Saturday, October 30, 2010


Why in God's Name do we keep putting the clocks back?

[Last year, about this time, and all the years before that since 2005, I expressed my indignation at the absurd putting back of clocks every year by that precious hour. I have not heard one single person in favour of this measure which continues to shroud in gloom a period of the year which does not need any more more gloom than it already has. So I'm republishing my post of last October and intend to do so until this ridiculous outdated practice is done away with(I know, I know).]

No doubt most people in this country have felt the first chill of autumn as recent unseasonably warm temperatures begin to give way. This reminder that winter is at hand is bad enough but what astonishes me is our government's insistence on putting the clocks back by an hour; this year it's on 29th October.

The case against this joyless annual donning of a temporal hair shirt is as follows:

i) studies show that while there might be more accidents in the mornings these would be more than compensated for by fewer in the evenings; The Guardian some time ago, quoted studies predicting a net saving of 140 lives.

ii) 80 per cent of the population want to keep summer time throughout the year.

iii) Many influential pressure groups favour it, including the CBI, the Police and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

iv) the experiment of maintaining BST through the winter 1968-71 was, as far as I recall, a substantial success.

v) It would extend the tourist season, the sporting season and..., perhaps most important of all it would make us all feel a damn sight better about the miserable imminence of winter.

The case against reversing the measure is summed up in the two words: Scottish farmers. They would face much darker mornings as the sun would not rise until 10.0am. However, against this it can be adduced:

i) The rate of decline in accidents would actually be greater in Central Scotland(5.5%) than in the south of England(2.5%).

ii)When I used to visit Northern Sweden regularly, farmers up there did not see daylight until much later than 10.0am and accepted it as part of their cost for living in that latitude.

iii) Now Scotland has its own parliament, why doesn't it set its own regional time and do us all a big favour?

iv) is it fair that a nation of 60 million should suffer merely because a few hundred farmers should be able to see their cows more clearly on a winter's morning?

In the war we had a clocks turned forward two hours- Double Summer Time!- why not return to those good old days? Brown might even find his recently flagging popularity recovering immensely if he introduced this simple yet highly popular measure.

Postscript: Well, I was kind of hoping this year the clocks would not go back as articles had appeared in the spring suggesting the Coalition government would change the practice. Well, they haven't but it could just be this is the last year we'll do it. The Policy Studies Institute has produced a report recommending a permanent shift of our clocks forward. Moreover there is now a campaign to achieve this reform and I wish it all good speed.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


More on Osborne's Gambles

In a recent article Simon Jenkins sets out the essence of the current argument over the cuts package:

We do not need a rabid Keynesian to tell us that cutting government spending by £81bn when consumer confidence is stagnant will surely make matters worse. The government's economic policy is a seriously wild gamble, resting on two theses: one is that public spending cuts are vital to protect confidence in the government until its debt can be repaid; the other is that the negative impact of these cuts will be compensated by a surge in private sector activity.

He then points out that:

i) the bond markets are in no way seriously worried by UK's economic position and would be happy to lend money even with current budget deficits. This means of course that the cuts are in no way essential to UK economic survival as the Coalition has argued.

However, the people who have lost confidence are much closer to home:

The homebuyers, shopkeepers, suppliers, manufacturers and local bank managers

ii) Cameron and Osborne have blithely told us the private sector will 'take up the slack' of the half million to be made unemployed by the cuts. However, says Jenkins, the Coalition seems as incapable as Darling of persuading the banks to lend to business:

Just two years after the banks burned their fingers on bad debt, they are not going to lend recklessly to an economy from which Cameron is about to drain billions. Why should they gamble on expansion when Cameron is gambling on contraction?

I think Jenkins is spot-on here. Both gambles look very dodgy indeed at this present juncture. I wonder whether future events- the row over housing benefit, I suspect, is merely and augury of what is to come- will wipe the smug smiles of the faces of the well heeled public school boys who are currently running the cpountry?

Saturday, October 23, 2010


The Gambles Osborne Needs to Come Off to Succeed

So much has been written about Osborne's cuts but none more acute than Anatole Kalensky's piece in The Times 220th October. As you have to pay to go online these days I've summarised his argument myself. He argues the Chancellor has embarked on a series of major gambles which depend for their success on:

i) The hope that UK economic recovery can avoid any slowdown in the four years ahead, despite almost unprecedented reduction in family incomes resulting from higher taxes and cutbacks in public spending.

ii) Public sector managers must achieve a breakthrough in productivity and administrative efficiency of a kind that has always eluded previous governments.

iii) Government can win debates about political priorities that have not even started and will prove increasingly controversial as the abstract sounding figures announced yesterday are manifested in visible changes in British society.

iv) The coalition can maintain its unity and its support from voters who will be suffering big material losses not only in the first half of the Parliament …but right up to the next general election.

Each year 2% of GDP will be withdrawn from the economy as a result of the cuts: 8% by 2014-5; yet Treasury predicts growth of some 2.3% by 2011 and 3% thereafter. If this does not happen revenue will falter and downward spiral initiated.

If any one of these gambles go down- and it's a big ask to assume they'll all come good- then we might end up in greater trouble than we are now. Meanwhile the polls do not look so good for the Coalition: 59% of respondents in the Independent thought the cuts unfair as they hit the poor rather than the well off. Only 30% thought them fair. Of Lib Dem voters at the last election 59% took the former view compared with 34% who voted Conservative. However 51-34% thought the Lib Dems should stay in the coalition. Polly Toynbee's piece on the NHS will also make worrying reading for the government.

‘In short Mr Osborne is taking a huge bet on the underlying strength of the British economy-just like Gordon Brown.’

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Disaster Capitalism: Could Monbiot be Right?

George Monbiot is a very talented and dedicated environmental campaigner and man of the left. His piece today argues that the Chicago School of economists, led by Milton Friedman believed crises and disasters provided opportunities to change things their way. He also argued that bold action was necessary within 'six to nine months' of such disasters to effect radical change.

OK, we all know the leftwing critique that Cameron and co. are pressing for deep and drastric cuts not because they are solely concerned to eliminate the deficit but because they are using the situation to shrink the state and allow the private sector become dominant again. My view is that this might be the case and, from comments on my blog by rightwing Conservatives, I'm sure it's what they would love to happen. Perhaps I'm naive but I'd like to see a bit more evidence. Monbiot thinks he's got it in what has happened in the cull of quangos.

The Commonwealth Development Corporation has been a scandalous waste of money for some time and has been effectively exposed by Private Eye over a considerable period.

When New Labour tried, and failed, to privatise it, the CDC completely changed its mission. Now it pours money into lucrative corporate ventures, while massively enriching its own directors

Monbiot claims the same thing goes for the Export Guarantee Department and the Sea Fish Industry Authority. He elaborates:

Can you see the pattern yet? Public bodies whose purpose is to hold corporations to account are being swept away. Public bodies whose purpose is to help boost corporate profits, regardless of the consequences for people and the environment, have sailed through unharmed. What the two lists suggest is that the economic crisis is the disaster the Conservatives have been praying for. The government's programme of cuts looks like a classic example of disaster capitalism: using a crisis to re-shape the economy in the interests of business.

I'm too old a bird to be persuaded by most leftwing conspiracy theories but add the forcible shrinking of the state to Monbiot's two lists and the argument begins to sound pretty compelling don't you think?

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Political Fallout from CSR will be Crucial

The title of my post is self evident but I'm especially interested in the state of the Lib Dems. When the coalition was set up Ming Campbell hesitated for a while and Charles Kennedy was decidedly ambivalent before declaring his support. Vince Cable, moreover has long oozed discomfort, despite his ministerial car and red boxes. The university tuition issue has brought Ming out as a declared rebel and there are other MPs who will join him in the 'no' lobby. Meanwhile, on the bigger picture, I wonder how many Lib Demmers will jump ship after Wednesday?

There is a clear rift opening between the 'executive' LDs and the 'legislative' ones. Today we read in a very informative Guardian article that Danny Alexander is seen by some senior Lib Dems as having deserted the party fold:

But Liberal Democrat grandees are growing increasingly upset with their party's youngest cabinet minister, as he plays a leading role in the most brutal public spending cuts in a generation. Danny has gone completely native," one senior figure says, voicing concern raised in private with Nick Clegg about the chief secretary to the Treasury. "He should be the Lib Dem man in the Treasury. But he has turned into the Treasury man in the Lib Dems.

These are still rumblings beneath the surface but I wonder if Osborne's anticipated coup de theatre on Wednesday will coax such divisions out into the open. For a longer analysis of the coalition read here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Marr's Absurd Attack on Bloggers Does him no Credit

I have always been a big fan of Andrew Marr, as a jhournalist, author and the best BBC political editor who has ever held the post. But his intemperate attack onbloggers does him no credit at all. Whilst allowing, in a speech on new technology to the Cheltenham Literary Festival, that it can be 'fantastic at times', he indluges in what can only be described as a bilious attack when he said:

"A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting. They are very angry people.

"OK – the country is full of very angry people. Many of us are angry people at times. Some of us are angry and drunk. But the so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night."

I've been blogging for over five years now and I've never seen a fellow blogger who is bald with 'cauliflower ears' or who even who is unusually angry. My friend Chris also made the point that Andrew 'Jug Ears' Marr has no right to criticise people who are either bald or lumbered with unusually sculpted hearing equipment. Most bloggers are quite ordinary people who have decided to use technology to make their views known to a wider audience. Iain Dale is not a person with whom I agree politically but nobody could deny his blog is teriffic. Similarily the blog of Paul Linford is eminently readable and intelligent. I could go on but most people reading this will be aware Marr was spouting arrant nonsense and will be well aware of the blogs worth reading and which are serious contributions to discussion and debate.

Commenting is another matter. There are people who surf the blogospere seeking to pour a little bile and venom into other peoples' blogs. Every blogger knows them and they can seem angry and a bit hard to take. But if we engage in political debate, it seems to me we have to accept all comers and deal with them on their merits. Even a fiercely bigoted Tory often has relevant and powerful points to make.

Marr's argument that they will never replace newspapers and broadcast news might be more right- bloggers after all, can only comment and lack the means to report news. But if he reads the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast he cannot doubt online provision is beginning to rival mainstream news outlets. Marr should pipe down and desist from seeking cheap laughs at public events. A journalist of his experience and knowledge should know better.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Of Elites and their Tones of Voice

Over the years I suppose I've become a kind of 'tribal' person politically; not so much pro-Labour these days, but still strongly anti-Tory. Conservative beliefs have always appeared to me to be a rationalisatoion of selfishness- a modernised version of Dickens' Josiah Bounderby. A bit narrow, I know, but few Conservative governments or individual politicians have substantially disabused me of such perceptions. Yet I was struck by a well written article in The Guardian which addressed the new elite from which rightwing leaders have tended to be be drawn.

Simon Head drew upon Cannadine's Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy, which charts the decline of the Tory elite's source until Douglas Home's brief period in power 1963-4. After that Tories dug down the social order for their leaders: working class Heath, Lower middle Thatcher, and then the serial failures of Hague, IDS and Howard until Cameron obligingly lent his Old Etonian composure to the post of leader. Socially this post - aristocratic group of leaders had something in common with figures like RA Butler, Hugh Dalton. Oliver Franks and the like whom Head likens to the French nobility who owed their places to their often inherited judicial or administrative posts: noblesse de la robe. It is from such a background that Head sees Cameron and Head emerging:

It is appropriate that Eton and Oxford, Westminster and Cambridge should feature in the CVs of Cameron and Clegg because the ancient universities and the leading public schools have played a dominant role in the history of this singular culture, forging an upper middle class from which a much smaller ruling elite could be heavily recruited. We think, for example, of Eton as the supremely "posh" public school, catering for the children of the old aristocracy and the noblesse de robe.

It is this 'super' middle class- to some extent a gentrified City Bourgeoisie- based on private education that has provided so many of our political class during the last century and still exercises a degree of domination as the present coalition demonstrates. Head notices however that the current duo have managed to change the style of governemnt traditionally associated with a rightwing elite.

One thing they have done is to rid themselves of the most toxic ingredient of their heritage which, following Shelley's "Ozymandias", I'll call the Sneer of Cold Command or snocc for short – an unappealing acronym for what is now thought of as a distinctly unappealing style.

That cold, patronising voice of 'authority' has become anathema to British voters and Cameron has been brilliant in burying it. The tone of his government is so much softer than that of the awful Thatcher and has set the benchmark for his government, witness Andrew Lansley's persuasive performance on the World at One today. It is not just the tone which is liberal, but quite a few of the policies too. No wonder Tories on the right mutter darkly that their leader is not a 'proper' Conservative. I say thank God he isn't.

Friday, October 08, 2010


The Ten Tasks Facing Ed Miliband

Labour face a huge mountain to climb back into power especially now that Cameron has seized the centre ground. It is astonishing that he could address his own party conference by describing the coalition as:
“An attempt to create a country based not on Labour’s selfish individualism but one based on mutual responsibility”.

Effectively Cameron is seeking to steal Labour’s most valuable clothes. To resist the government effectively, Ed Miliband must seek to achieve the following:

1. Formulate a credible position on the deficit: it has to be recognized and dealt with. There are huge gains to be made if the Conservative/Lib Dem approach goes pear shaped but Labour has to be responsible and offer a realistic policy of debt reduction.

2. At the same time Ed has to exploit popular discontent with the cuts and claim his own approach would have avoided the infliction of such pain.

3. This will be especially so if the economy enters a ‘double-dip recession, zn eventuality he must be sure to pin on the coalition.

4. Labour has to try to attract back Labour voters who defected to Lib Dems and some of their core voters too. He must try at all costs to neutralise the junior coalition partner but also to keep some lines open in case the government collapses and a new alliance has to be forged.

5. Labour has to create policies as and antidote to the view it is: a party for immigrants and benefit drawers; penalizes those who work hard for their families; and is less than competent in government.

6. The party has to recapture its natural constituency among the C1, C2, DE groups as well as continue to court middle class votes as there are not enough working class votes, realistically to put them in power.

7. The party must focus once again on the inequality in society, that the ‘super’ rich are easily as non productive as welfare scroungers and as productive of social dysfunction.

8. Ed has to dispel the idea he is too far to the left and in the pocket of the unions, especially when the rightwing press will do its best to foster such an impression. His position on this will be greatly bolstered once David returns to the Shadow Cabinet (as I am confident he will).

9. Ed has to choose a team which retains some of the older Blairites to help unify the splits in the party; he must also appoint new talented younger MPs to positions of responsibility. His first Shadow Cabinet chosen today achieves this to a fair degree, though I just wonder if Alan Johnson will be quite up to the the task facing Osborne.

10. He must beware of threats to his position from his rivals, principally Ed Balls, and, conceivably his own brother again if he falters in his task.
Finally, Ed must match and if possible eclipse Cameron in debate and at

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Conference Politics Trips Up Cameron

Most people would have expected Eleanor Rathbone, the pioneer of Family Allowances, to object to the removal of child allowance from higher tax bracket earners, but I suspect Cameron and Osborne, both immensely shrewd politicians, underestimated the backlash against their measure. The rightwing press is up in arms against the damage to 'middle income' families and the anomaly whereby a family with two earners under £44K will escape the cut while a family with only one £44K earner will not.

These extremely gifted but still young politicians have learnt a lesson about announcing policy to their conference. Some 'goodies' are required to ignite the automatic Tory applause machine, but you have to be sure they are 'good' and are likely to be well received. This announcement, frankly, would have gone down better at either of the other conferences. Middle Britain, aghast at how much of their taxes are absorbed by the 5m on benefits, have tended to regard chld allowance as useful payback. Some families save it to use for holidays; most families, even earning up to £50K, strain their financial limits so this cut really hurts.

Personally I was fairly happy with it. I don't believe in universal benefits; this is an outdated concept, even if it does involve the 'sharp elbowed' middle classes in the welfare state. If we have to save shed loads of public expenditure, which we do, then pruning a benefit accruing to those on twice the average income seems quite sensible to me. However, the coalition is facing a cachophany of compalint right now which it could wewll do without. In a couple of weeks the real cuts will be announced. If these protests are generated by a small and arguably fair economy, I shudder to think what lies in store for this government.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


How Much do Tories Believe in Cameron?

One of the few really good things I always reckon New Labour did was to drag the Tories out of their 'nasty ghetto' into the 21st century. After three defeats they finally realised the hated Blair had managed to capture something of the zeitgeist - something they had ignored through Hague, IDS and Howard. Cameron, the assiduous student of all things Blairite, adopted the rhetoric and ostensibly at least, some of the policies. But one always wondered how far the writ of Simon Heffer, Norman Tebbitt and other assorted rightwing headbanging bigots actually ran.

People like Michael Gove. arguably even more a Blair lover than his leader, and Ken Clarke, a Tory I cannot but admire and like, clearly had no great distance to travel, but one wondered how much suspicion of Cameron clustered on the right of his party, especially after so many allegedly Thatcherite new MPs flooded in after May this year.

As usual, Andrew Rawnsley has some perceptive things to say about the party whose conference begins today. Ken Clarke confesses himself wholly comfortable in the coalition, but there are other voices muttering less happy sentiments. Many Tories were confidently expecting to romp home over the unpopular and frankly disastrous Brown with an overall majority. That their party only mustered 37% of the vote was deemed by some to be tantamount to a defeat, especially when the price of power was co-operation with those awful Lib Dem oiks. Cameron was thought by some to have messed up his mission big time: embracing the opaque Big Society ihnstread of more robust Tory policies on crime and the EU; and giving the green light to the TV debates which allowed Clegg his big chance. As Rawnsley comments:

David Cameron has never really settled the hash with the right in his party. His argument with them has largely gone subterranean since the election, but it waits to erupt again when times get tough for the coalition. Indeed we can already see it being played out in some of the battles over spending. The truly ferocious internal struggles are not being waged between Lib Dems and Tories, but between Tories and Tories. The most significant disputes are between Conservatives with differing priorities, temperaments and philosophies.

Rawnsley cites the arguments between osborne and IDS, Osborne and Liam Fox to prove the biggest fault lines lie not between the parties just now, but within the Conservative Party itself. My interest over the next few days will lie in spotting how the party whose 'secret weapon is loyalty' as was once famously noted, deals with the potential fissures within its ranks.

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