Saturday, 30 July 2011

Matthew Parris on the Coalition...

Politics is not about hope, but expectation. Economics is not about dreams, but plans. For most of the people, most of the time, the geography of the future is not about broad sunlit uplands; it's about the puddles before their feet and the gradient of the next hill. The false prophets of modern marketing have warped more than the language of politics through their obsession with the "vision thing": they have skewed the polls by asking the wrong question. Ask what they expect you can do. It is on that latter request you will be judged says Matthew Parris. Call me complacent, but I don't think that the Coalition has to do much to win again, beyond maintaining a unified front and appearing strong. The worst things get, the less it needs to do. None of this is good news for the rest of us, of course - but happy summer holidays, Messrs Cameron, Osborne and Clegg.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Sustainable growth...

We need growth.

If we are to move decisively out of stagnation, create jobs and pay down the deficit - then we need growth. And not just any growth, 0.2% over the second quarter is just not good enough. Anything less than 0.8% to make up for previously disappointing figures is too small to be of any use whatsoever according to the shadow chancellor. Or is it?

It is now widely accepted that although spending cuts have yet to bite, it is the fear of future cuts that is affecting consumer spending - or the lack of it - directly suppressing demand and leading to low, anaemic growth.

Or is it? You see, those earnings must be going somewhere. I grant you that inflation is currently running at over 4% - which will eat into weekly shopping budgets - and unemployment has risen - even if only marginally, which will devastate a small minority of consumers, but where's the rest going? If the vast majority of employed consumers are not spending, where is that money going?

The answer of course is savings. People are making sure that they live within their means. They are paying down their debts, re-paying mortgages, credit cards and loans. The banking figures - a net re-payment of over £2.5 billion over the last quarter - bear this out.

Now I understand that growth is essential to an expanding and thriving economy trying to attract investment. What I am suggesting here is that as well as re-balancing the economy both structurally - through greater reliance on manufacturing rather than financial services - and geographically - to address the north/south divide - we should also be seeing these figures in human terms. These are not just cold figures. These are people voting with their wallets, telling us that they want and are pursuing, sustainable long-term growth. That is, a lower level of overall consumer spending in order to ensure it is both sustainable for the long term, as well as being backed up with a level of individual wealth (or savings) that is both substantial and therefore induces confidence in the future.

Once consumers have built up that blanket of savings security, we will again see a further rise in consumer spending. But I think it is not unreasonable to expect - and indeed the government should be encouraging through active promotion - long term sustainable growth that consumers - always ahead of governments - appear to want.

Welfare protection...

Interesting piece from James Purnell, following on from his #Newsnight presentation, where he argued for welfare protection being built into unemployment provision. A new national salary insurance could offer working people who become unemployed up to 70% of their earnings in non-means tested support for up to six months (capped at £200 a week). This would incorporate their existing entitlement to contributory jobseeker's allowance (£67.50 a week), trebling the amount of support available to people when they lose their job. What a great idea, paid for from increased National insurance contributions when in work.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Cameron, #OutrageGate & Ed Llewellyn...

In an excellent piece, Julian Astle writes of Cameron's Chief of Staff Ed Llewellyn - Far from providing evidence of Llewellyn’s inadequacies then, this episode highlights his strengths – his judgment and his probity. And in the new post-Coulson, post-Murdoch, post-Malcolm Tucker era we are entering, it is these qualities, rather than an ability to induce fear, that Cameron will need in a Chief of Staff. 

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Charlie Gilmour

Sixteen months is a shocking sentence writes Daisy Goodwin in today's Times. Charlie Gilmour has been made an example of and has been victimised because of his family's fame and his privilege. Nobody condones what those students got up to during those protests in London, but he was not somebody who'd spent his life agitating or engaged in violence. It may well fit the sentencing guidelines, but sending him to prison is out of all proportion.

This man should be made to face up to having behaved in a way that's not acceptable by working for sixteen months in community service projects, not behind bars.

Power without responsibility...

With around three quarters of it's main news bulletins currently devoted to every detail of the 'evil empire' that is apparently destroying our freedoms and everyday life, the BBC relentlessly attacks an eighty year old Australian businessman as if he is responsible for every sin committed by staff on one of his many papers between 2000 and 2007.

The News of the World may well have been involved in phone hacking along with many other British tabloids - and who knows, maybe a few broadsheets as well - and no doubt the CPS will in time prosecute those responsible. And quite rightly many will end up in prison. But the BBC coverage has gone much further than that. This is plainly an attempt by one broadcaster to destroy a rival. The BBC has clearly shown tribal jealousy and partisan hatred for Murdoch and his businesses without widening its coverage when it has clearly been shown that such appalling behaviour has been widely practiced across the British tabloid press.

The BBC has by some margin, neglected it's responsibilities as the dominant national broadcaster in covering important news stories that effect ordinary people over the last two weeks - Obama and US deficit default, the potentially disastrous consequences of Euro problems spreading to Italy, the deepest and most severe drought affecting millions in East Africa... I could go on. Any one of these stories could have consequences for Britain which illegal phone hacking at a tabloid newspaper in order to gain titillating stories over three years ago, is unlikely to have.

This is not how a national broadcaster - funded entirely from a compulsory licence fee - should operate. At best the BBC could be said to have been misguided in pursuing a narrow and partisan political agenda being set by a left-wing newspaper and the Labour party - the parties who have felt most hurt by the views expressed in the News of the World.

At worst, the BBC has malignly used its enormous and highly monopolistic power, to destroy a rival broadcaster without being held to account for the consequences for freedom of expression, pluralism of provision or indeed basic fairness. Murdoch has rightly been criticised for the way in which its papers have allegedly conducted themselves in persuit of bigger and better scoops - using power without responsibility. The BBC is now doing exactly the same. The difference, is that we can choose not to buy Murdoch's offerings. The BBC uses its power in our name.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

And still Gordon Brown cannot see his complicity...

And still he (Gordon Brown) cannot see his complicity. "This is an issue about the abuse of political power..." he said of Murdoch's news-gathering tactics. Well, duh!, you might say. But oddly enough it isn't, or not as he meant it. At its core, it is an issue of the abuse of political power not by Murdoch, but by Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, David Cameron and every other elected quisling who supped with the devil not with a long spoon but from the devil's own satanic hands. "I came to the conclusion," Mr Brown went on of his urge for a judicial inquiry, "that the evidence was becoming so overwhelming about the underhand tactics of News International to trawl through people's lives, particularly the lives of people who were completely defenceless." Sweet Lord Jesus, isn't the point of a Labour prime minister to defend the defenceless? "I'm genuinely shocked to find that this happened," added the Captain Renault of Kirkcaldy. "If I – with all the protection and defences that a chancellor or prime minister has – can be so vulnerable to unscrupulous and unlawful tactics, what about the ordinary citizen?"

Brilliant piece by Matthew Norman on Gordon Brown's intervention into the phone hacking scandal. It concludes with a call for a Bill of Rights designed to forever formalise the relationship between the electors, commercial interests and the elected.