Saturday, February 28, 2009


Fred Seems to have got the Government 'Shredded'

The picture accompanying Phillip Inman's article today, is a bit like the one I've used but shows the tip of his tongue sticking out so that he looks like a scarlet faced streetwise snake of a man. Not the kind to feel genuine shame or contrition, I'd warrant. Reading the side panel to the above article on the legal options one realises Fred might well have got the government 'shredded'.

Gordon tells us he's seeking all legal means to claw back the pension but it seems there is no real way out. Why not just tell RBS not to pay and let him sue? Well, it's not RBS but the scheme's Trustees who pay the pension and Fred is the kind of person who would be shameless enough to sue. What if he goes on to win? Now that would be an even bigger humiliating disaster for the government.

So change the law? Well, possible, but is that what a responsible government does? Move the legal goalposts just to nab just one person? Human rights issues would be involved and it smacks too much of the slegehammer cracking the nut for any government to actually do it. So far, it looks like Sir Fred has got the government by the short hairs. It may hurt us all but, infuriatingly, we may have to let the greedy sod keep his ill-gotten gains.

Can't resist finishing off with this from Simon Hoggart today:

'Suppose a genie arrived and said: "Look, you are the greatest failure in your profession the world has ever known. You have brought not just your bank but your nation to the edge of ruin. However, I am obliged to grant your wish to have a pension of two-thirds of a million pounds every single year you live, for doing absolutely nothing!"

"Is there a catch?" asks Sir Fred, suspiciously.

"The catch is," the genie replies, "that you will be the most hated man in Britain. Everywhere you go people will feel loathing and contempt for your incompetence, your greed and your shamelessness."

"Call that a catch?" he replies. "I'll take it!"

Friday, February 27, 2009


'Margaret' a Triumph for BBC and Lindsay Duncan

No matter how much we hated her-and I sure hated with the best- Thatcher has provided some superlative drama. However good 'The Deal' and other Blair related ones were, he could never muster the same emotions as Alderman Roberts' grown up daughter. Angela Riseborough was superb in 'The Road to Finchley' but Lindsay Duncan, though younger, more sexy and far more beautiful, last night achieved an imagined version of The Lady which captured much of her powerful essence.

The drama fucused on her last few weeks in power but flashbacks succeeded in capturing her earlier triumphs, Falklands excluded. Duncan herself, who also hated Thatcher in her pomp, was superb, despite the differences but I loved the supporting performances just as much. Oliver Cotton made a fine and believable Heseltine, looking like a surprised and slightly mad badger; Edward Fox was unnervingly close to the smooth reality of Charles Powell; Ian Maloney good as a maybe over devious John Major; and Ian Macdermid was spot on as a loving and supportive Dennis. My memory of meeting Peter Morrison, was that this portrait of a bumbling, arrogant near alcoholic incompetent, was not far from the truth. But for me, the best caricature of the lot was the quiet assassin Geoffrey Howe, played with brilliant and uncanny accuracy by John Sessions.

But Lindsay was centre stage as Thatcher with all her strengths and weaknesses. The strengths were reflected in the extraordinary dominance she exercised over her Cabinet. 'She' was quite right to say that she should have seen the Cabinet as a group and not individually as was the case: they were clearly so scared shitless of her that they would never have had the courage to break ranks and tell her time was up faced by her fierceness in the hallowed Cabinet room itself.

But of course her weaknesses- as so often- were the reverse side of her strengths. That dominance bred an arrogance and hubris which blinded her to the world as it was. So she saw chatting up backbenches in the Tea-Room of the House as beneath her dignity- she felt the Cabinet, nay the whole party, owed their existence purely to her iron will and towering achievements. Taken to its limits this self-belief morphed into a profound species of unbalanced hectoring personality. The picture of her as a whisky guzzling, angrily reproachful, mad old bint was ultimately highly believable.

I thought too her relationship with her children was poingnantly accurate too: the loving Carol ignored and patronised -just as she had ignored her own mother- while the cocky, odious Mark was the constant focus of proud maternal fussing. The drama successfully portrayed Thatcher's life as a tragedy: a brilliant politician brought down through complacently taking her political base for granted. Her steely self obsession- the key to her triumphs over lesser male opponents- ended up doing for her in the final analysis. What a woman! Thank God she's gone but reliving her downfall through this drama, I found a profoundly enjoyable and indeed moving epxperience.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Bad News, Good News, Bad News acccording to James Lovelock

Blimey! As if world financial meltdown were not enough, James Lovelock's latest book doesn't half pile on the agony. He was interviewed on Today this morning and gave Sarah Montague the benefit of his glimpses into the future. This is the man who created the notion of Gaia, the world as self regulating mechanism.

The Bad News This is that the world will become 'too hot for animals like us' with temperatures this century soaring by 5C higher by the end of it. Given that we've also 'trashed' the planet through deforestation and ripping up vegetation for farmland, he forecasts a vastly different and scary world. He foresees, together with the majority of the other world climate scientists, that the present population of nearly 7 billion will not be sustained. He thinks the population will sink to a mere 1 billion by 2100.

The Good News I was glad there is some good news though it is only 'ish'.

1. James is basically an optimist: 'Life will go on' and humans will adapt to survive. He thinks the world will 'stabilize' after the 5 degree rise anyway.

2. The UK is likely to be one of the better places to live as sea rises are unlikely to be more than 1-3 feet over this period and even this could be dealt with by Dutch style sea defences. Other 'safe' places will be Greenland and Siberia(oh great...)

Mind you, there will be problems with the UK's survival (should this go into the 'bad news' column?). People from the EU are likely to flood into the UK for refuge. He suggests we should now start to plan ahead with new infrastructure projects to help accommodate this influx.

Er, hang on James, run that by me again. So you think millions of EU residents are going to come flooding in and you assume we'll welcome them and adpat to higher numbers? I don't think so! I foresee us becoming a fortress in the burgeoning North Atlantic, repelling borders with the enthusiasm of the BNP government we might see in power in such a situation.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Here we Go With Another Dance Around the Labour Leadership Issue

As a Labour supporter-not an easy thing to be right now- I regret the stories about jockeying for power and so forth but it's also, as a teacher of politics, kind of reassuring that politicians-remember the extended Tory bloodbath?- seem always revert to type given requisite situations. Yesterday the pint sized Hazel Blears issued a stern warning to colleagues to stop 'positioning' for the leadership as this would turn voters off. Too right it will: as Lloyd George said: 'You can't make a policy out of an argument'. So who is doing all this political placement?

Well, Hariet Harmon for one, John Cruddas for another; maybe Ed Balls and don't rule out the person telling them not to. Blears showed her ambition by fighting a vigorous campaign for the deputy leadership last time around. Personally I'd not go with any of them, especially not Harmon or Balls, but I'm sure there are others keeping their powder dry; don't exclude Jack Straw, a relative 'greybeard' but still ambitious and widely seen as 'safe', even 'wise'. Add to him Alan Johnson, Hilary Benn and some of the other candidates for that deputy leadership, excluding Hain, whose future career must be now as an MP not as a party leader.

Two things now seem to be undeniable aspects of political reality. Firstly, there is no time available to remove Brown from the leadership before the next election. Secondly, a Labour victory has to be regarded as a scenario envisaged only by the most defiantly optimistic of my fellow supporters. So the manoeuvering relates to the post 2010 Labour Party, when it is licking its wounds and contemplating the size of the hill, sorry mountain, it has to climb before it can get a sniff of power once again. Lots can and will happen before then but my punt on the best (and, yes, most likely leader) is the above mentioned former postman, Alan Johnson.

Don't worry, my predictions are usually wrong,[though, to be fair, I did win the pub sweep last Saturday for predicting the final score in the England - Wales match]. But I do have to agree with John Harris in today's Guardian: why is it nobody has any ideas on how to solve the chronic current crisis in 'neo-liberalism'?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Polls Suggest a Meltdown if Brown Goes Early or Late

On Monday Jackie Ashley came up with a weird scenario that was less weird once you thought it through, but was weird enough even then. She reports a story doing the rounds of Labour insiders that Gordon, with the support of the likes of Angela Merkel might be a candidate to head up a new Global Financial Regulator body. Brown's instinct she feels would be to fight the next election even if he loses it badly but, on the other hand:

"He reads the polls. He knows he faces a catastrophic defeat. Now it's only a matter of when. If there is a lifeboat - jump."

So, what would Labour do? Well, according to Ashley the story is someone like Alan Johnson would step up and lose the election but less badly than Gordon would:

The one quality Johnson does have is authenticity - and that is what is needed right now. Labour people aren't saying they would actually win it, but think that they could limit a Tory majority, or hold them to a hung parliament. Other cabinet ministers are again taking very private soundings about their own standing, and what needs to be done.

However, this rumour was doing the rounds before the poll results were announced by Ipsos Mori today. This shows Cameron with a lead of 20 points: 48 to Labour's 28 and Lib Dems 17. These figures are based on people who say they will definitely vote; the whole sample shows numbers of: 39-31 and 19 respectively. Patrick Wintour in The Guardian tells us Harriet Harmon is positioning herself to succeed Brown after the next election.

She might well be, but the measure of the Tory lead is now such that it's going to be a meltdown if Labour goes early or goes late. So Gordon is best advised to keep plugging on for the present and hope things come right by the autumn. At least if he hangs on in there is a chance, in Mr Micawber's words that, 'something will turn up'

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Sage Voices Argue Gordon's Medicine Was Always Going to Fail

Nick Cohen today aptly quotes Antonio Gramsci regarding the present state of the economic crisis:

Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci left us the eerie sentence: "The old is dead and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, many morbid symptoms appear." And that's how Britain under Brown feels: a morbid country stuck between a lost past and an unrealisable future, with a glowering leader unable to move because he is paralysed by the weight of his own history.

Simon Jenkins, during the week suggested Brown has, disastrously taken totally the wrong approach to solving the crisis:

At this point a banker has no profession, let alone a role as a national hero. He is a mere receiver of debts. If you give such people a sudden stash of unearned wealth, they are duty-bound to use it to pay off their debts, not donate it to the public. Yet each week over the past three months we have been told that billions are being provided to banks "in the hope" that it will be lent on to companies. What is this hope? It is like giving addicts heroin in the hope that they will pass it on to their local hospital. The money has gone into relieving balance sheets coated in red. It is throwing good money after bad, otherwise known as madness.

The third sage voice is trhat of Dominic Lawson son of the 'brilliant' Nigel, of course. He aims his brickbats at Obama-who recently said his huge bail-out was necessary to 'jump start the US economy' but they might equally have been aimed at Gordon:

He (Obama)might, therefore, have been surprised to see an advertisement in the national papers, signed by more than 200 eminent economists, which declared: “With all due respect, Mr President, that is not true. Notwithstanding reports that all economists are now Keynesians . . . we the undersigned do not believe that more government spending is a way to improve economic performance. More government spending by Hoover and Roosevelt did not pull the United States economy out of the Great Depression in the 1930s.” The sorry facts bear this out. The unemployment rate in the US was still 19% in 1939.

Maybe these views are merely some of thise 'morbid symptoms' of which Gransci wrote but it could be- perish the thought- they are mostly right. We'll soon find out but will it be too late by then?

Friday, February 13, 2009


Israeli Election results Bad for Peace Process Prospects

My reading of international affairs, for what it's worth, over the last couple of decades is that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has been central. Unremarkable, you might say, but many would wish to dispute this especially pro-Zionists. But the result of the recent elections in Israel have not gladdened the hearts of those hoping Obama's victory might see a renewal of the peace process as Ewen McAskill reported yesterday:

Inside the Obama administration there are officials who in private say how appalled they were by Israel's actions in Gaza, both in terms of the death toll and the impact on the Middle East. Open discussion about the alliance with Israel is difficult in the US. US officials, analysts and academics who question whether the national interest might be better served by loosening links quickly find themselves in the middle of huge squabbles and accusations of antisemitism.

Obama's official line is that Israel's security is still a primary US interest but some advisers might be beginning to revise this position. The new president has a wide and vital foreign policy issues in the southern Middle East: Iraq and Iran as well as Israel, not to mention Aghanistan/Pakistan which abuts this troubled zone. One commentator, Glen Greenwald, has raised a small flag of protest against the assumption that Israeli objectives must be as automatically defended as they were under Bush jnr:

"There's no question that the blind, uncritical support the US has lent Israeli actions has harmed America's standing in the world generally, and in the Muslim world particularly ... For little benefit and much harm to ourselves, we have made Israel's numerous enemies, conflicts and wars our own."

Well said. As the Guardian editorial points out, Iran is a crucial question. Israel will be enraged by Obama's commitment to talk to the Iranians and might even be tempted to act unilaterally by bombing Iranian nuclear research installations; that would scupper hopes for peace for many a year. Seems to me Obama should disengage from the hitherto overwhelmingly persuasive pro-Israel lobby, disengage from the likes of Natanyahu and give a higher priority to urging the two state solution plus sorting out the rest of the Middle and Near east.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Bankers Face the Music

Watching those bankers squirm was a goodsize helping of our favourite Schadenfreude, especially the egregious Sir Fred Goodwin (pictured), who is allegedly the most arrogant of this overweeening bunch. My contacts in the business world, as well as Nick Robinson, assure me this experience must have seemed like having their wisdom teeth pulled without anaesthetic. Senior bankers are not used to having their views or dignity questioned- they sweep around in soundless limos or luxuriate in first class travel to wherever they choose. So this hurt. But how much?

Clearly their PR advisers- only the best you can be sure- insisted they must apologize, apologize and apologize. And this they did with an abandon which, to be honest, questioned sincerity. And as the commentators observe today, these former Masters of the Universe, to use Tom Wolfe's phrase, were careful to say sorry the events had happened rather than pick up the tab of any responsibility for them.

Viewers in a Glasgow pub on the BBC news offered, I suspect, the general public view on their pretence at contrition: they are so rich already from their earlier careers, that they will be untouched by any recession and can afford briefly to don some sackcloth and ashes. But my favourite piece of commentary was by psychologist Oliver James, author of the perceptive Affluenza who opines:

'But then I think it is probably not surprising that these men aare so disconnected from the realities of shame and guilt. The definitive study of senior business managers found they were more likely to suffer from several personality disorders, such as narcissism, than inmates at a secure mental hospital.'

Tuesday, February 10, 2009




An appeal to Londoners who supported the miners:

My name is Davey Hopper. I am the North East Area secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers and would like to get in touch with London folk who were involved in the miners support groups when the strike happened 25 years ago (on March 12).

These are the areas (below) where support groups /supporters sprung up:

Barnet, Brentford, Camden, Chiswick, Croydon, Enfield, Greenwich, Hackney, Hampstead, Hammersmith, Hendon, Highgate, Hounslaw, Islington, Kingston, Lewisham, Leyton, Muswell Hill, Newham, Crouch End, Pimlico, Poplar, Potters Bar, Richmond, Twickenham, Southwick, Sydenham, Forest Hill, Waltham Forest, Walthamstow, Wandsworth, Wimbledon, Haringey, Aylesham.

Can you circulate this letter among all of the labour movement bloggers you know, please - and ask them to put out the appeal.

Thank you.

Davey Hopper
Mobile: 0777 563 0398

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Osborne Sound on Bonus Culture

Surprising myself, I was impressed by George Osborne on the Marr Show this morning. He sounded credible when lambasting bankers for clinging to the bonus culture when it has been a root cause of the current crisis and wholly unjustified given that such a huge percentage of banks are now owned by the taxpayers. He recalled that when Gordon first mooted his bail-out package last autumn, bonuses were to be verboten but as Polly Toynbeepointed out on Friday, the culture is still very much alive and many bankers are rooting to have their pounds and pounds of flesh as in previous years:

Culture change may be coming, but it's not here yet. The financial sector will pay itself £3.6bn in bonuses this month: banks are rumoured to be rushing to beat any proposed cap. Even 70% state-owned RBS will pay generously, despite losing £28bn at the blackjack tables of investment banking. The government braces itself for outrage.

She also points out that Obama has had the temerity to suggest a cap on directors' salaries in bailed out banks of $500,000. Now that seems like a huge sum to me and most other people I suspect, outside the realms of the yacht owning plutocracy to whom it will be small change. I can imagine them grinding their teeth at such a 'communist' proposal, but Obama has led the way and it would be nice to see our Labour government come up with something similarly threatening to the big bucks culture which has caused so much damage to date.

Osborne was composed and measured I thought. Far from defending what some might have described as his 'friends in the City', he insisted they should be told directly and criticised Brown's lack of leadership. And he's right. When Darling came on screen he insisted all this was in hand but to set up a task force into the matter at this late stage, smacks of a casually dilatory approach while banks are still refusing viable small businesses the credit they need to avoid bankruptcy.

Friday, February 06, 2009


'Green Shoots of Recovery' After All?

Shriti Vadera was mercilessly pilloried when she spoke of 'green shoots of reovery' recently but the Telegraph runs a story, 5th February, which more or less suggests the same message.

1. The housing markets are heading upwards, even if prices are still in decline. The Guardian even runs a front page story today about the return of gazumping.

2.Freight rates for bulk transport of iron ore have been edging up too, suggesting industrial production is is on the mend.

3. The debt markets are opening up once again:

"The mood is upbeat. There are swathes of cash pouring back into credit," said Suki Mann, a credit strategist at Société Générale. "The market closed down after the Lehmans collapse so there was a lot of pent-up demand, but they are having to pay materially higher spreads than pre-Lehmans."

4. Whilst banks are still not lending to one another, the key Libor rate has come down to a mere 1%.

5. The Federal Reserve's surveys show lening is beginning to pick up again, though 'tentatively' and house sales-where all this trouble started in the first place- are showing some early signs of picking up in the USA.

But all these signs could prove a chimera; revivals can be brief and soon disappear, as Japan has discovered over the past decade. The article closes on this downbeat warning note:

"Nothing moves down in straight lines," said SocGen's perma-bear Albert Edwards. "There will be little bounces. But our view is that investors can afford to be lazy and wait. There is not a cat's chance in hell that this really is the bottom of the cycle."

Thursday, February 05, 2009


Bring Back Thatcher!

I never thought I'd say it, but a Thatcher has been treated too harshly for offences committed. Opinions will vary over the comparison of a tennis player's hair to a 'golliwog'- personally I don't think it rates anywhere near the top of the list- but the remark was said in private and not on air.

The younger female Thatcher, it has always seemed to me, does not suffer from the faults of her mother or her brother-overbearing hubris and disregard for those worse off than them to the fore - and her performance in that jungle programme proves she is basically a pretty good mixer of equable temperament. I'm less impressed by what I've seen of her television reporting which I've tended to think a bit too tabloid and her interviewing style as a tad patronising. But I put the latter down to the fact she reminds me so much of her mother and the prejudice I still cannot expunge.

Her agent has claimed she is the victim of a personal campaign and what evidence there is seems to support this view: someone or some collection of someones was out to get her. When Jonathan Ross is only suspended for a mega lack of professionalism and cosmic bad taste, it seems quixotic and vindictive to punish a middle-aged woman with few chances of future employment for an offence so minor that many would not even consider it to be an offence. Daily Mail rants about 'political correctness gone mad' are justified in this case: she should be reinstated.

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