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Showing posts from September, 2012

Dead Parrots strike back

The conventional wisdom in the British media is that the Liberal Democrats are doomed to a huge defeat in 2015. The only question that exercises such commentators as Polly Toynbee is how large the Labour victory will be and how long they will be in power. For sure, as Sir Mervyn King foresaw during the general election, in conversation with my friend David Hale, any government that took office in 2010 was going to face exceptional challenges. The economic situation when the coalition was formed was the worst in over 60 years. On top of this came the challenges of forming and running a new political structure, namely the coalition itself. Well, as we now know, "mistakes were made". The learning curve was pretty steep, and the Lib Dems have paid an exceptional price in support for being behind that curve.  Yet the Brighton conference may well mark an inflexion point both for the members of the Liberal Democrats and indeed their voters. The political environment could have h

Brighton Rock

A party conference is a remarkably artificial affair, even for Old Lags like me. The business of the hall is somewhat tangential to the real business of conference which is to refresh old friendships and get to as many fringe meetings as possible. For the more frivolous, the determination seems to include finding as many free meals and drinks as possible, but to be honest the attraction of acidic white wine- even free acidic white wine- pales. Chateau de Battrieacide creates heartburn and headache in equal measure, so I strictly ration myself. Brighton as a conference venue is quite attractive these days- more modern hotels, albeit spectacularly overpriced ones, now function within a brief walk of the conference centre than ever before, and Brighton has emerged as a convenient and compact conference venue, with much to attract the average attendee. That elusive thing "atmosphere" is what long time attendees tend to focus on, and this year I detect two undercurrents. The f

How the Lib Dems might beat Spotty Youths and the Nasty Party after all

The problem with Ed Miliband, indeed all of those who came into politics without doing anything else first, is that he still carries the air of the delayed adolescent.  Basically Ed Miliband looks like a spotty youth in a cheap suit. So no shock to see that the latest polls do not have him carrying it off as party leader. Meanwhile the Tories seem determined to prove beyond all doubt that they are still the "nasty party". While not quite as foolish as Mitt Romney, you know that sometime, somewhere probably all the Tory front bench have agreed with the Romney idea that the poor are basically just a bunch of freeloaders . The blind panic among Conservatives now they are under the cosh contrasts rather badly against the grim determination, and discipline among the Liberal Democrats who have been facing repeated setbacks in the past two years. The Lib Dems have been largely written off as a political force, but the party, despite taking large losses at every level, has rema

Suppose the UK leaves the EU by default?

Over the last week the global financial crisis, as it affects Europe, has changed direction. Several of the critical uncertainties that were dogging the Euro have now been resolved. The German constitutional court has ruled that German participation in the current rescue plan is legal, and that future plans are a matter for votes in Bundestag. The Dutch electorate have sung solidly behind pro-EU parties, and the European Central Bank has begun to deploy substantial firepower directly in the markets. The countries that have advocated greater Eurozone integration seem to be winning the argument, and the focus of debate has moved on towards how and not whether a new European Federation can be constructed. Many on the right in the UK are determinedly contemptuous of these increasingly dramatic developments. As at the Messina Conference , where the founding members of the EEC sent Ministers, while the UK sent a junior civil servant, the UK has- by default- taken a decision not to be

BBC hatchet job shoots at the wrong target

A friend of mine, who used to be the Editor of Newsnight - the BBC's flagship current affairs programme once said to me "Of course you must understand that television is essentially a tabloid medium". Yet, amongst the increasingly bland litany of "human interest" reality TV, celebrity wankfests and all the dross on our screens, you might have hoped that news and current affairs could hope for a greater ambition. But No. On Newsnight this week- which I caught when it was rebroadcast on BBC World- there was a spectacular example of a journalistic hatchet job, which The Sun would have been proud of. The purported scandal was that "London based investment banks"- boo hiss - were knowingly mis-selling swaps to Italian and other local government institutions.  In order to make the story stick, you need to know how a swap- conceptually- works. On cue, up came a slide that was supposed to show this.  Err.. it was meaningless. It was, literall

Tory Tantrums

It is quite hard to fathom the current maelstrom of gossip in and about the British Conservative Party hitting the headlines this weekend. The Prime Minister has crafted a reshuffle that rewarded several of the more patient of his party's right wingers, without destabilizing the coalition itself too much. Yet the response has been a plethora of alleged plots and supposed fury. Plans are said to be afoot to bring Boris Johnson back into the House of Commons in order to challenge his erstwhile Eton and Oxford chum. The mechanism apparently involves a third old Etonian- Zac Goldsmith- standing down so that Johnson can return to the green benches of the House of Commons. I think 98% of the population are probably asking "what madness is this?" If such a large number of Conservatives now genuinely believe that the most Euro-sceptic Prime Minister in British history has somehow morphed into a bleeding-heart, then they seriously misunderstand both the Prime Minister, but als

Time to join Schengen

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) did not have a happy birth. It was conceived by the Labour government as a supposedly tougher response to the alleged hoards of immigrants that were a threat to the British way of life- or some such nonsense anyway. It was, in short, a political project, and like most political projects it failed to take into account a whole range of practical difficulties. These difficulties become more obvious every day, and it is now not far short of a serious disaster. The basic problem is that since the UK chooses to administer its immigration policy separately from the rest of the EU, it has to run a separate visa and entry clearance policy. Yet this has led to the stupid spectacle that any Australian who wishes to gain entry clearance to work in the UK may well have to go to Manila, in the Phili ppines, approximately 4000 miles from Sydney in order to be interviewed. Meanwhile Asian tourists are being put off by the need for a separate visa, to the point that Chines

Fifty shades of blasphemy

In the last years of his life, Malcolm Muggeridge  became rather a figure of fun. His appearances on television were easy to parody, and his censorious views on sex seemed increasingly ludicrous. In fact the more he went on about the subject the more I thought "bad luck, Mrs. Muggeridge".  Yet, perhaps the much lampooned St. Mugg might have had a point after all. Fifty Shades of Grey , the latest literary "sensation" is a pretty terrible book. The dialogue is awful, the plot ludicrous, and -considering that this is the new genre of "mummy porn"- the sex scenes are laughable. Yet this absurd book has sold in millions. It is the epitome of the smutty book, but with the twist that it was written... ta-daa... by a woman. One of the most popular scenes is when our heroine is testing her limits of sado-masochist joy to the background of some choral music provided by her sexual Svengali. "The singing starts again … building and building, and he rains

I believe they put a Man on the Moon

The death of Neil Armstrong has, rightly, caused a certain amount of introspection around the world. Although I was a very small child, I can remember the Apollo Missions quite clearly, and apart from the amazing technical achievement, the thing I remember most was the sense of anticipation- that the Moon landings were not merely valuable for themselves, but that they marked a whole new era of manned space exploration. Each mission carried more and did more and for longer. It seemed that it would be a very short time before humans were permanently on the Moon, and the Sci-Fi world of Space 1999 or even Thunderbirds  was not a fantasy, but was simply waiting for us just around the corner. If Man (as we used to call humanity) could get to the Moon "before this decade is out", then surely Man would be on Mars before the century ended. Our culture, from David Bowie to Brian Aldiss was steeped in the imagery of a future in space. Aliens existed- they appeared in Star Trek

A taxing subject: wrong answer, wrong reason, but right reasoning

The UK tax system is a mess. At 11,560 pages, it is five times longer than the German tax code. It allows so many exemptions at the top end that the wealthiest taxpayers pay a smaller proportion to the treasury than the poorest. So despite the Daily Mail's drivel about the rich being "overtaxed ", the fact is that the tax burden in Britain falls disproportionately on the middle class. So the Lib Dem proposal to impose a super-tax on the wealthy has some superficial economic merit. Unfortunately it is a cynical exercise in the politics of the focus group. The party leadership launched the initiative knowing that the Conservatives would veto any tax that was not already in the coalition agreement. There was no chance of this idea gaining any traction.  So why do so? The answer is simple: because the party leaders are reading the opinion polls and focus group reports that suggest that such a differentiation on tax will boost the only weakly recovering support for the