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Journalistic ethics? Not at the Telegraph

After my comments yesterday about the determined attack on the Liberal Democrats coming from the right just as much as from the left, the scale of the moral rot at the Daily Telegraph becomes a little more shocking every day.
After the theft of confidential information which exploded the MPs expenses scandal- which was illegal, but where prosecution was not undertaken, because the story was deemed to be in the public interest- the Telegraph got two of its associates to pose as constituents in order to gain private comments from Vince Cable about the coalition.
It now appears that the newspaper then tried to suppress the most incendiary comments- about Rupert Murdoch- because the views that Dr. Cable was expressing were in the commercial interests of the Barclay brothers- the secretive tax exile proprietors of... the Daily Telegraph.
OK, so Robert Peston then leaked the real story, but it seems pretty clear that the Telegraph should be facing some very real questions about their own journ…

Calling the Lib Dems to order.

The Daily Telegraph, as a right wing Conservative newspaper, has shown no loyalty to the coalition. Their columnists, from Simon Heffer, to the increasingly foam flecked Ambrose Evans Pritchard preach a gospel of right wing cant that is definitely at odds with the more forgiving ethos of Coalition politics.
The fact is that as much as in the Labour Party, there are many Conservatives who are bitterly opposed to the idea of political partnership- so it is no surprise that the Telegraph launched a sting against Vince Cable. He fell into the trap- foolishly- and has paid the severe political price of public humiliation. However the question is cuibono?
As the opinion polls show a slight but widening lead for the YES vote in the AV referendum next year, I fear that there will be ever further dirty tricks played against the liberal Democrats in order to derail the process and even destroy the coalition itself. Unless the Lib Dems can get PR for a newly elected Lords and at least AV for the …

The price of infrastructure- both physical and social

It is something of a disappointment to note that the proposed HS-2 rail link will now not be linked to Heathrow. Any such link is now set to be delayed until the 2030s. So London will have a substantially weaker transport system than Paris for several decades into the future. A weaker infrastructure reduces competitiveness, and as we are seeing this week cutting corners - for example on snow cleaning equipment- eventually ends up costing far more money than it saves.
Yet that has been the British way now for several decades.
"Make do and mend" might have been a good slogan for the Second World War, it is not good enough in a world where China is building, in a single year, more highway than Britain has done in 30 years. Yet the root of the apparently necessary cost cutting on physical infrastructure remains the astonishing damage that Labour inflicted on the British social infrastructure. The imposition of absurd health and safety legislation combined with the diktat of an ov…

The Unions give in to temptation

It may be that the riots of last week are encouraging the British Trade Unions into making a major miscalculation. Len McCluskey, the leader of the largest Union, Unite, writes in the Guardian today suggesting that the Unions should be getting ready to "do battle" with the Coalition government. He praises the "magnificent Students"- in short he falls into just about every elephant trap that the Coalition would wish him to.
Since 1979, Unions have been a declining and often unpopular force in Britain. Anyone who can remember the 1970s, remembers the endless industrial strife, largely led, we have since discovered, by Communist sympathisers who were even KGB agents, and occasionally directly funded by the Kremlin too. The fall of the wall may have put paid to outside meddling in British industry, but did not get rid of the muscular egos of the far left.
That McCluskey is spouting rubbish is obvious even to his own side- the Guardian editorial is a nice line in pained…

Remember Belarus Today

It was inevitable that the dictator would overstep the mark. He might- maybe- have even won the election without cheating, but that is not the Lukashenka way. Instead, just to make sure, he stuffed ballot boxes, and faked the election result.
Yesterday, in the the frozen December temperature of the longest night, tens of thousands came to the centre of M'iensk to protest. They received the customary response: heavily armed riot police.
Probably Lukashenka will get away with it, after all when Korea looks on the brink of real conflict, what is yet another stolen election in "the last dictatorship in Europe"? Yet the regime. with its Soviet flag and its KGB looks increasingly like a relic from another era.
One day the white-red-white flag will fly again, but what will Belarus have to suffer until it happens?
Only God, or possibly Oleksander Lukashenka himself, can forecast that with any accuracy.

...in other news

What, on God's green Earth, has got into the British press?
Essentially the news is that Winter is cold and that... oh dear people will have to change their travel plans. Admittedly that is mostly to do with the inadequate preparation by BAA and some slightly questionable decisions by BA.
Does it really deserve this Olympic level whinge?
Britain is becoming a spectacularly miserable place. The whinge factor in the press is about the same as your typical 6 year old- and it adds nothing and achieves nothing. The same nonsense as the Daily Mail's "No to Berlin Time", or "save the Queen's Head on Stamps".
It is not that big a deal. It really isn't.
And snow, even the metres of the stuff here in Tallinn, is actually... quite beautiful.
It is stupid when the system can not cope with winter, which despite the RECORD LOW temperatures, does actually come every year. However the melodrama in the media is frankly rather pathetic.
Grow up, you silly sods, and get a li…

As Iain Dale steps down, what next for blogging?

Iain Dale has been the Queen Mum of blogging: despite being occasionally acid, even his political foes like him personally and his blog has been innovative and interesting. Although it has been clear that he was losing interest in the blog- far fewer articles in recent weeks- it is still a slight shock to see the end of one of the most popular British political blogs.
Yet in many ways blogs are becoming quite old hat, and the days of a one man political blog, like this one, may be coming to an end. Writing this blog takes time, and it can be a struggle find inspiration and to avoid being repetitious. Yet all the time blog readers are demanding more content, not just more articles but now increasingly video and audio podcast content. I have not had time to learn the skills that would move this blog from being a series of articles into that more developed blogging scene.
I have been content to treat this blog as a bit like a newspaper column, but it seems that the demand is now that blogs…

The Harm of Harriet Harman

Harriet Harman is a fairly typical British Labour politician. She comes from a wealthy, even aristocratic, background and was sent to St. Pauls Girls School- a private school- before studying politics at York University and joining a pressure group. She married a Labour activist- Jack Dromey- who she met on the picket line at Grunwick, but has maintained her feminist credentials in small things, such as retaining her maiden name, but betraying her Socialist credentials in large things: by sending her children to grant maintained and grammar schools, while publicly opposing the access to these institutions by others. So far, so unsurprisingly hypocritical.
As a minister she was reliably wrong on most issues: she supported keeping MPs expenses secret, she supported the Iraq war, she believes that undemocratic quotas are the best way to promote women and sexual minorities- as though they should be treated in the same way. All of this nonsense has been promoted with a straight face as a &…

Collateral damage from the "Student" riots

The scenes on London last night were a parody of a carnival. The Lords of Misrule who hijacked the student protest and turned it into a riot have totally destroyed the student cause. Attacking the Cenotaph- a particularly low thing to do- setting Parliament Square, and the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree, ablaze, and then attacking the heir to the Throne and his wife in their car.
Oops.
We all know that there are a few hundred anarchists and leftists in the UK who would turn the country into a Pol Pot style murder state if they could, and sure enough these nutters were out in force on the streets of London last night.
However the collateral damage to the student cause is probably terminal. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the tuition fees issue, the students had their cause hijacked by thugs. The poor taste of attacking the statue of Churchill and desecrating the Cenotaph alienates the overwhelming majority in the UK who regard these symbols not as some "Imperialist Relic" …

China, arm twisting and the Nobel prize

As the result of diplomatic pressure, we are told, the Ambassadors of perhaps 50 countries will not attend the award ceremony to give the Nobel peace prize to Liu Xiaobao.
The Chinese are claiming something of a success.
It is all rather disappointing, it means that China lines up with some of the very nastiest regimes on the planet.
China has refused to let any close relative collect the prize, so for the first time since 1935, when the Nazis prevented Carl von Ossietzky from receiving the prize, the ceremony will not, in fact see the prize actually awarded.
That is, in itself a pretty terrible state of affairs. What is even more bitter is the fact that the ideas that Liu Xiabao has been imprisoned for: democracy and pluralism, are actively discussed at the highest level in China- as we know from the recently published memoirs of the late Zhao Ziyang.
The Chinese government is lying to its own people when it says that there is little international support for Mr. Liu. It is lying to its…

Why Life needs to be fair

Life isn't fair is probably one of the earliest lessons we learn in life. Things don't always work out the way we want or indeed deserve. Yet one of the touchstones for Democracy is that the brightest should at least get a chance to compete with the merely privileged. If there can not be equality of outcome, then at least there should be equality of opportunity.
What happens though, when it becomes increasingly obvious that no matter what your skills, there is and will never be even the pretence of fairness? In the UK now there is a crisis of education, but it is not the crisis that a bunch of articulate, self interested University students would have you believe. The crisis rests in the fact that unless you go to a fee paying, private school- which the English, perversely, call public schools- then your chances of social and economic success are a fraction of the small minority that has attended such schools. In some areas of the media and in the law the proportion of ex-publ…

Liberal Democrats need to hold their nerve

The general Election of 2010 gave no party what it wanted, All the parties lost, and that was clearly the message that the electorate deliberately sent to the political class. For the Liberal Democrats, the loss was doubly painful, since the party seemed to be at the point of making a breakthrough that could have changed British politics. In the end, the Liberal Democrats made no progress, despite the widely held view that the party and its leader, Nick Clegg, had fought the best campaign. Indeed several losses- and very near misses- were extremely painful. In that sense, the offer of a coalition that came from David Cameron was made to a party that was somewhat demoralised and very disappointed.
Now the media, from Paxman down, can barely utter the word "Coalition" without a sneer. The naked hostility of the left that has been turned on the Liberal Democrats has been a shock. However, we are told, "welcome to politics as normal in the big league". Except it is n…

What's in a [Swiss] name?

The two men at the top are Mr. Vladimir Putin, leader of the Kleptocratic Russian Federation and Mr. Sepp Blatta a one time Swiss Bureaucrat who has destroyed the reputation of FIFA.
The second picture is Blatta Orientalis, the Eastern Cockroach.
I wonder if you can tell them all apart.

Batman and Robin??

I can understand why Vladimir Putin is said to be "upset" that he and Dimitir Medmedev have been referred to as Batman and Robin.
After all the Batman and Robin are the Good Guys!
So, step forward please... The Riddler and The Joker.





World Cup William or why WikiLeaks Weakens Bad Blatter

The day after WikLeaks confirms the fact that Russia is so corrupt that it is impossible to separate the State from Organized Crime, the FIFA executive awards the criminal state the right to hold the World Cup in 2018. At the same time it gives the right to hold the 2022 Cup to Qatar- a state which has temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius in the Summer months, when the tournament is played.
Frankly It seems to me that of all the great countries that could have held the tournament: Spain/Portugal or England in 2018, the US or Australia in 2022, the elderly bureaucrats of FIFA have chosen the worst options.
Why did they do this?
Frankly- they followed the money. Whether or not the individual voters were personally corrupt- and we know that at least some of them were- the process certainly is corrupt.
FIFA shamelessly followed the money.
Frankly, having taken the money, they should now take the consequences.
Choosing Qatar is daft, choosing Russia is sinister. A lot of questions will now …

In Politics it is better to be lucky than clever

The problem for Ed Miliband, after the car crash interview he did on the BBC Today programme last week, is that he is beginning to get a reputation of being an unlucky politician.
The cock-up of a tweet from his spokeswoman: " ''Hypocrisy of Cameron pimping himself out in Zurich..." is precisely the kind of silly unforced error that lucky politicians do not succumb to.
Of course, if in a few minutes, England were to win then Cameron looks like a very lucky politician indeed, while Miliband looks, well, like a loser.
UPDATE: well. I suppose, predictably, England did not get the World Cup, but even that may be lucky, if the FIFA corruption scandal gains any further traction. After all awarding the world cup host nation status to a genuine Kleptocracy does kind of give the game away.

The $*%& hits the fan

Today has been extremely bloody in the markets.
In short the collapse in confidence is pushing the Euro towards meltdown. Either a de facto central Treasury is established in the Eurozone or there will be a series of Sovereign defaults, starting with Ireland, but including Greece, Portugal, Spain, and probably Belgium and Italy as well.
If the German constitutional court vetoes German participation in the Treasury, then the Euro will implode and the currency will fail with drastic but at this point unknowable consequences.
The spreading of contagion into the corporate credit market is now pulling emergency measures ever closer.
Estonia is scheduled to join the Euro on January 1st. After today I would say that there is only not much more than about a 60/40 chance that the currency will survive that long, and no more than evens that it survives the first quarter of 2011.
It is that serious.

The Democratic Abdication

The forecasts that were published for the British economy by the newly constituted Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) yesterday were troubling for two reasons. The first is that the numbers show that the UK is a very long way from having a fiscal structure that can be sustained for the long term. The second, though, is more to do with the existence of the OBR itself.
The OBR was created because the Conservatives in opposition had lost trust in the official Treasury forecasts which seemed to pander to the political agenda of the then Labour government. What this represents is actually quite serious: what had been previously considered politically neutral is now considered politically compromised. As with the interest rate decisions, which have been transferred to the Bank of England, because the MLR decisions of the Treasury were deemed "too political", so budget forecasts have now fallen to an unelected Quango.
In part this transfer could be argued to be technocratic- as t…

Wikileaks

Not much surprising in the leaks of the US diplomatic cables: the fact that Obama doesn't much care for Europe has been obvious since he came into office, and it is also not much news that the Gulf Arabs hate the clerical regime in Iran.
Of course for Brits there is the news that Prince Andrew engaged in "inappropriate behaviour".
However anyone who has met him will know that he can be abrupt beyond the point of rudeness. He has most of his father's faults with none of his redeeming virtues. Mind you you don't need Wikileaks to tell you this, even the most fawning snob columns have asked questions in the past.
So is the Wikileaks expose nothing more than an embarrassment?
On current trends, it may not be. Unless you live in the Middle East, of course.

Why Ed Miliband should lose

The British Lefty commentariat became increasingly less keen on Labour while they were in office. The repeated failure of left wing policies in government (Brown) combined with outrageous hypocrisy (Blair) to reveal to many Labour supporters that their party was at best sanctimonious- at worst dishonest. So the left-sympathising, chattering classes began to look elsewhere. Some went Green, some went Liberal Democrat, most declined to vote.
Now the chattering classes feel a certain relief- they see the Coalition being forced into tough decisions, while Labour has the freedom to try to make itself popular. Indeed there is secret delight that they are back in the 1980s- with the Hated Tories leading cuts, while the Red Flag can be raised at student demos and protests grow with every cut that is announced.
Yet, despite the small lead that Ed Miliband has opened up in the opinion polls, the interview the Labour leader gave to BBC Radio's Today programme on Friday contained the seeds of L…

Waiting for the Euro default: Write down, Rescue and Restructuring

In the final analysis, why should citizens take the full burden of rescuing banks, while the bond holders take no punishment at all?
That, in essence is why I now expect to see the next step in the Euro crisis being a debt default- or as it will probably be termed, "debt restructuring". The rescue of the Irish banks was really only supposed to be about the depositors- who are generally businesses and individuals in Ireland, not the bond holders who are generally governments and financial institutions from overseas. The sovereign guarantee to the banks that was so thoughtlessly extended by the Irish government has turned into a black hole, and the price is beyond Irish means to pay it. The market understands this, and is increasingly sceptical of the ability even of the ECB and the IMF acting in tandem to secure the position. Since this assistance largely comes in the form of new loans, then essentially Ireland is solving the problem of too much indebtedness... by increasi…

The Bond Market speaks

James Carville, President Clinton's political strategist once famously said "I used to think that if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope or as a .400 baseball hitter. But now I would like to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody."
The European Union is now not only intimidated, it is actively terrified.
The Irish bail-out is breaking down.
The fact is that the blanket guarantee which the Fianna Fail government offered the banking system has bankrupted the country. Even despite a slash-and-burn budget, there is just not enough money to avoid a Sovereign default. The costs of the bail-out are now approaching €100 billion, which is now nearly three quarters of the total Irish GDP. The Irish deficit next year will be over 30%.
Meanwhile Portugal is facing a general strike.
CDS spreads for Ireland, Portugal, Spain and now Belgium are hitting new record highs.
A Sovereign default is now odds-on in the next three month…

Kremlinology

Amidst the unfolding disaster of North Korea, and the market confusion as the ECB contemplates how to cope with sovereign guarantees of Banking black holes, it is easy to overlook the developing crisis in Russia.
Two stories caught my eye over the last twenty four hours. One is in the FT, showing that Russian capital flight is now touching $3 billion a week.
The other story is in the London Evening Standard and is an update on the terrifying story of how the Russian State stole Hermitage Capital from its rightful owners, and then brutally murdered the lawyer who tried to stop it.
What is particularly significant is the owner of the Evening standard is Alexander Lebedev.
As the next Presidential handover in 2012 draws near it is clear that much is happening in Russia.
The country is becoming ever more unstable. Russia remains on the brink, and may be about to take a big step forward.

Property, the Banking system and the end game for the Euro

The fundamental problem of Europe is not the Euro.
The fundamental problem is the economic structure of most of the European economies. The standard model of these economies has been to pay for today's bills with cheques drawn against the future. Instead of saving up for things today and acquiring them later, we have chosen to acquire them today and pay for them in the future. To a degree, it has worked: the levels of average prosperity in the present day would stagger most of our forefathers. Yet, there has always been a critical piece of small print: growth needed to continue, and not just economic growth, but population growth too, so that the costs were painless enough for the next generation to carry.
Yet about 40 years ago, the oil shocks created inflation that was not the result of economic collapse or war, but for several years was a normal part of business. In the face of this, real assets, especially property, held their value in real terms, but looked like they were appr…

The Mail, Dan Hannan and never having to say you're sorry

Blogging has been even thinner than usual: despite much to write about, I have found so little time. Fittingly, perhaps, I choose to break my silence by focussing on time, or rather time zones.
Since daylight saving was first adopted in the UK in 1917 (interestingly, one year after Germany had already done so), there have been various attempts to get the best use out of daylight. During the Second World War there was even "Double Summer time", while in the late 1960s I can remember that clocks stayed on GMT+1 all year for several years. In short there is nothing ordained about the time zone in the UK. In recent years however, the UK has settled on GMT in the winter and "British Summer Time (BST)", i.e. GMT+1 in the summer.
There are pros and cons about reverting to GMT for the winter- it does allow more daylight in the morning hours, but of course this is at the cost of an earlier dusk. For school sports, such an arrangement is not ideal, and in any event in the far …

Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki

Krakow.
A May morning, before the dawn of a Golden day of clear sunshine.
It is the early 1990s. I have walked from the Krakow Glowny station to the Main Square in the dark. The Square- Rynek- is empty and I am alone. It will be many hours before I can go and find a place to stay.
I sit on a stone bench, resting my rucksack by my side. The Rynek then was uncluttered, so the full sweep of the magnificent cloth hall was unhidden. To my left the KosciolMariacki loomed, smoky, with a single gleam of bright light behind a shutter of a room high up on one of the towers.
The sky was growing lighter by the minute. across the City the bells of churches, monasteries and Wawel Cathedral began to ring for 5 o'clock. A chorus glorying in the new day. High up in the tower, the shutter opens, and a man holding a silver trumpet can be seen.
It is him and me in the whole square.
Then he begins to play. The HejnalMariacki - the warning to close the gates against the Tatars, the Mongols, the Austrians…

Looking in the Media Mirror

I am on a very quick trip to the UK, and wandering around Central London yesterday, I espied the gathering demonstration "against the cuts" by some students.
As demonstrations go it was not a particularly big one. There have been far bigger demonstrations which have not been reported at all in the national media. This relatively small demo has attracted media attention pretty much because a bunch of fringe nutters- Socialists, Anarchists etc.- decided that it would be fun to have a bit of a barney at the Milbank tower. Unfortunately the Police were not prepared, and there were not enough of them, so the nutters managed to hurt people and cause damage. The fact that the TV pictures were so good has meant that these criminal acts of petty violence are being reported as some kind of apocalypse.
Some of the Media have gone so far as to hint that the Coalition in some way "provoked the students". Leaving aside the fact that it was not students who led the riot, the fact …

Woolas: Liar and New Labour Minister... and?

Phil Woolas loathes Liberal Democrats, and the feeling is completely mutual. He has always been extremely hostile and combative towards us. It is not therefore a surprise that he overstepped the line and became the first MP in over a century to be chucked out of the House of Commons for the disgraceful way he conducted his campaign.
Except that Mr. Speaker Bercow has decided that his ejection from the House must await the outcome of his appeal. I won't speculate on why the Speaker has made such a strange decision- it seems to second guess the appeal- it shows a slight contempt for the lower court, but then Mr Speaker Bercow is not too big on legal niceties.
In any event the decision of the lower court is pretty damning- it will be exceptionally difficult for the Court of Appeal, or even the House of Lords/Supreme Court- if it comes to it- to set aside the judgement.
But then the issue is removed for the legal and returns to the political: a by-election may need to be held. Given the…

Science as a candle in the dark

OK so the State of Delaware may not have elected a Witch ("I'm not a Witch, I'm not a Witch..." WHATEVER).
However the United States has elected an awful lot of people whose opinions do not vary a whole lot from such simple superstition. Evidence gathered from peer reviewed papers is not the way that the US Congress conducts its business. Over 95% of the members of Congress- both new and old- have no Scientific background whatsoever.
There are more people in American politics who say that they believe in the "literal truth" of the Bible than those who acknowledge the demonstrable truth of the theory of evolution by natural selection.

If you can not base your political ideas on the Scientific method of sceptical empiricism then you might as well believe in witchcraft and spells to put things right. It is through such methods that we have been able to start to catch the merest glimpse of the spectacular wonders of the Universe, and our place within it. It is n…

The Mistakes of Margaret Thatcher

As Lady Thatcher emerges from hospital, she must have been somewhat buoyed by a poll that suggests that she remains the most influential woman in the World. However her influence rests with a period of office that came to an end nearly twenty years ago.
With the benefit of the hindsight given by those twenty years I think its is possible to begin to make a judgement on the eleven years that she served as Prime Minister. Certainly for all the adulation that the Conservatives offer her now, she was not generally popular either in the country at large or in her own party for large periods of her time in office. The confrontational way she addressed the challenges that the post war decline of the UK created for the country was never going to make her a healing figure- despite her quotation of St. Francis when she entered office.
There are two, sharply polarised, positions of conventional wisdom concerning the Thatcher government. The first is the adulation of the Conservatives- and not just…