Sunday, September 30, 2007

Purnell: seeing is not believing

It's not the crime of the century but James Purnell (the Blairite Culture Secretary - as in Tony Blair, remember him?) has been caught with his pants down. It seems he turned up late for a photo-op at Tameside Hospital and so agreed to "merging" a photo of himself with that of three other MP's who visited the hospital. The cack-handed result can be seen here. Purnell claims he thought "merging" meant that the two photos would be run side-by-side (sorry, James old chap, that's not what merging means). To clinch it, Purnell put the doctored photo on his own web-site for all the world as if it was the genuine article. Bang to rights, I'd say. A little embarrassing for the boy wonder since he has recently been criticising TV broadcasters over various phone-in scandals, et al (The most egregious of these obviously involved the misnaming of the Blue Peter cat. Callers voted to call it "Cookie" but this apparently is slang for the female genitalia, so they named the pussy Socks). Of course, this sort of thing is by no means new. During the last US Presidential election campaign a doctored photo showing John Kerry apparently speaking at an anti-Vietnam war rally alongside "Hanoi" Jane Fonda was widely published. And of course there is the infamous case of Trotsky, erased from history, as shown here. I think the main point here is that it shows Purnell lacking in the most elementary media-savvy (OK it shows he is a liar as well); he has been tipped as a future Labour Leader, but on this showing he is as dim as a 40-watt bulb (then again, there was Kinnock...)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Election Fever

Will Gordon go for it? Apparently he will be mulling it over this week-end.

Here is the case for a snap election:

(i) Labour is enjoying a comfortable lead in the polls; the "Brown bounce" seems to be holding.
(ii) It will give Brown an opportunity to obtain his own "mandate" (nonsense in terms of British constitutional arrangements, but probably psychologically important to Gordon himself).
(iii) The Tories are in a stew, with Cameron unable to decide whether to do a Coulson-right-turn or a Hilton-left-turn, with the Tebbit-tendency in revolt and Gordon triangulating like a maniac (Although I find this latter rather gimmicky and somewhat distasteful. Is it really necessary to purloin the BNP slogan: "British jobs for British workers"?).
(iv) It might not get better: house prices (so beloved of Middle England) may take a dip, the credit boom looks like coming to an end, interest rates may rise...some commentators are arguing that the cautious thing to do - and Gordon is judged a cautious creature - is to "go early" on the grounds that it can't get better.
(v) If he doesn't take the plunge it may look like he "bottled it" as - some argue - he did in 1994 by not standing against Tony (when, of course, he would have been beaten!).
(vi) The Tories, with the help of Lord Charlie Ashcroft are pouring money into marginals they think they can win; an early election foreshortens this as the statutory spending limit would kick-in.
(vii) Oh, and did I mention the lead in the opinion polls...?

Here is he case against:

(i) Polls are fickle. Things can change. It's not so long ago that they showed that, if Brown became Labour Leader, the Tories would have a bigger lead than the one they had before Blair departed (Blair? Who he?). In the context of an election, it could be they will shift again.
(ii) The Tories could recover. It may depend on how well Cameron does at Conference. If he decides to robustly confront and "see off" the Tebbit-tendency that could do him a lot of good. It's not all over just yet.
(iii) If he loses Brown would be the shortest serving PM since...well, since who? (Some are saying Bonar-Law and others George Canning. I haven't worked it out, but at any rate he would have served for less than a year, and he must be terrified of that...(How Cherie would laugh).
(iv) Voters don't like unecessary elections, and they may decide to punish Brown for making them endure one.
(v) There is no need to go. He is not in the same position as Callaghan in 1978 (in his fourth year leading a minority government); he has a comfortable majority and can wait until 2010. If it all goes pear-shaped in 2008 there is still time to try to get back on course.
(vi) A "dash to the polls" may look like an (opportunist) attempt to exploit a (temporary?) poll lead; or may look like an attempt to get re-elected before the economy runs into difficulty. Either may boomerang on Brown. "It's about perception, Stupid".

What will he do? Absolutely no idea. Wild guess? He'll go for it.

Brown shirts?

Apparently a new group of voters has been identified: "Brown Tories" (Tories who think Brown a more authentic Thatcherite than Cameron. Tebbit has - disingenuously - made flattering remarks about Brown, by way of putting pressure on Cameron). I have an idea: why don't they wear brown shirts? Then they could march up the street chanting: "British Jobs for British Workers".

Manchester Cycle Path

On Wilmslow Road (Manchester) near Owens Park a stretch of green cycle path has appeared. It is in the middle of the road (I kid you not) with a bus and taxi lane on one side, and cars on the other. It runs for about thirty yards and then - like so many so called cycle paths - abruptly stops. If any cyclist (heading towards Manchester) was fool enough to use it, (s)he would have to cut across the bus/taxi lane to get onto it and then do the same further on in order to get back onto the other cycle path (by the side of the road). I think it has been designed with the intention of killing as many cyclists as possible. From this point of view it is a design triumph. Can't say I've ever seen a cyclist use it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The PFI Rip-Off

See this

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Free Speech in the USA

Clearly, Andrew Meyer is a bit of a pain (every meeting has one). But that is not the point. The guy is pinned to the ground by four or five campus cops and then - when he clearly posed no threat to anyone (and it seems he may even have been handcuffed at the time) - tasered (i.e. electrocuted). Incredibly, he is later charged with resisting police with violence and disturbing the peace; although the only violence on display is that used by the police. There is a very good post on this at Unrepentant Communist (see Links), who is shocked by the reaction of the other students (although here we can hear several people protesting, and one asking "why are you doing this?"). Why do the cops do it? Because they're a bunch of half-witted thugs. At least Walter Wolfgang wasn't tasered.

Free Speech on the Web

I am not entirely sure what all this is about, but it looks very much like someone with a large wad of cash using it to silence his critics. Chicken Yoghurt has the story here with relevant links. It's quite nice to see all the various bloggers, many of wholly different political persuasions, rally round.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Brown: too clever by half?

The nauseating spectacle of that evil old bag Thatcher consorting with Gordon Brown at No. 10 is being hailed as evidence of Brown’s strategic genius. I’m not so sure. Of course, it’s obvious what is going on (and that’s one reason why it isn’t half as smart as it seems). Cameron has tried to depict Brown as a "throwback" to Old Labour (which is, of course, ludicrous) and Brown’s response is a series of gestures designed to discredit this line of attack. Posing with Thatcher is certainly one way to do this. But strategic genius…? The appointment of Digby Jones was also hailed as a political chess move of Bobby Fischer-style genius. Actually it’s a hostage to fortune. What’s the money on a spectacular Digby Jones resignation at a moment calculated to do most damage to Labour? Similarly with Thatcher. The unions are, not altogether unreasonably, irked by below inflation wage increases at a time when the headlines are full of greedy corporate executives and their runaway salaries and perks. Is flirting with Thatcher quite the way to recommend restraint to the unions? Maybe Brown is not worried about taunting the unions, perhaps he would welcome a mini “Winter of Discontent” as an opportunity to show how tough he is; but that doesn’t seem too smart to me. I know that the photo-op with Thatcher is really about spin (of course we weren’t going to have any of that were we?) and that it is no importance in itself. I could keep down my nausea if I thought it really was a stunningly shrewd political move. But actually I think Brown is in danger of being too clever by half.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

An Appalling Crime

Politaholic pretty much reads his Guardian cover-to-cover every day, and the Observer on Sunday, and listens to the Today programme and Newsnight etc. As we all do. But this (via Lenin's Tomb) had passsed me by. I'm not saying it hasn't been reported, but it certainly hasn't featured very prominently in the news. It is an appalling tragedy, and looks like an appalling crime; not far removed from throwing slaves overboard during the "Middle Passage". It shows the "double standard" routinely operated by western politicians and western media where human lives are concerned and a racism and cruelty hard to fathom.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The ambitions of Bush

According to Gary Younge in Monday's Guardian the UN census bureau's latest findings show that since Dubbya came to office the poverty rate has risen by 9%, the number of people without health insurance has risen by 12%, and real median household income has been "stagnant". Meanwhile in the same issue the Chickenhawk-in-Chief of the USA muses on his retirement plans: worth $20 million already he dreams of making money: "I'll give some speeches to replenish the old coffers...I don't know what my dad gets - its more than 50-70 (thousand dollars per speech)...Clinton's making a lot of money..." . What poverty of ambition, what smallness of imagination, what an utter chickenshit chickenhawk.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Eton Dave the hypocrite

Back in the 1980's Young Conservatives used to sport "Hang Mandela" T-shirts. How things have changed. At WebCameron Eton "Dave" can be seen praising Nelson Mandela, having just returned from the unveiling of the Mandela statue. If you feel like puking-up go and have a look. Interesting also that some of the posts on WebCameron cling to the Thatcherite catechism: JohnyM calls Mandela a "terrorist" and ThatcherLoyalist criticises Dave's "pathetic expression of political correctness". That is the true voice of the Tories. Oh, and has Cameron always admired Mandela - when is the earliest evidence of it? Did he demonstrate against apartheid outside South Africa House in the 1980's? Was he a stalwart of the Anti-Apartheid Movement? Or did he undergo some road-to-Damascus conversion? And when was that exactly? As Private Eye would say "I think we should be told"... Well, no, we all know the answer...


In Saturday's Guardian Simon Hoggard recounts that on the News Quiz (recorded Thursday, broadcast Friday and Saturday) preceding Princess Diana's death Alan Corin joked: "I don't know anything about landmines or Princess Di, but I do know you'd be mad to poke either of them". He would not, as it were, recommend one to poke-Her-Highness. On Saturday night: "The producer came specially in to Broadcasting House to lock the master tape in a safe so that it could never, ever be broadcast again". The instant re-writing of history had begun ("...a whole nation united in grief...", etc).

Vaz and the Euro-Referendum

Keith Vaz's proposal to hold a euro-referendum on the new EU treaty on the same day as the next General Election strikes me as crazy. The sole effect would be to push Europe up the electoral agenda. It is likely that there would be a "No" vote and I am not sure the bulk of electorate is sufficiently sophisticated to "split vote" (to vote "No" and vote for a pro-European party); so it would help the Conservatives. Yet, Vaz has a point. Politaholic has, over the years, been converted to a pro-European position. A federal Europe? Bring it on !! But Vaz has a point. There is no question that the European project - right from the early days of Monnet and Schumann - has been an elite-led top-down process, and steps towards integration have often outrun popular support for them. It probably had to be that way. But sooner or later the Eurosceptic (or, as I often think, Euroseptic) boil must be lanced. My reading of the polling evidence is that although the electorate is mostly Eurosceptic, the bulk of the electorate are persuadable. Sooner or later the pro-Europeans must make and win the argument. But not on General Election day.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Tax and Fat Cats

John Grieve Smith has an interesting article in Friday's Guardian. He makes several points:

  • The Labour Government has "stemmed the growth in inequality inherited from the Thatcher years, but not reversed it".
  • Many of those entitled to tax credits do not claim them (18% in 2004-05).
  • The tax system considered overall is not "progressive": if indirect taxes are taken into account "people pay much the same proportion of their income in taxes all the way up the income scale".
  • The system could be made more progressive by (a) raising the top rate of tax to 50%, (b) reinstating the 10% starting rate.
  • There is likely to be "considerable public support for curbing the excessively high salaries and bonuses of company directors and managers by making it obligatory for companies to have employee representatives on their remuneration committees".

This comes on top of a report by Ashley Seager in Thursday's Guardian which tells us that Giles Thorley (chief executive of Punch Taverns) earns 1,148 times the average salary of his employees. And: "The average boss-to-worker ratio across the FTSE is 66:1 based on salary alone or 98:1 with share options and other incentives". Tesco's boss gets 415 times the salary of the average shelf-stacker. New Labour was, famously, "seriously relaxed" about this kind of thing (as Mandelson put it); but my guess is that most Labour voters find it quite obscene.