Thursday, January 27, 2011

Not really back...

Popping out briefly from self-imposed exile to note that John Rentoul may have been precipitate in classifying this from Will Straw as number 496 in his series of Questions To Which The Answer Is No.

Will Ed Balls be the recession’s Churchill?

Because while at first glance this does indeed look ridiculous, Will Straw doesn’t specify which Churchill he’s talking about.  OK, it’s obvious that the Lion of Empire 1939-45 variety can be ruled out of court straight away – but what about the Chancellor who disastrously re-introduced the Gold Standard in 1924? Or the one who was so spectacularly wrong about India? Or the one who ballsed up the Gallipolli campaign? Or the one who was so wrong about the Abdication Crisis? Maybe Will Straw’s not being quite so ridiculous after all…

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Fascinating as all this politics stuff is at the minute, a more than usually vicious concatenation of circumstances has struck, leaving me with neither the time nor, to be honest, the inclination to post just at the minute. Normal service will be resumed shortly, I hope.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The plus side to incompetence

People seem to be waking up to the fact that the Shadow Chancellor needs to have L and R written on his shoesConcerned lefties are starting to say (as really ought to have been obvious right from the beginning) that if Labour want to look even vaguely like an alternative in Government, then the Shadow Chancellor ought to be someone who can read without needing to use his index finger.  But it’s not actually an entirely bad thing for Labour that their lead economic spokesman is so hopeless.

Since about 1994, the economic principle that drove the New Labour project was to encourage the boom in the financial and property markets, and to use the increased tax revenues from that to finance a substantial expansion in the state. Fears that these booms were just cyclical, and ought either to be reined in or at least regarded as temporary were dismissed – boom and bust had been abolished after all.

One of the more coherent responses from the left to the financial crisis has been that the financial sector was essentially too profitable during the boom years (a refinement on that being that the ‘profits’ being made and taxed were basically illusionary) and that reforms need to be made that reflect that fact. That is, of course, all well and good but getting rid of the sort of massive profits that so rile the left also means getting rid of the bumper tax revenues that go with them.

One half of the equation has collapsed. What does that imply for the other half? Well, Labour could try and maintain increased public spending by substantially raising general taxation. But we’re talking very substantial sums here. Labour say they want to eliminate the structural deficit by 2016 – if this is all to be done through tax rises that’s £90bn they’re going to have to find – 2/3 of the total income tax take. I don’t see this being an electorally successful position.

So cuts of some form are going to have to be made – but cuts are, as we are seeing, unpopular. Why take the hit on suggesting cuts if you don’t have to? Surely it’s better to gain political capital by opposing each individual nasty cut, without having to sacrifice it by proposing your own? Alternatively, deny the validity of the question. There’s no such thing as a structural deficit: growth will take care of it. We can make up what we need by taxing ‘the rich’, ‘the bankers’, ‘the fat cats who got us into this mess in the first place’ etc. None of this is especially credible – but who cares? Economics is complicated, and most people don’t understand it. Give them a tune to hum (‘they say cut back, we say fight back)’ is a good one), and let the messy policy bit go hang for the next few years.

From that perspective, having a genial rather slapdash shadow chancellor is quite a good idea – if it were Ed Balls the media would expect him to have coherent policies, and would pick at any gaps remorselessly. With Alan Johnson there’s likely to be a lot more eye-rolling laxity. Given that there won’t be an election for four years, and that AJ is pretty unlikely to be shadow chancellor when there is, I don’t actually think it’s such a bad thing leaving him in place. That fuzzy incompetence could actually be something of a plus.

Edward Woollard

The young idiot who threw a heavy metal fire extinguisher off the roof of Millbank Tower towards a group of policeman has been sentenced to 32 months in a Young Offenders Institution.   Or, more accurately since he will only serve half this sentence, 16 months.  Given that he pleaded guilty to violent disorder I don’t see that he can have much cause for complaint – indeed he’s extremely lucky that the extinguisher didn’t hit anybody, as the sentences for GBH or manslaughter are generally a touch stiffer.

One can, however, always rely on the Guardian to find an opposing argument – that sending people to prison for violent disorder is just, well, unfair.  The reasons for this are fabulous.

He clearly had no awareness that the media would be filming the "trouble", and that identifying him as a culprit would therefore be easy. Woollard had no idea that within a couple of months the judiciary would be "making an example of him", and nor did his mother, Tania Garwood, who, after the event, drove her son to a police station so that he could make a statement at the earliest opportunity.

Well, quite.  If he had known that he’d be caught and jailed he probably wouldn’t have done it.  That seems to me to be rather the point of the whole affair.

Again, only the sincerely peaceful are going to be discouraged by this sentence, and the scenes at Millbank which spawned it.

I suspect the sincerely peaceful aren’t the ones throwing fire extinguishers off roofs.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Legislating for lunatics

As long as there has been electoral politics, there has been violent political rhetoric. This should be a statement so obviously true as to be trivial. The whole language of politics – campaigns, battlegrounds, victories and defeats – is taken from that of warfare.  Opponent’s arguments are shot down, vulnerable members of the opposition are targeted and the Prime Minister enters the bearpit for the gladiatorial contest of PMQs.

At the same time, there have always been and will always be a few straight-up lunatics in the world who want to kill a politician.  A quick run down of the last few decades of attempts in the West, successful and unsuccessful, doesn’t really reveal any sort of pattern – Pim Fortuyn, Anna Lindh, Olof Palme, Jacques Chirac, Zoran Dindic and Queen Beatrice of the Netherlands.  It’s hard to discern any theme in that list of victims – and you’d be daft to try.  The only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated, Spencer Perceval, was killed by a lunatic (whose direct descendant is currently MP for North West Norfolk) because of a grievance over unjust imprisonment in Russia.

I am instinctively distrustful of the argument that violent rhetoric causes violence – just as I am distrustful of the argument that violent computer games cause violence.  The attempted murder of Gabrielle Giffords was no more the fault of Sarah Palin, than the attempted murder of Ronald Reagan was the fault of Robert de Niro.  You cannot, and should not, moderate your speech and desist from using metaphors for fear that a madman in Arizona might take you seriously.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Aren't they suffering enough?

Poor bloody Australians.  As if it weren't miserable enough watching their second-rate side sink abjectly beneath the waves at the SCG there's this to contend with:

In between overs Channel Nine is advertising Ben Elton Live, one of its trump shows for 2011.

The horror.

Ashes fever

Is it that England are really very good, or that Australia are really appallingly bad?  Between October 1988 and November 2010, Australia lost only three Test matches by an innings.  Barring meteorological miracles, by some time tomorrow they will have lost three more in the space of six weeks.  We're seeing something remarkable here.  With the exception of Perth, on which subject more in a minute, England haven't just been the better side, they've been overwhelmingly better.  Specifically, Eng;and have been streets ahead in three areas - top order batting, swing bowling, and spin.  Win the battle of the new ball and you're a long way towards winning the game.

Australia have been woeful in this series - the only top order batsman that looks like making runs has the worst conversion rate of fifties to hundreds of any Australian batsman ever, plus an attitude towards running that's reminiscent of the great Sir Geoffrey himself.  Ponting was dire, out of touch with bat and in the field, Clarke has been gunshy and stiff, Hughes isn't a Test match batsman, Smith is batting too high at 7 (and since he was only brought on to bowl in the 102nd over, you do rather question what he's doing in the side at all) and Khawaja, though a good prospect, made two pretty 20s and 30s and then got himself out.  Only Hussey has looked good this series, and he's knocking on 35.

But this shouldn't detract from England's performance here.  Len Hutton famously said that in order to beat Australia at home, you need to perform 25% better than them.  England have managed that and to spare.  Almost every doubt expressed prior to the series (would Cook be able to cope with the bounce, would Anderson be able to bowl with a Kookaburra ball, would Swann be able to make an impact) have not just been countered, but stomped on.  Cook has scored more runs in this series than any Englishman since Wally Hammond, Anderson has taken more wickets than any Englishman since Frank Tyson, Swann bowled England to victory at Adelaide just in time to beat the rain.  The only weak link in the side has been Collingwood - who has now nobly done the right thing.

A good way of measuring dominance in a series is to make up a composite team.  In the 2010/1 Ashes series, you get 10 Englishmen and only one Australian, Hussey.  The only difficulty in choosing the team is in deciding between Finn and Tremlett. Roll on India

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Bloody January Again

Happy New Year everyone! I'm still not back properly, but one of my resolutions is to get back properly into the swing of things. My five year anniversary is coming up, so there's really no excuse.