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Showing posts from March, 2012

No "Return to Normality"

The political conventional wisdom in Britain is that the current coalition is an aberration. Sooner or later either the Conservatives or more likely, Labour, will be able to govern alone. This will be-it is argued- a return to politics as usual. I think this represents a failure of imagination. I also think it underestimates just how difficult the next decade is going to be. Europe as a whole is already in an economic crisis  which is the equal of the hungry 1930s. It is a crisis that represents a sum of failures, financial, economic and political. The fundamental problems- wrong risk models for banks, wrong levels of leverage in the wider economy and inflexible political policies and institutions- have not been addressed. Despite the best efforts of financial, economic and political leaders, the process of breakdown has continued and is even accelerating. Much that we have taken for granted is now being tested to destruction. The criticism that has been laid against George Osbor

Boom, bust and the price of property

The release of the latest revision to GDP growth in the UK makes grim reading. The British economy slowed by more than expected, and the outlook for recovery is flickering at best. Incomes have not kept pace with inflation, and the increase in taxes and cuts in government services has helped to cause a sharp contraction in the general British standard of living. Even for those on well above average incomes, costs such as insurance, university tuition fees and now energy prices are really hurting the middle class. For those below median income it is house rents and petrol prices which are beginning to have a crippling impact. The standard of living in London even for those on median income levels is now exceptionally poor.  So how come housing costs in Central London have continued to rise? The short answer is that it is not the British buying. Russians, Arabs, Chinese and others have been buying bolt holes in London, that is certainly true, but more than that, it seems that these b

Defend to the death...

There are many people I disagree with... often quite vehemently. Yet the jailing of a student for offensive tweets concerning the footballer Fabrice Muamba makes me very nervous. Freedom of expression means that we have the right to say anything within the law. The view of the court was that the drunken outpourings of Liam Stacey were illegal. They have been deemed to be not merely offensive but contrary to the law, since they have been deemed to "incite race hatred". As a result Mr. Stacey has now been sent to jail for 56 days. To my mind this is an excessive sentence, given the defendant's previous good character and in my view what has been inflicted by the word should be repaired by the word- that is to say a full and contrite apology. Some would argue that this is too lenient- yet the breach of the law comes less form the unpleasant content of Mr. Stacey's tweets, but from the fact that they were re-tweeted by genuine racists- which Mr. Stacey seems not to be. I

Mr. Clegg and the Vision thing

The latest Liberal Democrat conference has trumpeted the achievements of the party as part of the coalition government. Taken as a list, I think there is little doubt that the party has gained many policy victories. It may even be that the government is enacting more of the Liberal Democrat manifesto than that of the Conservatives. Unfortunately that is not really the problem. Where the Lib Dems have been defeated- especially on electoral reform- those defeats have been comprehensive, while many of the victories have been managerial executive victories, the defeats have been philosophical and principle defeats. Talking to a senior Liberal Democrat  minister on the terrace of the House of Commons recently I was surprised how upbeat he was. However the reason for his positive view was deeply worrying.  "This may be" he said "the only time in a generation that Liberal Democrat ministers can truly participate in government. He added "If it is the case that we ar

The Russian fallout begins

The Economist   this week puts forward a view that the re-election of Vladimir Putin as President marks the beginning of the end of his style of rule. Given that authoritarian rule tends to become unstable, the assumption is made that Mr. Putin will now seek to engage with the opposition in order to shore up his government. I think this is rather naive. It underestimates how much Putin is a creature of the KGB school.  As I watched the long line of Russians outside the Embassy in Tallinn I felt a mixture of contempt and disgust, and -I must admit- fear. Only a bout a quarter of registered Russian citizens living in Estonia actually voted, but of those 86% voted for Putin . Still, twenty years later, this crew of largely elderly Russians have not accepted the reality of Estonian freedom and would actively support the increasingly tyrannical regime in the Kremlin. For a tyrant is what Vladimir Putin is already. He blocked any candidate that could pose a threat from standing agains

The turn of the seasons

It is the light that signals the changing of the seasons in Estonia. In the deep winter it is the long darkness and human life is measured by the welcome candles outside cafes and restaurants. Slowly though, each day begins to bring more light and soon the days grow long and bright. The low horizons of this flat and forested land makes the early spring sunshine  blinding against the snow- it is almost as though a searchlight has come on in order to banish the winter darkness. The return of the sun is the promise of new warmth and by March and April the days are visibly lengthening from one sunrise to the next. Gently the grip of the frost begins to fail. The workmen go onto the roofs to shovel the snow so that it does not turn to ice, though still the passer-by must be wary as the thaw drops icicles from the steep pitched gables of the Old Town. The cafes begin to put out tables on the cobbles- not the elaborate terraces that come out when the leaves do, but still another

Inside Out

As Vladimir Putin embarks on a further term of office, he can at least point to the fact that even despite the vote rigging and stuffed ballot boxes, he can claim a mandate- even his opponents admit that he has won the election. As I watched the line of Russians outside the embassy in Tallinn I had mixed feelings: on the one hand a hope that Russia can become a genuinely democratic state one day and a fear that the brutal language that Putin uses against the Baltic might one day lead to brutal actions. Yet as the Murdoch scandal cuts a further swathe through British democracy, I am beginning to think that about British democracy rather like Mahatma Gandhi, when asked what he thought about Western Civilisation:  "I think it would be a good idea" For the fact is that what appear to be criminal links between the Murdoch organisation and the Police and other government bodies undermines the fundamental basis of the British democratic system and places it on a similar level