Aug 292012

There’s been quite a lot of discussion around the subject of the unemployed over the past year or so – mainly as a result of a much-vaunted and allegedly never-ending boom of unregulated markets and behaviours sadly, and undeniably, busting again.

The unemployed have been cast respectively as victims, spongers, workshy and simply hapless by a series of politicians – each looking to push a particular agenda.

The current coalition government of Tories and Lib Dems seems to incline towards casting the unemployed as at least half-responsible for their state.  They find it difficult not to make the already unfortunate feel to blame for a significant proportion of the country’s ills.  I don’t know whether Tory leaders do this on purpose or not (though I am inclined to believe they are pretty calculating in what they do) – but the net result, whatever the internal motivations, is that the already unlucky end up feeling even more so.

Today I have read that whilst the tail of the Coalition dog, Nick Clegg, calls for a wealth tax, the little willy of the same beast, George Osborne, calls it the politics of envy.  Which then leads me on to the subject of today’s post: to what extent should our economies, cultures and education systems regulate the benefits of good luck?

If you are born to a wealthy family, and acquire a millionaire lifestyle, as many of the current ministers in this government have so done, is that a throw of life’s dice we should simply accept and move on from?  Or do we believe that a good luck manifestly wasted – as perhaps God might argue of talent – should be in some way passed on to another more capable of making it work for the benefit of a wider society?

What I’m really trying to say is whether good luck should be regulated in terms of how those who are in its receipt fully make it work for society as a whole.  Should good luck be seen as an individual and libertarian selfishness – or should a moral aspect intervene, much as the above-mentioned talent, whereby the right to good luck must be a far more meritorious, as well as perhaps societal, matter?

A lot depends on the answer to these questions, of course: how we configure our welfare system, our health system, our education system – even our law and order system.  Now fairness most of us can agree upon – even today I feel, even Tories in their gentler moments! – as being a concept which should govern our societies and structure how we treat each other.  But good luck isn’t fair at all – even as most of us, yes, quite selfishly, would far prefer to have it in industrial quantities for ourselves than for others.

So where does that leave it in the general scheme of things?

Do we need to ameliorate its upsides in order to ameliorate its downsides?  Or is good luck something which adds an infinity to the world – a matter of always adding to human joy, inasmuch as such an addition to the life of one person implies no necessary subtraction from the life of another?

I wonder if economics and political thought have had anything to say about this matter.

As I wonder if anyone cares to care.

Jul 062012

I posted yesterday on the famous Spectator interview with George Osborne, in which he is clearly at ease spreading muck around the Westminster farmyard.  To date, the interview has been interpreted as, initially, a clever move by Osborne to muddy the waters for a public inquiry into banking and bankers, a sector which funds the Tory Party to the tune of fifty percent of its income; and then, latterly, as an example of Osborne continuing his unhealthy obsession with the career of Ed Balls.

But there is a third interpretation I’ve yet to see – to please you all, a conspiracy-theory interpretation at that.  As I just tweeted, it goes thus:

Did the #Spectator publish that interview with #Osborne *in order* that he might overreach himself? #conspiracytheory #justwonderin

And is the Spectator actually guilty of a cunning entrapment – an entrapment which Osborne, for all his alleged political wiles, has walked straight into?

I wonder.

Jul 052012

There seems to be a bit of a palaver going on at the Spectator at the moment.  Yesterday, this content was launched upon the web, making the following accusations about Ed Balls MP.

George Osborne has now let it be known that he withdraws any allegations it is alleged he has made.  I do wonder, however, if any legal proceedings were to take place as a result, who might be alleged to have fallen foul of the truth.  It’s true that Osborne himself only alludes to the possibility that Balls might have had something to do with the scandal.  As any clever politician would, he chooses his words with great care.

And if you read very carefully, the only clear reference to any accusations as such resides in a very weasel-like phrase which – allegedly – must have come from either the Spectator‘s own author, sub-editing or style team.  The phrase in question runs as follows:

One wonders if it is also intended to bring into question Balls’s defence that he couldn’t have known about any rate-fixing as he was Secretary of State for Children at the time.

I say weasel-like simply because of the use of the word “one”.  Who, exactly, does “one” mean?  Osborne; the collective intelligence of the Tory Party; the writer of the article; or simply a vacuous humanity?  And if so, how on earth are you going to take such a humanity to court?

It’s nasty stuff, isn’t it?  People around Brown; discussing reports; the regulatory system devised by Brown and Balls (without mentioning the fact that – at the time – the Tories were pushing for more deregulation rather than less) … almost, in fact, as if both Osborne and the author of the article are deliberately throwing out political coals for the rest of us to foolishly attempt to leap across.

Nick Robinson, not my favourite journalist, tweeted this evening this choice phrase:

George O will be delighted if row about Labour’s handling of the banks in office trumps argument about whether to hold a public inquiry.

Politics really is a disgusting business.  A spectator sport for the vast majority of those affected.

And as another bank – this time RBS – is also apparently on the point of being fined hundreds of millions of pounds for fixing Libor rates (more here), the Osbornes of this world can only continue to delightedly dance on our encroaching graves.

Apr 112012

Bumblebees need holes in walls to find a habitat.  I learnt that whilst in the Lake District yesterday at the Peter Rabbit garden outside the Beatrix Potter Attraction, Windermere.  It seems, for me right now, to describe perfectly what the Coalition’s economics is doing to us.

The people who do the things they are doing to us work in the urban landscape that is the metropolis of London.  When they escape to their country retreats, it is out of privilege they escape: for them, the countryside is just as much a good to be bought and sold as a future on the futures market.  When they plan to detonate, dismantle and destroy the complex ecosystem that is English society, they do not care to worry about those of us who are like bumblebees: those of us who need, in amongst the impervious concrete constructs, habitat-generating holes in Lakeland stone-style walls.

The shock and awe of Osborneconomics is an urban construct: the constructors and developers who remake the faces of our cities every twenty years do not care about complexities, preservation or the conservation of the existing.

Yesterday, visiting Windermere and Bowness showed me – reminded me – that change needs to be managed not imposed; but managed in the sense of appreciating and dealing with its impact on real environments and not in the sense of that managerialist approach which involves brainwashing workforces, voters and affected populations into meek and materialist submission.

Managing in order to add real value, sustainability and persistence of vision to existing communities.

Not managing in order to keep people in the dark, out of the loop and under control.

Windermere and Bowness as tourist attractions and ecosystems of local survival need careful attention, gentle change and an appreciative approach to understanding their manifest needs. The vast majority of people who live and work there do not do so out of the privilege of stratospheric politicians but rather through a hard-won desire and aspiration to make their way in the world.

But if Windermere and Bowness need and deserve this way of doing, why can the rest of us not have the right to the same?

The latter is clearly not what Osborneconomics is about.  Osborneconomics is about making as much money as possible – and to hell with us bumblebees.

Mar 212012

I wonder if capitalism’s evident recent decline was actually postponed by the existence, for so many years, of a counterweight of ideological evil such as that which Communism represented.  And in such a counterweight, perhaps it was inevitable that it might have ended up a mirror image of its accursed and damned opponent.

I have often been struck by how similar centrally planned capitalism appears to be to the traditional welfare state; even, to the centrally planned Communist economies of yore.  The overarching need for overwhelming governance does stultify all initiative – there’s no doubt about that.  But modern transnational capitalism, whilst apparently lobbying in favour of entrepreneurial spirit and proactive mindsets, needs a dependent, compliant and meek population just as much as – if not more than – a) the welfare state, the costs of which it so often protests against, and b) the Communist state, which was once such an anathema to its every conceptual fibre.

Transnational capitalism, the kind which has now bought itself into the famous Coalition government of 23 millionaires, cannot function effectively without cheap labour.  If everyone truly exhibited proactive and entrepreneurial behaviours in a company, the HR department would get turnover hysteria as newly trained staff upped and went on a basis so regular as to make the trots a national pastime.  Capitalism of the sort which has ingrained itself in our society, in the shadow as already argued of that deathly Communism of recent times, can only pretend to believe in empowerment for all.  In reality, it only empowers the already empowered.

That is to say, the already wealthy.

In fact, they’re the only ones it can afford to empower.

This is truer today than ever: especially in the light of today’s budget here in Britain, where the Chancellor of the Exchequer has effectively mugged middle-class pensioners in order to give 14,000 millionaires an annual tax rebate of more than £40,000 each.

The reactions have been swift and telling – as they should have been – and I can’t help feeling this budget will be a marker in the sand.  This is not the kind of capitalism we all signed up to when we all took sides in the Cold War.  This is not what kept us all onside in our professed condition of resilient and freedom-loving capitalists.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall showed us exactly how puff-pastry politics works: apparently rigid on the outside, even maintaining a state of consistent staleness for interminable years, a simple poke and punt can lead to a whole conceptual edifice suddenly crumbling and collapsing.

Today, Osborne – just as simply – has casually gone ahead and poked and punted.

The vacuum that exists right now is being filled by protest movements across the globe.  And perhaps more people than myself might soon begin to realise that the only reason that there was to be a capitalist as we were was because in front of us and across the negotiating table there was that Communism as it was.

The only question that remains is whether we can rescue capitalism from the sorry clutches of those who grew up in Communism’s shadow – individuals and organisations which necessarily reflect, even nowadays, its centralising and brutalising instincts – or whether we need to fashion quite another way of organising economic endeavour.

To that question, of course, I have as yet no real answer.  But, with your permission, I’ll pursue this train of thought for as long as we judge collectively necessary.

Mar 212012

Self-interest sometimes drives us to the strangest of mental pirouettes.  George Osborne, clever man that he is, often falls foul of his own special lack of integrity.

Adapted from a tweet by @sevennationarmy, and as I just get angrier and angrier, here we see dear old Gideon getting his conceptual knickers in a veritable twist.

Mar 212012

An increase in personal allowances which benefits the rich just as much as the poor but is sold solely as an improvement for the most disadvantaged; a massive hit on middle-class pensioners; a tax cut for 14,000 millionaires which benefits practically everyone on the Tory front bench … oh yes, these are the things which make class warfare very easy.  However, when Ed Miliband is accused of committing such a crime, those who argue he is doing so really fail to understand the reality of the situation.  This is not class warfare in the traditional sense we are engaged in but simply a drawing of voters’ attention to the fact that we are most definitely not in this together as a nation or a people.

After this budget, something should clearly separate the Tories and Labour: whilst the Tories are legislating – using the very tools of Parliament – to enrich their personal standing and already deep pockets, Labour no longer has to triangulate a middle way between those nakedly rich – who for decades have been accustomed to operating via bought-off politicians – and the rest of our blessedly Middle England.  For the fact of the matter is that those businesspeople who benefited from pork-barrel politics are now precisely the politicians who use Parliament for their own ends.  There is no difference between a stratospheric businessperson and a stratospheric politician any more.  It’s not just that they speak the same language – they are actually, literally, the very same individuals.

So here is my plea to the Labour leadership, members and supporters: let us put well behind us the instinct to triangulation here and now.  The current Coalition government has opened up so many simultaneous fronts of active political warfare that it can only be a matter of time before their thesis begins to slip and lose traction.

Time to stop mincing our words?  Oh absolutely, yes it is.

Time to put all that triangulation rubbish well and truly behind us.

Time to start the slow but sure route to political fightback.

What the Coalition government has achieved, more than any other in history, is put the levers of parliamentary power under the direct control of big and bad capitalism.  Our job now is to make this patent and clear to our voting constituencies.  Democracy allows for terrible mistakes but it also allows for rectification.  Labour lost the last election because it didn’t deserve to win.  But the Tories didn’t win the last election and we don’t deserve to labour under their mistakes.

That is the message we must now get through.

This budget draws a final and undeniable line in the sand: self-enrichment for the few versus economic prosperity for the many.  As simple as that.  Now it’s Labour’s turn to meet the challenge.

Jan 272012

It’s been announced tonight in a sweeping programme of privatisations – leaked in exclusive to this blog for some utterly unknown reason – that Andrew Lansley, the man irresponsible for health services in England, has drawn up a blueprint to privatise 99 percent of all known viruses and bacteria.

The rationale behind such a move is unclear at the moment but it is believed that five extra layers of viral and bacterial management may serve to slow down the capacity of such organisms to attack English citizens – especially the still gainfully employed who may yet serve the nation well. 

Meanwhile, in a separate announcement, Iain Duncan Smith (or IDS as we prefer to call him), the man irresponsible for generating a more inclusive level of poverty in the realm, has publicly admitted for the first time in polite society that the government is working closely together with the famously philanthropic Close The Stable Door After The Horse Has Bolted Foundation to develop a brand new type of anti-serum designed to target those poisoned individuals who don’t agree wholeheartedly with all Coalition policies. 

It would appear – at the same time – that IDS is also working hand-in-glove with Theresa May, the woman irresponsible for emptying the streets of hard-working police officers, as they attempt to rid the country of all abnormal people classified by the DWP as officially workshy.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, are said – as I write these very lines – to be preparing their barricades and defences.

And that’s the way it is.

Good night.

Jan 272012

A few choice phrases from Fraser Nelson’s latest piece over at the Telegraph:

George Osborne should be having similar thoughts. His old routine is now failing. The embarrassing truth is that, for all his talk about how you can’t borrow your way out of a debt crisis, he is now trying to do just that. […]

And this (the bold is mine):

Treasury officials who have worked for both men are struck not by the differences between them, but the similarities. Brown was nicknamed Macavity for his habit of disappearing at the first sign of trouble; Osborne is known as The Submarine, surfacing only a handful of times a year. Both see economics as a game of political chess, each policy designed to outwit the opposition. […]

Not a way of making the world a better place, then – more a tool to batter what the rest of us can only define as a proxy enemy.  For the real enemy is what we live from day to day.

Nelson also points out that:

[…] The political narrative thus detaches from the economic reality. And this is why a Government that is widely regarded as radical, and hawkish on the deficit, is making virtually no economic progress, while running up the debt like there’s no tomorrow.

And this:

Even Osborne’s critics cannot deny that, politically, his policy has brought devastating success. He has won the argument on cuts, even though – as the monthly spending figures show – he has hardly made any. […]

Whilst for Labour the comfort is getting forever colder:

[…] The Chancellor told friends that he expected to be the most hated man in Britain by 2012, but there is surprisingly little hatred. Instead, there is ridicule – and it is largely heaped upon a Labour leader whose skills seem not to extend much beyond solving a Rubik’s Cube in 90 seconds.

Or, indeed, not eating a chocolate orange

As I sift through Nelson’s piece – as always tightly, pointedly and fairly written (you can tell he worked for a tabloid, can’t you?  Nothing better for those with the verbose tendency to write about politics than to have to do so in the context of flashy headlines and tawdry entertainment stories) – I can’t avoid coming to the conclusion that Osborne is actually truly some politician of considerable standing.  More adept, perhaps, at the presentational arts than the PR man that is Cameron himself.

What has Osborne – in reality – achieved then?  Well.  He’s increased the indebtedness of the nation whilst at the same time savaging all manner of social services.  “And this is an achievement?” you wonder.  Well, yes – mightily so.  Because Osborne is a three-dimensional politician who plays the long game.  “And what may that be?” you might ask.  Why, make it financially impossible – absolutely out of the question – for Labour ever to bring back the socialism by stealth we enjoyed for so many years under the New Labour regime.

Osborne, in his apparent ineptness, has shown himself to be not a son of Blair but a son of Brown.  For neither have ever been inept; both are consummate manipulators of the body politic.

This isn’t, after all, a battle between right and left but – rather – between those who would use politics as a tool to do something useful in the outside world – and those who do politics simply to keep the opposition at bay.

The pursuit of power above all is at the heart of Osbornomics.  As Nelson so memorably points out in his piece:

[…] Osbornomics: political stardust but an economic placebo.

With one small caveat: whilst the placebo is designed to strategically convince us he’s doing everything he should, in reality it’s there in order for him to have the time to burn all those bridges back to any kind of British socialism.  That is to say, on his part it’s not unconscious at all.  It’s a deliberate administration of a drug which allows us to die.

And therein my absolute misery this morning.

Jan 182012

Jenny, our friendly neighbourhood loan shark, paid us a visit today.  We weren’t in, so she left us a friendly note – with a mobile telephone number too.  This is page one and page two of the note.

As you can see, the APR on a loan of between £50 and £500 is 433.4 percent.

Nice, eh?

And when George Osborne talks about getting us all – as a nation – out of the indebted situation we supposedly find ourselves in, I am sure none of the 10 o’clock news audiences thinks he means stuff such as this.

But stuff such as this is the downside of governments which think a crash-landing of pig-headed decisiveness is far better than a soft-landing of thoughtful patience.

Oh, and Jenny’s mobile phone number?  I discreetly airbrushed it out.  I wondered – in these SOPA-ridden days – whether publishing online a telephone number introduced so slyly into a housing-trust property was really rather quite the done thing.  For it would seem, these days, in the second decade of this century, that whilst private industry has the right to do anything its lobbyists make nominally legal, private individuals can only shut up, grovel and – in the event – pay through the nose.

Jan 052012

As Diane Abbott has discovered to her cost, sweeping generalisations about behaviours don’t often go down very well – unless of course those making them happen to be Ed Miliband and Liam Byrne on the subject of the lowest of the low.

It’s possible I fell into the same trap myself recently – as, over at Labour Uncut, I accused Rob Marchant’s disingenuous attachment to a Darwinism of Ideas as being an example of a “macho” politics.  Rob then proceeded to demonstrate I was guilty of sexism.  And perhaps I was.

I suppose I should’ve thought more carefully about exactly where I was trying to come from.  The results of this “brain sex test” from the BBC I took quite a while ago, for example, have influenced my thoughts on the subject of men and women for some time now.  In reality, when I say “macho”, I think I am inclined to believe I am talking about certain behaviours which have often been characterised by society as belonging to belligerent males far more often than their female equivalents.

Which is not to say we cannot laugh at programmes like “Spitting Image” when they define a female politician such as Margaret Thatcher as being the only red-blooded male in the Cabinet.

So if I was inexact in my usage of the term “macho” – and, through so being, allowed Rob to get away with his disingenuousness by avoiding the substance of my inexpertly expressed dissatisfaction – many apologies to those who might understand my argument about the importance of software constitutions and a truly equal access to the reins of discourse.

After all, the blogging hierarchy of original poster versus commenter was never more rigidly defined than by those sites which choose to languidly moderate every comment before a pertinent reply is efficiently posted.

An example of such a site being Labour Uncut itself.

Anyhow.  Small beer in the wider universe of politics.

Someone who does use the word “macho” far more usefully than I managed to is Emma Burnell in Labour List today.  In it she says the following:

I agree that Ed has not yet properly defined his leadership with the public. The Westminster Press themselves are stumbling from Red Ed to Odd Ed via Dead Ed and Fratricidal Ed along the way. Ed needs a bold moment of definition, he needs a game changer.
But here’s the thing: I don’t think most of the voices calling for Ed to be “bold” actually mean bold. I think they mean macho. They want Ed to adopt some of Blair’s swagger, or Brown’s clunking fist. Even Ed’s admirers talk of his “core of steel” – a pointless hangover from too many comic book, 2D interpretations of what a hero is and can be.

But Ed is not macho. Nor does one have to be macho to lead. In fact the worst thing Ed could do now would be to attempt to adopt a macho pose he could in no way sustain, simply to appease those voices who would then turn around and decry him for being no good at it. It wouldn’t be bold. It would be a facsimile of what a political class has become used to being told is bold. It wouldn’t work.

And she then goes on to conclude:

I’ve said before, that what Ed can most learn from Tony Blair is not his style, but his confidence in his own style. If Ed sticks to his guns, refuses to return to the jibes and point scoring, but merely illuminating the impact of the Government’s programme, does the kind of politics that suit him (and incidentally, do not suit the less serious David Cameron) this could be a Clause IV moment of his own, in his own style.

There’s something definitely worth pursuing in all of this.  And it would affect how we implemented the Darwinism of Ideas Rob Marchant currently finds himself so attached to.  For I agree that a marketplace of concepts and thought – which I think Marchant wants us to believe he aspires to – would be a positive step forward for the entire British body politic.  But where I do not agree is in his conclusion that this marketplace doesn’t – at the moment – mimic monopolistic capitalism in its hierarchies and concentrations of power.

Does he really think we should believe there isn’t a supposedly “progressive” communication elite which is fighting tooth and nail to hang onto its blogging and social-media privileges?  An elite which benefits from the kind of top-down blogging he clearly engages in, whilst the hierarchies of his favourite code define who can speak freely – and who may not?

I suspect the only Darwinism Marchant is truly in favour of is a survival of the fittest quite inappropriate for a socialist society of supportive instincts.  And any society which is made in the image of such a philosophy will – when its time comes round once again – rapidly serve to copy the behaviours of the most “macho” government in recent British political history: Cameron and Osborne’s Coalition of the rankly self-interested.

Capitalists, in fact, whose only long-lasting achievement will be to cast capitalism of all kinds in the very murkiest of lights.

And make those who might have been best-positioned to forge a more inclusive society to turn completely away from all political engagement in understandable disgust.

For when Ed Miliband and Liam Byrne trash “evil scroungers” they are doing nothing more nor less than Abbott in the field of racism – or, indeed, myself in the field of sexism.

Lucky for them – and, I would judge, for many of the Labour right’s adherents – that “poorism” still has to be properly defined.

Never mind duly punished.

Dec 212011

Whilst I’m on holiday, whilst I have my family around me, whilst I remember a whole host of happenstances which are important to me even as their relevance to the outside world is limited … this is when I make connections between the personal and the public.

My previous post focussed on how my friends and family are clearly getting older – though to different effect in each case.  That march of time is something we acknowledge only when we have time to examine and perceive its movement.  And this only takes place when we are at relative rest – something our agitated civilisation really doesn’t care to permit.

More phantoms from the past then?  And to what result?  This time, a perceptive piece which mirrors my thoughts on Ed Miliband at the end of September, where I suggested that in the initial critical reception to Hitchcock’s “Psycho” there was a lesson we could learn about that famously discursive and apparently unfocussed speech by Miliband at Labour Party Conference this year.

Anyhow.  What leads me to reflect once more on this subject is the perceptive piece I mention above and which contains the following paragraphs:

Miliband is doing well at the polls because he’s shifting – albeit very slowly – away from the elite consensus towards a more social democratic position which is more in tune with public opinion. His party has rigorously opposed Andrew Lansley’s unpopular health reforms, which mean the end of the NHS in all but name. And they have unequivocally opposed the coalition’s plans to sell-off the Royal Mail.

What’s more:

But the main thing is that Ed is heading in the right direction, even if media commentators, still wedded to a political model forged in 1979, don’t like this deviation from the script.

As a consequence, Miliband’s Labour Party has become the political equivalent of Stoke City football club. Tony Pulis’s team are continually criticised for their style – or rather their lack of it – yet they keep on winning. “They are doing much better than people think,” Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen admitted after Stokes’s latest win, their fourth on the bounce. The same could be said of Labour under Ed Miliband.

The article also underlines the important fact that exactly where we should believe it must count – elections themselves – Ed Miliband’s Labour has won five out of five by-elections: the most recent, with an increase in share.

So how do we explain this curious circumstance on the one hand and – on the other – the fact that the media don’t really warm to him?  Although clearly an insider in politics, as far as family legacy is concerned, is he really quite deliberately playing the role of outsider – a “High Noon” kind of lonesome gunfighter … and is it this which means that distances are being maintained?

Look at it rationally.  Thatcher with gusto, Blair with considerable flair, Brown in his own way and Cameron and Osborne with a determined political guile have all collaborated in one way or another to the same kind of political adventure: pulling the wool most definitely over the eyes of the voting public with their various discourses and triangulations.

But what if a politician was wise enough to propose pulling – first of all – the wool over the eyes of the commentariat itself?  That is to say: let’s imagine that Miliband, in this case, intended not to give too many gobbets of psychological stroking in the direction of self-important observers – observers who had become so used to being seen as astonishing crystal-ball gazers, by virtue of a privileged connection and control over the people we actually wanted to vote into power, that they found it absolutely impossible to contemplate that any politician might wish to play a different more solidly democratic game and at the same time be half-competent.

And so they interpret, supposedly on our behalf but surely far more in their own rank interests, that Ed Miliband can’t communicate; Ed Miliband doesn’t know how to fight; Ed Miliband is in hock to big trades union interests; and Ed Miliband is plain and simply the wrong man.

Plain and simply the wrong man not because he’s wrong for us, the voting public, but – rather – because he’s very wrong for the commentariat.

So although I do agree that Ed Miliband is not his own man, it’s not because I think he is a conniving manipulator of dark interests.

Rather, I believe quite sincerely that he believes a dedication to the democratic cause requires him to be our man.

And that, if I am right, will one day be a most refreshing place for us all to be.

Except, of course, for our real phantoms of the past: the commentariat of old.

Dec 062011

Today we get this response to the current lobbying scandal from David Cameron’s office:

It simply isn’t true to say that Bell Pottinger or any other lobbying company has influenced government policy. If companies have issues then they can come and talk to the government. We have a department for Business and speak to people all the time people in the Treasury speak to businesses and businesses speak to people in Downing Street all the time… It is simply untrue to say that BP or any other lobbying company influences government. I am challenging this idea that this company or any other lobbying company have influenced policy.

The Guardian then goes on to fact check this claim with clearly contradicting results.

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron himself was quoted as having said the following on the subject in February 2010 (before the last General Election, that is) (original here and further background here):

Today it is a £2 billion industry that has a huge presence in Parliament. The Hansard Society has estimated that some MPs are approached over one hundred times a week by lobbyists. Much of the time this happens covertly.

We don’t know who is meeting whom. We don’t know whether any favours are being exchanged. We don’t know which outside interests are wielding unhealthy influence. This isn’t a minor issue with minor consequences. Commercial interests – not to mention government contracts – worth hundreds of billions of pounds are potentially at stake.

I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics. It arouses people’s worst fears and suspicions about how our political system works, with money buying power, power fishing for money and a cosy club at the top making decisions in their own interest.

We can’t go on like this. I believe it’s time we shone the light of transparency on lobbying in our country and forced our politics to come clean about who is buying power and influence.

Politics should belong to people, not big business or big unions, and we need to sort this out. So if we win the election, we will take a lead on this issue by making sure that ex-ministers are not allowed to use their contacts and knowledge – gained while being paid by the public to serve the public – for their own private gain.

A speech in which he also pointed out that:

I’m talking about lobbying – and we all know how it works.

Well, obviously …

The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisors for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way. In this party, we believe in competition, not cronyism. We believe in market economics, not crony capitalism. So we must be the party that sorts all this out.

But what can only be described as Mr Cameron’s two-faced approach to the subject is underlined by this story from London’s Evening Standard, published in June 2010:

David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne and their adviser Rohan Silva deserve some credit. They were among the first to recognise the potential of behavioural economics to transform marketing and communications — as made fashionable in the 2008 book Nudge, written by US academics Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.

Now everyone in advertising and marketing is talking about behavioural economics — not least because Cameron and Osborne control the Government’s communications arm, the Central Office of Information (COI), which was Britain’s biggest advertiser last year. In a significant move, Thaler has also become a Government adviser.

So let me get this straight, if I can.  Today, according to Cameron anyway, lobbyists spend £2 billion a year on not influencing government – whilst in 2010, according to the same man of wisdom, they were an awful cancer on the body politic which only the Tories could possibly excise.

I suppose today as well, the excellent advertising man that he is, he’ll be telling us that behavioural economics is now as bust as any average European country.  And that the Central Office of Information’s annual budget is a total waste of time and should be entirely eliminated.

Oh.  Ah.  It has been.

How many fronts is this bunch going to open up before we all come to our senses?

Do they ever care to leave a bridge unburned?

And shouldn’t the rest of us now be trying to find a way back?

Update to this post: I do wonder if – beneath all these twists and turns and apparent changes of opinion – there aren’t some really rather unpleasant prejudices.  Like, for example, that the plebs of the world such as you and me are easily nudged and confused and influenced through the darkest arts of marketing and publicity by grand communicators such as Cameron and Osborne.

And may the Lord forbid us the thought that the latter could become just as prone to the evil temptations of tawdry self-interest as the aforementioned proletariat have clearly shown themselves to be.

Dec 062011

My previous post linked to a painful video which is designed to energise us into action.  As the About page of this latter site points out:

Welcome to The Real George Osborne – a 14 episode comedy web series about George Osborne’s personal journey towards tackling global hunger. We hope that you enjoy it, share it with your friends and, crucially, take action.

The Real George Osborne has been created for The World Development Movement by HOOT COMEDY. It stars Rufus Jones as The Real George Osborne and Rebecca Johnson as his advisor, Vicki Reed. It was written and directed by Ben Bond and James Rawlings, and produced by Ben Thompson and Annis Waugh.

It goes on to elaborate:

What is food speculation?

Banks, hedge funds and index funds are betting on food prices in financial markets, causing massive price rises in staple foods such as wheat, maize and soy. In the last year, average food prices increased by 15 per cent, driving more than 44 million people into extreme poverty.

Since widespread deregulation of financial markets in the 1990s, speculators’ share of basic foods like wheat has increased from 12 per cent to 61 per cent. These traders have no connection to the actual food and are only interested in the profit it will make.

And then explains:

What does it have to do with George?

George Osborne, backed by the City of London, is doing all he can to stop EU proposals for regulation of food speculation from being implemented.

But we think he can be persuaded to change his mind. Like all politicians he’s influenced by a need to be popular, not just among his banker friends, but among real people like you.

If enough people email George about food speculation he might listen to us and support regulation. Please take action now.

However, if the words of the World Development Movement weren’t enough, here – from the New Yorker no less – we have the following appreciation of exactly how badly our dear George is getting it wrong in this “Austerity Britain” of manifest stupidities:

During the past eighteen months, a callow and arrogant Chancellor of the Exchequer, empowered by a hands-off Prime Minister and backed by the bulk of the country’s financial and media establishment, has needlessly brought Britain to the brink of another recession by embracing draconian spending cuts that hark back to the early nineteen-thirties. Rather than changing course and taking measures to boost growth, the Conservative-Liberal coalition is doubling down on austerity. On Tuesday, it announced plans to extend its cuts for two more years, until 2016-2017. “Until now, we had been thinking of four years of cuts as unprecedented in modern times,” Paul Johnson, the director of the non-partisan Institute for Fiscal Studies, said. “Six years looks even more extraordinary.”

And so it was with the Soviet five-year plans.

If only our dear Chancellor was able to emulate their early successes.

But I don’t think so.

Do you, George?

I now know exactly what they meant when they said Britain under the Coalition would be a country fit for leisurely white males.

For I now know exactly what it is to be a laboratory rat.

Nov 292011

This tweet says it all:

This #Tory #LibDem coalition was so blinded by it’s excitement at the prospect of dismantling the state they’ve wrecked the economy. #Resign

But a thought does come to me.  Which came first – the Autumn Statement today or the #N30 Strike tomorrow?  Did the unions plan with incredible foresight the date of their strike or does the establishment have something quite awful up its sleeve?

And, by positioning all this dreadful economic news right before a massively supported outpouring of public emotion in favour of public sector workers and their labour, will the aforesaid establishment now try and stoke these emotions to their ultimate benefit?  For as another tweet quite wisely pointed out this evening:

It is perfectly fair that public sector wages don’t keep up with inflation whilst bankers pay themselves bonuses from taxpayers’ money.

With that backdrop of communal logic, I don’t which scares me more.  That the establishment have lost control and they don’t realise it – or the establishment are in control and we don’t realise it.

Nov 292011

Too much coming at me at too many different angles.  First, the Telegraph decides to contextualise Osborne’s intellectual deficit:

[…] debt will reach £1,360 billion.
And that is the equivalent of £54,000 for every one of the 25 million households in the UK. Or £19,428 for every one of the 70-odd million people in Britain today.

Meanwhile, the World Development Movement posts another video in their web comedy series which just shows how sad and sorry Osborne should feel right now – after the bankers’ ball of a party he’s just so freely engaged in.

But in truth the reality is as Paul paints it this evening:

Be wary.  Local benefit cuts could be hitting your area sometime very soon, whatever Osborne says about “protecting” people.  I suspect he can afford to play the compassionate Conservative today  because he knows the savage cuts are due to come from elsewhere in his party.

So he does indeed know how to keep those important secrets.

Too many deficits, then.  And the biggest one being moral.