Saturday, 30 May 2009
Just for comparison: Labour got 30.8% of the vote and 52 seats in 1931, and 27.6% of the vote and 208 seats in 1983. On these figures, Electoral Calculus suggests, they'd end up with 163 seats.
The legitimacy crisis is far from fully played out as yet. There are likely to be other twists and turns. But it seems obvious that it a crisis of the legitimacy of politics, not of individual venality by this or that MP. So any government is likely to suffer more than any opposition - but particularly a Labour government, as the Tories have the age-old persona of being the 'natural' party of leadership, untainted by the exercise of crude 'politics', to fall back on. This remains true, duck ponds, moat cleaning and extensions for servants quarters not withstanding.
I am increasingly of the view that there is only one way out of this for the Left - and the Labour Party is certainly welcome to join us if it feels it can stomach the somersault. It's got absolutely sod all to do with state funding of parties, Alternative Voting schema or the hurried coronation of a former postman.
It is simply to generalise the widespread public disgust at the behaviour of our masters from MPs to bankers. Old fashioned class resentment. Might not work, I quite agree. But nothing else seems to be working either so let's give it try...
Saturday, 23 May 2009
Representatives of the Association of Local Authorities in Iceland (SÍS) recently met with Minister of Education Katrín Jakobsdóttir to examine the possibility of temporarily reducing the number of elementary school days as a rationalization method.....the idea is related to the so-called five-percent method, which has been discussed among local authorities recently. Municipal employees can then take ten additional days off per year in exchange for five percent lower salaries.(via). I particularly like the use of the sly 'temporarily' in the first sentence. This is McKinsey grade euphemism. Dilbert got there before them of course...
There's a new benchmark in journalism about the economic crisis and the failure of the banks: John Lancaster's long but incredibly rewarding, incredibly clear and incredibly angry piece in the current London Review of Books. He brings a novelist's clarity to the necessary unpicking of otherwise arcane banking euphemisms. Go educate yourself.
I'll restrict myself to two delicious quotes. First, here he is summing up after a long, penetrating description of the nature and origin of toxic assets and Anglo American governmental attempts to deal with the crisis:
"Many of the banks will turn out to be insolvent. In that case the bank is nationalised, or at the very least goes into administration and receivership. Then, a number of options become available, one of the principal ones being to break the bank up into the viable part of the business, which will eventually be refloated back onto the market, and a ‘bad bank’ of dodgy assets which must be sold off (or arguably held until the values recover) in whatever way makes the most possible money for the taxpayer.Nobody in power wants to do that. Nobody with power in the banking system, and nobody with power in government. Both the British and the American plans to help the banks are very, very, very expensive variations on the theme of sticking their fingers in their ears and loudly singing ‘La la la, I’m not listening.’ This is what’s happened so far."Second, here he is on the meaning of the disaster:
"....the cost of the financial crisis is going to be paid not over a few years but over a generation, we have a perfect formula for a deep and growing anger. Expectations have risen a lot, over the last three decades; that’s going to have a big impact on how furious people feel about the hard years ahead. The level of future public spending cuts implied in Darling’s recent budget – which included the laughably optimistic idea that the economy will grow by 1.25 per cent next year – is greater than the level of cuts implemented by Thatcher. Remember, that’s the optimistic version. If we’re lucky, it won’t be any worse than Thatcherism."It's worth remembering this when you hear different economists or politicians comment on this or that latest tactical development. Take that business of the threatened S& P downgrading of Britain's creditworthiness for instance. Basically the siren voices of the Right claimed this was a sign we were heading for a Sovereign default and having to go cap in hand to the IMF. On the other hand people from Left and Centre tended to say, no, this is about a recognition of what we already know and, in any event, there is absolutely no chance of Britain going bust because it will, in time, balance its books through cuts and raised taxes after the election. But that last quote is Lancaster saying what the future is going to look like if the second set of voices are correct - in other words, that's the optimistic scenario.
Friday, 22 May 2009
This is the Third Sector we're talking about - the supposed Saviour of public services from the dread inheritance of top down Fabian State do-goodery and provider capture.
Q. How do I know this expenses thing ain't going away?
A. Because the non political people around me keep voluntarily raising the matter for discussion. Normally any one with a political bent, be they activist or simply someone used to viewing the world through that particular prism, has to work out a modus vivandi with other folk. They'll make allowances, sure, but at the end of the day you're just another person with a particular bee in your bonnet to them. Matters political might be endlessly fascinating for you, but to them it might as well be West Bromwich Albion or Clarice Cliff teapots. They'll talk to you about your obsession, but only if there is a unstated agreement on your part not to always keep banging on about it to the exclusion of anything they want to talk about. But, right now, they do want to talk about the expenses fandango.
Q. So what are they banging on about then?
The TV news seems to have got this about right: there seems a huge degree of disbelief at the apparent excesses of Westminster culture, and a general 'plague on all their houses' feeling - which seamlessly merges into a 'just string the lot of 'em up' mood at extremes. But there is one other factor I think worth mentioning. There is a undercurrent of disbelief that they can't immediately vote these people out. I don't mean they want a general election - though a few do. But general elections are a part of the very package of 'politics as normal' which many people are reacting against. No: I have a very real sense that the apolitical public is so used to 'reality' TV shows like Big Brother and the Apprentice that they can't believe you can't just ring someone or click on a website and get these shysters booted out.
Thursday, 21 May 2009
"The qualities of Salford men and women shine through the adversity of their everyday lives. They were, and still are, people with courage, determination, wit and compassion, and they have an unrivalled ability to see through falseness and to expose insincerity."
From Squirrel Nutkin's maiden speech in the Commons (via).
Aye lass, 'appen they are. But t'question is, can they read chapter 5 of the Labour Party Rule book, t'one that's all about reselection?
Addendum: "In 2006, her constituency was one of three hacked down to two by local boundary changes - which led to a new seat of Salford and Eccles, and the current MP for the latter, Ian Stewart, challenging her for the nomination and losing by 174 votes to 79".
So I make that only about 48 people who need to change their minds.
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
Here's Martin Wolf reading the runes:
In summary then: yup, things are - if not quite getting better - at least stabilising. But we're broke, and we can never let this happen again or it might really be back to bartering cans of baked beans. So governments around the world are going to have to try to keep those money men on a much shorter leash than before - whilst raising taxes and cutting services for 'perhaps decades'. (I suspect the British government, whoever that proves to be this time next year, is going to pursue the second and perhaps third of those tasks with a lot more application than the first.)
On the economy, we already know five important things. First, when the US catches pneumonia, everybody falls seriously ill. Second, this is the most severe economic crisis since the 1930s. Third, the crisis is global, with a particularly severe impact on countries that specialised in exports of manufactured goods or that relied on net imports of capital. Fourth, policymakers have thrown the most aggressive fiscal and monetary stimuli and financial rescues ever seen at this crisis. Finally, this effort has brought some success: confidence is returning and the inventory cycle should bring relief....The state, meanwhile, is back, but it is also looking ever more bankrupt. Ratios of public sector debt to gross domestic product seem likely to double in many advanced countries: the fiscal impact of a big financial crisis can, we have been reminded, be as costly as a large war. This, then, is a disaster that governments of slow-growing advanced economies cannot afford to see repeated in a generation. The legacy of the crisis will also limit fiscal largesse. The effort to consolidate public finances will dominate politics for years, perhaps decades. The state is back, therefore, but it will be the state as intrusive busybody, not big spender.
OK - now can I have a volunteer to write the general election manifestos of our three main political parties please ? Just a few thousand words are needed - but they must be full of hope and promise. Mustn't frighten the horses by suggesting we're in a pickle now, must we?
There will be time enough for that after the election...
But it can only be an initial step, and not necessarily that an effective step either. For all the hushed and shocked tones of the commentariat about a Speaker never having been hounded out since the Paleolithic Era, I'd hazard a guess that the public at large isn't really that impressed that a bloke most of them had never heard of gets the boot. A few of the sharper knives in the drawer may remember all that stuff about his wife's shopping and taxis but his name hasn't featured prominently in the recent Telegraph allegations. So there is more work for the political classes to do.
The next part of this work, of course, is to do a bit of party specific stable cleaning. Cameron seems to have got a head start on this with his famous repaid wisteria cutting bill, and all purpose ability to explicitly link this whole problem to the government. But yesterday Brown came very close to suggesting Hazel Blears is going to be disqualified as a Labour candidate. A game of competitive chicken may yet develop between the parties, based on who can sack the largest number of really senior people. I think Hopi's insider instinct that neither party leader really wants a general election until this stage is over is probably correct. There are dangers here for both of them - but especially for Brown, who may have to reshuffle a cabinet after a drubbing in the Euro elections with many fewer experienced ministers to draw from.
But even if Cameron and Brown do mange to negotiate these particular rapids, they would still be doing work 'inside the Beltway' as it were. They'd merely be creating the conditions for restoring some legitimacy, not restoring the legitimacy itself.
So the Guardian has gone to town today with the full Why-don't-we-have-our-own-1789-well-without-the -guillotines-but-with-the modernising-bit package this morning. Freedland wants a elected second chamber; Gary Younge wants a Republic; Garton Ash wants a written constitution; Polly T wants a smaller but effective Parliament; Milne wants to clean up party funding and so on.
Now, I support every single one of these suggestions. But I have this horrible feeling that they are all wildly, madly beside the point in the context of the current legitimation crisis. I have a hunch that what people want to see is precisely the guillotines but not necessarily the reform. There is a public revulsion at the conduct of parliament, and at what a de-politicised electorate consider to be 'politics' in general, not any great settled political will to an alternative way of doing things. A call for the 'smack of firm (but fair) government' or a supposedly apolitical 'clean hands' candidate - one somewhat more convincing than Esther Rantzen - seems more likely to draw a positive response than the Guardian's proffered alternative.
It's a strange and febrile time. Don't believe anyone who tells you they know what is going to happen next. But I reckon the public want to see an awful lot more humble pie being eaten yet...
Tuesday, 19 May 2009
C'mon, there must be someone out there who can think of a smartass one liner to summarise this.
Saturday, 16 May 2009
For [insert name of social democratic party], people always come first. We believe in a Europe which offers everyone the opportunity to travel and work in other countries as long as their rights are protected and respected. We will continue to work to end discrimination and worker exploitation through the adoption of stricter laws and improved workers’ rights throughout Europe. If it’s easier and cheaper for companies to sack workers in [insert name of home country] than in other countries, that’s exactly what will happen. We are committed to stronger European legislation to prevent this.
We supported the European directive on temporary workers’ rights which the Labour government blocked for so long and we are committed to protecting workers rights when companies are taken over – unlike Labour, who voted against this. We have fought hard for the right to proper information and consultation of workers by companies, which could have prevented so many major redundancies. We supported the Working Time Directive which protects people from having to work excessive hours.
In 2009, UK trades union members have fewer rights to take industrial action than in 1906. We will support better protection against the dismissal or victimisation of workers taking part in lawful action; we will also support action to prevent the use of agency workers replacing striking workers.
[insert name of social democratic party] believes in equal working conditions for economic migrants: we are committed to an increase in the minimum wage and improved support, guidance and resources for local authorities working with immigrant communities. At present the Gangmasters Licensing Authority has no real presence in [insert name of home country]: we call for both a widened remit and a permanent [insert name of home country] office to ensure that the exploitation of workers is tackled on the ground.
We believe in a Europe where wages and jobs are protected; a Europe where conditions are equal all over the continent. We believe in a Europe of harmonised working conditions, where employers cannot drive down pay by exploiting cheap labour in another country. To ensure that companies are prevented from Undercutting local pay rates and exploiting workers, we support an urgent revision of the Posted Workers Directive.We do not believe in a market-run Europe which values profit over people. The current global financial crisis proves that a Europe which promotes privatisation and deregulation is a Europe in which our banking services collapse in a flurry of irresponsible lending, our post offices close and our communities wither. We want a European-wide minimum state guarantee on savings of €150,000. If the banks are going to gamble with our money, there must be safety measures in place to ensure that we, the ordinary savers, do not suffer from their recklessness.
[insert name of social democratic party] also believes that it is high time that the banks give something back to the people for whom they work. To this end, we call for a Europe-wide tax on international banking transactions which would raise billions for meeting global challenges such as international development and climate change. Every time currency is traded across European borders by bankers, this Tobin tax would help to stabilise the volatile money markets, encourage accountability and promote responsibility in the banking sector.
Lightly adapted from here (via). Unfortunately not a voting option in England.
Friday, 15 May 2009
Q.At what point might party discipline break down?
A.When it becomes electorally imperative for those with clean hands (still a fair majority of the PLP*) to dissociate themselves from the knaves (all the property flippers, including Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper) and the rogues (Moran, Blears, Malik) and the just plain purblind (Michael Martin) in order to maximise their individual chances of survival at a general election.
Q.When exactly might it become ‘electorally imperative’ for those with clean hands to act to save themselves?
A. After a catastrophic defeat in the European elections, perhaps?
Just an idle musing, forgive me....
*This opinion ( "a fair majority") may be subject to revision.
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You should be over at Will Davies' place, understanding the nature of crises.
When you've done that, you can decide whether John Ross (Economics adviser to a certain K.Livingstone) or Duncan (Ex-Treasury fund manager of a post-Keynesian bent) has the most effective investment strategy for China.
& if, as I increasingly suspect, this government - indeed, this whole parliament - is in the early stages of dying of shame, lefties amongst you might want to wonder if we have any lessons to learn from our Italian comrades who got quite comprehensively hammered this time last year. Go check a variety of views on all this @ Red Pepper.
Addendum - if it's Italy on your mind, don't miss Henry's wonderful review of a new book on the Autonomist movements of the 1970s and their relationship with the PCI over at Crooked Timber.
Thursday, 14 May 2009
Duncan picks up the ball from Stephanie Flanders with a thought provoking post on the geometry of recovery – will this be a ‘V’ shaped recession, or a ‘W’ shaped one and so on. (Steph’s going with a square root shaped one apparently. Willem Buiter goes one better and offers a moving sine wave graph. You regret asking now, don’t you?). Dunc makes the fair point that he’ll judge the recovery by the (un)employment figures.
Well, yes, partly, of course. If a social democratic government can’t minimise unemployment it really isn’t much use for anything at all is it? (Not that I accept that New Labour is a social democratic government, but that's a matter for another time...). But I understand economists describe unemployment as a ‘lagging indicator’- not, you may be surprised to hear, anything to do insulating your boiler, but simply a reference to the fact that first comes the crisis then comes the unemployment some time later. So whatever happens, unemployment is going to go up whether or not those green shoots really do constitute a recovery. So this is going to be weak ground for any political party to stand on over the next couple of years. "Yes, unemployment is really high but it would have been higher under the other lot", is going to sound particularly fatuous coming out of the mouth of a Labour canvasser on the doorstep.
Rob asks a perhaps more pertinent question - and in the Times no less: What is Britain For? The fact that I utterly reject his Spiked influenced answer - he's totally blind to the catastrophic climate implications of getting behind technological 'innovation' in Big Pharma and aerospace, and has a touching faith in 'leadership' - doesn't mean it isn't the right question.
A long time ago someone patiently explained to me that the function of downturns in the business cycle - even severe ones - was to destroy unproductive capital and realign investment into new channels to lay the basis of further expansion of the economy. Or so the theory taught in Econ 101 has it. In real life stuff is more complicated, I know. But a party that wants to ride out this crisis has to be able to explain how we're going to live in the future if the 'old way' of living off the crumbs from the City of London's table doesn't seem so viable any more.
What can we sell to the world? How do we develop competitive advantages in different areas? What new industries and services are we going to invest in? What is the balance we are seeking to develop between private, state, municipal, not-for-profit and co-operative enterprise? Where is the seed money going to be sown to ensure our children a decent future? How do we change our patterns of settlement, work and travel to reflect a greener future?
It's not just about employment - you could, eventually, boost employment by attempting to put Humpty-Dumpty together again and restore the status quo ante model of political economy. I'd say that is the broadly shared aim of Tories, LibDems and New Labour. & that might work for a while - until the next speculative bubble came along.
Some say the world economy is on the cusp of a great change - the Long Wave view of history, Kondratievian or Schumpterian according to taste, suggests we might be entering a new period of upswing based on the wholesale adoption of a bundle of new technologies. This, some versions of the theory say, will mean a rebalancing of the importance of speculative Finance capital, actual industrial/IT capital - and the State. (I've blogged before about how Mike Davis sees this panning out in Obama's America). I haven't got the background in economics to assess such contentions - but I do think that this points to the fact that it is quite possible that if the Left fails to 'grab the future' by asking the sort of questions I've outlined, some other political current will.
It’s not just about employment. It’s about the future we want.
Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Via Richard Murphy
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
But Stafford warns that this is not unalloyed good news, and could actually leave the Union with a huge retiree health bill if the firm does tank completely. In other words, they could be stuck with a 'pig in a poke'- the capitalists, having basically decided the North American auto industry is on its uppers, have passed an unproductive asset to the workforce. (I paraphrase and crudify). He goes further:
"...worker voice today comes in multiple forms and many of these rely less on the blunt instruments of countervailing power than on the relatively softer instruments of building alliances, framing issues, participating on multiple levels (workplace, community, identity groups, local and national governments, the media, international)."Well, perhaps, yes, sort of. But 'worker voice' must also be developed in actually deciding what can be produced to meet social need. So I'd really like to know if the lefty engineers and technologists of this world are heading Detroit-wards to help the UAW develop their very own 'Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards Plan' on a huge scale to convert the production lines from gas guzzlers to a mixture of ecologically sound vehicles and alternative products.
Because, otherwise, I think the UAW may regret this deal.
Monday, 11 May 2009
Well, then the pressure on Brown to do something similar would be pretty intense. & it's Hazel Blears and Jacqui Smith who would have to be in the frame. Blears would be in the frame on a property flipping allegation, and Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the committee on standards in public life has already described Smith's claim as "near-fraudulent". Could Brown survive the loss of the two senior women in his cabinet? Because it would be really quite hard to sack one and not the other if the Tories had taken a strong lead. Could he survive the fall out of doing so after what looks like being a disastrous set of local government and European elections?
These are the petty political thoughts of a Guardian columnist manqué, I know. Indeed, Jacqui Ashley goes further this morning and openly speculates on the possibility of a leadership challenge - or a snap general election. This, you might say, is not real politics, but the superficial froth of Westminster's very own 'Spanish practices'. & normally I'd agree with you.
But I sense a deep, deep loathing of politicians around these revelations - and especially of New Labour politicians. They seem to be attracting some of the hostility originally directed at 'fat-cat' bankers that is still very strongly around in popular political sentiment. Not many people understand Derivatives or other complex financial instruments - but we've all got an idea of what a buckshee bath plug looks like. New Labour are going to bear the brunt of this because (a) they're the Government, after all; (b) they came in on a wave of disillusionment with Tory sleaze, promising 'clean hands'; (c) they're supposed to be the party of fairness for chrissake.
Could this be the end of New Labour - and the pebble which starts a landslide of events which end in a general election this summer ?
Sunday, 10 May 2009
Now, despite the fact that the British situation seems far less organised and structural - its all about individual venality as far as I can see, not organisational corruption in the Italian sense - I do think Hunt is on to something. Perhaps because he is the son of a weatherman he can tell which way the wind is blowing.
Dave Osler - and in a different way, Paulie - worry that this is feeding into an anti-political mood in the country. I agree with Paulie that the big threat is not the BNP - although I expect them to made some electoral gains in the Euro elections - but some charismatic and telegenic charmer on the Berlusconi model. (Please God, don't let it be Richard Branson.)
In a way our default model of political leader has been evolving in this direction anyway- think of Blair, and our two current Blair-lites, Cameron and Clegg. Anyone of them might, if they had accidentally lost an election in mid career, have evolved into a TV sofa host on the lines of Jeremy Vine or Kilroy Silk. Even the viciously combative ex-politician Portillo now seems eminently charming and personable as an all purpose TV talking head. The stage is surely set for some movement in the opposite direction - a TV talking head who arrives on the electronic PR campaign equivalent of a white charger promising to sweep away all this nonsense.
Because this is Britain, not Italy, I don't think, as yet, conditions are far enough advanced for such a 'new politics' (sic) to be successful. But I'm prepared to bet someone is going to try.
Friday, 8 May 2009
"...economies in which wealth transfer predominates over wealth creation are destined for poverty, because ‘real’ wealth – food, medicine, bricks and mortar, high and low technology goods – is consumed or decays and has to be renewed. Exchange on its own, however vigorous, is unable to do this renewing. A farm or a factory producing electronic parts is more desirable than a casino, even if they all put resources and people to work. It’s a coarse fundamentalist view of economies..."Actually it's a extract from Jeremy Harding's article on Islamic finance in the new LRB. He seems to be presenting* a ' straw man view' of Islamic takes on the consequences of usury and derivatives, as if no one could possible believe such a thing to be true...
But here's the thing: it's more or less what I believe, give or take the odd minor caveat. & I suspect it's close to what the vast majority of folk in Britain think as well.
Meanwhile, John Ross spends an inordinate amount of time demonstrating what surely should be obvious: the more a country actually invests in real things the richer it gets. Well, knock me down with a Credit Default Swap contract, who'd have thought it, eh? But then I'm a coarse fundamentalist, just not an Islamic one. Except on financial matters.
Where is the strategy for confronting this hole in the British political economy? Where is the vision- which might have to be one of 'blood, sweat and toil' - for our conversion into a economy of reality and sustainability ?
Just asking, like. Do take your time answering....
*The whole article is worth reading though - it's intelligent and informative. I'm just picking up on a loose paragraph.
You just want to go to the Equality Trust to read the evidence yourself (don't forget to download the PowerPoint). You might also want to check our Richard' Murphy's calculation of how we might very,very simply pay to put some of this right.
But perhaps you think these are equally embittered old Lefties, or foolish 'head-in-the-clouds' Quaker types?
Oh well, perhaps the Financial Times will convince you of the seriousness of the situation then. Or the Guardian's graphics of the numbers suggested by the Equality Trust folk in their book, The Spirit Level.
Equality is an ideal. Maybe it can't be fully achieved - but the closer we get to it, the better the society we live in. & we've getting worse each year for 30 years.
Thursday, 7 May 2009
Michael Hudson provides a delightful insight into Icelandic property rights.
"...after the war, British trawlers competed with Icelandic fishing boats for the rich cod and other fish. After a series of showdowns extending into the 1970s, Iceland became the leader in establishing the 200-mile limit to define international sea rights....... Iceland issued licenses representing a specified proportion of the annual permitted catch, whose magnitude was set each year based on the estimated fish population. In contrast to classical economic practice, these licenses were not auctioned off each year by the government so as to recover fair value for the nation’s natural resource in the sea. Rather.... they became permanent, and naturally have risen in market price over time. The initial holders – the leading political insiders a century ago – have bequeathed them to their heirs, to be rented out to the actual fishermen or simply kept them in the family. Iceland’s Treasury receives no benefit from harvest the seas. Licenses simply have become a rent-extraction fee, a payment to the former insiders and their successors."(My emphasis)
& it's terribly, terribly crude of me I know, but I can't help thinking, as I read about banking being back on the up, that something very similar has happened in the UK, only with money, not cod.