Sunday, September 28, 2008

Labour's Conference

The Labour Conference has come and gone. Central Manchester looked like a police state for the duration: coppers everywhere, a little OTT perhaps. (Last Saturday there was a demo against the Iraq war. I saw a policeman - an officer by the look of it - on the steps of the BBC building with a telephoto lens, photographing demonstrators. Agree with the demonstrators or not, they are simply exercising their democratic rights. Is it entirely appropriate to treat them as potential criminals? I suspect that the intelligence services over the years have spent far too much time and resources spying on student Trots who are no danger to anyone except possibly themselves, while Combat 88 and Islamicist nutters of one kind or another slip under the net).

Anyway, Brown's speech went well, at least until her husband came on stage. Actually, Gordon's speech was well-recieved - the line about this being "no time for a novice" was a well-crafted blow at Miliband - and Labour seems to be enjoying a post-Conference bounce; but we will have to see the lie of the land after the party conference season is over. The most cringe-making moment must have been David Miliband's insincere, underwheming and oleaginous praise for Brown: "Gordon, it's not just about politics. You have transformed the debate about international development in Britain, and we should take inspiration from that!" Simon Hoggard commented: " I was reminded of a Chinese dissident at a show trial during the Cultural Revolution, dementedly praising Chairman Mao before being taken away to be shot". And "Gordon is alive"...for the moment.

Good one, Derek

The avuncular Derek Simpson on Question Time: "I suppose it's easier to rob a bank if you already have the keys".

...and multiply

The "Go Fourth" campaign launched by Alistair Campbell et al is extremely odd. In colloquial English the expression "Go Forth" invites the immediate retort "and multiply" which as we all know is a euphemism for a more robust phrase of Anglo-Saxon derivation, and one with which Campbell is not unfamiliar. Not a happy choice, I would have thought. Not only that, but "Go Fourth" rather unhelpfully reminds the voters that Labour will indeed be up for a fourth term in the next election, and while Labour partisans would welcome a fourth term, many ordinary voters may think this is too long for one party in power, or that it is "time for a change". Finally, the line-up hardly inspires: Campbell (unscrupulous spin doctor), Glenys Kinnock MEP (the whole bloody family seems to have boarded the European gravy train at one time or another), John Prescott (shagger extraordinary, stranger to the English language, pugilist of note), and Richard Caborn (who he? Google says a Sheffield MP who is to be "Britain's" ambassador for the 2018 football World Cup bid. So: a sports bureaucrat). "...and multiply" is the most likely response to their efforts.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Clegg: Let Them Eat Cake

Nick Clegg apparently thinks pensioners live on 30p a week (no, thirty quid). Clegg is the son of a banker, he went to Westminster public school and Cambridge. Like Cameron, he is a wealthy Blair-clone so far removed from the great unwashed as to have no comprehension at all how ordinary people live. In the photograph Clegg is explaining why he is so popular with the ladies.

The banking crisis

Politaholic only discovered a few days ago what short-selling is, so I am not really competent to comment on the intricacies of the banking crisis. But some quick observations:

1. The delicious irony of the bankers, the free-market fundamentalists of yesterday, running to government to bail them out when all it goes arse-over-tit. I thought governments could do nothing right, and markets could do nothing wrong? Comrade Bush has been nationalising banks like there's no tomorrow.

2. The obscenity of same bankers sagely advising us on how best to handle the pigs-ear their own greed created, or sloping off into the sunset with squillions in bonuses, while poor old Buggins has to pay for it through his taxes or with his job.

3. Larry Elliot pointed out in the Guardian a week or so back that - politically - this ought to be a crisis for the right. The trouble is that New Labour bought into market fundamentalism in a big way. Gordon Brown has been telling us for a decade that the economy is tickety-boo. What ought to be, ain't.

4. Then again we needn't worry. Gordon has the solution. And it insulation??

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cycle helmets?

Simon Jenkins had a rather silly article on cycle helmets in Friday's Guardian. It seems the model Elle MacPherson was photographed riding without a helmet and was pilloried in the tabloids. Jenkins springs to her defence. Fair enough. It's a personal choice. There is an argument that cyclists are safer without helmets. It derives from the "Wilde-Adams theory of compensatory risk assessment": the idea being that motorists give helmet-less cyclists a wider berth, and that the helmet-less cyclist is likely to ride more carefully than one who feels protected by the helmet. There is probably something in this. But then again...I wear a helmet because I think with or without one most motorists in the UK are careless when it comes to cyclists (sometimes I think they are deliberately trying to kill us) and I don't need to take my helmet off to try to be careful. But, as I say, its a personal choice. The silliness in Jenkins argument stems from his absolute dogmatic assurance that bare-headed is best. It's not so straightforward. And he becomes extremely silly when he points out that helmets are rarely worn in Holland (where cyclists are fairly safe) and are worn in Western Australia (which requires helmets by law and which has three times the cycling death rate). But this has nothing to do with helmets. Cyclists are relatively safe in Holland because of a superb network of cycle paths, the near-universality of cycling, and a "cycling culture". It is not that cyclists are safer in Holland because most don't wear helmets; rather, most don't wear helmets because they are so much safer. Jenkin's "causal arrow" points in the wrong direction. It would be a brave Dutchman who tried to navigate Manchester's Oxford Road without a helmet. I wouldn't recommend it (although I do see bare-headed cyclists, but I doubt that they are safer than I am).

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

McCain chooses Palin

Sadly, the "pro-life", creationist, gun-nut and not the globe-trotting Python. The latest in this saga is that apparently she used to support an Alaskan separatist organisation (see today's Guardian). Poor Michael looks as if he thinks McCain has chosen him.

What's wrong with falling house prices?

Politaholic is not an economist (a bit of a disadvantage for a politaholic) but here are some probably naive musings on the housing crisis: (i) Are falling house prices really such a bad thing? Can it really be reasonable to buy a house, which triples in value over a few years, and then walk off with a bundle of cash? (Of course, if you want to buy another house there is no real gain, unless you go down-market). Where does the money come from? If the "winners" are the guys whose houses triple in value, who are the "losers"? Can it really be sustainable for houses to keep going up in value like this? It seems not. (ii) If someone borrows five times their annual salary in order to buy a house in the expectation that it will triple in value, and then they find themselves struggling to meet the mortgage repayments, isn't that best described as greedy and stupid? Why should taxpayers money be used to help them out? Is it really the government's job to protect people against the consequences of their own greed? Is the government going to dole out money to those in rented accommodation?

I know, this all sounds a bit harsh. I'm not sure I mean it 100% (Not everyone in difficulty borrowed 5 times their salary or bought as an investment. I feel some sympathy for those who behaved reasonably prudently and now find themselves in difficulty; but not for those who borrowed-to-the-max in the expectation of a something-for-nothing bonanza). So if not 100%, I mean it something-per-cent.

So-called "honour" killings

Monday's Guardian carried a report of a so-called "honour" killing in the Baluchistan district of Pakistan. Three teenage girls were buried alive for the henious crime of wanting to choose their own husbands. It seems some of their relatives, who protested, were also killed. No one has been arrested, and it is unlikely anyone will. There are reports that government vehicles were used to abduct the girls, and the murders were overseen by the brother of a (provincial) government Minister. Incredible, male politicians in parliament are claiming that these barbaric murders are "part of our custom". According to the Guardian: "In Pakistan's national parliament, an MP from Baluchistan, Israrullah Zehri, said on Friday that "this action was carried out according to tribal traditions", a view backed up by some other male lawmakers, who attacked a woman senator who had raised the case". Cultural relativism? Maybe not.