Friday, November 28, 2008

Damian Green

It should really go without saying that the arrest of the shadow Home Secretary Damian Green by anti-terrorist police was an outrage. I suppose he can consider himself lucky they only held him without charge for 9 hours, rather than 90 days.  Several points present themselves as being important here:

Who knew? Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and thus one of the Met’s bosses, was informed prior to the event. So was David Cameron. Apparently the Home Secretary, the Police Minister and the rest of the Government were not informed – maybe. In fact, there is a barely-discernible amount of wiggle room being inserted. Phil Woolas on the Today programme this morning said only that, to his knowledge, no Minister had been informed. Jacqui Smith, in her statement, said that the arrest had happened without ministerial involvement or authorisation. There’s a distinction between being informed and being involved – though I doubt whether semantics will help the Government if it turns out that they were informed.

On the basis that the Government weren’t informed, why the hell not? This is pre-eminently a political decision. The “crime” involved here was the leaking of political documents. The man arrested was shadow Home Secretary (incidentally, I wonder how many anti-terrorist officers David Davis would have taken down with him?). This was a political operation. Why the fuck didn’t the police keep the Home Office informed? Rozzers aren’t famous for their willingness to stick their head over the political parapet. Why did they rush over the top on this occasion?

Anti-terrorist police – what the fuck? I mean, what the fucking fuck? On the same day that terrorists cause carnage in Mumbai, with British subjects involved, with security levels presumably pretty high, why the fuck are numerous anti-terrorist police storming the home of a 52 year old MP? Disproportionate much?

Mr Speaker. Why did he give permission for the police to search Damian Green’s office? There’s a lot of civil war references flying around, and what they stand for is the role of Parliament. The Speaker’s job is to represent Parliament; he would have been well within his rights to refuse permission until the matter had been more clearly explained and/or charges had been brought: so what was he playing at?

This has the potential to be a real disaster for the Met Police, and for the Government if more comes out about the details behind this. Hopefully that will prevent future such arrests every time news that embarrasses Gordon Brown leaks out.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

3 mill? Fuck 'em

There’s more to deal with in Polly Toynbee’s article today, but one line leapt out at me.

Even if unemployment reaches 3 million, that still leaves 90% in secure jobs. Most people will suffer not at all in this recession: on the contrary they will do well as prices fall and the real value of their earnings rises.

Two points: firstly, is this, as James Forsyth says, the most staggeringly insensitive thing since Marie Antoinette?  And secondly, does anyone believe she was saying the same when unemployment touched three million under Margaret Thatcher?


Oh *that* sterling crash...

Today’s leader in the Times, which offers a heartfelt plea to all Australians in England to stay here (and since I’m married to one, I can only echo this), sparked off a distant memory.

So it is with some alarm that we should greet the news that the Australians are heading home: 2,700 a month, up from 1,750 a month in 2005. This is largely a vote of no confidence in the old country. As the recession bites, the lure of home, with unemployment at a 33-year low and the dollar at an 11-year high against sterling, is very tempting.

What it reminded me of was Chris Dillow – a man to whose planetary brain on matters economic I have been referring ever since I started writing this blog.  About a month ago, when Conservative commentators were starting to get antsy about the collapsing value of sterling, Chris wrote a piece called What Sterling crash? decrying their simplicity.

The Tories are trying to blame sterling’s fall on Gordon Brown. And they’re failing. Fraser Nelson writes:

“The sterling crash has now begun in earnest. The pound has today (today!) fallen 9% against the Yen and is off 4% against the dollar to a lowly $1.56 with forecasts of $1.40 or lower next year. Against any other currency you may mention, it’s now plunging.”

Don’t mention the Aussie dollar: the pound’s near a four-year high against that. And it’s only 1.6% below its six-month average against the euro.

Well, that’s some slump, huh?  From a four year high to an eleven year low in a month.  Luckily, Chris provided himself with excellent cover:

If he knew anything about FX markets, he’d one that the one parity that does exist is the one between the value of an exchange rate forecast and that of a wet fart.

In any event, even if there was a devaluation of sterling this was actually a good thing: Far from being a sign of trouble, sterling’s weakness is actually a help. In making exports and import-substitutes cheaper, it will - with a long lag - help boost profits and economic activity and relieve the recession.  To which one might reply, with Matthew Parris

And even if Anatole is right (and is he?) that it is simply our low interest rates that have caused sterling's fall, does it end debate to remark that by making exports more competitive “the pound's decline is not a problem but a solution”? Then rejoice, Zimbabweans; prepare for boom-time, Iceland.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kaletsky and the Tories

I have a residual respect for Anatole Kaletsky that comes from being forced to read him as an economics guru during the lead-up to my A-level all those years ago.  This respect seems, somehow, to survive his being wrong on more or less everything of significance during that time.  But worms turn, and his article this morning is fatuous in the extreme.  We’ll pass over the fawning over Gordon Brown with little more than an indulgent sneer (if there is such a thing).

The good news for the world economy is that Mr Brown has become a leader of global stature, filling the policy vacuum created by the clueless dithering of the Bush Administration and the surprising failure of Barack Obama to step into the breach.

Balls.  And not of the Ed variety either.  And anyway, just what the hell does he expect Barack Obama to do about it?  The man has absolutely no power to do anything whatsoever.  And such is Brown’s towering stature in the world that no-one gives the tiniest toss about him – he racked the grand total of, um, no mentions at all in most US press coverage of the recent G20 summit.  But my real beef is with his depiction of Conservative economic policy.

Last week George Osborne showed that he had learnt nothing, by foolishly identifying the recent weakness of sterling with the alleged weakness of the British economy and the Government's fiscal policy. In fact, the pound's decline is not a problem but a solution. It follows naturally from the Bank of England's aggressive rate cuts and the monetary freedom that Britain retained by staying out of the euro. This precious freedom is now reflected in the highly competitive exchange rate and ultra-low interest rates that will help to lay the foundations for recovery, just as they did in 1994-95 and 1983-84.

There’s a reasonable point to be made that monetarily necessary interest-rate cuts have driven the value of sterling lower.  However, if Sterling continues its slide – as is likely if Labour indulge in the sort of unfunded fiscal stimulus they seem to be planning – then interest rates will have to rise in order to attract the levels of borrowing that Labour will be forced to seek.  Interest rate pressure is not the only cause of sliding currency, as Kaletsky must surely know.  Kaletsky goes on to damn the Tories opposition to rampant fiscal expansionism saying that all prudence must be suspended until the end of the credit crunch:

That will be the time to hear from advocates of fiscal prudence - but until then the right policy will be to borrow and spend.

I have two things to say about this.  The first is that the Tories have abandoned Labour spending commitments that Labour have also abandoned.  It’s hardly earth-shattering.  The second is that there is something intrinsically unconvincing about the following argument.  Britain is entering a recession in a economically poor state.  This is because for the duration of a ten year boom there has been too little saving and too much public and private borrowing.  The only way to get out of this situation, is for the Government to borrow much much more, and to encourage the public also to borrow more.  Japan basically tried this throughout the 1990s.  Public debt ballooned to ludicrous levels, interest rates remained at zero for years, growth never really recovered.

Every Labour Government basically spends money until it runs out, and then borrows more until it runs out of that.  That’s why Labour Governments leave office with unemployment higher than when they began, and usually with sterling in crisis.  It’s just taken longer this time.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The haka: a modest proposal

Every time the All Blacks deign to grace us with their presence in the Northern hemisphere, the same weary controversy gets under way: has the haka had its day?  Is it an unpleasant, intimidatory piece of theatre with a dubious historical provenance, or an inalienable piece of Kiwi heritage – binding the fush-and-chuppers to the Maori history of New Zealand?

I used to believe that there were two proper responses to it.  The team could stand right on the half-way line and eyeball the All Blacks right back, trying to out-intimidate them.  A great exponent of this was Fran Cotton, who when the North of England beat the All Blacks in 1979, memorably shouted just after it “Hey – look at those fat poofs dancing!”.  Alternatively, you could just ignore it utterly and get on with doing something else – like Campese’s little games of keep-it-up.

Inevitably, any such suggestion raises a furious response from aggrieved Kiwis.  Frank Keating’s article here attracts, at a conservative estimate, seven million responses, mostly win strangulated vowels, condemning him for being a bigoted, ignorant old bastard.  The stock response is that the haka is a cultural representation of ancient (ie: 19th century) Maori military tradition, and the English are just jealous because we have nothing to match it.

So, in the spirit of compromise, I can suggest a solution, a historically accurate, culturally sensitive solution.  While the All Blacks perform their traditional war dance, complete with throat slitting and so forth, the English can form into two neat lines, front rank kneeling.  And then shoot them.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama - now at La Scala

This is simply magnificent.

L’Obama, ossia L’Avvento del Messia
Opera in Tre Atti


Barracco Obama, Il Messia, Redentore del Mondo.....................................Tenore Miracoloso
Santa Micaela della Revoluzione, sua sposa............................................Soprano Amaro
Giovanni Maccheno, Senatore, Avversario dello Obama..............................Basso Buffo
Sara Palino, Governatrice del Alaska e Reginetta di Bellezza........................Coloratura Buffa
Guglielmo Priapo, Ex-Presidente........................................................Tenore Mentitore
Hillaria, sua Sposa, altra Avversaria dello Obama....................................Soprano Ambizioso
Elena Tomasso, una strega..............................................................Contralto Venenoso
Giuseppe Bideno, “Piedimbocca”......................................................Tenore Buffo
Il Spirito di Giorgio Secondo, L‘Abominazione........................................Baritono Cattivo
Il Spirito di Ruscio Limbago, Bocca Grande............................................Basso Noioso
Jeremia Ritto, un uomo pazzo, pastore dello Obama.................................Basso Demagogico
Guglielmo Ayers, terroristo Americano, amico dello Obama.........................Tenore Anarchico
Un Sempliciotto...........................................................................Tenore Profetica

Il Popolo, La Media Elite, Il Mondo, Il Congresso, Terroristi.

La Piazza del Cattedrale di Washington.

It is the day after the election. Outside the Washington Cathedral, the People and La Media Elite celebrate the victory of Barracco Obama over his adversary, Giovanni Maccheno (Coro: “Esultate! Il Messia è venuto!”). The World enters and joins The People in their celebration, singing their own chorus rejoicing in the fact that Obama’s election will hasten the demise of American power and influence (“America è in debolezza, evviva!”) The two choruses swell and merge in a powerful contrapuntal choral episode. As the chorus reaches its climax, trumpets herald the arrival of Lord Obama the Most Merciful, who enters with his wife, Santa Micaela della Revoluzione and his retinue. The crowd becomes frenzied, with some falling in a swoon (“Obama! Obama! Redentore del Mondo! Io manco!”). Obama heals two lepers and resurrects the dead daughter of a Washington policeman.
He then addresses the crowd (“Nel posar sul mio capo la corona”). At the sound of his voice, the crowd falls silent, gazing up at him with adoring, vacant expressions. In an eloquent aria, Obama promises that the dark days of the Tyrant, Giorgio Secondo, are over (“Dopo si lunga notte”) and a new Golden Age will dawn for the world under his rule (“Un siglo d’oro è venuto”): the economy shall heal, America’s enemies shall beat their bomb jackets into plowshares, the lame shall walk, there will be a chicken in every pot, the whole world shall have universal health care, all the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay will be released, and planes shall arrive and take off on schedule. Each stanza of this great aria is punctuated by the chorus (“Ohmmm! Salvatore!”) At its conclusion, Obama invites The People and The World to a celebration at which he will personally change the water into wine and feed the guests with seven croissants and five grande lattes. He enters the cathedral for his coronation, followed by the crowd.

From the right, Giovanni Maccheno and Sara Palino enter the deserted piazza. Giovanni laments his loss of the election to Barracco Obama (“O mia vergogna!”). In a rambling, boring monologue sung in a monotone, he recites his brave history on the battlefield (“Si, fui soldato!”) and wonders why this was not enough to get him elected 30 years later. In a lilting refrain (“Tu sei troppo vecchio”), Sara Palino suggests that it might be because he’s a worn-out old has-been with the excitement level of a rusty AAA battery. She reminds him of her own qualifications for Vice-President (“Può vedere Russia dalla mia casa”) and what a help she has been to him. To cheer him up, the perky Sara launches into one of the best known arias in the score, the brilliant coloratura Polonaise “Io son Regina di Bellezza,” in which she sings of her experience as a beauty pageant contestant. But Giovanni is inconsolable: in a touching duet, he and Sara lament how they will now have to go wandering across the country, begging for speaking engagements (“Andrem raminghi è poveri”). Suddenly Giovanni hears someone approaching (“Ohimé, s’appressa alcun!”) and he and Sara hide behind a column.

From the left enter former President Guglielmo Priapo and his termagant wife, Hillaria. Hillaria is furious over her defeat at the hands of L’Obama in the primaries. In a passionate outburst ranging up to a shrill, wobbly high C, she rages that the Prize was within her grasp (“È mio! È tutto mio!”), but she was betrayed by La Media Elite who abandoned her for
un altro amore. Must she live to see this upstart novice on the throne while she languishes in boring Senate committee meetings? Is it for this that she has suffered public humiliation and eaten shit sandwiches served by her husband for the past 35 years? No, it is too much! (È troppo! non reggo! soffoco!”) Gugliemo counsels patience: her day will come, and L’Obama will overreach himself. He tells Hillaria that he has a plan to get them both back in la Casa Bianca, where she can rule while he chases interns. Just then he spots Guglielmo and Sara off to the side, and he begins to make a move on Sara. He tells her she is a real babe, and this develops into the famous Quartet, “Bella figlia dell’Alaska:” Guglielmo tries to grope Sara; Sara tells him a joke about lipstick on pitbulls; Hillaria sings that her day of vengeance will come; and Guglielmo stutters, in repetitive phrases, how Obama will raise everyone’s taxes and endanger national security.

When the Quartet ends, the crowd surges out of the cathedral, proclaiming the new Messiah, followed by L’Obama in full regalia. A powerful concluding ensemble ensues: The People, the World and La Media Elite acclaim L’Obama; Barracco heals a lame man and exults in his new power; Giovanni Maccheno whines about the ingratitude of the American People while Sara Palino practices her baton twirling; Guglielmo plans that evening’s rendezvous with his new cutie, while Hillaria plots her comeback. Unnoticed in the background, a small group of Islamic terrorists rejoice in Obama’s election. Everyone then exits to follow Obama to the Reflecting Pool which he will walk on down the Mall to meet Il Congresso at Il Capitole.

The piazza is deserted and silent once more. Now enters the Simpleton, a crazy homeless man pushing a shopping cart filled with old newspapers. He sings a keening lament, weeping for the Motherland and the bitter years that lie ahead.


Go and read the rest of the synopsis, pure genius…  (Hat tip to Alex Massie)

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Party politics

Just a quick word on this, as it’s generating a good deal more heat than light (just look at the comments here).  Brown accused Cameron of turning the death of Baby P into a ‘party political’ matter – an accusation that genuinely enraged Cameron.  People have been suggesting that of course it was Cameron being party-political, it was in PMQs after all.  Well, I think there’s a distinction to be drawn here.

Had Cameron stood up and said that the death of Baby P was evidence of the failure of a Labour council and, by extension, of Labour administrations everywhere – that would have been a party political attack.  Had he blamed the Government for it and said that under a Tory Government it would never have happened – that would have been a party political attack.  That he asked a specific question, and then got tetchy that Brown wouldn’t answer them wasn’t party political.  It might have been political, but it wasn’t party political.  There is a difference, and it does matter.

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Baby P

I can barely read about Baby P.  It makes me feel physically sick.  Combined with anger at the sort of scum who could do such a thing - an anger that makes me want to put them up against a wall and shoot them – is a sort of numb hopelessness that it’s happened again.  Ten years after Victoria Climbie, in the same damn council, Haringey, social workers saw Baby P 60 fucking times.  He had bruises all over him, his fingernails had been torn out, his ear was fucking torn off – just what in the name of God would have made these people do something?  And of course no-one’s to blame, of course no-one’s going to lose their job over it.  After all, the inquiry conducted by Haringey council found that no-one had done anything wrong and everything in the garden was wonderful.

So David Cameron was quite right to raise this today at PMQs.  It’s a question of national importance – and Gordon Brown’s responses were first a shambles and then a disgrace.  As a stock response to a question you can’t – or won’t – answer, accusing the opposition of playing party politics is effective but limited.  Today it was grossly, offensively inappropriate.  It showed Brown as having the emotional intelligence of a Toilet Duck.  Add to that the barracking of Labour MPs of Cameron as he was asking questions – about, lest we forget, the brutal torturing to death of a baby – and it was about the least edifying experience imaginable.

Charles Kennedy noted that Tony Blair would handled the entire affair much better.  But, frankly, so would virtually any sentient human being.  Brown’s utter inability to see anything through other than the prism of party political advantage has been both a strength and a weakness through his career.  It’s possible that if the next General Election is run entirely on economic issues it might continue to be an advantage.  But if there are circumstances that require a more than two-dimensional view, then he’s doomed – and deserves to be.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Andrew Sullivan on Sarah Palin: for the love of God make him stop!

Just what the hell got into Andrew Sullivan this year?  His blog was one of the first I read, and I stayed sympathetic as he went from a standard conservative commentator to an increasingly anti-Republican one.  Hell, it must have been nearly impossible to be both a Republican and a vociferous gay-rights proponent.  But during the election he just got weird.  It wasn’t just the slavishly pro-Obama attitude, although that did make reading either his blog or his Sunday Times column more-or-less pointless.  It was more his shrilly furious reaction to Sarah Palin.

Now, there was a lot to oppose about Sarah Palin.  There was the inexperience (although it would be odd for such an Obama supporter) and the useless interviews and so on and so on.  But what Sullivan really hammered at was her pregnancy with her fifth child.  More than anyone else, Sullivan hammered on, and on and on, at the grubby little lie that “the real mother” was Bristol Palin, demanding that her high school attendance records be released, and that obstetricians give eye-witness reports of Sarah Palin giving birth.  Pausing for a second – what the hell gives Sullivan the right to demand that?  It’s grotesque.

When it was proved pretty conclusively that Bristol Palin couldn’t have been the mother – what with her being pregnant herself and all – Sullivan went off an a tangent – insisting that Sarah Palin was a hypocrite and a bad mother because she had amniocentesis.  Given that she is over 40, there was obviously a high risk of Down’s Syndrome, which in the event turned out to be the case.  In those circumstances, doctors will always put pressure on a mother to have an amnio.  And it’s entirely understandable that, even for a staunchly anti-abortion person, the certainty offered by an amnio is desirable.  But what the fuck is any of this to do with Sullivan?  Why does it matter to him?

Now you might think that this is all old news now.  The election’s over, Sullivan’s guy won and everybody’s happy.  Nope.

The McCain camp is now trying to dump Palin. But they picked her. And defended her. And we do not yet have full accountability. I won't relent till we do.

Give us the proof of Trig's maternity now!

He’s gone mad.  It’s like he has some peculiar fixation with someone, insists they spend all their time lying, stretching the definition while he does so and just won’t stop doing it well past the point where it’s become tedious and counter-productive and turns people away from his blog.  Good job that would never happen in the British blogosphere eh?

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Funded or unfunded?

How can he do it with a straight face?  Not only did Gordon Brown say that national debt was 37% - a distortion that would make Horatio Bottomley blush - prior to a Pre-Budget Report that will probably see total British public debt rise to over 50% not including PFI or public sector pension liabilities, but he had the effrontery to describe Conservative plans as “an unfunded tax cut”.

Two points to make on this.  The first is that the Tory plan is, to a certain extent, funded.  If it costs, as it does, £8,000 to pay unemployment benefit then granting a company which employs someone who has been employed for three months a £2,500 tax break can be construed as a net saving to the treasury.  The true drawback to the idea is that it is so limited – there will certainly be no direct fiscal stimulus provided.

The second point is that Gordon Brown can surely have no credibility making assertions about unfunded tax cuts – indeed, unfunded anything.  Britain’s PSBR is sky-rocketing and the Chancellor is making extremely unfussed assumptions about massively increased borrowing.  If they are serious about making tax cuts – real tax cuts rather than delayed tax rises – the money has to come from somewhere.  And from where does Brown envisage that it comes?

He emphasised that any action in Britain to increase borrowing in order to cut taxes and stimulate the economy needed to be matched with similar moves by other countries if the world was to pull out of the downturn.

From borrowing – in other words, unfunded.  In fact, Brown tied himself into a bizarre knot on this point.  Having first criticised the Tories’ for their “unfunded” tax cut, he then stated that it was in fact funded, and that this was a bad thing.

In a reference to the Tories, he says a funded tax cut is not a fiscal stimulus (because the fact that it's funded means that it is not putting extra money into the economy). In other words, Brown is making a virtue of the fact that he's favouring unfunded tax cuts.

So what is it?  Are unfunded tax cuts a good thing, a fiscal stimulus to help the economy?  Or a bad thing, proof of the Tories’ lack of seriousness?  Or, in truth does Brown not have the faintest idea?  In any event, it should lay Brown open to attack on his credibility.

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Gay marriage

I’m in favour of gay marriage, with one caveat – that religious institutions should not be forced into acknowledging it.  But if churches positively welcome it, then I don’t see any difficulties with it.  Were a law similar to Proposition 8 advocated in the UK, I’d be fiercely against it.  That’s because I’m a proper conservative – which might seem a non-sequitor, but as P.J. O’Rourke said:

I'm so conservative that I approve of San Francisco City Hall marriages, adoption by same-sex couples, and New Hampshire's recently ordained Episcopal bishop. Gays want to get married, have children, and go to church. Next they'll be advocating school vouchers, boycotting HBO, and voting Republican.

What’s not to like?

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Were they right to fight?

One of the more aggravating features of this time of the year is the rush of journalists to write articles in which they decry the First World War as pointless, contemporary British politicians criminal and British generals stupid.  George Monbiot has one such in the Guardian today. 

Like most people of my generation, I grew up with a mystery. I felt I understood the second world war. The attempt to dominate and destroy, to eliminate the people of other races, though raised to unprecedented levels by the Nazis, is a familiar historical theme. The need to stop Hitler was absolute, and the dreadful sacrifices of the second world war were unavoidable.

But the first world war, which ended 90 years ago today, seemed incomprehensible. The class interests of the men sent to kill each other were the same. While Germany was clearly the aggressor, the outlook of the opposing powers - seeking to expand their colonies and to dominate European trade - was not wildly different.

I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure what Monbiot means by the class interests of the respective Central and Allied armies – if indeed he means anything.  But the idea that the First World War was a pointless and unnecessary war is pernicious and false.  The war was escalated, deliberately, by Germany in order to knock out France and Russia as Great Powers.  Their expectation was that Britain would not intervene, as Monbiot seems to be retrospectively advocating, and that they would be able to defeat the French army in ample time to swing round and defeat Russia as well.  The war grew out of the German fear of encirclement.

Was it worth Britain intervening to prevent German domination of the continent of Europe?  It has been suggested that it would not have made much difference to Britain one way or the other, and that in opposing German ambitions Britain bankrupted her finances and slaughtered her youth to little purpose.  However, the Germany of the Kaiser was not so very different from the Germany of the Fuhrer.  And there is, in fact, excellent evidence of what a German victory would have entailed for Western Europe.

After the internal collapse of Russia and the Bolshevik coup, the Germans, in spite of Trotsky’s attempted delaying tactics, imposed brutal conditions in return for ‘peace’.  The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is a model for what German aims and methods were in the First World War, and a cursory look at it is enough to give the Allies a good reason to fight.  A third of Russia’s farmland; a quarter of her population; a huge amount of her industrial production: Brest-Litovsk tore the heart out of Russia.  Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic States were not given independence under the Treaty – they were simply transferred to a German rule that was intent on recovering her wartime losses.

There is more to be said about the wisdom of British policy leading up to the First World War – namely the procuring of binding alliances that would guarantee British involvement in a continental land war without concomitant expansion of the regular army – but to suggest that the war was unnecessary and that there was no moral difference between the sides is to be obtuse.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Good old Uncle Joe

This feature in the BBC goes to one of my pet annoyances – the whitewashing of Communist thugs, murderers and tyrants.  In this instance it’s Stalin, as seen in a picture behind Russell Brand (disclosure, when I first saw that last week, my first thought was that it was Stephen Fry in Blackadder IV).

Far more often, however, it’s Che Guevara.  That irritating little scrubby beard, stupid beret and unfocused stare crops up on every student bedsit in the country.  It doesn’t matter that Guevara was a murderer, a racist and an all round idiot; he’ll still always win the hearts of the unwashed.  It’s all part of the bewildering free pass that Communism seems to have won.  Bob Crow, the little tick, has a bust of Lenin in his office – as did Margaret Hodge.  There is, obviously, little point in recycling the old line that they wouldn’t have a bust of Hitler, although I once reduced a SWPer to fury by saying that the Che T-shirt he was offering me would go perfectly with my Heinrich Himmler baseball hat.

It’s still worth asking though, with Dizzy, just what sort of person would boast about their approval of Stalin.  You’d think that Katyn, the gulag, the Ukraine and the show-trials would be enough to put you off – oh, and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and the subjugation of Eastern Europe and so on and so on…

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Thursday, November 06, 2008


Hurrah!  It’s time for some more good old expectation management from Labour.  Now, in the past they have proved pretty bad at this, as their worst predictions have tended to be uncannily accurate.  Now, with the media narrative still obsessed with the Brown bounce, despite the lack of any hard evidence to support it, there’s just a chance that they might, might, manage to downplay expectations to an extent that they can survive even a defeat without losing their ‘resurgence’ narrative.

In truth, of course, they shouldn’t.  Glenrothes is about as safe a Labour seat as there is.  10,000 majorities should not be lost, even in a third term.  If they can’t win this one, where the hell can they win?

George W Bush’s staff famously talked about how they no longer worked in a reality-based environment – they constructed their own realities.  Brown and the Labour Party look like they’re doing much the same.  It will be interesting to see if it can survive an icy blast of old-fashioned external reality.

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Uh Oh

At the risk of appearing like Banquo’s ghost, and interrupting the party, I would suggest that this news is pretty troubling. 

President Medvedev ordered missiles to be stationed up against Nato’s borders yesterday to counter American plans to build a missile defence shield.

Speaking within hours of Barack Obama’s election, Mr Medvedev announced that Russia would base Iskander missiles in its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad – the former German city – next to the border with Poland.

He did not say whether the short-range missiles would carry nuclear warheads.

It seems to have been timed for when the attention of the world was elsewhere, and there’s just a chance it might have been aimed for a domestic audience – especially as he announced plans to extend presidential terms from four years to six at the same time.  However, Joe Biden’s prediction that Obama would be strongly tested by geo-political events looks like coming true.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Narrative and reality

Bob Piper has a piece discussing the change in media narrative identified by Mike Smithson at political betting.  Bob's main point is as follows:

The fact that the media are now homing in on the "Brown rescues Britain" story is only a counterbalance to the "Brown is a disaster" story they were running for the 12 months prior to that because Brown had embarrassed the media when he didn't call the general election they had all predicted. The impact of that massively influenced public opinion, and over the next six months, if the "recovery" story continues it will be interesting to see how the figures that Smithson and his fellow gamblers follow so avidly, start to turn round.

Well up to a point Lord Copper.  The thing is that media narratives require a basis in reality.  They can lead reality, they can even shape it a bit, but they can't create it out of nothing.  An example would be the deaths of Princess Diana and Jill Dando.  In the first case there was already a great public wave that the media caught, rode and encouraged.  In the second the same tricks were used, the same things written, but the public simply weren't as interested.  With Brown and Labour, for all the media emphasis on "Labour recovery" and "Brown saves the world" the wider public don't seem to have bought it.  And unlike most media themes, there will be some concrete evidence one way or the other: there's a by-election this week at Glenrothes.  We'll be able to see just to what extent this Labour recovery is a product of wishful thinking.  If Labour lose, expect to see a quick return to the 'Gordon's a loser' theme that was such fun between October last year and October this year.

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RE: Why McCain lost

Well, I'm not quite nailing my colours to this mast: though I do think it vastly more likely that McCain will lose today, the possibility that he might scrape a win should not be wholly ruled out.  But if he loses it's worth pointing out, in order of significance, a few reasons why.

1.  The economic crisis
McCain was picked, ultimately, as a National Security candidate.  Iraq, Afghanistan, the War on Terror generally: these were supposed to be what this election was about.  McCain had the experience, gravitas and reputation to be a favourite on this topic.  But the financial crisis that enveloped the world this autumn turned the election into an economic election.  And McCain avowedly knows next to nothing about economics.  It's also the case that traditional small-state economics is harder to sell to the electorate in the bad times than promises of jacked-up spending and bail-outs.

2.  George W Bush
There's not that much more to say really.  The incumbent has been a millstone round McCain's neck.  Obama's most effective (and least accurate) line has been that McCain represents four more years of Bush.  It's nonsense, McCain has made his name by opposing his own party, but that it has been such an effective attack speaks volumes for the standing of the President.

3.  Sarah Palin
Now, I'm slightly conflicted on this one.  I don't believe she is as much of a disaster as she is portrayed.  Certainly the most egregious gaffes have been made not by her but by Joe Biden (the whole 'in 1929 FDR went on television to explain what happened" thing).  But that's almost irrelevant.  Her magnificently effective lampooning by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live, triggered by her deeply unimpressive interviews with Katie Couric have made her a figure of fun - never a good thing for a politician.  However, those with the most extreme reactions to her (and my, have they been extreme) have been the ultra partisans of the other side.

4.  The tide of history
Slightly nebulous here I admit, but for all the pseudo-philosophical rubbish, there is a sense that Obama's time is now.  To an extent this is just an exaggerated form of political gravity - the Republicans have been in power since 1994, either in Congress or the White House, and it would be stretching the system beyond credibility if they were to remain in power much longer.  It's also a way of saying that, for all that Obama should be eminently beatable, with almost no experience and a reliably liberal voting record, he hasn't proved to be anything like.  He's run a formidable campaign, aided by tons and tons of money (some of it slightly shady, but there we are) and…

5.  A hostile media
Not too much should be made of this: the American media are always more hostile to Republicans than Democrats, and given the Obama factor described above it's no surprise that the press came out for him early and hard.  Andrew Sullivan has, in the words of Christopher Hitchens been "wanting to have Obama's fucking children" for months, and he's hardly alone in that.  Scandals have been interpreted and reported on these lines: Sarah Palin has expensive clothes? Acres of coverage.  Barack Obama's online funding system wide open to fraud (including a donation from Adolf Hitler, 1, the Reichstag)? What scandal?  This has been doubly hard for McCain given that he was used to media adulation - "my base" and all that.

There are of course a lot of other factors, including the supreme efficiency of the Obama camp in matters fundraising and campaigning and the generally lacklustre nature of the McCain campaign.  But the overall impression is just that the narrative is wrong for McCain and right for Obama.  There is however one small, tentative prediction I would make: this is going to be a bit closer than people are suggesting.  I have no real basis for thinking this - and indeed there are good grounds for predicting a absolute trousering - but something just slightly niggles…

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