Wednesday, July 22, 2009

More expectation management

More expectation management

I mentioned last year that Labour have become rather bad at expectation management, “for the simple reason that reality is starting to outstrip their worst predictions”.  Well, they are clearly determined to remedy that.  A story in the Telegraph this morning displays surely the ne plus ultra of Labour expectation management.

Labour insiders are privately predicting a meltdown in what is supposed to be a reasonably safe seat, with just 8 per cent of voters expected to back Gordon Brown.

8 per cent?  Now that’s management.  And there’s more too.  Not content with setting extraordinarily unambitious benchmarks for the Labour performance, they are also trying to queer David Cameron’s pitch too…

One member of the Labour entourage tried to peddle me the line that anything less than a majority of 10,000 would be a bad result for David Cameron.

The Labour majority being defended, incidentally, is about 5,500.  The problem with all this, as I mentioned a year ago, is that if you push an extremely downbeat prediction as ‘disastrous’ with the confident expectation that the result will at least be better than that, you look a terrible fool if the results aren’t any better.  By pitching their semi-official prediction so risibly low, Labour must be hoping that they’re covered this time.  I mean, it surely can’t be all as bad as that, can it?

Joy at Lords

Joy at Lords

How good was that then?  Watching England at Lords on Friday must have been one of the best days of cricket I have ever seen, and Flintoff on Monday morning was nothing short of magnificent.  The Aussies were simply outplayed on a very flat pitch.  A few things do slightly detract from the warm glow of English superiority though.

1.  We got by far the best of the conditions.  Batting in the sunshine at Lords is an entirely different proposition to batting under cloud.  When it was overcast the ball swung and nipped around, when it was sunny it was as flat as a pancake.  England batted mostly when it was sunny, the Aussies mostly when it wasn’t.  Still, you’ve got to use the conditions don’t you?

2.  Umpiring.  Too much can be read into this – cricket is full of marginal calls going either way, and the team on top usually benefits, partially at least because they are generating more appeals.  Katich’s no-ball was of a type routinely missed a dozen times a test match, I remember an England/Pakistan game where, I think, Saqlain Mushtaq took four wickets off ‘no-balls’.  Hughes catch, which has generated the most Aussie whinging, was of a type with all low catches.  If you look through the foreshortened lens of a 2-d television camera, it will look as though it’s on the grass.  But as Tony Grieg demonstrated a few years back, that’s true when the ball is actually six inches off the turf.  The umpires had the best view, and they thought it was out.  That’s good enough.  As for Hussey’s dismissal, watching it in real time, the ball deviates and there’s a sharp ‘snick’.  It looked and sounded out.

3.  Mitchell Johnson.  Blimey, where to start?  He looked like Alan Mullaly had mated with Steve Harmison on one of his bad days.  A more bountiful display of filth I have rarely seen on a cricket pitch – even when I was bowling it.  And the really good thing is that the replacement options for Australia consist of three crocks in Lee, Clark and Watson.  In fact, that leads me to:

4.  The Australian squad selection.  Two openers, one of whom had played three Tests?  OK, so Hughes came garlanded with ‘the next Bradman’ tag, but still.  As it has panned out so far, Hughes looks like Donald Bradman when the ball is short outside off stump, and Donald Duck when it’s anywhere else.  He hops about like a pea on a drum.  If he doesn’t get this sorted (and can he?  It’s the basis of his technique) Australia have a real problem at the top of the order.  And although Hauritz has bowled well, he is still not a truly attacking spin option.

But, even taking all that into account, it was a great performance by England.  Strauss batted superbly, and with Cook gave England great starts in both innings.  Anderson, Swann and especially Flintoff bowled heroically (Broad and Onions were both adequate, but little more).  Even the news that Pieterson is out of the series should not prevent England from holding onto this lead now.  Edgbaston, the Oval and Headingly have been batsmen's’ paradises this summer – how much would you really bet on Australia’s physically and emotionally fragile attack taking 60 wickets?

Monday, July 13, 2009

A moral paragon...

A moral paragon...

Good game eh?  Or, more accurately, four and a half pretty miserable days followed by half a day of nail-biting tension.  Great work by Collingwood, astonishing blocking by Anderson and Panesar, neither of whom exactly inspired me with great confidence.  And another fabulous example of Punter spitting the dummy.

As far as I'm concerned, it was pretty ordinary, really. But they can play whatever way they want to play. We came to play by the rules and the spirit of the game. It's up to them to do what they want to do.

Ah yes, the spirit of the game.

The sting of defeat still vivid, Australia's captain Ricky Ponting suffered the further ignominy of being fined 75% of his match fee - just under £4,000 - as a result of his post-dismissal tirade on Saturday…

Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting was fined 25 per cent of his match fee on Monday for showing dissent during the opening day of the second Test against Bangladesh…

Australian captain Ricky Ponting has been fined 30 percent of his match fee for showing dissent over an umpiring decision in the second one-day against the West Indies in Grenada Friday…

Captain Ricky Ponting has personally had to cough up $23,200 to the International Cricket Council after getting fined in five of 16 Tests without his spin king - by far the worst record in world cricket…

Australian captain Ricky Ponting has been hauled by match referee Chris Broad for dissent during the first ODI of the DLF Cup here on Tuesday.  Ponting was fined his entire match fee after being found guilty of `showing dissent at an umpire's decision'…

You know, I’m not sure we need to be taking lessons on the spirit of cricket from the Aussies, just ask Trevor Chappell and Brian McKechnie

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Guardian distilled into 26 words

The Guardian distilled into 26 words

I’ve always been a big fan of the Daily Mail-o-matic.  Yet the Guardian have gone one better, and have perfected a machine which produces a perfect Guardian article, regardless of subject matter.  It’s obviously still in the development stages, but a sneak preview has been put up on the site.  It’s a film review, of Bruno, which is a promising start for an auto-Guardian article, being a prolonged skit on homosexuality and reactions to it.

It gets off to a good start.

I've never felt more grateful for being working class than after watching Bruno.

But really comes into its own with the following sentence:

In fact, his preoccupation with male genitalia and anal sex is so tedious, it makes you forget the real outrage: the inequality of the class system.

This is the most glorious distillation of the Guardian’s worldview.  You could probably print it one hundred times on every page of the Guardian and no-one would notice the difference.

The plot thickens slightly, however, when you realise what a toweringly self-deluded shit the author, Nirpal Dhiliwal, is. 

Last Christmas, my wife threw me out after discovering I'd been cheating on her. On the night we got back together, I made strong, passionate love to her. Unfaithful as I'd been, I was not going to let her have me over a barrel for the rest of our marriage. I needed to keep a sense of self and not allow her to mire me in guilt and a desperate quest of forgiveness.

I needed to let her know what she would be missing if we broke up for ever. I gave her a manful bravura performance that night, and at the height of her passion, I asked her: 'Who's the boss?'

Well, the answer to that question can probably be determined by the title of his wife’s next column.  I'm finally, finally, finally divorcing my husband.  The man needs help.  Or a punch in the face, I’m easy either way.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Can Andy Coulson survive?

Can Andy Coulson survive?

On the face of it this looks like a huge story – the News of the World were hacking thousands of private phones!  Newsroom out of control!  Tory Director of Communications was at one point editor or deputy editor!  Lefty blogs have, predictably and understandably, gone gangbusters on this, with a lot of comparisons being made to Damian McBride.  Cameron has been quick to state that Andy Coulson’s job is not at risk over this, which I hope means that there’s no new evidence waiting to come out of the woodwork  - one of the lessons of McBride was that it’s better to resile an unsupportable position quickly, rather than have it dragged out of you.

A few further thoughts on what this means though:

1.  Labour have been quick to try and make capital out of this, by highlighting Andy Coulson’s role with the NOTW.  But they have to be pretty careful here.  In their rush to get at Cameron, who I suspect is reasonably well insulated from this row, Labour must try and avoid stomping too heavily on Murdoch and News International.  It may already have passed the point of no return as regards media support for Labour, but how many skeletons are rattling in Labour cupboards?

2.  In the Guardian coverage they refer to the fact that the litigation between News International and Gordon Taylor settled out of court, and “News Group then persuaded the court to seal the file on Taylor's case to prevent all public access, even though it contained prima facie evidence of criminal activity.”  So, the court papers were closed by court order, which means that when they shout that, “Today, the Guardian reveals details of the suppressed evidence,” they are surely acting in direct breach of that court order – or as it is more commonly known, in contempt of court.   Surely the headline “Newspaper acts in direct breach of the law!” loses some of its force when the newspaper writing it is also acting in direct breach of the law?

3.  Is this really the Tories’ Damian McBride moment?  I don’t think so.  McBride was writing his scurrilous emails and planning his grubby little site while employed by the Government as a civil servant.  Coulson is accused of having been responsible for people who were breaking the law.  As Dizzy says, the relationship of an editor to his journalists is not entirely dissimilar to that of a minister and his civil servants.  Which would make the proper comparison between Coulson and Gordon Brown, which I doubt is one Labour want made – especially as Coulson resigned.

4.  Mike at politicalbetting speculates that the coverage of this may see the Tory share increase.  Well, if it does it will certainly provide strong corroboration for the theory that what matters to the Tories is coverage – negative or positive.  The implications of that for a General Election campaign are clear, and highly dangerous for Labour.

5.  How straightforward is the Guardian’s reporting on this?  A lot of play is being given to the “2-3,000” people who have had their phones tapped, and the clear implication is that the NOTW have tapped these phones.  But the exact wording is a bit less sweeping.  “Officers found evidence of News Group staff using private investigators who hacked into "thousands" of mobile phones.”  The wording is a little opaque, but it looks more as though the private investigators hacked thousands of phones, and were sometimes employed by the journalists.  The idea that all 3,000 people could launch a class action against News International looks a little far-fetched.

I think the big risk for David Cameron is that this story develops in ways he hasn’t foreseen and that he is eventually compelled to fire Andy Coulson in such a way that he loses credibility from it.  The big risk for Labour is that they alienate News International so thoroughly that they find themselves unpleasantly targeted in the way that John Major was.  The risk for NOTW?  Well, provided no-one actually goes to prison, how much reputational damage can they suffer?  It’s not as if they had a lofty reputation for truth and honesty is it?

Monday, July 06, 2009



This is a standard ‘in it to win it’ europhile piece of a sort you could have read at any time since about 1965.  It’s argument is simply that if Britain left the European Union it would still have to comply with all European regulations or have its products banned from sale. 

One only has to look at the financial services industry to see the risks. If British-based providers of financial services wanted to do business in the single market, they would have to abide by whatever regulations the rest of the EU dreamed up. These would certainly be more restrictive in the absence of British involvement. At a time when other EU governments see an opportunity to cut London down to size, would it really make sense to be a bystander?

But this is nonsense.  In fact, it’s an inversion of the truth.  Britain exports financial services to the world, not merely to the EU.  Do we have to abide by global regulations?  Do we hell.  If the EU wants to impose highly restrictive regulation on financial services that’s not bad news for the City – it’s the best news imaginable.  Look at what happened in the aftermath of Sarbanes-Oxley.  Public listings in the US fell, while those on the LSE soared.  The extremely restrictive US laws on securities (ERISA and the SEA) have meant that the world capital for bond issues is London (or was until recently).  The last thing that we need to do is engage in trans-national regulation if our aim is to maintain our competitive advantage.

Mandy for PM?

Mandy for PM?

The problem with this, rather entertaining, piece by Julian Glover imagining Prime Minister Mandelson is not the scenario it charts leading to Brown’s downfall – that’s perfectly foreseeable.

In the last week of August, news hit the City that Standard & Poor's had downgraded Britain's credit rating. Hours later the Treasury announced an auction of £4bn worth of 25-year bonds at 4.5% had failed – dealers dismissed them as a risky punt compared with the security of German or US loans. The chancellor was forced by Downing Street to make a live broadcast dismissing the story as "incomplete and misleading". But when the governor of the Bank of England confirmed his deep alarm about Britain's inability to pay its way, Darling's resignation became inevitable…

He made one last effort to stay on, announcing from Scotland that Balls was to become chancellor and Woodward chief secretary, in charge of spending. The appointments simply added insult to injury. In London, the cabinet gathered to issue a private ultimatum: Brown must go or they would quit – and to everyone's surprise, he folded. He gave a dignified final statement to Sky News, before flying to Harvard with his family. He has not spoken in public since.

I can envisage that, or something like it, happening quite easily.  I can even imagine the circumstances whereby Lord Mandelson became Prime Minister after a show of hands in cabinet, although it’s a bigger stretch.  What I really can’t imagine is this.

Within days Mandelson had introduced a bill for rapid democratic reform of the Lords. He won support when he persuaded Vince Cable to become his independent chancellor. John Cruddas and James Purnell joined the cabinet; soon after, Mandelson – released from the Lords – fought and narrowly won a byelection to get him back into the Commons.

The general election date was confirmed well in advance: 6 May 2010.

With just months to go, an emergency programme of cuts has given the government an austere sense of purpose – the halving of the Olympic budget, the scrapping of Trident, and withdrawal from Afghanistan are said to be just the start. The Tories have been outflanked. At 34%, their poll rating is now just 1% ahead of Labour.

Vince Cable won’t join the Labour Party.  It is not possible to resign a life peerage – and legislative attempts to allow this would take a very long time, as they would have very wide-ranging constitutional moment and be resisted tooth and nail by the opposition, and in the Lords itself.  The Labour Party are already riven with enough splits without having Peter Mandelson  - who 70% of them loathe - as leader.  Not going to happen.  Brown will stagger on until next year and then go down to the humiliation he so richly deserves…

Turning in the wind

Turning in the wind

As I may have mentioned once or twice, I bowl off-spin (though my actual cricket appearances this season have been strictly curtailed both by the arrival of my beautiful daughter and by the fact that, in my only appearance so far, I dived in the outfield and broke a rib).  I love spin bowling.  It turns what can be a purely physical contest between bat and ball into a series of psychological challenges.  Anyone who saw Shane Warne bowling to Kevin Pieterson in the 2005 Ashes would recognise that quality spin bowling adds a whole other dimension to cricket.  No team should ever play a match without a front line spinner in the side.

That Australia look poised to do so would have seemed impossible even a couple of years ago.  But in the aftermath of the Warne era, Aussie spinners have been either too old (McGill and Hogg), not good enough (Kreyza, Casson, White) or too old and not good enough (poor old Bryce McGain).  The sole specialist in the Ashes squad, Nathan Hauritz, looks about as threatening as a damp flannel.  His first class average, which is as good a way of measuring quality as any other, is a distinctly underwhelming 47.  Just by way of comparison, Richard Illingworth (not Ray, Richard) managed 31; Ashley Giles got it below 30.  Graeme Swann, England’s leading spinner, laughably rated by Warne as equivalent to Hauritz, has a first class average of 32, and, as importantly, has taken five wickets in an innings 17 times, twice at Test level.  Hauritz has never taken five wickets in an innings.

Australia are clearly suffering a spin drought.  Worryingly, for them, this drought is far more of a natural state than the embarrassment of riches when Warne was understudied by McGill.  Spin bowlers take longer to develop than quicks, require far more careful handling, and more intelligent captaincy.  Put a pace bowler on in the early stages of a game and the field sets itself.  Slips and a gully, point, cover and mid off, mid on, mid wicket, square leg and deep fine leg.  If the ball’s swinging take out midwicket and put him in the slips.  If it’s bouncing take out mid on and put him there too.  Easy.

Spinners, however, are generally put onto to bowl once it becomes clear that the quicks aren’t going to get the breakthrough.  The batsmen are well set, and the fielders’ heads are starting to drop.  Short boundaries, chunky bats and rippling muscles mean that good balls can get deposited for boundaries.  For too many captains, two or three boundaries mean that the spinner is quietly sent into the outfield and replaced by an economical medium pacer (not that I’m bitter or anything).

Attacking spinners find it very difficult to keep a place in the side – skippers preferring figures of 10-3-23-1 to 10-1-55-4.  Accordingly defensive spinners predominate – bowling darts at leg stump with a packed legside field.  Flight, bounce and turn are discarded in favour of accuracy and economy.  Spinners end up bowling to give the quicks a break, and to keep one end tied down.  That in a nutshell is how we move from Shane Warne to Nathan Hauritz.  From attack to defence.  And it’s a problem at every level of cricket, from village all the way to Test level.  But tight lines and defensive fields don’t win Test matches – what you need is aggression, skill and the courage to toss the next ball up after being hit for six.  As Ian Chappell said, if you want containers go to a shipping yard.