Sunday, 28 June 2009

On That Matter of The Coming Cuts

No one should be allowed an opinion on ' state functions we can do without' (TM), or, indeed, what we should protect, until they have read and thoroughly digested James Heartfield on the background:
Is the State being privatised in Britain, or is it taking over the private sector? The answer is that both are true, and neither. What we have is not a new private sector boom, but a growing state-dependent economy of concessions. Companies like Qinetiq and Capita only exist because of the way the state contracts out its services. Government's loss of faith in its own ability to organise production leads to an astonishing abandonment of its authority to chaotic and destructive shell companies...

All the time the established boundary between ‘state' and ‘civil society', between ‘public goods and private benefits', is being redrawn, or broken down altogether. What emerges is neither an enhanced private sector, nor coherent state provision, but rather a hybrid, dependent on public finances to survive, and increasingly operating according to a mixture of political, administrative and business models that makes little sense.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

We Shall Not See His Like Again

"Rocking Robin"; "Beat It";"Billy Jean";"Thriller" - all that creativity and he still found time to be Chief of Staff of the British Army and Deputy to the NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. Polymath or what?

I think Jim's Donkey blog best captures the popular mood.

Friday, 26 June 2009

What's My Line?

A comment in the post below has just reminded me that the single most convincing outline of an alternative 'what-to-do-about-the-banks' policy was provided by Richard Murphy, back in October but no one, absolutely no one as far as I can see, ever took up the idea and ran with it. &, on the net, last October might as well be neolithic times, as we've all got the attention span of goldfish. So go read it now and see what you think.

It's not a strategy for socialism tomorrow. But it is a strategy for structural reform, for breaking the hold of Big Finance on our economy. It is, to use that well worn phrase, a 'modernization' strategy of the Left. (Remember when the Left used to think it knew how to surf the wave of the future? Ah, such memories....)

Now, think about it, what is the Left without a vision of a future? It is a group of people who fight, and quite often lose, defensive battles. Battles to stop things changing for the worse rather than battles to make things change for the better. & I've had a lifetime of it and I'm feeling really, really sick at the prospect of doing it over again when the cuts come after the election.

So let's have Richard's network banking; let's have Boffy's and Chris' self managed organisations (which are more productive anyway); let's have an industrial programme of arms conversion; let's have a Greening of the economy; let's have a different way of looking at public service value In short: let's have some reason to live through the economic pain. Let's have a future.

It is true that the Tories and their allies are trying to log roll the country into the default assumption that cuts must come, and must come quickly and severely after the election whoever wins it. No doubt all those Keynesians are right to say we should wait till the upswing to cut, but the gilt markets might turn at any point and give us very little choice. & whilst I agree with Duncan's newly discovered Texan Post Keynesian that it's about income and wealth equality in the long run, I detect no enthusiasm for an equality of national decline.

It ain't enough for the Left to say 'it-was-the-rich-wot-broke-it-so-they-should-fix-it'. We need a programme. A new AES.

Best Comment on £9.6million p.a. to run RBS

The ever reliable Blood and Treasure:

"It was probably wrong to say that various banks were nationalized over the past year. It would be more accurate to say that after working for the banks as a regulatory contractor for a number of years, the government agreed to be taken over directly by them in a deal funded by the taxpayer. The new financial-political entity is now free to divest itself as much as possible of loss making non-core functions like education and health, freeing up money to remunerate Mr Hester and his friends"

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Who Owns the Sun (No, It's Not Murdoch...Yet)

See that image to the right? I've no idea who it belongs too: I've just typed the word 'Sun' into Google and chosen one of the thousands of images offered. Perhaps someone has it copyrighted. Prove that and I'll take it down from this blog with fulsome apologies - because I don't want to pay.

But the idea that anyone who does own it might care that much as to find this obscure blog and ask for some money is unlikely. After all even the multi-billion pound music and cinema industries are fighting a losing battle to retain any enforceable property rights. Ask Sweden's Pirate Party. If I were dreadfully old fashioned I might argue that this is a classic case of the emergence of a conflict between the forces of production and the social relations of production. But perhaps that would be trying to shoehorn a widely recognised cultural and economic change into some much loved heirloom intellectual categories

But Potlatch isn't old fashioned at all and asks a much more unusual and thought provoking question : who owns the Sun? & if we're really going to move into a post carbon powered future, my that really does matter, as he points out. Go read him.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Housing Associations Are 'Hybrid-Public Authorities'

Big stuff in the housing world - and potentially in the world of government strategy for 'choice and the small state' as well. Housing Associations, it seems, are 'hybrid-public authorities' according to the Court of Appeal. So they have obligations under the Human Rights Act. Why? Because:
  • Their significant reliance on public funding.
  • Their close working relationship with local authorities in the allocation of their stock.
  • Their provision of subsidised housing should be properly regarded as a governmental activity.
  • They act in the public interest.
  • They are regulated by a Government agency in such a way as to promote governmental policy objectives.
  • They have some functions of a public nature e.g. in relation to anti-social behaviour.
Which strikes me as potentially also being true of quite a lot of other charities and so called third sector organisations in other fields, such as social care or even health and education. A world of Judicial Review against such bodies might be about to emerge. ( Perhaps with Mr. Coates leading the charge?)

At least as interesting to me, however, is the link that the Housing Associations own trade body make to a 'separate, but allied, cause for concern': are they public bodies? Because, if they are, then their borrowing will count against public sector borrowing requirements - and their relative attractiveness compared to Councils as agents of housing development will lessen to governments of any colour. The NHF say:
" seems likely that carrying out a “function of a public nature” for the purposes of the Human Rights Act does not necessarily give rise to reclassification as a “public body”. However, it is stressed that classification as a “public body” does not depend on any single factor, but it based on the totality of an organisation’s relationship with the state. In this context a decision such as Weaver is certainly unhelpful even if not determinative in itself."
But its getting closer by the day, you can feel it can't you?

Banks : Too Big Too Ignore

Willem Buiter doesn't like the idea of big banks:

"In banking and most highly leveraged finance, size is a social bad. Fortunately, there is quite a list of effective instruments for cutting leveraged finance down to size.

  • Legally and institutionally, unbundle narrow banking and investment banking (Glass Steagall-on-steroids).
  • Legally and institutionally prevent all banks (narrow banks and investment banks) from engaging in activities that present manifest potential conflicts of interest. This means no more universal banks and similar financial supermarkets.
  • Limit the size of all banks by making regulatory capital ratios an increasing function of bank size.
  • Enforce competition policy aggressively in the banking sector, by breaking up banks if necessary.
  • Require any remaining systemically important banks to produce a detailed annual bankruptcy contingency plan.
  • Only permit limited liability for narrow banks/public utility banks.
  • Create a highly efficient special resolution regime for all systemically important financial institutions. This SRR will permit an omnipotent Conservator/Administrator to financially restructure the failing institutions (by writing down the claims of the unsecured creditors or mandatorily converting them into equity), without interfering materially with new lending, investment and funding operations.

The Geithner plan for restructuring US regulation is silent on the too big to fail problem. That alone is sufficient to ensure that it will fail to result in a more stable and safer US banking and financial system.

In the UK, the otherwise enlightened head of the FSA, Adair Turner, does not see a problem with banks of huge size and with a staggering range of unrelated or conflicted activities. Of all the parties that matter, only the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, is clear that ‘too big to fail’ is at the heart of the financial crisis we are trying to exit and will be at the heart of the next financial crisis that we are preparing so assiduously."

Stumbling goes further: we need smaller banks not just because big ones will drag us all down if they fail, but because otherwise we have no chance of influencing their behaviour and making them invest in firms, not households. But government policy is just to fatten 'em up and flog 'em back to the market to carry on as before, or so he very plausibly speculates.

So we have the outlines of three broad, overlapping but distinguishable, political economy worldviews:

1. The official position of both Tories and Labour: flog the banks back to the public sector once their balance sheets look a little less seasick, reduce the burden on public finances as soon as and as much as possible and twiddle the regulatory frameworks a bit at the edges. Those memories of the Great Moderation are so sweet that it seems impossible not to recreate that Arcadia, though perhaps we need a few more Black Swan management techniques.

2. The position of the 'guardian-priests' of the international financial system like Buiter, and, possibly, King: twiddling the regulations ain't going to work, though it is no doubt very necessary. We have to save the system from itself by radically redefining the power relationships between its component parts. We've had our Minsky Moment and we don't want another one. If that means governments - and tax payers - have to fore go some temporary relief, then so be it. We're playing for big stakes here and we can't afford to lose. Banks can't be so big as to potentially ruin us all. Interestingly, Vince Cable sometimes sounds like he's in this camp.

3. The position of the unbelievers: it's not just that our international banking - and shadow banking system - has proved so unstable, it's also how it operated before hand. Great inequalities were amplified and massive transfers channelled from poor to rich across the globe. Furthermore, in the heartlands, innovation and new enterprise was radically unattractive because it was so much less profitable to fund than consumption items, like housing, or simple speculation itself. We need to change this, perhaps for reasons of simple national competitiveness, perhaps for reasons to do with the need to green our economy or fry at some point before the end of the century. The banks should work for the rest of us, not the other way round.

What's interesting to me is that the debate around the wisdom or otherwise of stretching out or curtailing the current neo Keynesian demand stimulation policies - that whole 'Austerity v Growth' schtick - can be had within each of these perspectives*. So you get people who actually want very different things apparently agreeing with each other.

*2 hours later I discover Mervyn King has stepped forward to prove my point on this one. To Duncan's very great annoyance.

Not Me Gov

In view of this little spate, I'd like to make clear that I have never, ever considered allocating genders to the figures in, and off stage from, the cartoon to the right of this posting. No Sireee Bob. Not even in the privacy of my own imagination.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Time Travel

Everyone goes to Strange Maps every now and again but it's possible to forget just how wonderful the really strange ones can be if you don't go there very often. Shown on the right is a map from 1981 distorted to show travel times (train domestically, air internationally) from London. Stranraer is apparently as far away as New York.

Now go on, I challenge you - go find a poet that would deny that particular truth.

But even more wonderfully, the discussion below that Strange Maps post led me to this: an interactive version of the Tube map which changes shape to show relative travel times depending on which station you start from. Go press Heathrow and see what happens. It's like Harry Beck on acid.

"Cross My Heart & Hope To Die..."

Let's be clear*: the international economy almost stopped dead last autumn. We were within days of cashpoints throughout the Western world refusing to cough up money and of automated transactions, including payments of wages, simply freezing. So how do we know that finance driven turbo capitalism won't come to the brink of collapse again at some point in the near future?

Because the new generation of Harvard MBAs are going to promise to behave better.

There is a youthful earnestness to the new Harvard Business School-inspired MBA oath, with such phrases as “I will mentor and look after the education of the next generation of leaders” and “this oath I make freely, and upon my honour”..... The MBA oath comes when capitalism’s claims to efficiency and legitimacy have been shaken....The oath includes the bromides quoted above, but it also contains a fierce rejection of the shareholder-first philosophy that has guided Anglo-American business for decades. The signatories undertake to pay equal attention to “shareholders, co-workers, customers and the society in which we operate”. They promise to aim for “sustainable prosperity” and, in recognition of the damage short-term bonuses have done, they vow not to put their own ambitions ahead of the interests of their companies.

Well I for one certainly feel reassured. & it seems so much less complicated than all that pesky regulation that others keep telling us might be necessary.


*Or possibly let's be hyperbolic as John B gently chides me. The discussion suggests that Gillian Tett thinks stuff really was that bad though, so perhaps I'm in good company...

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Goodbye Judean Popular Front

Forget Life of Brian. A new gold standard in satirical references to left wing practices has been established over at the Irish Left Review. In fact it's more or less a complete 11 point guide to establishing a small left wing newspaper. Everyone will have their own favourite but my personal top two are:

*Always see things from the perspective of the international working-class. The perspective of the international working-class is - regardless of superficial appearances - the same perspective as your own

* Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways. The point is to shout at it.

Ejh - we who are about to be polemicised, we salute you!


King's Men Discuss Egg Restoration Options

So Obama announces a new system of banking regulation which the FT editorial describes as structurally 'inelegant' but politically feasible - easier to get through Congress that a complete system re-design - and quite substantial in terms of content. Meanwhile the Governor of the Bank of England makes a public bid for more regulatory influence whilst the Chancellor remains apparently convinced that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds of regulation. What are those of us outside the rarefied world of banking to make of all this ?

Basically these are 'All the King's Horses and All the King's Men' arguing about how best to put Humpty-Dumpty together again. Larry Elliot is scathing:
"...[after the] most serious financial meltdown in living memory. .....the government is planning no more than a slap on the wrist for the discredited bankers. The message from London – and from the Obama administration in Washington today – is that the chance for radical overhaul has been ducked."
Mervyn King's position is interesting because, on the surface, it appears more radical than that of either Darling or Obama. He wants to insure against systemic risks. He says its not sensible to allow large banks to combine high street retail banking with risky investment banking or funding strategies, and then provide an implicit state guarantee against failure. But his answer is:
"Either those guarantees to retail depositors should be limited to banks that make a narrower range of investments, or banks which pose greater risks to taxpayers and the economy in the event of failure should face higher capital requirements. Or we must develop resolution powers such that large and complex financial institutions can be wound down in an orderly manner. Or, perhaps, an element of all three. Privately owned and managed institutions that are too big to fail sit oddly with a market economy."(My emphasis)
There is nothing here, on either side of the apparent argument, which questions the dominance of our banking sector over other bits of the economy. There is just a technical argument about how best to get the system working again in the long term and how to technically prevent another lash-up of the scale of last autumn. Nothing about breaking the banks up into manageable proportions. Nothing about holding on to some bits of the current nationalised banks as regional or industrial development finance agencies, nor even anything on the scale of Glass Seagall.

This, of course is a reflection of the big difference between now and the post 1929 period. Then the problem for Obama, Darling and King's predecessors wasn't simply an apparent systemic failure but the existence of systemic alternatives in the form of the still young Soviet Revolution and Fascist Germany. No such alternative exists today and it is very, very striking how little progress the Left has made in building any support for such an alternative despite the depth of the crisis.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Supposed to fire my imagination

Here's a little story.

Like loads of people I have iTunes on my computer. Last time I switched it on - I'm not that big a user – a little box popped up offering me something called iTunes Genius. Basically it's a little app which looks at your music, looks at which other tracks have been downloaded from the ITunes store by people who also have the same tracks as you, and then makes suggestions for playlists on that basis.

It's like an automatic version of those compilation tapes you used to make as a teenager. If I click on any song in my iTunes collection it selects another 24 songs from my collection to put together with the one I clicked on. So far, so nerdish. The key thing to remember is that its criteria for knocking these playlists together is the overlapping tastes of millions of other people, I presume disproportionately American.

So, feeling in a particularly 'young people today don't know they're born' type of mood, I decided to make a Genius playlist of old pop songs to try and wean my 12 year old off of only listening to bloody Green Day. But which song to start with?

First I tried Otis Redding's classic version of (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. The result was a playlist including 24 other songs, all by black artists. Then I tried it with the Stones version of the same song, which resulted in 24 other songs all by white artists. If this represents the collective music associations of millions I can't help thinking Obama may be elected but he's still got his work cut out. It seems such a striking indication of a cultural apartheid.

Now, it might be that only sad old people like me download this sort of sixties stuff from iTunes and our generation is stuck in a racial time-warp. If a similar experiment had been carried out with a more modern song recorded by both black and white artists the result might have been very different.

Or so I hope.

Don't Look At Me, Here's Three Other Messengers To Shoot

I'm rather flattered to be part of an interesting discussion starting over at Duncan's. The other participants seem to be all Labour people, whereas I'm a....what was the last mouthful I concocted to describe my current position now? Oh yeah, 'politically-homeless-once-upon-a-time/Ex-Eurocom- and-probably-ex-Marxist-altogether-but-still-lefty-with-greenish-tinges-sort-of-thing'. I don't suppose this matters greatly in terms of the discussion except insofar as I don't see influencing Labour policy as the aim of the game - I'm at least as interested in seeing Plaid, SNP and, in England, Green policy evolving along plausible lines. Ideally the ultra Left would join in as well. There's a not dissimilar - and quite clear-eyed - discussion going on over at Spiked influenced Rob's, but its a bit stunted by the characteristic anti-Greenery and 'cultural libertarianism' which make me so very uninterested in all those post RCP think tanks/campaigns/astroturf organisations.

The essence of the matter is how can we explain to people the good times are gone and a new national direction is necessary. This is going to be very unpopular. The messenger is very,very likely to get shot as it were. Paul has posted on his blog to take the matter forward but I think it would be best to concentrate the discussion at Duncan's, otherwise we'll all be flying hither and nither to follow the debate.

So all I intend to do now on this site is reproduce three quotes I've used before which give some clue as to how very bad the economic future might be even if we do climb out of recession. I think everyone should read them.

John Lancaster in the LRB:
"....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."

Martin Woolf in the FT:

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.

Will Hutton:
"Britain is going to feel very different in the years ahead. .... Like the empires of Venice, Spain, the Netherlands and Austria before us, Britain no longer has an economy large enough to finance our ambitions and overseas commitments.

The next government, of whatever hue, will surely raise the basic rate of income tax; 22 pence is certain, 25 pence likely. Public sector pay and pension benefits will be frozen or cut. The state pension will not be indexed to earnings growth. The national ID card scheme is dead. We will need a network of public infrastructure banks to finance capital investment, otherwise it will be goodbye to CrossRail and a modernised rail system and any hopes of improving our housing stock. But all this will still be insufficient.

There is no way that Britain's defence, overseas aid and foreign commitments can survive the next decade without swingeing cuts. Trident, the Eurofighter and the planned aircraft carriers must go. A review will cut the defence budget by a third, the aid budget by a similar proportion. Embassies will be shared or sold. Our permanent seat on the UN Security Council will become indefensible. The special relationship will be a joke; Britain will not have the capacity to invade anybody. Suddenly, the European Union will seem a more attractive way of retaining influence.

An urgent debate will begin about how to grow, because unemployment is going to rise by at least another one and half million by 2012 and fall only very slowly thereafter. The Faustian deal New Labour struck with the City cannot be repeated."

Monday, 15 June 2009

One in Every 217

I don't know about you but I was genuinely surprised to hear that the UK has more qualified accountants than the rest of the European Union put together. 280,000 of them apparently - compared to only 50,000 doctors. Well, I was surprised for a moment anyway, but then it just seemed so obviously right.

Such a pattern of employment is natural in a country which, for a generation, has been dominated by a casino like City of London and where business practices arising from that milieu - risk management, audit, transparency and all the rest of the sorry crew of euphemisms for command and control - have become the common backdrop to all public services and enterprise more generally.

I'm not one of those lefties who thinks we can just wish away the need for management or internal co-ordination of enterprises. I might want to see such activities increasing subject to popular control - by workers and consumers in the firms concerned, and/or, perhaps, pension funds and municipal or central government stakeholders - but I don't imagine that we can avoid them. We need to manage and we need to manage well and this undoubtedly has a financial aspect to it. But we don't need to do it the way we do in this country: management is not accountancy, and public service accountability isn't the setting and tracking of arbitrary targets. Management is a skill, accountancy is a set of techniques. We don't need one qualified accountant for every 216 of the rest of us.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Quiet Flows the Don

I would normally be wary of advising people to venture into the bear pit that is Andy Newman's Socialist Unity blog, even if I, personally, do learn some interesting stuff there amidst all the far left arguing. But there's a lot of worry going around about the general disillusionment with representative politics at the moment and a fairly widespread feeling that this significantly contributed to the heavy UKIP, BNP and even English Democrat vote at the recent Euro and local elections.

Doncaster, you might recall, has elected a English Democrat mayor. Go read verbatim his first radio interview and tell me this stuff doesn't need to be be more widely publicised as an example of what happens when you elect oppositional minded, right wing demagogues. Here's an extract -Toby Foster (BBC Radio Sheffield ) is interviewing Peter Davies, the new mayor.

TF: Well, you say you’ve no control over people in the departments, one of the big things on your campaign was that you’re going to cut ‘PC jobs’.

PD: Oh yeah, that’s a different thing altogether, er-

TF: Which jobs are those?

PD: Well, er, I’m going to look into that. Things like Diversity Officers, er, the things that are usually advertised in the Manchester- , well, it’s not the Manchester Guardian now - in the Guardian…

TF: Right, so have-, so, so hang on, so so there are politically…

PD: I mean, I can’t give you a full list at the moment, but I will…

TF: But that’s what you put on your manifesto - you must have had an idea on your manifesto what you were talking about?

PD: Yeah, yeah, all these people who are, sort of, controlling thought processes and this sort of thing, and er, erm… every department is riddled with this sort of nonsense these days.

TF: So currently then, this morning, Doncaster Council is riddled with people who are, who are doing this kind of nonsense, ah… and they’re on notice, are they? People are going to lose their jobs?

PD: Er, very likely.

TF: But we don’t know who they are, yeah? But certainly Diversity Officers…

PD: Obviously I… I’m… well, that sort of thing, yes.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Why Are They So Happy?

The Labour blogosphere is jumping with joy (yes, Duncan, Paul and Hopi, I do mean you) that Stumbling and Mumbling has called the end of the recession, albeit very tentatively. Who knows if he’s right or wrong? Not me. You have to have a degree of expertise in econometrics to even enter the debate. JKA certainly disagrees, and, to be fair, Chris himself is much less definitive than his cheerleaders.

But let’s say Chris Dillow is right. What would it mean? Let me suggest two broad themes for thought.

1. First it wouldn’t mean it is necessarily the pain is all over. The recovery may just be the initial upswing of the ‘W’ shaped recession predicted by some – and in that event there’s no necessary reason why the second downswing shouldn’t be at least as bad as the first. (There is an entertaining range of alternatively shaped recessions to choose from as well- who says capitalism doesn’t give you consumer choice?). Secondly of course it most certainly wouldn’t mean that unemployment stops rising: unemployment is a ‘lagging indicator’ and so the number of jobless is likely to continue to go up for some time. & thirdly it wouldn’t say anything at all about the effects of any public spending cuts or tax rises which might be necessary to deal with the after effects of the government’s counter cyclical spending and rescue of the banks. So in human terms it wouldn’t mean ‘we’re through the worst of it. Let’s remind ourselves that, in general, it is human experience which has directly political consequences, not the econometric data per se. So there’s no guarantee that an economic improvement will result in any Labour polling improvement in a crude economic determinist manner.

2. It would raise quite big questions about how our economy now works. If the international financial system really did come within days of simply jamming up – and no one seems to question that is what almost happened last autumn – yet we can return to growth within months, might that not mean that the basic thesis of ‘the Great Moderation’ is correct in outline at least, and just needs to be ‘tweaked’ to account for the possibility of the odd Black Swan moment? Which might suggest a policy of steering a political path back to the economic status quo ante with some risk management/regulatory bells and whistles added. Or is it a sign that the key boffins in HM Treasury really had read their Minsky, and have had their Minsky moment of triumph ? Which would imply an aggressive future policy of bank regulation, even bank direction and long term and active ownership of key financial institutions. Or perhaps it might even mean we should all suddenly convert to Boffy’s unorthodox Trotskyite view that this a sign of the amazing strength of the underlying Long Wave upswing, based on new technologies and new sets of productive relations, and that the time is now ripe for a massive expansion of workers co-operatives. Whatever: I’m no economist and I don’t know. But I do know that all three of these perspectives might gain some traction in different parts of the Labour movement – and all three lead to very different, and clashing, economic programmes. I think even a recovery might mean Labour is sunk by internal policy differences which, in the grand scheme of things, would be considerably more important that the sort of personality driven, Mafioso-lite failed coup we saw last week.

I like reading Duncan, Paul and Hopi. They’re bright and self aware, even if I don’t always agree with any of them. But I think they’re clutching at straws here.

Addendum: In any event, Anne Pettifor makes the case for believing the recession isn't over.

Life Imitiates Art

From the Guardian:
"Instead, the rebels adopted a tactic favoured by organised criminals and bought an untraceable pay as you go mobile, encouraging sympathetic colleagues to get in touch that way."
Told you. Also interesting in the Wiki account is the emphasis on the ineptitude of the characters in the TV show. But the examples aren't as striking as the real life ineptitude pointed out by Hopi.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

New Tune Needed

Steph and Pesto are both carrying reports of Osbourne's recent speech which, if they are to be believed, would place the Tory post election economic policy a couple of notches to the left of Labour's. A end to bankers bonuses, tax breaks for equity not debt, priority given to long term investment, that sort of thing. Nothing desperately radical you understand - I think Steph is over-egging the pudding by drawing in Will Hutton as a comparator - but certainly a break from 'the pro-financial markets at all costs' approach which characterised the Brown/Darling policy line before the crash, and very distinct from their emergency programme of recapitalising the banks since. This might just be opportunism on the Tories part of course. Or it might reflect that, as an opposition, they're not totally tied up with dealing with the crisis and/or an interparty faction fight and can afford to think in the slightly longer term.

So Labour will have to respond. How? Mandelson might want to attempt to re-run the sixties dirgisme with the state perhaps not quite 'picking' winners a la Concorde, but certainly hot housing them - think of his general line as a kind of remixed Motown Chartbusters Vol 3 of economic policy. Others - Darling? Brown? - might go along with this to some degree, but still wish to re-establish the City in something like its status quo ante form, if only to reestablish a decent corporate tax base (not that the 'old' City actually paid that much tax compared to what it earned). Think of this as the economic equivalent of, say, a SpiceGirls comeback: it was huge once, but everyone doubts it can ever happen again in quite the same way.

As for the Left of the Party - and indeed the wider Left - it does rather now behove them to broaden out from particular tactical fights - like opposing Post Office privatisation - important as these are, to seeking a coherent economic vision of the future. They need a new tune as well.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

New Labour: the plot summarised

Purnell? Flint? Mandelson? Johnson? Darling? Brown? Blears?
This is not politics. This is like the final episode of the Sopranos. Tony S/Gordon is still standing, even if many of his lieutenants are not, but well...see what you make of the parallels in Wiki's summary of series 6:

"At the beginning of the sixth season, Tony is shot by the now senile and confused Uncle Junior. Rendered comatose, Tony dreams he is a salesman on a business trip, where he mistakenly exchanges his briefcase and identification with a man named Kevin Finnerty. Tony's recovery from the shooting changes his outlook, and he tries to mend his ways. However, he is faced with more problems in his business life. Vito Spatafore is outed as a homosexual and Tony is urged to deal with the problem by Phil Leotardo, now acting boss of New York with Johnny Sack in prison. When Tony fails to act, Phil intervenes and kills Spatafore. Tony's crime family commits a reprisal murder and once more it appears that the families are on the verge of all-out war.

Tony considers killing several of his associates for relatively minor infractions. Christopher is unable to leave the mob, deflecting his problems by relapsing into drug addiction and kills his friend from Narcotics Anonymous. He is then seriously injured in a car accident that he causes while driving under the influence of narcotics. Tony, the sole passenger, is not badly hurt, and suffocates Christopher to death. A.J. is dumped by his fiancée and slips into depression, culminating in a failed suicide attempt in the backyard pool. Dr. Melfi is convinced by friends that Tony is making no progress and may even be using talking therapy for his own sociopathic benefit. She drops him as a patient.

Johnny Sack dies from lung cancer while imprisoned and Leotardo consolidates his position in the Lupertazzi family. He has his opposition for leadership killed and then officially takes over. In a resumption of their past feud Phil will not compromise with Tony on a garbage deal. When Tony assaults a Lupertazzi soldier for harassing Meadow while she is out on a date, Phil seizes a chance for revenge. Phil orders the executions of Bobby Baccalieri, who is shot to death, Silvio, who ends up comatose, and Tony, who goes into hiding. A deal is brokered where the rest of the Lupertazzi family agree to ignore the order to kill Tony, and give Tony an opportunity to go after Phil. An FBI agent informs Tony of Phil's location and Tony has him killed. With Phil’s death, the threat from New York is presumably extinguished and Tony, Carmela, Meadow, and A.J. meet for a casual dinner. The show then suddenly smash cuts to black and the credits roll in silence."

P.S. Jim points out that in Cambridgeshire the Monster Raving Looney Party beat Labour in one election...

Friday, 5 June 2009

Remember, Remember.....

I sat down at the keyboard this morning to give the world the benefit of my take on the shenanigans going on at Westminster. But then I found that Rob had said exactly what I wanted to say, so go read him.

Or you could just, ahem, 'blow up' this image I've nicked from the Guardian.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Pot Noodle Politics

Back in the day there used to be a series of TV adverts for Pot Noodles aimed at the student/New Lad market which basically sold them on the idea they were 'dirty' - i.e. something which everyone know was unpleasant and naff, sordid even, but hugely secretly desirable in an almost quasi sexual way.

I never liked Pot Noodles - but I have to admit that attempted Leadership coups affect me in exactly the way as those old ads attempted to stimulate their target audience. I know they're dirty and no good for me - they're not what I prefer to think of as the real politics of clashing ideas - but there is a horrible fascination. Especially when insiders like Hopi conclude that they're basically really, really badly organised and unprofessional.*

I have no idea whether the attempted coup will succeed in unseating Brown. But I'm fairly certain that it is the formal death of this government one way or another. If he survives the world knows he will be left looking out over the wreckage of PLP unity with a cabinet of restricted moral stature. If he falls Johnson or whoever will be faced with a surely irresistible demand for a swift general election plus the glowering presence of Balls and all the other Brown loyalists quietly awaiting their moment of revenge on the backbenches.

The dynamics of this remind me strangely of Gorbachev's overthrow: the party hardliners (read Byers, Milburn et al if the allegations of who's behind all this are correct) could mount a coup to unseat him but didn't have the cohesion or support to maintain themselves. Yeltsin (read Cameron, I suppose) sobered up enough to stand on a tank amidst a cheering crowd and that was that.

Ach. On reflection this stuff really does make me feel dirty. Why don't you go and read Boffy's crystal clear defense of the Labour Theory of Value - the first article on this to make me reconsider my rejection of it in almost thirty years - as a means of cleansing your palette.

Update: But, a-ha, Finkelstein says there are rumours that Brown stories are being embargoed till after the polls close at 10pm - and that a Minister is scheduled to resign at 10.01pm. So perhaps not quite so unprofessional after all? Or perhaps you simply can't mount a coup in a 'professional' way, as you really don't know who will react how in the critical moments....& that unpredictability, of course, extends to us poor bloody voters. I mean, my heart bleeds for Squirrel Nutkin:

" Ms Blears must have been shocked by the reaction to her decision to step down. Constituents lined up to bark uncomplimentary things on local television news programmes. Even party activists spoke of being stunned by the sudden turn of events...Portrayed as Gordon Brown’s ’smiling assassin’, it could well be Hazel Blears who is facing the firing squad. She now has to go before a meeting of her constituency party later this month to explain herself. There is already talk of a vote of no confidence."

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Things Could Only Get Better I Was Assured

Dave Osler's absolutely right:
"In percentage point terms, the blunt truth is that enthusiasm for New Labour has been reduced to a low single figure of the adult population. And given the evisceration of party democracy over the last 15 years, there are no Bennite bogeymen, trade union barons scoffing beer and sandwiches in smoke-filled rooms or evil entrist bedsit Trots to blame. This is the public’s verdict on 12 years of New Labour and New Labour alone in power."
B&T is funnier tho':
"This is a case of a party aggressively, and now successfully, trying to liquidate itself, its vote base, its entire existence as one of the great political tribes of Britain, one of the lodestars of mass democracy – with the whole project starting just as it had the chance to regain power in the mid 1990s. And now we’re in terminal dissolution.

A while back, a wooden statue of a squirrel nibbling a nut suddenly appeared in Crumpsall Park. It was seated on a plinth engraved with the words: “I will do my bit.” I now see that it was the tomb of the far too widely known Hazel, erected in advance. "
Ah well. It's down to that nice Ms. Lucas and fatboy Salmond to save the honour of mildly social democratic liberal politics now.

Mind you, If only I could find a Babelfish equivalent that translate into the Cymraeg I'd put out a last minute email to Plaid asking if they'll stand in the Lambeth seats in the general election, just as a special favour like.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Night of the Long Knives? More Like 'Will The Last Person to Leave Please Turn Off the Lights..'

Blimey, can it really be less than three weeks ago when I asked if it was technically possible for a government to actually die of shame? It felt a bold-bordering-on-silly question when I asked it. After all it has never happened in my lifetime.

But, tell me, how else would you describe a situation where a Home Secretary signals a resignation to preempt being reshuffled due to her husband's predilection for porn and the bloody Chancellor has to repay taxpayers money prior to his own widely expected dismissal? Hoon's under pressure to do the same, Blears has long been soiled goods and I see the Mail has now got it in for Mandelson and his old chum from that famous yacht who seems likely to gain a big interest in the carcass of Vauxhall. Backbench Labour MPs are dropping like ninepins. Things have got so bad that I even feel a twinge of pity for poor Harriet Harman as she is constantly wheeled out to defend the current example of indefensibility - and get slaughtered by Paxman or Humphrys or whoever it might be.

So let me offer an appropriate quote to the diminishing number of New Labour politicos who might be still standing next week when Gordon carries out his reshuffle and could be approached to join the Cabinet.
"I had only 50 days to change things — most politicians get at least 100 … I realised the way of politics was not working, but what could I do? You have the feeling something is very wrong, but cannot fix it." Egon Krenz.
You remember Egon Krenz. No really, you do.

Excúseme mientras que camino afuera ?

I've just been looking at my web stats and who's been visiting. (Don't mock, I know all the rest of you bloggers do the same as I see page hits coming in from wordpress admin and blogger sites whenever I've been to, or, especially, linked to other bloggers. And this is true of the professional journo/academic bloggers as well as we sorry you can stop sniggering now as I've clearly got your number, matey)

I get a fair slice of what I presume to be 'accidental' hits - I really don't think many folk in, say, the Philippines are that interested in my strained analogy about football and banks for instance, but they might be looking for a 'comedy' book with the same title as the post.

But when someone translates a posting they're presumably not doing it accidentally - especially since it was my longest posting ever, and actually concerns something I know about (rather than just having opinions on) and so is (sob) naturally boring* to most people on the blogosphere...So who could possible be interested in reading this in Spanish?

*Addendum: my learned friends have advised me to clarify that nothing in this sentence should be taken to imply that I imagine any one on the blogosphere is interested in my opinions either.

Monday, 1 June 2009

New Deal Provider Shoots Itself in Foot?

Now at first glance I'd have to say that this is just plain wrong. Someone on the New Deal gets their benefits suspended for criticising the New Deal Training provider on the web and setting the training computers homepage to Ipswich Unemployment Action.

Andrew Coates of the Tendance Coatsey blog is a 'dyed-in-the-wool' but self depreciating far leftist. I remember him from 30 years ago when we did the same course at university, but he won't recognise me as I don't use my real name on this blog and in any event we weren't anything more than nodding acquaintances then and we haven't run across each other since. I didn't agree with him politically back then and there is still much on his blog that I disagree with today. I can quite imagine he might be a fully paid up member of 'the awkward squad'.

But... this is just bloody outrageous. He is perfectly entitled to criticise any aspect of the New Deal. He is perfectly entitled to use what the provider might consider intemperate language in doing so. If the YMCA - the Training Provider - can actually show he was writing the blog during time he should have been absorbing the 'training' he was so critical of they might have a case. But they have no moral or legal right to employ sanctions of any kind, never mind ones of this draconian nature, if he's been writing this stuff in his own time. & as for resetting the homepage of the training computers as a reason for cutting off his benefits life support...well, get a bloody life I'd say.

I think this one is going to run and run.

Update: Ah. Footshooting halted. Benefits restored - or at least a new claim encouraged. (I'm not sure there is much difference given the inflexible nature of many computer systems). 'Training' to recommence in autumn, once new provider is in place. Read all about it over at TC.