Monday, October 31, 2011
St Pauls Protestors Putting Left to Shame
Rawnsley applauds the work of the polite young people who are making their point rather effectively and in the process causing the ruling elite into a near hysterical reaction. So far two senior figures have resigned, the religious establishment is as unsure as the government as to how to respond to a protest which reflects so much public anger at the appalling ease with which the rich classes have caused us so much suffering yet escaped scot free of any punishment apart from mild censures from the likes of Cameron and Osborne though they were careful not to offend their mates in the City too much. Rawnsley skewers this inept and complacent bunch of trade unionists for the fat cats with this section in his article:
"The occupation movement is succeeding where conventional politics of both left and right have badly failed. It articulates a profound public resentment with over-mighty finance and the failure of government to do anything about it. The protesters strike a resounding chord when they complain that financial elites are getting rewarded with special treatment while the punishment for their mistakes is meted out on the rest of society. On top of the billions of taxpayers' money already committed to rescuing the banks, the eurozone leaders have just signed up to providing billions more. Yet from the nabobs of finance there is still not a whisper of a hint of a scintilla of humility or penance."
Friday, October 28, 2011
Why oh Why 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 So I'm republishing my post of last October and intend to do so until this ridiculous outdated practice is done away with(I know, I know).]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. Finally, check out this But the Scots have already said they won't support it which is a good enough reason, maybe, to allow them to drift away into a North Atlantic independence....? See also this broadside against the practice bySimon Jenkins.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
EU Debacle For Tories But Anti EU Sentiment Worrying
But what worries me is that now the Tories are clearly now working with the grain of public opinion. We Brits have always been a bit xenophobic- the legacy, perhaps of an empire which made us feel so superior to the rest of the world. But now the figures are on a different level. According to the ICM poll for the Guardian, 70% think a referendum should be held on membership of the EU. And if there were one tomorrow an astonishing 49% would vote to leave the organisation.
I'm very aware of the shortcomings of the EU, its bureaucracy, its corruption in parts and its woefully weak leadership. But I am an unashamed internationalist. It seems to me the world is faced by a huge agenda of unsolvable problems which would be immensely alleviated by closer international cooperation. I include, the appalling poverty in the Third World when there is relative plenty in the first; the problem of climate change which could make the planet impossible for our descendants to live in; international terrorism which constantly threatens to break out yet again; and international crime which now ranks as one of the world's premier economic activities, on a par with trading in the major commodities.
If the EU has managed to be so successful economically and to a degree, politically, it would seem mad for us to take a step back into history and snuff it out when it represents so much hope. I see it as a guarantee that the part of the planet which cost the world countless millions of lives in two world wars, will never again host such a conflict. Our public opinion might well be lurching to wards xenophobia because of anger at all the things that have gone wrong and the EU seems a convenient external whipping boy. Whatever the reason, I regret it deeply and wish the old ideal of cooperation and peaceful economic activity could be revived rather than swamped by reactionary sentiments.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Climate Change Case Conceded by Skeptics' Study
However, a group of skeptics, have done the sums themselves and come up with the answer that, indeed, we do, after all, have something to worry about. Not that anyone much seems to want to worry, or even care if the planet microwaves its surface into something resembling that of the Moon.
The Berkeley Earth project compiled more than a billion temperature records dating back to the 1800s from 15 sources around the world and found that the average global land temperature has risen by around 1C since the mid-1950s.
This figure agrees with the estimate arrived at by major groups that maintain official records on the world's climate, including Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), and the Met Office's Hadley Centre, with the University of East Anglia, in the UK.
So all that railing and shouting by the skeptics against these respected bodies, now looks a little otiose and terribly ill informed.
The team, which includes Saul Perlmutter, joint winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate, has submitted four papers to the journal Geophysical Research Letters that describe their work to date.
So it seems the scientists have not yet received the imprimatur of peer review by other experts in the field, but, I would have thought, Nobel Prize winners tend not to publish duff research. Richard Mulller, head of the study says:
"We have looked at these issues in a straightforward, transparent way, and based on that, I would expect legitimate sceptics to feel their issues have been addressed,"
Has that calmed the naysayers and skeptics? You thought right: take a lookhere and take a look take a look at our esteemed(but clearly factually incorrect-see linked article) former Chancellor's views here.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Vital Ways in Which Democracy is Being Weakened and Lobbyists let in.
Some columnists are able to do that thing which Orwell said is the most difficult of all: to see what is happening in front of your nose. Simon Jenkins is possibly one of these rare people, or at least seems to be in his piece today.
He is not too impressed by the street protests against capitalism in London and New York, seeing them as unfocused and without the 'menace' which protests need to get any change started. This is as maybe but he goes on to adduce a rather chilling argument that, important respects, democracy has withered away. This applies especially to those bodies which 'mediate' between government and the governed between elections. The "customary associations and little platoons" have dwindled. Power over policy has been removed from parties in parliament and at the grassroots, from trade unions, from the professions, from local government, from intellectuals, even from the formal civil service. These conduits have been replaced by thinktanks and lobbyists working in private collusion with ministerial staffs. When David Cameron in opposition said that lobbyists were "the next big scandal waiting to happen," he was right. But that was before he came to power.
This observation I fear is true to a fair degree. I'm not sure lobbyists have yet claimed a hegemony over policy making; yet we see in the case of Liam Fox, that his best friend, who followed him around endlessly, was effectively a creature of the lobbyists. Furthermore the recent changes in the planning laws seem to represent a surrender to building lobbyists, always close to the Conservative Party. His analysis is an acute and well informed one and merits close attention.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
World Getting less Violent Says Stephen Pinker
"The medieval rate of homicide was 35 times the rate of today, and the rate of death in tribal warfare 15 times higher than that. Collapsed empires, horse-tribe invasions, the Crusades, the slave trade, the wars of religion, and the colonisation of the Americas had death tolls which, adjusted for population, rival or exceed those of the world wars. In earlier centuries the wife of an adulterer could have her nose cut off, a seven-year-old could be hanged for stealing a petticoat, a witch could be sawn in half, and a sailor could be flogged to a pulp. Deadly riots were common enough in 18th-century England to have given us the expression “to read the riot act,” and in 19th-century Russia to have given us the word pogrom. Deaths in warfare have come lurchingly but dramatically downward since their postwar peak in 1950. Deaths from terrorism are less common in today’s “age of terror” than they were in the 1960s and 1970s, with their regular bombings, hijackings, and shootings by various armies, leagues, coalitions, brigades, factions and fronts."
Feel just a tad more optimistic? I did. The world is pretty bad right now but it is sort of reassuring to discover it was so much worse in earlier centuries.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Cameron Compared with Blair
i) they were both masters of the art of public relations
ii) they both had early problems regarding lobbying ministers; Blair with Bernie Ecclestone and Cameron with Fox.
iii) both employed tough tabloid hacks- Campbell and Coulson- to help them sculpt their desired images.
iv) Blair faced criticism from the left as Cameron does now from the right.
v) both had experience early on of 'winning' wars: Blair in Kosovo and Cameron in Libya.
vi) both entered power in 'austerity'- Blair and Brown applied strict limits to spending in their first two years in power and Cameron has even more acute problems.
vii) both ignored what they thought an impotent opposition.
viii) both offered themselves as sunny optimistic leaders, talking of good times ahead.
She sees Cameron as currently 'untouchably strong', able to shrug off Coulson and the phone hacking with a 'semi-apologetic shrug' and emerging, cleverly, from the Fox affair even stronger than before. This he did by waiting long enough to allow Fox's position to become untenable and then not even having to sack the man. On the Tuesday Cameron might have feared Fox could retreat to the back benches and make trouble with his volatile right-wing but by Friday he was too weakened to cause anyone any trouble. Ashley makes the point though, that Cameron faces a far harder future than Blair ever did. Blair really did enjoy the 'good times', even if it it was founded on debt and a greed driven financial sector but it did deliver for a decade.
Cameron however, faces an indeterminate future of hard times:
Yet the complacency that afflicted New Labour is now being repeated by a new government that will face a far angrier public. The spectacle of private lobbying deals and inner circles within circles, clear in the Fox story, is even more dangerous than scandals in the early Blair years, because of the surrounding economics. Cameron has to act very fast when Gus O'Donnell's report comes out this week.
Ashley argues the Tory right will eventually really go for Cameron as he has no chance of 'going with the grain of good times' as did Blair. She sees new leaders emerging from the 2010 intake of right-wing Tory firebrands and causing him grief, concluding:
Cameron remains an enigma, just as Blair was for a while, and it may be that he can make this transition. My guess is that he cannot. He should enjoy this time, when he seems able to drift above the fray, untouched by errors of judgment, cronyism and scandal.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
How Tall is Liam Fox?
If anyone knows the answer to this I'd be grateful if they could let me know.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
He Must Eventually Be Toast
Seems like only yesterday that we had crises like that facing Dr Fox: Mandelson, Blunkett etc and each time I've kind of thought they would survive. Fox(cop the fixed smiles in the picture...) did a good job of defending himself in the Commons though Cameron's absence was ominous as were the conclusions of the 'interim report' which had identified 'mistakes'. But the solid support of his party seemed to suggest Fox might just squeeze through the net.
Severe problems for Fox remain however:
i) Alastair Campbell reckoned. in such cases, that if the story had not died within ten days the minister would have to go.
ii) New revelations are seeping out every day so far and I don't see them stopping anytime soon.
iii) 40 meetings in all, 18 of them abroad, many of which were apparently coincidental, sounds far too dodgy to me. Some coordination with Fox must have taken place.
iv) Rumours have surfaced about Fox's sexuality and, whilst this is not supposed to matter these days, if you have half an eye on the leadership, which Fox does, or used to have, it could still be a disadvantage worth concealing.
v) I don't think national security has been jeopardised By Adam Werrity but I seriously wonder whether his friendship with Fox was not used to his material advantage.
vi) How on earth did Werrity pay for his flights and hotel bills?
On balance I think there is sufficient dodgy dealing here for enough to come out to force his eventual resignation. Maybe it shouldn't be the case, but Fox has acted naively for an experienced and ambitious politician. I suspect he'll have to go within the next week or so.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Ed Miliband' Has a Huge Mountain Range to Climb
I was interested to read the following excellent paragraph in the Economist, 27th September, which sums up som much of politics and the constant noise which surrounds it. The key things are quite simple, as is explained below.
“Elections are decided by a few fundamentals, such as the political cycle (the longer the government has been in power, the more hostile the public will feel towards it), the economic cycle (the more prosperous the country is feeling, the more likely they are to vote for the government) and, above all, the party leaders. Perhaps the only meaningful thing a political party can ever do to help its fortunes is elect a leader who has that "prime ministerial" quality that is hard to define but easy to recognise when one sees it.”
In connection with Ed Miliband's conference speech the columnist notes that most successful leaders of the Opposition-Blair, Cameron, for example have shown their leadership qualities almost immediately. It's true Thatcher had a difficult two years but she had to overcome immense prejudice against her gender. Ed's truly awful poll ratings to date suggest he's not yet passed the acceptability test and that, like Foot, Kinnock, Hague, IDS and Howard, before him, he will struggle to make an impact and fail the electoral test into the bargain.
I hope this is not the case of course, and Ed has overturned a number of negative judgments about him already, but will he succeed in his ambitious objective of pulling the nation to the left? So far the economic crisis has not strengthened the left but rather the right. No 'left wing' movement has been spawned by the mismanagement of banks and national economies, apart from the single exception of Denmark. I think Ed's critique and proffered solutions would greatly assist the nation, but I fear Ed, to date has not shown the sort of persuasive skills required for such a renaissance in our political culture.
A second set of lapidary words was provided by Jonathan Freedland,28th Septembeer, who quoted an old teacher of his who used to say:
‘People don’t believe in ideas, they believe in people who believe in ideas.’
I fear this is true and I fear Ed has not yet shown, unlike Blair at a comparative stage in his career, definite signs he can get people to believe in him.
Thursday, October 06, 2011
'Catgate' Reveals Shortcomings of Coalition Government
I'm not sure which is the correct image of Maya the Cat but it doesn't really matter if the feline is Larry or even the late Humphrey, the argument is more importantly about the Human Rights Act. Ken Clarke, the Justice Minister, is a staunch defender of the HRA while Theresa May, his superior in the pecking order, thinks the act should be replaced by a British Bill of Rights (to which one is tempted to reply 'we already have one, vintage 1689).
As an academic it's embarrassing to be caught out making a foolish factual error, but for a Home Secretary, in front of an audience of millions, it is pretty unforgivable. Whoever told her it was absolutely the case that a Bolivian man had not been deported because he owned a cat. I wouldn't like to be that aide who fed in that one. May must be furious. Mind you, shouldn't she have checked it out properly herself...? Most of us lowly plebs would have done I'm sure.
No less, moreover as Ken chose to use his gift for rough language(and don't our tribe love him for it...) to her distinct disadvantage:
"We have a policy and in my old-fashioned way when you serve in a government you express a collective policy of the government, you don't go round telling everyone your personal opinion is different. I sat and listened to Theresa's speech and I'll have to be very polite to Theresa when I meet her, but in my opinion she should really address her researchers and advisers very severely for assuring her that a complete nonsense example in her speech was true."
We learn Ken has now apologised for what he said, but 'Catgate' it does suggest: government ministers are no more competent than their in many cases woeful predecessors; and there is a substantial Cabinet rift over the future of the HRA. The Lib Dems, of course venerate the act, drafted, as it was on the best jurisprudence and practice of British lawyers in the wake of the war.
For an excellent comment on the 'catflap' see Jonathan Freedland and this article from the Independent citing Attorney General Dominic Grieve's defence of the HR.
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
Tories Are Alienating Women Voters
This must worry them as recently as last Christmas the Tories enjoyed a lead among women voters- by June this year they had lost it. At this rate of loss how big is the gap going to become? A book by Sarah Childs and Paul Webb, Sex, Gender and the Conservative Party, argues that Cameron, despite his women friendly rhetoric and photo- ops, has soft pedaled on female candidates. They p[oint out that the Conservative Party contains two very distinctive type of female: the traditional, blue rinse, envelop stuffing old matrons and the ambitious career woman like Louise Mensch and Justine Greening. Labour, as Yvette Cooper demonstrated at the recent conference, currently has a number of able women in the public eye and Miliband is likely to promote more in his expected reshufffle.
David Cameron tries to tell us he's a 'new man' but, as with his social provenance, his tendency to make condescending remarks to women is something he cannot really disguise. As the cuts bite more deeply and affect even more hundreds of thousands of women, I suspect the voting gender gap will continue to widen.
Saturday, October 01, 2011
Increase Motrorway Speed Limit? Don't Think So.
Transport secretary Philip Hammond said the existing 70mph limit was "out of date", and that Britain needed to be "back in the fast lane of global economies". If this is an attempt by the government to open its conference with a vote-catching measure, it must be advised by Jeremy Clarkson, whose petrol-head effusions are emitted on Top Gear and in an inexplicable ST weekly column.
The Transport Ministry's 'initial analysis' indicated that such a measure would result in a 1% increase in road accident fatalities: maybe 19-25 more deaths. So that's alright then? The absurd idea that increasing our speed limit would put us back into the 'fast lane of global economies' justifies the deaths of two dozen more unnecessary deaths on the roads? Road deaths have gradually reduced since 1965 by 75%; this measure would halt the improvement.
Carbon emissions? The DfT says it would cause only a 1% increase but another bit of government- the Climate Change Committee- says it would be 3%. The World Health Organisation identifies speed as the key causal reason for road accidents- it would seem criminally counter-intuitive to reverse the reduction in casualties just to give the Conservative conference some opening va-va-voom.
Moreover, I think users regard the existing 70mph limit as flexible; I regularly am overtaken at 70 by vehicles doing what must be close to a 100 mph with apparent impunity. If we increase the limit to 80mph 100 mph will become the norm with all the damage to road safety that implies. Crap idea.