I have been very quiet in 2012. The reason: finishing a book. Now my freedom conincides with the happy beginning of a new year. The old year had a great deal to grip our interest. We were certainly not short of copy or headline. Some of these, frankly speaking were both silly and ephemeral with hysteria on all sides of the political spectrum. However, at this stage of the electoral cycle it has not mattered more than fig or two. This year is different. As I hate right wing rhetoric, and distrust Tory attempts to divide British society, I struggle to be fairminded. You shall be the judge.
I was wrong in believing that the Coaltion would collapse suddenly and violently under the pressure of its own contradictions. When times are bad people prefer to be hung together at the latest possible time. What both the Tories and Lib Dems have succeeded in doing is to speak both ways with one message to the electorate and the other to their own members. Of course members do not like this and engage in a disquieting chorus of their own. However, commonsense suggests that the reckoning be pushed off to the future.
The Lib Dems are better placed than I believed likely. Electoral support has levelled out at about 10 percent and in local elections in the south they have benefitted from Labour votes in areas where Labour is not likely to win. The converse is that in the Midlands and the North the party is steadily being eliminated. I do not believe the party can improve on this poll rating. The Tories would be mad to allow a leaders television debate in 2015 (not least because UKIP might well be able to claim participation). So no bounce there. If the Lib Dems can continue to project a progressive image they are likely to avoid abject humiliation.
The Tories still have a chance of winning (defined as a majority or a Lib Dem coalition). However, the odds are lenghtening. Can the party succeed in squaring the circle? Can a right wing posture and radical sounding speeches carry the right wing with the leadership for two whole years. There are three daunting policy difficulties: the economy, Europe, and reform of the welfare system and none is wholly in their control. I doubt very much whether the deficit will come down, Europe will not oblige a right-wing agenda and it is an open question whether it is possible to reform the welfare system in the midst of the longest recession in modern economic history.
If we were describing a football match we would say that Labour has a comfortable lead at half-time. I doubt whether the pundits are right in thinking Labour must do more than that to stay ahead. They are lucky, lucky, lucky. Events, dear boy, are on their side. No need for handbags at half time. Keep control of the ball, keep pressing, concentrate and pray for continued divine intervention.
Filed under Benefits, Cameron, Coalition Government, Conservative Home, Deficit, Economics, Ed Balls, Ed Milliband, Europe, General Election 2015, Labour Blogs, Labour leadership, Labour Party, Lib Dems, Liberal Vision, Politics, Universal benefits
A word about forecasting now that the OBR has had its third attempt to plot the economic progress of the British Economy. Like accountants before them the OBR is useful in recording the past but well-nigh useless in forecasting the future. We live in a time of extreme economic turbulence and uncertainty when at any time wars, earthquakes, worldwide pressure on resources and the stupidities of the human race can turn nice judgements into inanities. Yet still we persist. It will be better in the future: the economy will grow, employment will rise, inflation will come down and real incomes will rise again. The OBR at least has the common sense to admit that all its forecasts are subject to great uncertainty. Well yes, they say, it may not turn out like this but we hope it will.
I commit myself to several judgements, First, the attempt to eliminate the budget deficit in a five year Parliament is doomed to failure. At best the Coalition may complete the Parliament having achieved what Labour continues to promise: the deficit could be halved. We have in the Coalition a group of supply side fanatics who have always maintained that growth must come through a smaller state and greater productivity, who are antagonistic to public administration and welfare and suspicious of the state as pump priming anything. Come back Milton Friedman, all is forgiven. Economists have an adage that you can lead a horse to a trough but you cannot make it drink. The IFS has remarked that the numerous supply side intiatives announced in the Budget do not amount to a row of beans. They will add nothing to aggregate demand. What is needed is the pump priming of capital investment in rail, roads and building construction and a real (rather than imaginary) attempt to raise skill levels. Of course the Government is aware of these needs. It is doing something – but too little.
The central issue of George Osborne’s budget is a judgement of whether this Government at this time is right in believing that it is possible to eliminate the budget deficit in five years. If it is right in its belief it will go on to the glory dreamt of by our Dave and Nick. The objectives of financial probity and economic sucess will be achuieved and electoral success will be the reward. If it is imposible for Britain (and I suspect Greece, Ireland and Portugal) to do anything of the kind when will the game be up? I suggest the Budget of 2012 will be the time of reckoning. The Parliamentary rules now make it difficult to get rid of a Government – but not impossible. And at this time who might be leading the Labour Party. Might events work in favour of Ed Balls? The electorate love a winner. Watch this spot!
Filed under BBC, Budget 2011, Cameron, CBI, Coalition Government, Deficit, Economics, Ed Balls, Ed Milliband, IFS, Labour Blogs, Labour Goverment, Labour leadership, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Vision, Nick Clegg, OBR, Treasury
Today David Cameron will play the immigration card. He will tell a distinguised European audience that multi culturalism in Britain has failed and that Britain must advance a stronger sense of national identity. A literate national audience will reach for references to the most famous poem ever written on the subject: Daniel Foe’s scathing poem The True Born Englishman, published in 1701, that halted the notion that there was someone who be called a True Born Englishman and that we were all, if you dug deep enough, foreigners. He wrote: ‘From this Amphibious Ill-born Mob began, That Vain ill-natur’d thing, an Englishman. The Customs, Sirnames, Languages and Manners, Of all these Nations are their own Explainers. Whose Relicks are so lasting and so strong. That ha’lefta Shiboleth upon our tongue, By which with easy search you may distinguish Your Roman-Saxon-Danish- Norman English. Or more briefly as I would write, ‘Scratch an Englishman and you will find a foreigner’. ‘I am one and so are you, your neighbour is a little dark, his children of a lighter hue, And in the market place you hear the laughter of a thousand tongues, Of me, and them and you.’ If multiculturism in Britain has failed it has taken two thousand years to do so.
I find David Cameron beguiling. Whatever Nick Clegg might think or say he is in union with A True Born Tory. What do you get if you scratch a True Born Tory? You get a person absolutely convinced of certain social and political values which he regards as inalienable and true. It is a narrow vision of the world. Being an intelligent sort of chap Our Dave develops evidence to support theses values and naturally he can gather it in. He has certain powers to communicate these values to us. He does so with clarity, energy and certitude. He is heading for the rocks and his crew will watch and cheer as he heads there. They know too that they stand for something vital to our national well-being and survival. They are willing, and even enthusiastic to accompany him.
The truth is that David Cameron is playing the national identity card. Eventually all Tory leaders do this in one form or another. I remember sitting next to Enoch Powell on a plane to Belfast. I studied him carefully and even dared to speak to him. This is a man who advanced the notion that the streets of some of our cities would soon be awash with blood (metaphorically speaking of course). Where is this blood now other than in David Cameron’s imagination. Relationships between people of differet ethnicity have, in my humble opinion, never been better. I like my neighbours I enjoy a rich selection of foods and recipes, I enjoy playing cricket with people from Barbados, and how about a curry this evening.
I have always believed this sort of creature, A True Born Tory, to be dangerous. David Cameron has embarked on a difficult and potentially disastrous path. Of course he will sound reasonable. Ideas will be advanced which 30 percent of the population readily agree with. Recruitment to the English Defence League and the BNP will rise. The Tory vote will strenghten in the Tory shires. However, someone should tell our Dave that speaking your own mind is a dangerous activity.
Filed under BBC, Beyond Belief, BNP, Cabinet, Cameron, Conservative Home, Defoe, Ed Milliband, English Defence League, Enoch Powell, Eton, George Osborne, Guardian, Immigration, John Martin, Labour leadership, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Vision, Liberal Voice, Multi Culturalism, New Stateman, Nick Clegg, Pakistan, Religion, Thatcher, Turkey
I was educated at each stage in the state education system. It is my belief that the Tory inclination to seek diversity in schools is prompted always by, to my way of thinking, unworthy motives. They wish the state system to mirror their own fee-paying private schooling: to reproduce throughout the land a series of little Etons, Winchesters and Westminsters – they are all different you know! These fine schools, it is felt, shoud be replicated throughout the land: independance of governance, the very best teachers (no third class graduates acceptable here) , supportive parents (no one from sink council estates need apply), selective entry systems to weed out the tidy and dutiful from the insubordinate (no dirty nails in this school) – you know the sort of thing. It is easy to make fun of it. I shall resist the temptation.
There is no good reason that I can think of for discouraging private education BUT every reason to discourage its growth by penalising state schools. The Advanced Level examination results underline the success of the last administration in improving education standards throughout the country and signal an end to disparagement of its achievements. We on the left should be proud of these dramatic improvements in our schools. Over the coming weeks the extent of the cutbacks in school budgets will become clearer. Forget the Coalition’s fine words and announcements of good intentions. Our schools are facing hard times. Their future development will be frozen and money will be ciphoned off to finance the so-called Free Schools: capital funds which would have continued the modernisation of our state schools and revenues that would otherwise be available to them are to be diverted to an expansion of school places in areas that do not need them. These rightwing, and doctrinaire attacks on state education, are periodic and underhand; they occur whenever an opportunity presents itself. The Coalition knows that it dare not tell the whole truth about its intentions for the public does not support them. What the vast mass of the Britsh public want are fine state schools in their neighbourhoods and available free to everyone. This aspiration, which is constant and true, cannot be rejected by any government whatever its hue. But the public can be deceived. We are deceived.
As I write the dispiriting contest for the Labour Party leadership rambles on in a welter of explanations and justifications for the past. Please wake up as soon as you can. The public knows that Labour is their education spokesman and the best guarantee of a high-class education for all. Speak to them, please. Speak to them now in unequivable terms: hands off our state schools.
Filed under A Level Results, BBC, Cameron, Coalition Government, Conservative Home, Education, Eton, Free Schools, George Osborne, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Vision, Liberal Voice, Michael Gove, New Stateman, Nick Clegg, Politics, Schools, State schools
I have it on good notice that the media have failed to report a shock Labour protest outside Downing Street on Saturday afternoon, so confirming, for me, the Labour establishment bias at the BBC, although admittedly not elsewhere. This demonstration was small but determined and the message clear. There were no more than than a couple of dozen people taking part, but their import was dramatic . Slogans, and placards told their story: ‘Jobs for all ex-Labour ministers’ and ‘We demand to serve.’ Buckets by the roadside collected a fair amount of small coins but demonstration spokesmen refused to reveal how much.
A well-known former Labour woman leader of distinction, I think her name was Blewett or something like that, voiced the feeling of them all. ‘It is wrong’ it was said, ‘ that Frank and Alan should be given preference over us. Our service to the country has been just as long and distinguised as their own and many of us are down to our last few thousand. We would not have minded if this selection by the Coalition had been after formal consultation with our group but despite our emails and Twitters to Tory HQ we have been ignored. The Coalition is fond of fine words and they give lip service to consultation. They talk of building a Big Society tent embracing us all. But they have fallen at the first fence and failed to call us. Their fine words butter no parsnips. Mrs Blewett added, ‘This is not personal, of course, although it is well-known in the Labour Party that Frank is a nutter and entirely incapable of devising a practical proposal of any kind.’ A Mr Shyers made a similar jibe that as far as he could remember Alan had been responsible for cleaning services at No.10 and for installing new hatstands. This demonstration did not seem to be supported by bystanders who sbouted jibes such as ‘ Traitors’ and ‘Greed is your only philosophy.’ So showing us that they were out of step with the non-ideological basis of the New Politics.
A Downing Street spokesman issued a short statement. ‘We have sympathy with the protestors but they must be patient. We have the partiulars of 113 former Labour ministers on file. Some have given us helpful suggestions of the roles they would like to fulfill for the Coalition. It is not possible to employ them all in the short term but we have them all in mind.’
I do not think that statements like this will satisfy the demonstrators. It is likely that we shall have further protests and there is talk among the women of chaining themselves to the Downing Street railings. We shall see.
Filed under Alan Milbourn, BBC, Big society, Cabinet, Cameron, Coalition Government, Conservative Home, Frandk Field, Labour Blogs, Labour Goverment, Labour Home, Labour leadership, Labour Ministers, Labour Party, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal News, Liberal Vision, Liberal Voice, New Stateman, Nick Clegg, Stepehn Byers
I have been reminding myself of the political history of coalition governments in recent times. There has been more of it than is commonly realised. In pre war Britain there was considerably more: thirteen out of twenty five years. These governments were born of crisis; the result of a lack of national confidence, of war and economic depression. These crises render it difficult to assess the effectiveness. of coalition governments. Arguably they lengthened and deepened the Great Depression and coalition foreign policy did nothing to deter the Fascist threat to world peace, and their defence policies weakened Britain’s ability to defend itself. It is wrongly believed by political opinion today that Conservative dominated governments are committed to effective defence and robust foreign policy – a recollection associated with Winston Churchill – but the facts speak otherwise. Even in more recent times Conservatism has led to weak defence policy and the run-down of our armed forces.
However, a balanced judgement of the effectiveness of these coalitions would give them a fair-wind. On the whole they have been popular and when tested in the polls they have consistently scored 52-57 percent of the vote (very similar to the current Coalition rating of 55 percent). While the thirties were a bad time for the numerous unemployed they were thought of favourably by those in work: rising real standards of living and falling house prices benefited the middle classes and the employed and Britain and Britons dozed while Europe descended into chaos and dictatorship.
In the end these coalitions failed and the causes and circumstances of failure were common. The crises that created them were resolved and when given the opportunity of severance the parties that constiuted them reverted to their tribal loyalties. Goodbyes were said without regret. Who lost out? Liberals have always been the losers and the Conservative Party the winners. (1931 and 1945 are obvious exceptions). Although coalition in 1931 propped up the Labour Party more often than not it was the loser. The Conservatives always gained.
The Lib Dems in entering this present Coalition are propping up and de-toxifying the Conservatives (thank you very much). But they are flirting with disaster. They have bought some period of time of time in government and a chance to influence policy but they risk many more years of ineffectiveness. But none of this is inevitable. History tells us that in the end it is the individual who shapes destiny. Providing the Lib Dems stick close to the Tories and its leadership exercises good judgement, and given the chemistry between Clegg and Cameron, some element of Liberalism will stick to government and thus Lib Dems will have influence, perhaps, for more than one Parliament : a new breed of Con/Lib, National Lib/Con politicians will arise. But goodbye Lib Dem councillors, farewell Scotland, Wales and northern Britain and hello southern and western England.
The sixty four million dollar question is how long will this Coalition last given that its days are numbered? It depends on you, dear citizen, and on the ability of the Labour party to rebuld itself and become relevant to the future. It must get its head out of the last thirteen years if it is to mount a challenge. In many ways they were good years and Labour can be proud of its achievements but it is no longer the time for gazing at one’s naval. The time has come the walrus said to think of other things. Go on then , think of them.
Filed under BBC, Big society, Cameron, Coalition Government, Conservative Home, Europe, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Vision, Local elections, Nick Clegg, opinion polls, Parliament, Politics, Take Back Parliament
The economic runes become unreadable at moments of transition. Clearly the West has been moving away from a severe global downturn but only after a massive world-wide financial intervention by European and US administrations and at at huge political and economic cost to the participating countries. There is little appetite for more financial pump-priming, necessary though it may be, among electorates, parties or governments. As at all times of transition there are good signs and bad: employment in Britain is rising, currencies are stronger, the cost of financing debt has fallen and the balance of payments is moving in our favour. However, these changes lack permanency for we are selling into stagnant markets and are busily destroying hundreds of thousands of jobs; consumer and business coinfidence has fallen steadily to be suspended now in no man’s land.
It cannot continue like this and although, in economic management as in life, experience is not normally at the extremes, these coming moments may be different. We cannot look to Obama and the United States for economic leadership for the President is running scared of the mid-term elections and Gordon Brown (of blessed memory) is no longer with us. In his place we have governmental pygmies and a painful and unconvincing contest for the leadership of the Labour Party which so far has served us ill.
The proving ground (I almost wrote killing ground!) comes upon us in October with the pre-budget report. If, as I believe, the economic position will have worsened something (surely something!) must be done to steady our ship of State and to draw back from hara-kiri. There is a key role for the Opposition: it is a time to be clear and decisive about what must be cut and what saved and what more can be done internationally and nationally to prevent the drift into a decade of economic depression, and a downward economic cycle. It is only when we have a clear political alternative that we can find an economic one. Might this not be the time when an olive branch can be given to those glum Lib Dem members that occupy benches on the wrong side of the House and shouldn’t we be thinking of it NOW. It took the Coalition six days to cobble together a programme for Government. What can the progressive Left put together in ten weeks? Surely something a good deal better, not just for Britain, but for the world’s trading community, can be fashioned from the ruins of the old?
Filed under Alan Budd, BBC, Big society, Cameron, Coalition Government, Deficit, Europe, Financial Times, George Osborne, Gordon Brown, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Vision, Nick Clegg, Obama, OBR, Parliament, Politics, Statistics, Treasury, Uncategorized
I think I must tell you once again that these posts of mine should not be treated seriously but as fun. In my humble opinion there is too little fun in the world today and even a chuckle is worthwhile.
Charlie. Thank you for coming along today, Dave, and for your willingness to discuss your policies for reducing poverty in Britain. Dave. Not at all, Charlie, isn’t it? The pleasure is mine Charlie. Could we start Dave by a definition? Poverty is usually defined as the difference in income between the poorest in society and those on average incomes. Is that how you define it? No. I prefer to think of poverty as people having too little income. We all know when we are short of a quid. Really Dave. Would a millionaire short of a few quid for buying the latest Ferrari be thought of as poor by you? Well he might be Charlie. he might be. He could be down on his uppers so to speak. I prefer not to concern myself with definitions. You might not be able to define an elephant but if one were to burst into this room we would certainly recognise it. Wouldn’t we? Early in my life I adopted a simple but effective way of dealing with problems. I put down all the factors involved in considering one and then I attempt to deal with them, factor by factor, one by one. For example, let’s take poverty. I write down: low intelligence; grotty home with inadequate parents, probably not working but living off benefits; poor schooling; heavy drinking; takes drugs; self-deluded about suffering incapacity; being a woman. I know that if I can help these inadequate individuals get into work all will be well. Dave, my dear chap that would be quite a programme and given the background of a recession and fewer jobs do you really think that much can be done in the way you indicate, and even if you had some success, wouldn’t it still be true that the unacceptable gap between the incomes of the poorest and those on average incomes would still remain? Charlie, Charlie, there you go again! Definitions, you are stuck with definitions. Can we help the poorest, of course we can. One to one is the answer. We send an experienced volunteer to their house and chat with them over a cup of tea. We identify the problems and help these unfortunates deal with them. The world is stuffed full of criminologists and sociologists, Charlie, every kind of ologist really, and a fat lot of good they ever do for the needy. Volunteers and more volunteers, that’s what’s needed. Will this be enough Dave, I don’t see how it can be? You need faith Charlie. The old ways have been broken. We can protect the very poorest but, as for the rest, the way ahead is clear for them. Get fit, get rid of that hangover, keep off the pills and do not rely on the social for it won’t be there for you if you are a slacker, or benefit cheat. Get yourself a job. And if that turns out to be difficult, why not think of volunteering. After all who knows more about drug addiction than an addict? Common sense really, Charlie, have faith in your fellow human beings.
Filed under BBC, Big society, Disabled, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Vision, Michael Gove, Politics, Poverty, Schools, Treasury, Volunteers
I am proud to announce the establishment of the independant Office for Dodgy Statistics and to explain its objectives to you. In Britain we have a good record for producing high quality statistics such as in the National Office for Statistics. However, these organisations, good though they are, suffer from serious disadvantages. They are staffed by statisticians! The figures these statisticians produce are somewhat complex, intricate often, and their conclusions subject to numerous caveats. It is not too great an exageration to state that their output can only be understood by other statisticians so leaving the man in the street without figures he can rely on. In a democracy this is insufferable. Let me give some examples. You and I know that crime is a dreadful problem in Britain and is rising. However, our official figures show them to be falling. My office will re-configure these indices to show the true position so that public confidence can be restored. Let me give you another example: examination results in our schools. The official statistics show that more and more children are getting A-C grades in their GCSE examinations . Now over 80% and rising. At the current rate of progress 105% of children will get these grades! Yes, don’t laugh. Absurd isn’t it? We will re-base these results so that the figure is some 70%. At a single stroke the number of children getting into good universities will come down; and your Free Schools, when you start them, can show immediate results Now let us consider a really serious subject: immigration! Your Coalition Government has put a cap on non-EU numbers coming into this country. If I am honest with you I must admit that such a cap is difficult to administer and the pressure to admit skilled migrants is very strong. We have a solution. We have cancelled the computer project which enables the counting in and out of migrants. Now no-one will know for sure how many migrants are in the country. We shall produce figures consistent with the cap so re-assuring the public that they are not being swamped. I do hope that you are getting the general drift of my argument. We are about building optimism and confidence in the future without which little can be achieved. (applause at this point).
Confidence must be built in the Big Society. When you take off time from your voluntary work to have a pint in the social club or your favourite pub we wish you to be armed with the information needed to encourage slackers to take part. You will be able to quote the muber of hectares of grass your team has mown, the square footage of railings painted and grafiti removed from walls, the numbers of pensioners helped with their shopping (Iused to do this at Eton, yes, truly I did! Stop laughing at the back!). In this way we shall be able to show that the Big Society has been far more successful at carrying out essential tasks than the old discredited bureacratic organisation of Labour’s Big Government. That is our task. We are not going to let those dreary over-paid statisticians (do you know some have a higher salary than me!) spoil our fun – your fun really. Trust me! I’m a Tory.
Filed under Alan Budd, BBC, Big society, Cameron, Coalition Government, Conservative Home, Crime, Education, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Vision, Nick Clegg, Politics, Schools, Statistics
… all is forgiven. Well, not quite all. We miss you, the benighted of this land, for the world’s economy has faltered in your absence. To escape the economic consequences of the global financial crisis requires – has required – the world to stay and act together in a vast concerted effort to move the advanced industrial countries out of economic danger together. There is no one but you who could have done it. Your vast bullying presence, the sheer tenacity and determination you can summon up, and your understanding of the technical issues and machinery of international institutions is what we need now. These exasperating qualities may be uniquely wrong for British politics at this time, but profoundly right for saving the world from prolonged economic depression in the future.
Alas, it is too late now, and we must look to pygmies. In a pygmy society size is not considered a problem for every one is miniscule. H G Wells explored the advantages of a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. Surely that must constitute an advantage to all. But if my memory is right, the blind united to kill him. Move over Gordon, or else… As I recall it when last at Piccadilly Circus I did not see any pygmies although there may have been some at Whitehall!
You think I exagerate? Alarmist, I hear you mutter. This is an economic downturn like any other and we can predict a recovery just as in the good old days of the eighties and nineties. And what is more don’t take my word for it. We had Sir Alan Budd, who is sage in these matters, tell you so with tables. With tables, and charts, you say, that’s an advantage. By the way whatever happened to Alan Budd? Surely he has not gone the way of John Stonehouse (who by the way I had lunch with a few days before he did his bunk and who certainly hid his intention from me). I detect a chill in the air – in August! Yes, in August it is a dangerous month. Just think of all the wars which came upon us in August. September 3, is not of course August but you can give me this one. It all happened while Whitehall slept and country estates prepared for the shooting of grouse. Believe me it is a wicked month. This August there is a presentiment, a ground swell that all is not well and that the Western world will sink back, if not into this famous double-dip recession, to a long period of stagnant growth, and with inflation to -boot. A slide into stagflation to use the jargon. Will Obama save us then? Will growth in the USA save us now as in the past? Unfortunately, Obama is human and there is a small matter of mid-term elections and the possibility of a one-term Presidency.
Boy George is a a man of firm conviction and detemination. He knows what he knows. Keynes pointed out to us that most of those who claim to be economic experts, and particulary those who seek to lead politically , are firmly in thrall to some discredited economist and economic theory. As he looks into his glass one sunny August evening, George will muse upon the nation’s fate as it quivers under his attentions, and he will say to himself, and anyone listening at the time, ‘The medicine is working although the patient be faint. Let’s have more of it.’
Filed under Alan Budd, BBC, Big society, Cameron, Coalition Government, Conservative Home, Financial Times, George Osborne, Gordon Brown, Labour Blogs, Labour Home, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Vision, Nick Clegg, Obama, OBR, Treasury