Parliament will debate this subject and Tories will be compelled to vote against the referendum people have been demanding on a three line whip.

Once again the mesmerising effect of the EU on our politicians is there for all to see. What is it about this broken, corrupt and absurd monolith, this antediluvian throwback to the cold war that has our politicians so much in its thrall? Why are they incapable of seeing and addressing its faults? Why are these men and women, usually so keen to protect their jobs at all costs, so willing to sacrifice themselves on the EU altar? Even the leader of our own opposition chose yesterday to attack David Cameron as being in thrall to his Euro sceptics rather than Brussels. Yet it is the Eurosceptics who are far more in tune with the will of the people.

Perhaps it is because politicians, in a stark example of cognitive dissonance usually reserved for religionists, have persuaded themselves that being in favour of the EU is 'progressive.' It isn't. The EU is a politicians club, an unwieldy, undemocratic, bureaucratic mess that has been created by 50 years of fudge and compromise and is now finally coming apart at the seams.  The EU is supposed to be our passport to prosperity. It is actually the reason why our continent is fast becoming uncompetitive and poor.

This is not to say that it is wrong to argue that now is not the time for a referendum. But who said we should have it now? Now is the time to make the case for a referendum however in the near future as we watch in alarm the direction of the EU.

The crisis in the Euro is being seen as an opportunity by the Eurocrats and EU enthusiasts to further entrench their project. The fact that we are not a part of that is neither here nor there. They don't usually let such things stand in their way. They will start the process of further integration as their cure for the Euro's ills. We will be dragged unwillingly along in some form or another. It's inevitable whatever the steadfast words of David Cameron and William Hague on Today this morning.

The debate and vote this afternoon is a chance to draw a line in the sand. It is a chance to say that, when the dust settles on the current crisis and a cure is dreamt up by the rabid integrationists involving new taxes, new pan continental institutions along with ways of crippling the City of London, Britain will give the ultimate say on it to the British people. As has been shown time and time again, it is only the reluctance of the peoples of Europe when consulted that stops the EU in its tracks until it finds a way to navigate around them. Britain has the chance now to perform that function. If this government adopts the same dishonesty and sophistry as that employed by Gordon Brown with regard to the Lisbon Treaty, they will not be forgiven easily.

We want a referendum, Mr Cameron. We don't want one now necessarily but we want our say. Your Eurosceptic wing is not the awkward squad, they are not little Englander headbangers. They are the very same people who predicted that the Euro would be the disaster it has turned out to be. The British people agree with them. You have the chance to do something principled and right and a little brave. As your fellow leaders meet to come up with their latest head in the sand fudged agreement, if you take a stand now you will actually be displaying the leadership the continent so desperately needs. The fact that the French object should tell you all you need to know.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Democracy - It Doesn't Necessarily Do What It Says on the Tin, People of Libya

It is fantastic and welcome news that the newly liberated Libya is to hold elections within 8 months. There is a lot to be done and much can go wrong, but the initial intentions are encouraging.

Perhaps it would be nice however if our own politicians in mature democracies would set an example to this nascent democracy. In Europe this week politicians are sticking their fingers in their ears and refusing to acknowledge how broken and bankrupt their Euro project is. In America the two sides are still squabbling about deficits, taxes, pork barrel politics and ever higher spending which they claim is Keynesian, despite the fact it keeps failing and making matters worse. And in Britain the political class knows that it wouldn't be too keen on the opinion of the British people with regard to our membership of the catastrophe that is the EU and so is conspiring not to ask us.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

We Never Said The Climate Isn't Changing, Chaps

One of the favourite tactics of the proponents of global warming theory is to set up a straw man argument for whjat we are saying and then knock it down. So when you see the headlines this week 'proving' that global warming is indeed taking place it seems to be QED. Except of course sceptics have never denied that the climate is changing. We have questioned some of the methodologies and exaggerations behind the more extreme headlines but accepted that the planet has indeed warmed.

What we are sceptical about is the assertion, based on little or no evidence, that this is being caused by human activity. We have pointed out that the planet has done this many times before, independent of human activity and that the warming we are currently experiencing is not unusual and thus not alarming. It's really very simple.
So when you read in normally sensible publications that this latest study holes below the waterline the sceptics case this is another example of wishful thinking and spin dressed up as science. Once again they are providing evidence of one thing without proving what everyone is really sceptical about. It's a nice trick if you can get away with it. Unfortunately they keep trying the same thing over and over again. One might start to suspect that they have no confidence in their central theory which is why they keep changing the subject.

Friday, 21 October 2011

2011: An International Watershed

This has been a momentous year for world news. The fall of Gaddafi, unimaginable at the start of the year, if nothing else vindicates my decision at the beginning of 2011 to abandon the folly of predicting the year ahead. Why would anyone even try after a year of revolutions, tsunamis, widespread looting and arson in London dressed up as riots, the killing of Bin Laden and now the fall of the mad dog himself? If nothing else we should be glad he is gone because the world's media have never been able to agree how to spell his name. Is it one or two Fs? One or two Ds? Does it begin with a G or a Q?

But perhaps what we might tentatively be able to predict is that we are entering a period, thanks to modern communications technology, in which the likes of Gadaffi will find it ever harder to maintain their grip on power. Those of us who enjoyed the humbling of this tyrant, even if we were, in our patronising western way, uncomfortable at the manner of his execution and humiliation, can also delight in the thought that his peer group of deluded and nasty dictators will have been watching through their fingers, their paranoia heightened to unprecedented levels.

And there is a parallel there with our own riots in August. Why did they happen? Because people saw their opportunity for ill gotten gains and grasped it. The same is true of the world's dictators. In the absence of a proper functioning international rule of law, dictators can seize power and act with impunity, especially if they only bully, torture and repress their own people. Only when such states imperil the delicate balance of the so called international community do they start intervening. Like the Turkish business owners of Dalston we tend to protect our own interests rather than those we sanctimoniously talk about on occasions such as this.

But we have an opportunity now, an opportunity handed to us by people power. The people of the middle east and north Africa have voted with their feet and their Kalashnikovs for the kinds of freedoms we enjoy in the west. When we back them and support them rather than try to impose our ideals on them we see rotten regimes falling like dominoes. That's why we shouldn't be too squeamish about the manner of Gadaffi's death. There are many more like him and their people would probably do to them what the people of Libya did to the man who repressed them for close to half a century. Given that we stood by and even shook his hand, what right do we have to judge?

Yet there are still so many yet to fall, not least two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. As Putin prepares to install himself for life and the Communist Party of China imprisons artists and intellectuals for daring to speak out and question the status quo, we continue to do business with them, even granting China the Olympics whilst choosing to believe their promises of reform and openness.

If there really were such a thing as international law rather than the fiction we subscribe to but which can be vetoed and voted down at the whim of the great powers, then the likes of Gadaffi would never be allowed to gain their grip on power. If there were an international constitution or a bill of rights that all states had to sign up to in order to gain membership of the UN and access to world markets then we would have been spared the spectacle of Gadaffi grandstanding in New York. The likes of Tony Blair would not now have to watch as the footage of him hugging this most monstrous but cartoonish of men is run ad nauseum until even he is embarrassed.

The lesson of Libya and of the Arab Spring is that people power can win through and override even the most entrenched regimes if we in the west back our principles rather than what seems to be pragmatic. The simple fact is that even the vilest of regimes always feel the need to pretend to be open and democratic, even if they fall far short in practice. That is true from Russia to Libya, from Burma to Zimbabwe. We in the west should make access to our markets and to the club of nations conditional on adherence to a basic set of rights, the sort of rights that the people of Libya have fought and killed for. We don't necessarily need to do their fighting for them. What we do owe them is adherence to our own principles without sullying them with what they used to call realpolitik but which looks suspiciously like double standards.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Camp of Cretins - What Are They Protesting About?

What exactly are the protesters around the world protesting about? As far as one can tell it seems to be that they have realised that the world is unfair and that some people do better and become rich while others struggle. This is odd however because most of the people I have seen on television are clearly over the age of 16 - the usual point at which people have this startling revelation.

The problem, allegedly, is capitalism. Oh and banks and corporations of course. It's all the fault of big banks and major corporations. Oh and profit. These people seem quite bewildered by the notion of proft. I laughed last week when people became so outraged at the notion that energy companies were making a profit on their customers. £125 per household they shouted. My reaction was 'is that all'? That hardly sounds unreasonable does it? Making a roughly 10% return on the average annual bill? How much profit do the supermarkets make per customer? What's the mark up on your loaf of bread, your pair of jeans, your car, your smart phone?

Profit. The ulitmate evil. Yet the fact the protesters are able to camp out on the streets of the world for days on end and make their confused demands implies that somewhere along the lines they too have made a profit, that is they have earned more than they actually needed to get by so as to spend money on luxury items like the phones they used to organise this farce, the cost of travel, the tents they have pitched and the not strictly necessary designer jeans and t shirts they are wearing. That's the bastard fashion business for you.

And it's not as if they are proposing any solutions for the world's ills. Oh no. They just want to complain about how unfair it all is and how angry they are about it. Someone should do something about it. Tax is the panacea. Tax the rich. And bankers. Tax them a couple of times just for good measure. Bastards!

In vain do we explain to these actually quite well heeled imbeciles (how else can they afford to camp in London for days on end?) that the City of London and its related industries pays nearly a third of all the taxes in this country and that taxing them could very easily kill the golden goose that allows whole swathes of the country to rely almost exclusively on the public sector for jobs. In vain do we explain to them that it is those hated corporations which drive innovation and make their phones and their computers and their clothes. Why do they do these things? Could it be for money? Yes the corporations, inventors and entrepreneurs expect to make a profit for making things that we all want and use to make our lives easier and more pleasurable. The selfish, rapacious bastards!

Perhaps this outbreak of idiocy is a consequence of our internet age. I'm not talking about the interconnectedness of the world which enables the world's bleating morons to get together and protest and get angry. I'm talking about the tendency of the internet to give stuff away for free - or at least to appear to. Google is actually making billions, it just does it by selling advertising to all of those hated corporations. Yes they are subsidising the marching morons. Twitter, Facebook et al. They're not free either. Stuff doesn't come for free. Nobody can afford it.

Sometimes of course it is possible to get stuff for free thanks to the internet but that is usually because it is stolen. Music? Videos? If you didn't pay for them then you effectively stole them. The fact that you did so digitally is neither here nor there. Making music and films and TV costs money because people expect to get paid for it. They expect to make a profit. If they cease to do so they'll stop or start charging you £100 to see them at the O2. Bastards!

But of course the major cause of this stupidity is our idiot politicians who have spent years telling people that they can have more and more entitlements and services and yet failed to find a way to pay for it all. Even the Germans, who have been typically more sensible and prudent, lied to themselves about the true costs and implications of the Euro and the EU which has been so marvellous for their exports. Now the camp of cretins objects to the fact that life is suddenly more expensive and becoming less comfortable. And true to form, instead of acknowledging that we have all been living in a fool's paradise, they seek to pass the blame. Tax the rich they say. Sadly there aren't enough rich people.

But more than that we are living in a globalised world now. What the marching morons cannot see when they demand fairness and equality is that globalisation is in the process of evening things out. We are the rich and our money and jobs are being sent to the dispossessed around the world. They actually ought to be pleased.

And when the politicians like Forrest and his bunch of Labour liars and dreamers tell us that they can make capitalism nicer they know, or at least ought to know, that this is impossible. Why? Because they cannot regulate the whole world. They can tell corporations to be nicer (whatever that means) but they can't tell China to stop manipulating its currency or to start being more environmentally friendly. They can't tell India to pay the minimum wage. They can't force Saudi Arabia to sell its oil more cheaply so that people here can afford to fuel their cars and heat their homes (although of course they could cut the taxes which make up the vast majority of the price of our fuel). State interference is restricted to national borders. Business ignores national borders and this tiny little island cannot exist in isolation. We don't have the resources, unless of course we want to regress back to an autarky which struggles to feed itself and which gets everywhere on foot.

Nobody ever said that capitalism is perfect or perfectly fair. That's why nobody argues that capitalism should be allowed free rein. That's why we need safety nets for those who get left behind. But in a globalised world in which many players play by different rules, it is folly to pretend that perfect equality and fairness is possible. All we can do is smooth the rough edges and help the most vulnerable.

Maybe one day we will have a world government that levies taxes at the same rates for all and ensures that everyone plays by the rules, everyone has equal opportunities, everyone gets the vote and nobody gets left behind. I don't think a few tents outside St Pauls is going to achieve that even if they have the wit to propose it. It's easier to be nasty about bankers.


It seems that these class warriors have been frequenting the local Starbucks and have been ordering groceries to be delivered from Ocado (they source their goods from the terribly middle class Waitrose). I think this tells us all we need to know about these would be revolutionaries.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Fox Resigns - Hammond to Defence

As became inevitable, Liam Fox has at last resigned. Like many, at the start of the week I thought he would probably survive, but the revelations kept coming and his dose of mea culpa was not enough. He has today accepted this. It would have been more dignified and better for him in the long term had he done so at the beginning of the week but, as so often, he has had to be dragged kicking and screaming from post as the revelations piled up, the questions became more persistent and the weirdness of the whole episode became ever starker.

To be fair I think he probably was unaware of the full extent of the activities of his alleged friend or perhaps he was blinded by that friendship and so did not see the improprieties. But once the press started to follow the money and shine the unblinking light of publicity on this most unconventional of relationships his position became untenable.

It has been a peculiar episode from start to finish, in part perhaps it is a consequence of coalition government. David Cameron has been left looking indecisive in some eyes and yet has played a difficult hand rather well when you examine it. At the start of the week it was not clear what Fox had done wrong other than errors of judgement. Cameron did not want to lose a good minister and a potential member of the awkward squad and so called for an inquiry to get him off the hook. In the end the media did the job for him but he managed to look fair and reasonable rather than merely resistant to trial by media. In part his reticence can be laid at the door of the difficulty of coalition reshuffles. But this could actually be an advantage. What do reshuffles actually achieve? And they can go spectacularly wrong as the last two PMs demonstrated on more or less every occasion. Good government can only be delivered if ministers know their briefs. They cannot do so if they keep moving about.


Again, rather predictably, Cameron went for the safe option and appointed Philip Hammond to defence, although his promotion of Justine Greening is welcome. Hammond is a competent if unexciting minister and will do a good job at defence, especially now that Liam Fox has done most of the tough reforms. But defence now needs a minister who stays in the job and gets to grips with the department and its unique challenges. Perhaps in that sense Hammond will prove to be a good choice to give much needed stability and consistency.


Congratulations also to Chloe Smith who has now started her anticipated march through the ministerial ranks. I am an admirer of Chloe's, and not just because she reminds me of an ex girlfriend. She will go far and that process has now started just a couple of years into her parliamentary career. It's not just Forrest who is bringing forward the next generation.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Official Britain: A Cautionary Tale From Today

Following on from my last post, here is a tale, a real life one that has happened today in London. No doubt it is repeated, in similar forms up and down the country.

A man with mental health problems, we'll call him Stanley, has been living for the last couple of months in a hostel in London. He has been no trouble, settled in well and seemed reasonably happy and content. His social worker, for reasons that are entirely noble and professional, decided however that he ought to get out of this stop gap accommodation and into a council flat as soon as possible. Had she known Stanley better (and he would have been incapable of telling her himself) she would have known that this was actually entirely the wrong thing to do. In the hostel, despite the basic nature of its accommodation, he was assured of daily human contact. It was good for him. It helped him. People were on hand to help him.

Today was the day when Stanley was due to move out and into his new home. This frightened and bewildered him. And so he became aggressive and angry, he threatened people and eventually the police had to call. They sent six burly uniformed officers. Stanley threatened them too and said he wanted to stab one or more of them. They decided that he had to be sectioned for his own and others safety and so called an ambulance. Stanley eventually left peacefully with the ambulance staff.

And here is where it gets surreal. Stanley, this threat to himself and the public who had not taken his medication and was deemed dangerous by half a dozen police officers, was taken to the local A & E and left in the waiting area just like others with cuts and scrapes and sexual experiments gone wrong. Stanley absconded - having stolen a doctor's coat to disguise himself. I'm not making this up, although there is a strong chance I'm going to turn similar tales I've heard of into a book or film script.

As I write, Stanley is missing. The hostel no longer wants him and he doesn't want his new council flat. He remains a danger to himself at least and is now on the loose without his medication and with nowhere to stay.

Is this a problem of resources, or is it a problem of people not doing their jobs properly? Once again we see various authorities not talking to each other and we see good intentions ruined by bad practice. He was in a private sector hostel and was fine. Then the authorities intervened and his life has gone to hell. If we're very unlucky, his desperation may mean that someone else's life goes the same way in the next few hours or days.

Our Broken Health Service

Why do we love the NHS so much? Presumably it is because of the fact that it is free at the point of use, a not inconsiderable comfort if you wake up in need of urgent medical attention or are involved in an accident. It's why so many travel to this country to illicitly use it after all, a scandal that the legions of administrators employed by the NHS still cannot curtail.

Yet a report today shows that the NHS, for all that it is staffed by brilliant doctors and surgeons and dedicated nurses and other health practitioners, all too often gets the basics wrong. People are going unfed and without water for hours on end. They are being left uncleaned when they soil themselves.

And it's not just vulnerable people who suffer. I visited my brother in hospital at the weekend and he was full of stories about the brilliance of the surgeons but also of the unthinking carelessness of what is laughingly called after-care along with the plasticky, cold food and uncleaned wards. 48 hours after his operation he was desperate to go home as were those around him.

Labour splurged billions on the NHS during its tenure as it tried to bring spending up to European levels. It ultimately succeeded and built fantastic new facilities such as the one above in Birmingham which, I can attest, really does look like that. It's why Gordon Brown launched his election campaign from its foyer. Yet we are still not getting European levels of care as today's and many other reports, not to mention personal experience demonstrate.

The only reasonable conclusion is that money is not the problem. It is the stultifying bureaucracy and endless tiers of management that undo the good work of the clinicians. When I woke up 3 years ago unable to move my foot I received superb treatment from start to finish. But the only reason I was in that situation was because it had taken the NHS so long to diagnose and then treat me. It is brilliant at firefighting and yet all too often it is the firestarter. Then, when the intial emergency is over, it reverts to its dilatory self and makes the situation worse again through poor after care.

When I moved to London last year I changed doctors. Yet when I needed a check up on the back problem that had caused my non moving foot there was apparently no mechanism for getting my medical notes and old scans from those who had treated and looked after me in Birmingham. What is the point of a national health service that cannot talk to itself?

Much as I am a supporter of the current reforms of the NHS, they do not go far enough. The NHS is an unwieldly monolith that is simply unfit for purpose. Unfortunately politics is getting in the way of breaking up this system and making it function properly at a local level, catering to local and individual needs. It's really not about money. If the last government has any legacy at all it has at least demonstrated that the NHS needs fundamental reform starting with a clean sheet of paper and going back to first principles. So long as we start with the principle that care is free at the point of use, all else, including private provision, should be up for grabs. Political dogma is the real cause of the poor care so many are suffering. We are irrationally dedicated to a system that doesn't work. We can all see it whenever we use it. It's time we did something about it.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

PMQs 12th October 2011 - The Ed Bashes the Capitalists Edition

Forrest had a shadow cabinet reshuffle last week, his second in the year since he became leader. Even when it comes to U turns and changes of mind he seems determined to outdo the government. What few of us realised however was that he had promoted Churchill the nodding insurance dog to his front bench. Oh no wait, it's Ed Balls. Still, the resemblance is remarkable. There is the same pudgy face, the same exagerrated nodding. All it lacked was the northern accent saying 'oh, yes' as he agreed with everything his beloved leader said. But then ex public school boys don't have northern accents and Balls has forged a career trying not to give straight answers to straight questions.

Once again Forrest was spoilt for choice on subject matters, not that you would necessarily have known it judging from his performance. At one point he accused Dave of reading from the same script as usual. But then what was new about his accusations? He was even promoting the idea of a cut in VAT. That worked well last time didn't it.

This was a PMQs of quotes as so often. Forrest dug out a killer one in which Dave predicted that unemployment would fall this year, something which today's awful figures and last month's are in the process of confounding after a decent start earlier in the year. Next to Forrest, his nodding attack dog added some hand gestures to his repertoire, which seemed to denote flat lining. It looked dangerously close to the pugilistic Mr Balls enjoying the fact that the economy is not growing and people are losing their jobs, although they still cannot explain the way that youth unemployment increased under them too, despite all of that spending and the 'progressive' policies.

Dave was coping pretty well given what he was having to say. There was nothing new. It was more of the usual lines about sorting out Labour's mess and low interest rates, but then the public, according to opinion polls, seems broadly in sympathy with this argument. It was Forrest who needed to say something new and he didn't.Or couldn't. Dave just told him that borrowing our way out of debt was not an option and produced more quotes from ex chancellors and Digby Jones, along with the support of various international bodies for coalition policies. If you were ever cornered by some rabid dogs (or Ed Balls) you would definitely want Dave at  your side.

And then, just when Forrest should have been besieging the government goal, he contrived to knock one into his own unguarded net. Fresh from that awful speech he gave at conference (the one that doesn't need a definite article before it for reasons unknown - perhaps it's to make life easier for the BBC's Huw Edwards who likes to leave it out of most sentences) Forrest had a save the world moment. Apparently that speech had all of those evil capitalists (the ones that Forrest doesn't approve of) shaking in their shoes. Immediately after being threatened by that geeky lad whom the Labour Party accidentally elected as their leader, utility companies saw the error of their ways, had an epiphany and decided to stop being evil. Well that's what Forrest thinks anyway. Presumably, like many of us, he doesn't like watching himself on television.

But oh how we laughed. The Commons erupted. Dave called it a Walter Mitty moment. Whatever it was it knocked the wind out of Forrest's sails and he looked rather forlorn and foolish. Even his nodding dog stopped agreeing with him so vehemently and stared angrily at all of those giggling evil doers opposite him.

What should have been an easy win for the still nasally challenged one proved to be something more of a struggle. It was a struggle too for Dave, albeit for entirely different reasons. But he was as confident as ever and across the arguments, even if we have heard them all before. He also had the better one liners, both spontaneous and pre-prepared. He finished off comparing Forrest and his dog to Fred Goodwin.

It's back to the drawing board for Forrest though. Even when the news is uniformly awful for Dave, with the economy stuggling and a minister under pressure, he still cannot score an easy win. It's like watching the England rugby or football team, or indeed his own pudgy shadow chancellor wobbling about on the pitch. A year into the job he is still struggling to convince.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Child Poverty - The Consequence of Governmental Contradictions

The BBC is today leading the news with the prediction that the IFS has made about child poverty. This will increase apparently in the coming years.The BBC likes such predictions - look at the way they used to uncritically report computer simulations of runaway global warming - but are they news? The IFS admittedly is widely regarded as independent and authoritative but are its forecasts about this issue really worthy of headlines when poverty is so difficult to define and pin down?

The last government made a big deal about child poverty but, as with all policies with Gordon Brown's fingerprints on them, the devil was in the detail. What does lifting children out of poverty actually mean? In fact it meant defining in pounds and pence the cut off point when people were magically no longer poor and then giving them a couple of quid more. Did such people feel transported to a life of plenty? They did not. And inevitably Brown found even this altogether more difficult to accomplish than he had expected, despite his existing in a time of plenty, because benefits can never keep pace with people working, and neither should they.  It is noteworthy however that the IFS has indicated that poverty, defined narrowly, actually decreases during a recession because median incomes to which the lowest are compared come down. That's why this statistical approach to poverty, of defining it as a measure of income inequality, is such a nonsense. But Labour never let facts get in the way of a good soundbite. That's why they turned it into one of its beloved targets and made it legally binding just to convince the credulous - and the BBC.

The fact is that as long as a substantial number of people in this country are reliant on state benefits for their income there will be substantial poverty, however you define it. As ever with Labour, they made all kinds of pious statements about the eradication of poverty but operated conflicting policies which made it all the more difficult and expensive to accomplish. Only now are they admitting that it probably wasn't a good idea to allow uncontrolled immigration from the EU and elsewhere thus adding to the pool of workers and meaning that millions were trapped on benefits or on the minimum wage. That renowned economist Mr Brown, who is actually an historian, apparently had never heard of the law of supply and demand.

Similarly his idiotic policy, which the Tories are terrified to reverse, of increasing the top rate of tax also makes job creation that bit more difficult. It sounds simple, make the rich pay more. But the rich have choices that the poor do not. They don't mind paying more but they do mind punitive taxation as if they have done something wrong. Thus they take their money and the jobs they create elsewhere. This has been proven so many times in so many countries including this one that it is astonishing we still have to point it out. Nobody likes paying tax. People at both ends of the income scales avoid doing so where possible. This basic economic reality however apparently eludes some who wish the world and humanity were different. It should be noted that even Gordon Brown was very well aware of this economic reality. The 50% tax rate was introduced as a political ploy, it had nothing to do with economics.

Is child or any other form of poverty going to increase in the coming years? Undoubtedly. But that's because we are a nation that became addicted to debt fuelled growth and which allowed our population to grow giving hundreds of thousands of newly created jobs to people from abroad who regarded even low wages as generous. In addition to this economic disaster we have exported millions of our manufacturing and even call centre jobs abroad and our costs are getting ever higher, often as an act of deliberate government policy - for instance handing employees ever more rights like paternity and maternity leave, flexible working and the obsession with cutting CO2 emissions. The more we price ourselves out of markets the harder it will be to create jobs and so poverty will increase. That is inevitable. But don't expect to hear about it on the BBC.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Shoot the Fox?

Anyone feeling a sense of information overload with regard to Fox and his friend? I ploughed through the Sunday paper accounts of the affair yesterday, more because I felt that I ought to than because I cared. One was left with the impression that this is all rather odd, but not necessarily corrupt or scandalous. It is an odd sort of friendship, although there is nothing odd, as I can attest, to people with that kind of age gap being friends. Those who think it is must lead very strange and stratified lives. Some newspapers, particularly of the left, are starting to disseminate innuendo that the two are not 'just friends'. They cannot say so directly though because, being of the left, that would be to imply that there is anything wrong with this.

Perhaps its a friendship which started out many years ago and which one relies on more than the other; where this man with the peculiar surname has attached himself to the good doctor and he is too nice to tell him to get lost or at least to stop bothering him so much. We have all sometimes suffered acquaintances like that. The powerful must get it more than most. Perhaps he just feels wery wery sorry for him having to go through life with that name.

The most unfortunate part, apart from the issue of national security which is probably a non issue, is the business card. The press, as so often, will be most up in arms about the thought that someone might be using connections to make a bit of money. Remember the time when it was revealed that Denis Thatcher wrote letters on Number 10 stationery? Shock, horror! It's a very British attitude, a relic of our class based, old boys network past. But how easy is it for someone to get business cards made? And would the Defence Secretary necessarily have known about this? His friend seems to have attached himself limpet like to his newly powerful pal. The powerful pal ought to have put a stop to it. It's not as if he doesn't have the means to prevent assignations. He's surrounded by civil servants and security all day long. This leads to the suspicion that Liam Fox did indeed issue instructions to allow his friend privileged access to him. That doesn't look good.

Is it a smoking gun? Probably not. But it shows spectacularly poor judgement from a minister who has only been in power for 18 months and ought to have been more careful. On the other hand it might just be a sign that he lacks the ruthlessness to cut his friend off just because he is now a busy man in a powerful position. A sign of decency and humanity in a politician? Shock, horror again!

If that is all it amounts to then he will probably get away with it. This will especially be the case if people's eyes glaze over as mine did yesterday.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Sarah Palin Betting Scandal

Apparently questions are being asked about the timing of Sarah Palin's announcement that she will not be standing for the presidency after a number of suspicious bets were placed on this eventuality in Liverpool.

Friday, 7 October 2011

QE: The Beginning of the End for George Osborne

Yesterday, with all of the talk about QE and this continuing disaster occuring in slow motion before our eyes, we saw why economics is regarded as the dismal science. Indeed it has no real claim to be regarded as a science at all. It is guesswork dressed up in statistics which, if cherry picked, claim to support a theory.

But more importantly yesterday we started to see the slow inexorable path of George Osborne to the ranks of failed Chancellors of the Exchequer. By allowing the latest tranche of QE, and even buying the argument that there is too little money in circulation at the moment thus justifying it, he is adopting two contradictory policies at the same time. He is being tough on debt (albeit not very tough) and yet allowing the Bank of England to hold a third of that debt on its books in a banking nether world with no real plan for unwinding such a vast position. Inflation will stay high. His best option is that the rest of the world, which is similarly running out of easy, politically tenable options to cure this crisis, will soon follow Britain and America down the path of irresponsibility and recklessness to 1970s style stagflation. We are heading towards competitive currency devaluations - protectionism in other words. The only reason we have to be thankful is that we don't have Barack Obama in charge with his spendthrift policies pursued despite the evidence that they are doing nothing but harm.

And what is QE supposed to achieve other than inflation? Where do they imagine all of this money is going to go? It is going to go into the coffers of under pressure banks, foreign creditors, large corporations. They will not spend it. They will take the only rational course and sit on it or buy more treasury bonds in currencies that have not yet joined the game. This money will not be spent, it will not be invested in the British economy. 

Meanwhile the hard pressed British consumer will see inflation stay high and will spend ever less. Why is it only acadaemia dwelling economists that cannot look beyond their theories to see the effects in the real world? Inflation has risen thanks to QE and has been persistently above what we must now regard as its abandoned target range for over 2 years. Meantime interest rates are at record lows. Thus, if you are a saver, you are receiving a negative rate of return once inflation is taken into account. With the announcement of QE yesterday, King and the Chancellor effectively shrugged their shoulders and told the responsible to get stuffed. No wonder David Cameron had to change his speech so that he didn't tell people to pay off their debts. What's the point? Saving is a mugs game.

All of this means the money in people's pockets buys less and so the economy will continue to flatline or worse. What little effect the policy may be having on growth is being undone by the effect on our spending power. How many economics degrees do you need before you cease to understand this simple and obvious point?

In many ways the crisis we are living through is similar to those in the early eighties and nineties. The difference is that then we had governments that ignored the advice of hundreds of economists like Mervyn King and stuck to their policy of cutting government spending and forcing us to live within our means. Eventually we won a healthy economy which Labour then ran ragged.

Now we are pursuing two contradictory policies at the same time because this Chancellor does not have the same good sense or the political guts of his predecessors. We keep being told that this government is prepared to do unpopular things to see the economy right. Wouldn't it be nice if they were prepared to risk the wrath of economists by ignoring their fallacious and dangerous theories instead of ignoring the plight of the rest of us who worry about paying the heating and food bills this winter?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Steve Jobs: American Pioneer

Steve Jobs has finally lost his battle with cancer we hear this morning. This is being greeted with sadness by millions, surely a unique circumstance for a businessman.

But what a legacy he leaves behind. Genius is an overused word but it applied to Jobs. You only need to look at the way Apple's share price fluctuated according to rumours about his health. This is a man who created not one but two world leading companies at the cutting edge of technology: along with Apple there was Pixar, the spectacularly successful film company which single handedly reinvented and revivified the animated film.

And Jobs effectively created Apple twice, first from scratch and then again like a kind of second coming. It's recent success with the likes of the IPhone and IPad famously meant it had more money in the bank than the American government earlier this year. Its new products and innovations have become cult media events covered live on the internet. At a time when the American dream seems to be in danger of turning into a debt saddled sclerotic nightmare, Steve Jobs lived that dream - he created it in his garage. 

But perhaps Jobs' greatest achievement was that he somehow transcended the world of business and created the cult of Apple. Somehow Apple, thanks to its brilliant design and innovation is seen differently to its rivals like Google, IBM and Microsoft. This is remarkable given how ruthless Apple are at protecting their brand and maximising their revenue streams. Yet it is seen as benign and public spirited, a kind of corporate big friendly giant.

Ultimately Jobs will be remembered as a remarkable innovator, a man who took devices and turned them into must haves. He and his fellow Apple inventors had their names on 317 patents. But he also made those devices look cutting edge and cool. He reinvented the phone, he helped create and popularise much of what we now take for granted on our computers, he made touch screens work properly for the first time, he helped change the way we consume music and was in the process of doing the same for movies and television. In the last five years he created the apps industry out of nowhere. We didn't know we needed them, now we can't live without them.

Fundamentally of course Macs are just computers, but they have transcended that. It's the design, the attention to detail, the focus on what people want from a device, which amounts to more than processor speed and memory. Computers have become an indispensible part of our lives because Jobs made them that way and his competitors followed in his wake. If you ever doubted that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Jobs' career proved it.

Macs were and are cool. They just have that special something and that was down to Steve Jobs. Before the last election it was revealed that Gordon Brown was a PC but David Cameron was a Mac. People nodded sagely at this revelation. It's the modern equivalent of one being a Betamax and the other a VHS. It ought to be meaningless. It is meaningless. Thanks to Steve Jobs people think it isn't.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Dave's Low Key Speech Was a Missed Opportunity

It wasn't Dave at his best, although it fitted into a very low key conference overall. But, though the delivery lacked fire, there were some good lines. The standout one was when he spoke of the self righteous Labour Party. 'They practice oppression and call it equality.' They should put that on a poster. It's much better than talking about cats.

But perhaps, given the gravity of our times, Dave might have done more. Perhaps here was the opportunity for him to show the leadership that is so lacking across Europe, only leading us into potential disaster. Perhaps this was a time when Cameron could have called for greater honesty when on the theme that we cannot borrow our way out of debt. Perhaps this was the time when he could have argued for Europe to be less arrogant and to listen more.

But the opportunity is not lost. The world and our continent in particular is crying out for leadership. There is an opportunity to be seized here. The reason that we are on the edge of a precipice has nothing to do with a failure of capitalism as some allege. It is political failure and political arrogance that has got us to where we are today. The reason that politicians are fumbling around for solutions to our current impasse is not that such solutions do not exist but because they will be uncomfortable, expensive, unpopular and will involve more mea culpa than the average politician is capable of in a lifetime.

Yet Dave can point this out. Britain stayed out of the Euro because we could see it was an economic nonsense even while being accused of being xenophobes and Little Englanders. We have long been sceptical of and resistant to the tide of ever closer union in Europe. This government has taken hard decisions about cutting spending and making tough and unpopular choices and is reaping the benefit of being regarded as a safe port in the storm. The British people, with some exceptions, broadly accept the need for us to tighten our belts. If only certain economists had the same good sense to let go of their theories and see reality.

There is an opportunity for a politician to be brave and speak the truth to the powers who look powerless and bereft of ideas and guts. Yesterday was just such an opportunity but it will not be the last. Someone has to say it. Cameron ought to make sure that it is him.

Thank God for Boris!

If you didn't see this last night then do yourself a favour and do so now. Say what you like about Boris, but he is fantastically entertaining - and how many politicians can you say that about? Indeed how many are known just by their first name?

The best part about him is that he thinks on his feet, he doesn't trot out bland soundbites and trusts himself and his intellect to answer the questions. Okay, sometimes that approach can get him into trouble, but boring and safe it ain't.

In a bland and boring conference full of politicians desperate not to answer awkward questions thank god for the blond bombshell.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Amanda Knox: Two years On

You will have noticed that I have made no comment on  the big story of the day. This is not because my comments will become lost amongst the many being written today and over the coming days, although that is undoubtedly true. The fact is I feel no need to add to what I wrote here nearly 2 years ago when she was first convicted. I said then this all felt wrong and now the Italian courts finally agree. No more to say, except I hope she can now get on with her life in whatever way she sees fit and that the Kercher family get some answers about an investigation that seems to have gone terribly and disastrously wrong, reaching conclusions that made no sense and villifying the innocent whilst leaving the real victim and her family still searching for the truth and justice.

Uniform Dating

Have you seen those adverts for Uniform Dating? a website that tries to hook up those who wear uniforms - presumably professionally, although there is no real reason why this should be the case if you think about it logically - and those who have a penchant or perhaps a fetish for this sort of thing, possibly having seen An Officer and a Gentleman.

But this does raise a number of questions, not least that professional one. I can certainly see that some men look quite dashing in their military uniforms (and indeed women - I refer you to Demi Moore in A Few Good Men) and of course men have long had a love of nurses uniforms, or at least they did until nurses and indeed doctors started wearing those scrubs outfits which are practical and cheap but have ruined the fantasies of everyone born and raised in the era of Carry On films. There is nothing sexy about scrubs and anyone who turned up for a date in them would either be a show off with nothing else to talk about or someone who really can't be bothered.

And anyway surely part of the process of dating should be about seeing one's prospective partner in their civvies. One's clothes say a lot about a person. One can judge them by appearance and the care they have taken. A uniform is just a cop out. It removes all personality and individualism. That's why schools like them and kids rebel against them. Oh and presumably we are frowning on meeting up with people in school uniforms? That would just be wrong.

But the most mysterious thing about this uniform phenomenon is the most obvious one. We date people in the hope of getting them out of their clothes and into their birthday suits. But if the sole initial atrraction is based on their clothes, would this mean that getting them out of them would no longer be the object of the exercise? Would that ruin the fantasy? I'm confused. Perhaps this is why we invented the suit.

Monday, 3 October 2011

No More Funny Money

If weekend rumours are correct, there is a strong chance that we will soon, and possibly as early as this week, see the resumption of Quantitative Easing in the UK, as the authorities reach for a lever, any lever, to try and rescue our flatlining economy. The most alarming aspect of this is that few are questioning this, few wondering if this is an appropriate policy response, especially when we have a government that is rightly rejecting any ideas of borrowing our way back to growth.

The original rationale, or should that be excuse, for QE was to prevent deflation. That never happened. It was always unlikely since Britain is nothing like Japan, which did suffer falling prices in its lost decade and resorted to QE in a final desperate attempt to extricate that country from its woes. It is still debatable whether it worked. The Japanese economy is far from healthy now and wasn't even before the March tsunami created a real need for increased infrastructure spending.

What we have seen in this country, instead of the feared deflation, has been the takeoff of inflation which has remained stubbornly high and has consistently surprised the Bank of England MPC. They have blamed this on external factors and insisted that inflation will come down. Yet inflation is only really a problem in the UK. Other similar countries which also have to buy fuel and other staples are enjoying the sort of inflation levels that were the norm until the financial tsunami of 2008 overwhelmed us, causing already sky high borrowing to get out of control. Inflation soon followed.

So why print money? It's because they feel they have to do something and have ruled out borrowing money. Yet nobody can produce any evidence that all of the QE thus far has achieved anything. Originally it was meant to keep the cost of borrowing low. But it is already low thanks to everyone seeking a calm port in the economic storm. That calm port is British Gilts and those issued by other governments that are not PIIGS, even America's, which has had its credit rating downgraded. We are borrowing money fantastically cheaply thanks to the crisis caused by us borrowing too much.

Given all of this, the suspicion is that we are entering a period of unacknowledged, officially sanctioned  and arguably officially created inflation. It's an easy way for the authorities to make all of that debt disappear without forcing too much austerity on us all. Of course in the long run inflation just makes us less competitive and living standards decline, but democratic politics doesn't worry about long runs since they tend to be longer than five years.

Printing money now is an act of irresponsibility as great as anything which happened in the boom years. If it's wrong to borrow money and pass our problems on to future generations, then why is it right to create funny money and leave them a legacy of inflation and lower living standards? The only way we can get out of current travails are through hard work and belt tightening. Fancy economic theories, which are entirely unproven, will never change that and risk making the uphill struggle ever steeper. QE should be stopped before it does even more damage.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

It Is Time For the UK to Leave the EU

What is the EU actually for? What is the point of it? Why have 27 countries voluntarily subjected themselves to this undemocratic, bureaucratic monolith? In the case of those countries that have done well out of the EU, have been handed billions in grants and allowances, built infrastructure with other people's money and been granted unfettered access to one of the largest markets in the world, an argument is easier to make. In the case of France, which benefits hugely from the scandal that is EU agriculture and fisheries policy the case is pretty open and shut too. But what is in it for the UK? What is in it for Germany which has always subsidised the rest of the continent and is now being expected to pay off their debts too? Is this really the continued price that country must pay for the sins of the war? Or are the succeeding generations, some of whom are now nearing retirement age, entitled to feel that enough is enough?

About the only viable argument for the EU was that which helped create it in the first place - a common market for us all and easier movement within its ever expanding borders. Yet that simple and sensible vision has been taken further and further to the point that the institutions and mechanisms of the EU can no longer cope. The EU has become a supra national state but one without checks and balances and a system of governance that simply doesn't function as we can see all too well with the ongoing crisis concerning Greece and the Euro. This unhappy construct, this bureaucracy created by politicians for politicians and which deliberately shuts out the people of Europe to the point where they are denied the chance to vote on change and even forced to vote again when they give an unacceptable answer, is sclerotic and unwieldy. The original rationale of the Europe - in addition to the real reasons which were never properly acknowledged like the desire to build Europe into a superstate to rival America to satisfy French delusions of grandeur and their sense of their proper place in the world - was to bring Europe together to make future wars impossible. Yet the act of bringing such diverse nations together is actively causing resentment and anger. The people of Greece resent the fact that their politicians are forcing austerity on them to pay for their membership of a club they should never have been allowed to join. The people of Germany are resentful that they are expected to sign ever larger blank cheques to pay for all of this and the feelings of guilt long consigned to history. We have reached the point that the very prosperity of our continent is now being threatened along with long enduring consensus politics, all because Europe's politicians cannot admit that they have committed a catastrophic error forging an economic entity that we were not ready for. In typical fashion those of us that warned of this disaster were routinely called nutters and xenophobes by those who arrogantly regard themselves as progressive.

And now, this week, the unelected and unaccountable EU Commission has told the British government that it must start paying welfare benefits to any EU citizens who arrive on these shores, regardless of how long they have been here, regardless of whether they have worked and paid taxes.

This is a backdoor attempt by the EU to harmonise welfare across Europe, something for which, needless to say, they have no mandate and which is at odds with previously agreed policy. Either that or they are trying to gerrymander Britain and ensure that we are flooded with benefit tourists who could then presumably be relied on to vote for ever more Europe.

It is an issue that will infuriate Conservatives as they congregate in Manchester for their conference. It will be fascinating to see what their Lib Dem colleagues think of this too. Surely this must test even their puppy dog enthusiasm for all that Brussels has to offer.

Welfare and people getting something for nothing is an issue that the British people are increasingly angry about. Even Labour understand this, albeit rather late in the day and now that they are no longer in a position to do anything about it. Are we really expected to accept that this is no longer something that we can control? This is the EU just asking for trouble and creating the conditions which will undo that which they are working towards, namely the free movement of people.

But most of all this is just further proof that the EU is a rotten deal for Britain. Who voted for this? What choice have we been given? Why are we paying through the nose for this nonsense and now being asked to pay people who have no right to claim from the already hard pressed British state?

Most people can see that it is good for Britain that we are a part of a free trade bloc. But why has it been deemed necessary to add all of the other paraphernalia to that? Why do we need an EU foreign minister and a President who has no real power and is a joke figure? Why most of all have we sleep walked into a situation when unelected failed politicians in Brussels can tell our government who they should be paying welfare benefits too?

And before someone says it, Britain leaving the EU would not mean we lose access to EU markets. Norway and Switzerland enjoy the same access without the need for submission to Brussels diktats. And Britain is a large market that our so called partners want and need access to.  It is a mutually beneficial arrangement. We could leave tomorrow and it wouldn't make a blind bit of difference, except of course we would regain control of our own borders. Even our membership of the EU has never stopped those so called partners from blocking our beef for instance when it suits them to do so, even when told not to by the Commission.

It is time for an honest reassessment of what our membership of the EU is actually achieving. The answer is not much. Politicians got us into this mess and refuse to acknowledge it. Being members of the EU is another one of those issues called progressive without any supporting argument. This supreme political folly deserves to be demolished, the Commission decommissioned. We would be doing ourselves and Europe a huge favour by showing the leadership that has been so starkly missing in this wannabe superstate with delusions of grandeur.