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Showing posts from January, 2011

Russia crumbles further

As the potential Arab revolt rumbles on further, the events of last week in Russia have been forgotten by the media already. The "24 hour news agenda" by definition is not good at analysis or understanding. Yet the impact of the bomb at Domodedovo is still reverberating across the Russian body politic. It was a brutal and disgusting crime- and the bloody death toll and horrible injuries that the suicide bomber wreaked upon the innocent can only be condemned by any decent individual. There are no reasons and no excuses for the people responsible. Alas, that the failures of the Russian power structures have allowed the emergence of this kind of Al-Qaida inspired evil. As Wiki-Leaks revealed, the US assessment of Russia is that it is now entirely in the hands of contending, largely criminal, elites. A convenient simplification would be to say that power is divided up between different Mafia families, who have different interests in different industrial sectors and in different

The Pharaoh Totters

The History of Egypt over the last century has seen two major revolutions: one in 1919, which dispatched the British as direct overlords, and one in 1952 which dispatched the monarchy. When I heard that the flag of 1919 was being waved in Egypt again, I began to realise that the prospects for the Mubarak government are not looking good. They are being very foolish to arrest Mohamed El- Barradei - he may be the only way that the regime can escape with its life. Once the bazaars are pulsating with this much anger, it could be that the regime does not merely pass away, but totally disintegrates, and the breakdown of order in a country as important as Egypt is no small thing. The regime may think that be switching off the Internet and e-mail that it can prevent a revolution - this is surely folly: few revolutions in the past had such tools, but they were still successful. Egypt's revolution could still be determinedly non hi-tech and it might yet be completely successful, with today

"The Establishment" strikes back: SpAds, Dads and Rads this week pointed out that the succession of Ed Balls to the position of Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer marks the final triumph of the SpAd - the political special advisor. Now virtually all of the key positions on the front benches of both the Government and the Opposition are filled with professional politicians- who know no other life outside of politics. In fact the political clique is even narrower than you might think, since in order to obtain the unpaid jobs at the foot of the political ladder, there is a minimum degree of wealth required. It is not an accident then, that so many of the political leaders of Britain come from a privately educated background. The political class- in Peter Oborne's memorable phrase - is also a narrow social elite. "The Establishment", in the shape of the public schools, has recovered a level of control over politics that would have been regarded as unthinkable just a couple of decades ago. Not just in politi

The political cost of repairing the UK economy

The UK's CPI annual inflation rate rose to 3.7% in December 2010. The RPI- which includes mortgage payments- rose to 4.8%. The Bank of England continues to hold the Bank rate at a record low of 0.5%, while issuing over £200 billion of reserves to pay for asset purchases. The banking system is being bailed out by a negative interest rate of close to 4%. Yet to pay for this the United Kingdom has created record public sector deficits. According to the ONS, at the end of November 2010 total public debt- not counting the interventions to recapitalise the banking system- was £863.1 billion, or to put that into context, 58% of GDP. The current cost of those additional interventions is not small. It is currently estimated to be about another £850 billion, and although it is highly unlikely that the eventual total cost will be more than 10% of this number, for the present it is a sum that still requires to be financed for the next several years. Total UK public sector debt is therefor

Creepy Katie Price holds a mirror to Britain

I don't lose too much sleep over the sordid and trashy life of Katie Price. I do think she is an appalling example to youngsters who may wish to ape her expensive "glamorous" lifestyle. Yet now, I am utterly sick of seeing endless stories from "friends of" and "sources close to" on the subject of the latest car crash in her life- in this case the end of yet another of her marriages, just a few months after the vulgar wedding- recorded, naturally, in the gossip sheets and scandal rags after payment of a large fee for the pictures. However it is not so much her own staggeringly immature and nasty behaviour that disgusts me, but the willingness of the press to regurgitate her press releases on subjects that should be totally private. Katie Price has one overwhelming talent: she attracts huge attention from a certain section of media. The vulgar, immoral, trashy, callous media. As another round of "he said/she said" goes around, I am reminded o

Winning the bonus lottery

There has been an awful lot of political cant offered up as argument concerning bankers bonuses. The high rates of pay in the City of London and on Wall Street are so far ahead of the average that politicians are more or less required to be critical, bearing in mind that the average voter earns so many times less than the average banker. Nevertheless, as a banker myself, I think that the compensation offered to bankers is no longer linked to performance- it is a simple lottery. Once upon a time, bankers were entrepreneurs. Partners in their firms, they were prepared to risk their own capital and to back their judgement with their own money. Later, banks became joint stock companies, and the image of the sober-sided, respectable and responsible bank manager of the mid-20th century marked out banks as stable, prudent and safe. Of course, even for commercial banks this was not strictly true, and bankers risk models- focussed on bell curves and other fictitious ideas rarely achieved the re

Britain is losing its social glue

One of the prime reasons that Iain Dale gave up blogging was, he stated, "I hate the backbiting that goes along with it. I hate the character assassination that is permanently present" I am afraid that the symptoms that Iain rails against are part of a larger and more serious disease that is poisoning the whole of British politics. The fact is that it is increasingly impossible to conduct any political discussion without violent accusations of bad faith, treachery or greed. The "politics of envy" has morphed into some kind of twisted "envy of politics". It is shown in a violent hostility towards anyone who expresses an opinion. The latest example is a hate campaign against Billy Bragg , the singer and left wing political activist. I read Billy Bragg's book, The Progressive Patriot and although I did not agree with all of it, it struck me as a sincere attempt to express a personal view of the English radical tradition. It is a thoughtful and rather ch

New Year... New Money

The turning of the year, and indeed the decade, was more than usually symbolic here in Tallinn. 2011 marks Tallinn's turn, together with the Finnish city of Turku, as the European Capital of Culture. Given the relatively small size of the city- just 450,000- even in normal times Tallinn is a very culturally rich place to be: several international film festivals, a large amount of theatre, a wide variety of music, street performance, open air concerts and so on. This, coupled with a number of high quality museums ensures that there is always something to see and do. Tallinn may be relatively small, but it is a capital city- and it feels like it too. The events of 2011 so far seem quite low key, but I am certainly looking forward to the opening of the refurbished maritime museum in the former seaplane port- with the vast concrete hanger providing new indoor exhibition space. Yet it is not just the promise of a culturally rich year that makes 2011 a special year for Estonia. The fin