Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Athens, Madrid and Rochdale

From Alphaville: the movement of the Euro against Dollar and the moment when S&P announced a rating cut on Spain. Spain's credit rating was revised from AA+ to AA (two rungs away from the AAA top rating), with a Negative outlook.

Greece, meanwhile, has been offered 120bn Euros to allow itself to stabilise: but how much does that leave for others who might need help, like Spain ?

Now, I see that sensible, moderately minded folk like Stephanie Flanders are basically poo-pooing the suggestion that this sort of thing could happen here. And who I am to disagree?

But, tell me, what was all that public money poured into the banking system on both sides of the Atlantic for if it wasn't to stop this sort of thing? The suspicion must arise that all the King's Horses and All the King's Men haven't really put the Humpty Dumpty of the Financial World back together again.

The Great Moderation is gone, never to return. No-one running the show actually knows what to do now except wait for the next seismic shock in the market.

& what do we get as an 'electrifying' election issue ? The private words of an exhausted man driving away from yet another encounter with an unhappy person. Of course it's deeper than that: the whole thing is so powerful because it can so easily look like an example of the 'liberal elite' speaking in a two faced way to ordinary people.

But this precisely what the 'liberal elite'- and, indeed, the 'not-bloody-liberal-at-all elite' - have been doing for years in respect of how 'financial liberalisation' and the City really work. But we can't have that as an election issue, can we? Someone might get the wrong idea.

More on PIGS & the Election

Not Peppa this time, I'm talking about Portugal, Ireland, Spain and, most relevantly today, Greece. The countries in the Eurozone with the largest debt overhangs. The countries which - let's be frank - have the capacity to destroy the Euro. Or rather to reduce the Euro to the currency of the old 'core' countries of the original Common Market- quite possibly excluding Italy if things get really out of hand. There is a definite limit to how far the German, French and Dutch electorates will allow their governments to bail out these poorer countries. & if that point is reached, the Euro gets totally redefined as basically a Franco-German-Benelux currency alone.

We're not there yet. There's undoubtedly going to be a lot of yabba-yabba today on the technical complexities of what's going on in Greece and the bond markets from well informed economic commentators. For what it is worth, my inexpert guess is that the Germans and the IMF will, in all probability, stabilise the Greek situation and quieten the bond markets for a while. But they'll face further attacks on one or other of the PIGS and have to re-consider their response all over again. & , in all likelihood, again and again.

So what does this mean for us?

Certainly, in the very short term, siren voices from the right will hardly resist the temptation to coin some quip alone the lines of New Labour 'having made a PIGS ear of our economy', and push for a definite Tory victory to reassure the bond markets that vicious cuts really will come very quickly after the election. But everything I've been reading suggests the City is actually quite sanguine about the idea of a coalition, and may even welcome it, so I'm not sure that this line will gather much long term traction. Though it might make it more difficult for Gordo to play what I'm sure he reckons is his trump card of having stabilised the economy in a crisis in tomorrow's economic debate.

In a deeper sense, however, a crisis for the Euro would inevitably mean a crisis for the wider European 'project' and it is the LibDems who are most closely associated with that particular political meme. At minimum it would give a very definite warning that there are limits to how far one can pursue economic integration without a corresponding political union. So this would damage the image of the LibDems, but also the long term strategic aims of large swathes of Big Capital. So if the LibDems do have some participation in or influence over the next government their honeymoon in the polls might come to a very rapid end very shortly afterwards.

Massive cuts are coming. Even if a coalition government is spatchcocked together to apparently represent a majority of votes the legitimacy and popularity of that government is going to vanish like early morning mist under the heat of the sun.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Media Luvvies Desert New Labour

Peppa Pig, the popular children's television character has been withdrawn from a Labour event, after its creators said they wanted to avoid any "controversy".

The cartoon character, which is broadcast on commercial television, had been due to appear at a party election event on Tuesday highlighting Labour's policy on families.

A life-size character was due to appear with Yvette Cooper, the Work and Pensions Secretary and Tess Jowell, the Cabinet Office minister, at a Sure Start children's centre in south London...

"Peppa Pig is a well known fan of Sure Start children's centres but, in the interests of avoiding any controversy or misunderstanding, we have agreed she should not attend," they said.

Labour had previously said it was "delighted" that a "megastar of children's television" had accepted the party's invitation to join the senior ministers.

A spokesman for the Labour party said: "We have agreed that it would be better that she should not attend the visit."

A spokesman for Gordon Brown added: "The Prime Minister and his family are big fans of Peppa Pig and he understands that she has a very busy schedule and so couldn't make it."

Sometimes things are true even if they're in the Daily Telegraph.

My money is on Noddy being a true blue Tory, but Big Ears has the look of a possible UKIP voter to me.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Thoughts on a Hung Parliament

In public, the Labour Party seems to be pretty sanguine about the polls suggesting a hung parliament. The much discussed vagaries of our FPTP system mean, I'm told, it would be quite possible for Labour to come third in the popular vote but still wake up on May 7th to discover they have the largest number of MPs in a hung parliament. It's even more likely that they would have the second largest number of seats. There would be an obvious attack narrative available to them: "the Conservatives haven't 'sealed the deal and are still not trusted'; the electorate has punished us for being in power too long,for sure, but the important thing now is a coalition for electoral reform before the inevitable second election we hope will produce a representative parliament to face the huge economic challenges facing the country." Result? The Tories locked out of power for another political generation.

Labour bloggers seem much less relaxed about this: Shuggy thinks the fight to avoid third place is a sign that they are done for, and Don is equally unequivocal:
It seems obvious to me that if Labour comes third in the popular vote, then that's it - they are out of government. ..... people would have made it quite unambiguously clear that they don't want Labour in government. I absolutely shudder to think what would happen if they tried to do a deal with the Lib Dems and stagger on while presiding over the massive cuts to public spending of the kind that Clegg and Cable have repeatedly said that they want.
& this, I think, is the rub for both Labour and Tories - a hung parliament could well set off a vicious bout of in-fighting inside their parties even as their leaders suddenly started talking about co-operation and 'working together for the national interest'. I mean, shiny Dave has had everything going for him - surely a failure to pluck the lowest hanging fruit in recent electoral memory has got to raise questions about his leadership? (Both in his party and, perhaps more acutely, in the Murdoch camp)*. As for dour Gordon - well that nice Mr.Miliband stands ever ready to present a new face to the public.

Cameron, on balance, could probably survive until a 2nd election - but he'd certainly be toast if he failed to win that. But Brown? I don't think so. The knives will be out for him before the last constituency declares on May 7th. It might be difficult for the LibDems to even contemplate doing a deal with Labour if he stays because he is absolutely the epitome of 'no change'. So a gap would open up between the interests of the Labour Party and the interests of its leader. & we all know New Labour has a sparkling track record in dealing with that sort of situation, don't we?

Radio 4 this morning reported Moodys, the rating agency, as being pretty positive about a hung parliament on the grounds it might lead to a grand coalition to force through the 'necessary' cuts. Paul Mason reports that the City isn't especially worried about a hung parliament per se - what they're concerned about is :
"... a "chaotic" hung parliament where there's maybe one Green, two Respect and one or two BNP members of the Commons, with strong showing from Plaid and the SNP. Right now the political class is thinking Cleggmania might go away, or recede, leaving the old two-party slugging match to get back into business. ..... What they have not even begun to plan for is if Cleggmania begins to give the electorate "permission" to just break away from the whole mainstream party circus."
But a chaotic hung parliament is possible even without a further crumbling of the Tory and Labour votes. All it needs is a civil war within one or both of those parties. If I were a Lib Dem strategist, I'd be sparing some time to think about how I might help that prospect along.

But I'm not a LibDem strategist. I'm just someone who wants to see the re-emergence of a multiple voiced social democracy. I actually want a chaotic hung parliament. & here's how you can help.

*H/T to B&T for this link

Sunday, 18 April 2010

I Am Waste, Come & Get Me

I know about certain stuff that not a lot of other people know about – or at least, not in such mind numbing detail. And I make a living out of it by hiring myself out to local authorities and other bits of the state. It’s cheaper for them than actually employing someone who knows about the Stuff I Know About (SIKA). So, yup, I’m a consultant.

You remember all that stuff about ‘Waste’ in the Leader’s Debate? That’s me, that is.

For 25 years I was employed in the not for profit sector where I did a range of things, including developing my alleged expertise. But I had to do other stuff as well – the meat and potatoes business of managing people and stuff. Let’s get real here: I was never a Captain of Industry or a Hero Innovator of the Managerial Classes. I fell into that dread category, Middle Management. I really never liked it – like a lot of folk I found managing people basically either stressful or boring 90% of the time. But I did it because that’s what you do if you get restless working at the coal face – you look for something more ‘challenging’ to occupy your time. It wasn’t that I was a bad line manager per se, it was just a role that never really fitted and I always felt like that proverbial dog walking on its hind legs. But somehow along the way I developed a certain grounding in the SIKA. I like my SIKA. & it is genuinely technically useful and necessary, not one of those faddish cult-things like Change Management or Systems Thinking.

So, in my late forties, I thought ‘sod this for a game of soldiers’ and tootled off to my back bedroom to become a self employed consultant. Everyone, it seemed, was a winner: my former employer found a younger, more energetic person to do my job, I got to work on stuff I actually liked and other organisations could hire me without getting stuck with some moderately expensive but not often used technical skill on their payroll. I could be a Charles Handy case study.

I’m not alone: pop down to the Royal Festival Hall or the British Library cafe anytime during a weekday and you’ll find little groups of self employed consultant-y type folk like me sitting round with their laptops having meetings. & a good half will be out sourced Public/Voluntary Sector types like me. A lot of low-mid level consultancy is retail, rather than PWC-style wholesale.

So, anyway, here I am in my early fifties now and I’m targeted as Waste. The only question seems to be whether I’m Waste to be cut out this year as Mr.Cameron thinks, or at some point in the next four years as the other two main parties think. Oh well, I suppose I could aim to be the oldest holder of those coveted five stars on a McDonald’s staff badge.....

Ah – but what about my SIKA? Think of it as a kind of specialist oil which, in its own little way, helps the bit of the public sector I’m concerned with work better. You don’t need a lot of it, but without any of my SIKA the whole engine begins to work less effectively – and more expensively.

I'll leave you to join the dots in terms of the political implications of all this for any cuts programme.

Friday, 16 April 2010

It's Politics Jim, But Not As We Know It......

Since everyone else in the blogosphere has an opinion I just know you'll be wanting mine. No? Well, tough.

I should say I offer these musing on the basis of being 'politically deaf' - or perhaps I just mean that none of those political dog whistles the three of them kept trying to sound were meant for me. The politico-demographic niche I inhabit is woefully small. There just ain't going to be a government swept to power by the enthusiastic backing of hordes of South London middle aged, self employed, LRB reading lefties interested in, er, organising society and economy on the basis of need not profit. We have, the Labour Party calculates, nowhere else to go. (Wrong). So I saw it purely as a televisual event, not a moment of political engagement.

For all this the debate did stir the old tribal instincts: I have enough allegiance to my past to be genuinely surprised when Mrs.Charlie announced after 10 minutes that she thought Clegg was winning. Clearly, I thought, the Son of the Manse was looking a heavyweight and the other two weren't. So I listened more carefully, trying to pretend I was Middle England. & what did my Middle English Goggles see?
  • A clever, boring, heavy set man reeling off lists of impressive sounding but hard to digest statistics and lists. Probably trustworthy, on balance, but my god, not someone you'd care to have a drink with.
  • A very, very clean younger man with an attitude of command who kept sliding into sound-bites ('The Jobs Tax!', 'Waste!') . There was more than a hint of lack of substance under that apparent attitude of command, something which might easily slide into priggish arrogance.
  • Another, strangely similar, younger man, equally clean, with a good line in sounding new and fresh whilst criticising the other two.He kept insisting that only he was 'brave' enough to do the required suns and tell people about the necessary cuts, without, actually, telling us what those cuts were.
Then I took my Middle England Goggles off to wipe the lenses and caught sight of two annoying public schoolboys getting on their high horses as usual and a swotty, Scottish bloke. Apparently they were talking about the political situation the country finds itself in. But no-one mentioned we're very considerably poorer than we were 18 months ago, no one said very much about cutting the the financial sector down to size or regenerating other sectors of the economy. No one wanted to pull out of our imperial war fighting adventures. & no one talked about inequality.

I think Cameron now really has to go for Clegg in the other two debates. I'm quite looking forward to this: it's always fun to see an old Etonian do 'angry' - hauteur is never far away. It might, just might, yet prove to be his undoing. But, at root, he's a more consummate professional than Clegg who has been known to sound shrill when put under pressure, so my money would, unfortunately, still be on the Tories to come out on top.

And Brown? I can't help thinking his best hope is for the public school boys to have a cat fight and hope he appears grown up and avuncular by comparison.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

A Golden Age of Political Iconography

Jamie has noticed how political language tends towards the cutting off of alternatives, the 'shepherding down a desired path'. But I think he's wrong to see this in the context of mental health.

It's just bloody treating us like children. Look at the icongraphy.

Last time I said this I got accused of being a closet Spiked fan - trust me, I'm really, really sooo not - but Rob asks the grown up questions.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

PMQs: What the Apolitical Saw and What They Weren't Told

Cameron came out on all the old Tory favourite dog whistle issues: helicopters in Afghanistan, taxing pension funds, NI contributions as a 'jobs tax' but most of all the 'business leaders agree with us not you' line. He sounded up for it, quite slick and very confident. But it was definitely a 'Alpha male' type confidence, which can so easily rebound if the country should decide that, no, actually, it doesn't want a Rugby captain as PM.

Brown came back with too much detail - and a very slight semi-stutter which makes him sound as if he's hiding a fear - but basically said, " Ya boo sucks, we sorted out Northern Rock and you funked it". Which is true, but electorally uninspiring I suspect. He tried to turn Cameron's anti-Blair jibe - "He was the future once" - back on the Tory Leader, but I don't think it worked. But he did a fairly good job in turning Clegg's attempt to blame the big boys for failing to reform party funding into an anti-Ashcroft diatribe. As we went down the batting order he seemed better and better, swatting away questions from other MPs with his 'I'm a Scottish bank manager and can quote lots of figures' act. Is he John Major with a Presbyterian backbone?

But I think he is genuinely frightened by Cameron and this may yet be the key factor which wounds him in the eyes of the apolitical majority. It's one thing not wanting a Alpha Male to take risks with your livelihood, it's another to trust a man who sounds scared of the challenge.

Meanwhile Paul Mason cuts to the chase: the difference between the - equally unconvincing to him it would seem - Labour and Tory plans to deal with the deficit:
"...what the Conservative proposal does is alter the ratio between spending cuts and tax rises from about 66:33 to 80:20 by the end of the parliament."

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Election About Anything But Telling The Punters How Horrible We’re Going To Be If We Win, Whilst Still Boasting We’re Going To be Quite Horrible

Off we go then. Eyes down for a full house.

What the election should be about, of course, is the long term economic future of the country and how to move forward from being a set of occupied territories controlled by the City of London. About what a post industrial country should do if it never wants to be held to ransom by International Finance again. But, no, it’s going to be about boasting who can do the required – but always so, so vague – cutting of public services in a way that won’t affect the particular demographic niche the politico happens to be addressing today.

What’s the best thing that can happen? The emergence of a fractured social democratic voice in Parliament. We’ve lived for too long, too unsuccessfully with the idea that social democracy can express itself through Labour alone – or, under Blair and Brown, can be expressed through Labour at all.

We need overlapping circles of social democrats, spread through different parties with different 'dog whistle issues' so they keep each other honest. We need a few Green social democrats and more than a few Plaid and SNP social democrats. Even perhaps an Islamic social democrat in the personage of Salma Yaqoob. David Henry, the Anti-Blears candidate in Salford. & of course we need some good, old fashioned Labour social democrats. (Folk like the ever entertaining Paul Smith, down in Bristol West.).

What I'm dreaming of is the opposite of a Popular Front, where differences are buried to fight the common foe: its the creation of conditions for a ramshackle 'family argument of the left' in Parliament, one where different members of the family remind each other what family loyalty is supposed to be about. & the social democratic family is - or should be - about defending the welfare state and ordinary people, not pruning it back to keep bankers happy.

Mind, when I stop dreaming I still think the Tories are likely to win.