Thursday, 25 February 2010

Separated at birth

I felt I wanted to comment on the efforts to oppose Rod Liddle from becoming the new editor of the Independent - if and when it it bought by Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev.

Liddle has mainly attracted charges of sexism, racism and climate change denial, which are completely at odds with the current readership of the paper.

The Staggers has a round-up from the blogosphere and concludes the popularity of such a move has to be doubted.

And my near neighbour Left Outside comments that a boycott of the paper would be a liberal (and I daresay democratic) response.

Not the new editor of The Independent

I can't say I would be overly upset if Liddle didn't get the job - especially since he declared his Berkshirephobia in a typical piece of rent-a-quote punditry (as I said to LO, that's not the most judicious kind of thing an editor should write if he wants to win a wider audience).

And looking at the damage Piers Morgan did to the Daily Mirror's reputation when he was in charge, well meant though he may have been, having a platform for your opinion is not the same thing as presenting balanced and reliable evidence-based stories to the public.

So although I'm not a big reader of the Indie (hardly at all if I'm honest) to put such a man in charge would in my view only further weaken the ability to hold politicians to account in public, and that has got to be a bad thing.

Also not the editor of The Independent

For my own part I've always been struck by the similarity between Liddle and one of the two surviving Labour MPs in Berkshire, Martin Salter.

Both are grumpy middle-aged ego-maniacs with an uncanny ability to grab headlines by making divisive comments. Both supported extending detention without trial and other various infringements on civil liberties. And both have a habit of leaving a trail of burnt ground in their wake (just ask Jane Griffiths or the Today programme).

And Mr Salter is also set to run away from Berkshire at the first threat that he might not hold his seat (though we understand his friends are in Canada, not Russia). could it be that they are actually two peas from the same pod?

Monday, 22 February 2010

A secret history of the Falkland Islands

I don't know how I do it, but I always manage to get into conversations where my unfailing habit of picking up obscure information gets me into trouble.

Take for example Faisal Islam's short exploration of the current oil explorations in the Falklands.

Now I've got an ear for controversy, I'll admit, so it would almost be automatic that I like a good spy story too.

Thus I remember the announcement in 2002 of documents from the public record office held under the 30-year rule recording the secret discussions held during the 1960s showing Wilson's Labour govt to have considered ceding the Falkland Islands to Argentina.

This is exactly the kind of delicate diplomacy which rouses my interest.

Obviously Labour managed to back itself into a corner by making ideological commitments to decolonisation and more realistic negotiators were able to take full advantage.

The UN's desire for a peaceful negotiated solution to the conflict resulted in a memorandum of understanding to be passed that gave the impression to the Argentines that Britain was committed to a handover, which grew into legitimisation of the invasion as an excuse to distract from internal troubles.

Unfortunately it was a big mistake. The popular feeling among the inhabitants was (and still is) strongly opposed to a takeover by Buenos Aires.

Argentina pushed for a right to settle on the island hoping that this would sway any plebicite on the matter (in much the same way as Britain took control of the Orange Free State), but this was rejected.

Now it seems obvious with hindsight that it was only stoking up future conflict to even enter into negotiations with anyone who seeks unilateral agreement and then pull out, but I'm surprised that this important background phase has been all but ignored by popular history.

Of course Labour made huge campaigning waves by allying the anti-nuclear movement to opposition to the Falklands war which they could not have done if they had been open about the blame they shouldered for it, but I'm surprised that LibDems and tories haven't found themselves able to mention it to highlight just how the truth gets twisted to fit agendas (well, I'm less surprised that the tories don't mention it).

Anyway, I think there's a lesson there for Nick Clegg in the potential event of a hung parliament that taking sides with an ideological opponent may provide a temporary resolution, but in the longer term it will have the potential to explode.

And for what it's worth I think the only possible long-term solution is one of cooperative independence - both for the LibDems and for the Falklands.

But it seems particularly odd to me that the whole Foreign Office was taken completely by surprise by Galtieri's junta sending the troops in given it was only 14 years earlier (almost exactly the same period of time between the two Gulf wars) that the negotiations had been stalled.

I also read that Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez is calling on the Queen to hand the Islands over.

Hilariously he fails to grasp the irony in his complaint that Britain is undemocratic for maintaining a Queen: the role of a constitutional monarch in a representative democracy is far more limited than his own, given that he has a weekly television address to spout his ill-considered personal views direct to the nation as his means of asserting his preeminence.

But then that's socialists for you: they always allow their ends to justify their means.
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Thursday, 18 February 2010

January Jobs

This article from The Economist caught my eye.

Now (apart from criticising the word order as ungrammatical), the unemployment rate of 7.8% in January - representing a 50% rise since the first inklings of the credit crunch - is a matter of big concern.

12 months ago I noted how the rise in unemployment to 6.3% in the same post-Christmas period stank of officials trying to keep the figure under the psychologically-important 2m mark, but it seems the pressure of publicity has been swept away as it becomes clear there is a real and urgent economic price to be paid which could slow any recovery.

With inflation returning in the form of fuel rises and the end of the VAT holiday, the potential downgrading of gilts, an ongoing if gradual currency devaluation and other economic woes piling up as the price of the massive debt crisis hits home, the lull in unemployment rises may be seen as good news for the government.

But the desperation for good news and talking up the positives at the expense of realism quickly leads to delusion and disillusion, so I'm not so sure.

I tend to agree with The Economist that wage inflation will be harder to contain this year than last, making decisions about new hires less easy as companies seek to gain greater value.

So, with a tentative statistical recovery on the back of a massive state stimulus, are we headed for a period of stagflation to pay for the fiscal policy errors under Labour?

If that does turn out to be the case then we only have to look back to the 1970s to see that winning elections is not the most desirable political strategy - as it is always the incumbent who takes the blame for current economic conditions (attacks on house repossessions during the 'tory recession' of the early 1990s only stuck because the recovery was complete by 1997 when Blair entered Downing Street).

A significant portion of Labour support has already turned against the growing economic inequality they have overseen, as they're shown to have failed according to their own terms.

But it will undoubtedly cause headaches for a possible Conservative government post-election too, just as it did for Thatcher pre-Falklands - so you have to wonder what kind of trick providence has got hiding up her sleeve, because it is impossible to believe Cameron is either as far-sighted or as cynical to manipulate circumstances to his advantage in the same tub-thumping manner as the grocer's daughter and her press acolytes!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

On the menu

Sometimes you have to trust to pot-luck when going to a new restaurant - you have to trust in the chef's ability to mix and match flavours.

And so it is with my blog menu - it creates an odd conjunction when I read several disparate blogs one after the other - and to show you what I mean I'll bring together a collection of just four courses which I managed to consume one after the other...

It starts with a catch-up entree from Nee-Naw's pitifully human history of a regular caller known as Banana-Man.

Mr London Street's excellently funny description of his sex-ed classes provides a rich main course filled with tender shock and smut.

But Marty Klien's yum-yummery watching the winter olympics with all those fit young athletes in figure-hugging costumes definitely reinvigorated the palate.

And it was all finished up with the distilled liquer of Steve Borthwick's amusement at the content of radical Islamic indoctrination.

Now if you don't find that sort of menu satisfying then you're probably eating at the wrong restaurant...

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Two Elections in 2010?

I love all the talk of potential coalitions because it refines the dividing lines between the parties and shows that agreement is both possible and often necessary to move forward.

But an interesting by-line in the Guardian report on Nick Clegg setting out his main conditions (since you're asking:
  • Investing extra funds in education through a pupil premium for disadvantaged children.
  • Tax reform, taking 4 million out of tax and raising taxes on the rich by requiring capital gains and income to be taxed at the same rate.
  • Rebalancing of the economy to put less emphasis on centralised banking and more on a new greener economy.
  • Political reforms, including changes to the voting system and a democratically elected Lords, that go further than proposed by Labour)
is that David Cameron is already making preparations for an autumn election.

How serious this claim is is open to question, but I think it is reasonable, although not necessarily a primary thought.

Nevertheless it does throw up some interesting issues highlighting the precarious nature of current state of affairs both at large and internally for the tories.

Not David Cameron, obviously!

Firstly, it is blindingly obvious that the odds on the Conservatives becoming the largest party are lengthening as Brown becomes more assertive internally and the negativity at PMQs turns against the leader of the official opposition, but - more worryingly - it suggests Cameron's lack of policy is starting to bite as it shows him to have a weak foundation as leader. He faces a choice: he can either appeal to the population or he can appeal to his party. He can do one or other, but he can't do both (or at least, not simultaneously).

So far Cameron has been walking a tightrope desperately trying not to alienate one or other, but the longer it goes on without an election the more difficult he is finding it.

Even if he makes it into number 10 he will have a struggle on his hands - if he doesn't have a workable majority this could weaken his position, but on the other hand if he gains a majority which is seen as secure this will enbolden the more ideologically inclined of his backbenchers to become more outspoken.

Ultimately his aim will be to secure his powerbase, which he has so far done by reaching out to less traditional support groups. But come election time he will depend on the MPs in his ranks and he will have a tough task of calling them to heel.

So while the more tribal animals will still be calling for him to push the pedal to the metal and do all he can to tip the scales it may well be working in his personal interest to ease off slightly to give himself some breathing space for when he has to reshuffle the pack and purge any internal threats.

That said, if Gordon Brown squeaks home by any margin, barring ill-health, it'll be five years until the next general election.


Update: The Mole has an interesting take on Clegg's 'shopping list' for any deal, and it includes a demand that George Osborne will not be Chancellor of the Exchequer in any Cameron Cabinet.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


I always enjoy reading other people's political journey's, so following Darrell Goodliffe it's worth mentioning Allen Green, both of whom have more recently taken against the prevailing direction of the wind and headed left (albeit from very different starting points).

Much of what comes to be the basis of our political choices is based almost wholly and exclusively on our own experiences and the circumstances we are faced with ourselves, so it is almost perverse to think about the world from any perspective except our own. To do so would be to base our judgements on supposition, but is this any worse than basing them on the prejudice of our personal biases?

So I have to agree to some extent with Allen that one's choice of party is not the most important thing. Parties are not fixed in stone and the sails they mount can be changed quickly when the hands are on deck.

This explains why some parties may be prepared to walk the policy plank with such maddening willingness (well, at least while trying to accord with the principles they espouse), yet it also leaves it open to question which party appeals most to those principles I hold dearest.

And so in recent days and weeks both Brown and Cameron have been trying to woo me with splashy policies that might appeal (electoral reform is but one).

I'm glad that they are both prepared to compromise their previous commitments as this shows they doubted the status quo would float on the coming tide - since that is always drawn like bilge water from the same selective experience which leads to individuals forming their self-affirming beliefs in the first place.

The British public is not stupid and it simply does not matter how much is promised. It is a matter of trust and there's only so many Damascene conversions we can accept before we start doubting we aren't paying the penalty by going round in circles rather than heading towards the destination.

NB. apols. You may have noticed an extended sailing metaphor - I can get carried away sometimes... did I mention the America's Cup is almost ready to begin again?

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A tribute to Malcolm Tucker

Yes, I am paying a satirical tribute to the fictional Tucker, who is maybe not so much of a leap of imagination as all that...

Anyway, it provides a neat counterpoint to this earlier post (The Psychology Of Swearing) which has suddenly and belatedly started picking up quite a few hits.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Crime and the fear of crime

You always know when a political party is on the ropes when they start ramping up fear of crime.

So it worth noting the ever excellent Mark Easton's refutation of Conservative claims about crime statistics.

I have to wonder whether their ability to obsess about pure statistics is at the expense of placing them in their proper context and whether they are doing so to create a support plank for their largely discredited 'Broken Britain' narrative.

It is always the easy option to select favorable statistics which appear to support your preferred worldview but this doesn't mean it it correct or the right thing to do, and it leaves the distinct impression that the people who are prepared to do so are more interested in getting or keeping their hands on the levers of power rather than making a real difference to society.

Tory FAIL.


Datablog provides the data. As they say, "using them for political purposes is a risky business" - especially since their integrity has been in question for 152 years.

Beau Bo D'Or provides the satire