Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Two months after the vote:
the pro-Coalition view

The coalition should be celebrated and not criticised. If anything, it's the best government this country has had for a long time, Jackart explains.

[This is a guest post].

Has my outlook changed since the Election? In a word, No. I’ve always described myself as a Libertarian Conservative. I happen to be a member of the Conservative party, but am two policies away from being a Liberal Democrat*.

I am impressed at the attitude of the Government, who have been cutting wasteful programmes, lancing fake charities, abolishing quangos and repealing law with some gusto. Even the response to the Cumbrian shootings was statesmanlike without the rush to DO something to appease a baying media. Government ministers do not pop up on the Today program announcing a new policy every single day. As far as I am aware, the rate at which things are being banned has dropped from one a day for the last 13 years, to …um… none since the election. Indeed we may yet get back the rights to tell a policeman to say “Cheese” or chase wildlife on horseback.

Then, of course there’s last week's budget. The plan, and this is considered ambitious, is to end the deficit within the parliament. That means, for the benefit of economically illiterates, that in 5 years, the British Government will no longer be adding to the national debt every day. Labourites who speak of “Paying down the deficit” are deliberately lying about the real effect of Labour’s profligacy. We will only start “paying down” anything when the deficit is cut to zero and beyond. Only a surplus will ‘pay down’ the debt, but we will not be “paying down” anything at all until 2016 even with the “Tory Cuts”.

Whilst I am not happy with everything; I think AV is a stupid idea and prefer an appointed House of Lords, for example, at least Labour are not in power, and that is almost priceless.

Would I vote the same way was the election to be repeated now? Yes. I would. I am persuaded that the actual outcome is better even than the Conservative Landslide I desired at the time as Liberal Democrat participation provides some protection from the left. It provides credibility, which may one day see Labour supplanted by the Liberals as the main party of the left. The Euro & Grammar school obsessed Tory right are sidelined. The death of the Labour movement is my most profound political wish, and the election result may see this come true.

What pissed me off the most about the outcome of May 6? The low turnout was the most disappointing feature (along with Ed Balls keeping his seat) of the election result. It flattered Labour, and showed the British people, 40% of them anyway, to be uninterested in how their country is governed. It is the Labour party’s skill at Get-Out-The-Vote and political trench warfare which kept them alive in this election. Their entire manifesto was based on a transparent economic lie (that cutting spending is “taking money out of the economy”) and they were led by the worst PM in history. Yet they did better than they deserved because of residual loyalty, a low turnout, an ineffective Tory campaign, and above all savage fear-mongering amongst Labour’s pets in the Public sector. Fear worked, and that too is disappointing.

As for the future, if there is any justice, Labour will be out of power for a Generation and probably for ever. The Labour leadership election is a matter of the profoundest indifference. None of the runners will ever be prime minister. The next non-Tory to be PM will be a liberal, the next Labour PM if there is to be one, isn’t even in parliament.

The most positive thing to come from the election is the Coalition, which is now even taking in grown-up Labour figures to help sort out the most severe financial crisis since the second world war which has once again been bequeathed to us by a despicable and incompetent Labour government. Good of the country is prevailing over good of the Party in power for the first time in 13 years. That is why the Coalition’s approval ratings are sky-high.

Long may it continue….

*PR and Europe, if you’re wondering.

Jackart is a libertarian blogger and a Conservative Party member. He blogs at A Very British Dude.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Two months after the vote:
from Lib-Dems to Labour

Has public opinion shifted at all since May 6? As part of a new series, we explore how feelings have changed (or not) since the general election. Today, Daniel Hoffmann-Gill explains why he almost turned his back on UK politics.

[This is a guest post]

This year’s General Election seems long ago now, I’ve filed it far away in the recesses of my mind, politics, in the UK at least, has lost it’s luster for me and I’ve now gone back to obsessing about American exceptionalism, female genital mutilation and South African crime rates.

What killed it for me was voting Liberal Democrat, as I did in 2005, as they represent (or so I thought) my views the closest and then had to watch the bastards power-grab a horrible little deal with the dreaded Conservatives.

But before I turned my back on UK politics in an extraordinarily tedious fit of pique, I did something quite dramatic: I joined the Labour Party.

I was raised in a very Tory household and as soon as I could I wanted to vote Labour, because it seemed to me the team in blue represented something cruel, mean-spirited and negative; features all shared by my Tory father. So from 1994 onwards I was a devout Labour boy and only when they broke my heart by getting us into an illegal and terrible war, as well as a catalogue of human rights infringements and a slow and horrible metamorphosis into a cruel, mean-spirited and negative political party (are we really turning into America with no choice at all between the Devil and the very deep, very blue and terrifying sea?), I turned to my ideological bed-fellows: the Lib Dems.

It seemed a perfect policy fit and with the election this year the golden bastards actually stood a chance of winning. Thanks to the archaic joys of our electoral system and also not as many people voting for them as expected (always a problem in an election) they were left as kingmakers and decided, even though 15.4 million Brits had voted for left of centre parties rather then the 10.7 million that had turned blue, to back David Cameron and his entourage.

Ouch. That hurt.

And I mean really hurt. And perhaps my hurt is irrational, flawed and riddled with an utter loathing of the Tories and everything they stand for and perhaps, in a stumbling through kind of way, the current Con-Dem alliance is doing alright (even though VAT increases kill us all, especially the poor and why some focused tax hikes on rich folk like me aren’t an option I’ll never know) but I voted for a party of the left, a liberal party because I was sick to death of Labour’s Tory transformation and my vote was betrayed. Where has the left gone?

And yes, I did just say betrayed, for this is a love affair and Nick Clegg has given me chlamydia.

So I decided to cheat on him with my old lover (this relationship and sexual transmitted disease metaphor is starting to run aground isn’t it?) and commit because I see no other options for those of us on the left to turn to, options that actually have power within their reach, rather than hopes and dreams. What use are they?

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill is an actor and writer. He blogs at Blurred Clarity.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

LibDems now like VAT hike - but don't call it a 'betrayal'

Is the Left 's job that of opposing measures that we deem unfair, or do we simply find ways of not disagreeing too much with the Coalition lest "we push the LibDems further towards the Tories"?

Much has been said over the coalition's Budget as announced by George Osborne two days ago.

Stuck between the obvious ideological clashes between those who think such "brave" and tough measures are the "inevitable" legacy of the Labour years, and those who instead call the Budget "reckless" and "dangerous for the recovery", there appears to be a third category of people.

Yes, you guessed it: LibDem MPs. We don't really know where the Lib Dems stand, do we?

Less than two months ago they were kicking and screaming that the planned Tory VAT rise was a "bombshell". They even started a poster campaign about it (see image) and incur the wrath of many a Tory hack, including The Spectator's Fraser Nelson who slammed it as a "dishonest" and "misleading" campaign (see here).

Remember this was in April 2010. Unless I've totally lost it, this was a mere two months ago.

Now, we've all heard of turncoats, politicians performing gravity-defying somersaults, u-turns and about faces. Labour, for instance, can hardly lecture anyone when they signed up to Tony Blair's 'Encyclopaedia of Amazing Betrayals' for a whole decade.

The novelty here though is that never - ever - before has a political party managed to shed so many of its ideas (or "principles", if you like) as quickly as the LibDems are. Even Tony Blair waited two or three years before making a mockery of the now infamous Labour manifesto promise over tuition fees to mention but one of his "pretty straight" deeds. And that's saying something.

The LibDems are now actively supporting the Tories' VAT hike to 20% which, they concede at the Treasury, will mean an average tax increase of over £500 per household.

The jaundiced party claim that they didn't realise how bad the state of public spending was until they entered the coalition. But that's the lamest of excuses available. Maybe they should just stop treating the public like a mass of imbeciles and simply keep up with their daily job of nodding in the Commons whenever Cameron and Osborne speak .

My problem isn't with the Tories. I respect the fact that they're doing what they have to do as a Tory party. They may have kept a couple of things quiet during the election, but they are a Conservative party, we all knew their history and their beliefs and what to expect from them.

When the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the impact of the Budget on the poorest section of the population will be five time worse than the impact on the richest by 2015, there is no surprise there. The Tories are implementing their ideas.

When huge cuts across government spending are implemented and the civil service goes through "a bit" of a diet and courts and police are axed, the Conservatives are simply practising what they've preached all along: the importance of a slimmer state. They believe in it. You can't say fairer than that.

But the LibDems. What do they actually believe in? If they can change their mind so quickly, easily and radically over the timing, scale and quality of cuts, VAT, tax, state benefits, or the best way to achieve recovery, what tells you that they won't change their mind over anything else if a dogbone is dangled before their eyes?

So, some people like Sunny from Liberal Conspiracy may reiterate the point that "screaming betrayal at the LibDems won't work" and that's this is not only a sign of "tribalism" but also "downright silliness". They add that "all [this] does is push Libdems further towards the Tories".

But by focusing on the red herring, they gloss over the devastating consequences of what the LibDems did: following the fine Blairite tradition of turning yet more election manifestos into disposable arse paper that can be dismissed within weeks on the basis of where the most rewarding political wind blows.

How else do you call something like the VAT u-turn? Why shouldn't it be attacked outright? Sites like Liberal Conspiracy often go out of their way to find any inch of Tory wording or semantic that would justify lashing out at anything vaguely Thatcherite (that's not tribalism, is it?), so why shouldn't Lib Dem politicians be harshly criticised or exposed when their political errors are so obviously blatant and their votes crucial for Tory policies to be implemented?

The harm that the LibDems caused to the hopes and beliefs millions of potentially leftist voters is immense. The PR work that Clegg & co have done on behalf of the Can't-Be-Bovvered/Apathetic Party is also incalculable.

When the LibDems and the Labour left where (rightly) slating New Labour over Iraq, PFI or tuition fees, did Sunny write "easy with calling Tony Blair 'traitor' or 'Bliar' or else we risk turing these policies into a Tory monopoly"?

So this is the big question: is the Left (and the Labour Party)'s job that of opposing measures that we deem unfair and harmful for the least well-off, or do we simply have to find ways of not disagreeing too much with the Coalition governments lest "we push the LibDems further towards the Tories", whatever that means?

At which point does the game of triangulations end and principles can be asserted to the point that we can call a crap policy or an obvious betrayal by their name - that is, a crap policy and an obvious betrayal?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Quote of the month

"If Oasis were the soundtrack to my generation, then I'm glad I'm getting older", D.C. Harrison from the excellent blog The Tedious World.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Letter from the future

Last night I travelled to 2012 and Cameron is right, the future looks bright. This is what I saw.

Dear people,

I don't know if it was last night's unfortunate combination of whisky, wine and ale with a handful of crisps later floating in the guts, but here's what happened.

My head was spinning and the last thing I remember was a bit of sick which later teletransported me to June 2012. It may have been for an hour only, but it was a trip I'll never forget.

You will not believe what I have to tell you, but the future really is bright. Stop listening to the scaremongers doubting the daily content of 'the Sun says' or Gideon's briefings. I'll say it again: the future is bright.

Britain in 2012 is a place where there are shops and businesses everywhere. Anywhere. I was walking down a mixed council & private area and the number of neon-lit signs was a spectacle to behold. Where state handouts and dole money used to be the norm, now there were wealth-creating private enterprises gushing out of each flat. Where tracksuited kids used to smoke weed or drank white lightning while shouting 'cunt' at each passer-by, now there were lines of Lamborghinis or shiny Bentleys peacefully parked.

I had to rub my eyes in disbelief. A car pulled up and a gentleman asked me if I was alright. I said "I'm from June 2010, I just can't believe what I'm seeing". The man said "No worries. Sir, let me tell you, the changes of the last couple of years are the best thing that ever happened to us".

"It's all down to the Great Cuts of 2010. Made in the National Interest", he continued. "They did wonders for the country. Do you remember all those incapacity benefits? The minute they were abolished, all those fake disabled decided to start their own business. I don't quite know where they got the capital to begin with, that may be a bit overly technical, but I can tell you they just did. And those who didn't were offered well-paid jobs by the new wave of entrepreneurs".

I was gobsmacked.

"State jobs were practically abolished", the chap went on. "Forget the burden of council-employed street cleaners, gardeners, carers and social workers. All that useless bureaucracy. Prime Minister Cameron and his colleague Iain Duncan Smith decided to get thousands of welfare scroungers out of bed, forced them to brush their teeth, wear a clean shirt and marshalled them to private-run welfare-to-work programmes immediately, as opposed to after 12 months".

"Remember all those projects and plans bankrolled by the previous administration? Axed. Those new hospitals and roads and libraries that the state was gonna pay for? Axed. And you know what happened next? The private sector moved in. I don't know where from, but it moved in. Entrepreneurs gently fell from the sky - mostly people previously on welfare, like I said, others I don't know (but it certainly wasn't the foreigners, we don't get them anymore) - and the private sector took over".

"Suddenly everyone was a wealth creator...". I interrupted the gentleman.

I'm sorry, I said. But we're talking about 1.5m people who lost jobs in 2008-2010, plus many more when the axe fell on the public sector. What happened to all of them?

The guy almost looked pissed off. "You don't get it, do you?", he said. "I know that you lot from 2010 find it hard to get. But the answer is this. The private sector moved in and millions of jobs were created".

OK, I said, I believe you. After all, the streets do all look like Solihull. But do the people earn enough? "Oh. I see", he answered. "Well, most employees are those from welfare-to-work schemes. They have to come in to work, otherwise Iain Duncan Smith will personally clip them round the head in the morning. I don't know where they live. Maybe they do a Dubai and they get trucked back to their dormitory areas at night. All I can tell you for sure is that they've suddenly developed an impeccable work ethic. Even the window cleaners. You've never seen them keener. The other day one was smiling while holding the chamois. What a picture it was. He looked so happy."*

"Anyway", he added, "'proper employees, let's call them that, are incredibly well-paid".

Are they? I asked. "Yes. And there's no legal enforcement either. The minimum wage was abolished a while back. The whole thing magically self-regulated. Greed as well. Gone. Vanished. Disappeared. Thanks to the private capitals on tap (the consequence of the above-mentioned Great Cuts of 2010), money has been coming out of people's arses. Wages are now the highest in Europe. I'm a call centre worker myself and look at the car I'm driving. £12 an hour I make. We're all paid really well. We've never had it so good".

And how about crime and social problems? Are things looking up on that front as well? "Absolutely. That's the best bit", the guy nodded enthusiastically.

"People receive an extra pint a week to stay married. The other day someone snitched on our neighbours because they were having a massive row. Within ten minutes we got Iain Duncan Smith and Nadine Dorris turning up on their doorstep accompanied by a couple of smiling welfare-to-work henchmen. The minister patted the raging husband on the back and said in a priestly voice: 'if I buy you a pint a week will you promise me you'll stay together and stop rowing?'.

The fuming husband took a deep breath. His fury quickly eased off. 'Yes', he answered hesitantly, 'give us a mini tax break and I'll do my best'.'re not going to believe it but I haven't heard a single row since! Every week the family get money to buy a pint and now it all looks hunky dory".

Then the chap said: "I don't know if you remember when Energy Secretary Chris Huhne announced he was leaving his wife for his PR lady two years ago". Yes, vaguely, I nodded. "Well, that changed the moment marriage tax breaks became law. Apparently IDS sneaked £20 under the table to him at a Cabinet meeting. Believe it or not, power-of-the-tax-break, Huhne and his wife salvaged their marriage"!

I was flabbergasted.

"Needless to say, with all mums and dads staying together now, crime has been nosediving and also kids are no longer wearing hoodies and tracksuits".

Wow. What a society, I marvelled.

Then I got a text message saying my time in 2012 was coming to an end. I had just about time for one final question. OK. How about the England team, I asked. Did we at least win Euro 2012?

"I don't know. It's underway as we speak. But I can tell you that all the newspapers are talking about 'The Spirit of '66' all over again and the Sun had a picture of Winston Churchill on its front page". Nothing ever changes, nothing ever changes.

[*kudos to you if you can spot the window-cleaning reference].

Saturday, June 19, 2010

When mega salaries backfire

Remember the glaze-eyed mantra that you may have to pay mega salaries "if you want to retain top talent"? Yesterday England's superstars proved it's a load of absolute bollocks.

Three months ago, the papers quoted England coach Fabio Capello saying that "money is to blame" for the slew of scandals and off-field problems marring some of the Premier League star players.

What if, however, such ridiculous amounts of money were also at the root of England's spectacularly lacklustre World Cup performances?

The problem isn't so much that England are failing to win against much less celebrated teams. Surprise defeats or simple failure to bring home good results have always been part of football and in fact it's happening to other top teams too (some so far have done even worse than England).

Which is why what pissed off most viewers last night wasn't so much the nil-nil draw against Algeria, but the total lack of drive and determination seen amongst England players. They looked just pathetic. Their performance was dire, dull, uninspiring, directionless (more here). Almost aloof. They were hopping about as if it was a training session. The perception was that those top Premier League celebrities just couldn't be bothered.

Hands up if you didn't envy the sight of how enthusiastic and motivated the Algerians looked instead. They may have been less technically gifted, less popular and less used to top-flight football but, against the likes of Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard, they didn't struggle one bit. They actually played much better.

Which is why last night's football can serve as a light-hearted warning against the glaze-eyed free-market mantra that exorbitant wages are a must "if we want to buy or retain top talent".

Premier League salaries have quadrupled in the last ten years, growing much faster than their main European counterparts from Serie A, Primera Liga or Bundesliga (see chart). Figures range from Frank Lampard's annual £7m and John Terry's £6.75m to Wayne Rooney's basic salary of £4.5m.

With his £6.6m a year from the FA, coach Fabio Capello is by far the highest paid World Cup manager. Just imagine that the second best-paid one, Italy's Marcello Lippi, is earning less than half Capello's money to do exactly the same job.

Algeria's Rabah Saadane is on just over £240,000 a year - less than the amount Capello or most of his players make in a fortnight. But let's just say that, if we were to judge from last night's performance, we wouldn't have guessed.

Feel free to call it a crass comparison, but there are parallels between the City binges that led the country to the biggest crisis in sixty years and football's spiralling costs.

There comes a point where somebody can be rewarded too much for what they may (or may not) achieve.

Remember when Sir Fred Goodwin was paid £4.2 million including a £2.86 million bonus in 2007? Yet what the man did was simply preside over the biggest loss in UK corporate history. What are the incentives, where is the motivation, what is there to be feared, if even the most colossal fuck-up can be produce rewards so gargantuan that not even your great grandchildren will ever have to do a day's work?

Watching England's superstars half-arsedly gracing the world with their presence as they took on Algeria last night, you could be excused for suspecting that Rooney & co weren't going to lose any sleep regardless of the outcome.

Those young men have already been rewarded beyond belief. They are multi-millionaire supercelebrities that are routinely treated like royalty wherever they go. In the event they feel a bit low (i.e. in case their pin-up girlfriend catches them red-handed with a fellow model) they can console themselves with yet another Ferrari or private yacht.

Could it simply be that stratospheric salaries can actually produce counterproductive outcomes?

Wayne Rooney's pig-headed criticism of booing from fans ("Nice to see your own fans booing you. If that's what loyal support is ... for fuck's sake", he blasted after the game) was further indication of how distorted those spoilt kids' perceptions have become.

Perhaps bingeing on £90K a week from Man Utd plus extra millions from Coca Cola, EA games and others really persuaded the young star that there should be nothing other than adulation and "loyal support", no matter how embarrassing their performance.

So perhaps the best chances of success in four years' time won't come from an even richer contract handed out to Capello's successor or masturbatory headlines about "the Spirit of '66" and Premier League superstars up there with the Brazilians, the Argentinians or the Italians.

Simply leave home the Rooneys, the Lampards and the John Terrys and give less celebrated First or Second Division players the privilege of representing their country instead. Guaranteed they'll try harder and play with some passion. And perhaps even stand a chance of actually winning something.

Friday, June 18, 2010

I didn't vote LibDem for this

Axing hospitals, jobs, help for the unemployed, manufacturing projects and front line services: this cull is coming straight from the most ideological right-wing hymnsheet.

Commenting on cuts and "difficult budget decisions", Deputy PM Nick Clegg said recently that his government would "not" do it "the way we did it in the 80s". "We're going to do this differently", he remarked.

The acute observer, however, may have learnt the bitter way that, whatever the Lib Dem leader says, the exact opposite is true. In fact, his public declarations read in reverse should be coveted as the best way of predicting government policy.

And so, yesterday's announcement that projects worth £2bn are getting axed (with another £8.5bn suspended) is a clear sign that, for all Clegg's posturing, the 80s are actually back with a vengeance.

To quote Chris Dillow, "[W]hen Clegg says he’s going to do things differently from Thatcher, he’s right - he’ll cut overall spending by much more than she did".

The significance of yesterday's cuts is immense. It offers a clear glimpse of the ideological direction taken by the Con/Dem administration.

The Coalition are not cutting back on things such as council-funded festivals, public-funded anti-obesity ads or - even better - the salaries handed on a tray to the Chief Executives of Network Rail or the Royal Mail.

No. The axe is falling on public projects which were crucial in both the public and private sector. Cuts are going to affect job creation (mostly in the private sector), 21st century manufacturing, the health service and measures to help the unemployed.

Those include scrapping a much needed new hospital in the North-East and cutbacks on the Future Jobs Fund, a scheme that was created during the recession to help the long-term unemployed with jobs or training.

But probably even more significant was the massive blow dealt to manufacturing firm Sheffield Forgemasters.

Their £80 million loan would have created skilled jobs and stimulated the supply chain in low carbon power generation. It was a good investment both in terms of future green technology and long-term support of a specialised UK company with only one direct competitor in the field of heavy steel forgins and steel castings - in Japan. Other foreign companies will soon be vying to fill the gap.

Quite clearly this government is not interested in diversifying the economy away from the financial sector. They are repeating the short-termist mistakes that led us to the crisis in the first place. They are not interested in a forward-thinking manufacturing base and they have no plan for growth other than praying that their Ideological Hymnsheet may deliver the goods.

And the 11th Chapter, first epistle to the Free Marketeers, Verses 2-16 states clearly that the government shouldn't invest in manufacturing and that mass unemployment is a price worth paying. Amen.

PETA's sexiest vegetarian of 2010

PETA are running their annual poll based on celebrities who chose a dead-animal free diet. Amongst the ladies, Chrissie Hynde, Natalie Portman, Pamela Anderson or Shania Twain are amongst those who gave up on sizzling corpses.

Joaquin Phoenix, Kevin Bacon, Alec Baldwin or Morrissey are only some of the males who switched to a meat-free diet.

If you're interested, you can take a look at the full choice and cast your vote here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A day Britain can be proud of

In the midst of all the negativity, there is a lot to be proud of when a country - at its highest level - is capable of making amends for recent mistakes.

After over 10 years of relentless work, including thousands of statements from soldiers, civilians, photographers and police officers, the Saville report concluded that the British Army was guilty of shooting unarmed and innocent civilians on January 30, 1972 in Londonderry, a day that became known as "Bloody Sunday".

Critics may argue that the government's apology doesn't go far enough, or that - after almost forty years - it may be too little too late.

On the other side, supporters of the British army maintain that soldiers in Northern Ireland were subjected to the most severe provocation and that the events had to be seen within the context of a what was effectively a "shooting war".

But in the midst of all the negativity, there is a lot to be proud of when a country - at its highest level - is capable, not only of seeking the truth, but also of saying "sorry" and making amends for recent mistakes.

Several European countries grappled with political violence in the 1970s and 1980s, yet most governments are still a long way away from recognising their share of responsibility.

Which is actually what should set democracy off from the ideology of violence and terrorism: the ability to say that we don't need to go down the same barbaric route if we want to achieve a political goal.

That Britain managed to do so is something to be saluted rather than nitpicked.

It is important though that a line in the sand is drawn with the Saville report.

Those calling for prosecutions forget that this would only reopen wounds and kickstart a new round of grievances and finger-pointing. And that's without counting the devastating impact of having soldiers in prison 40 years after an event, while convicted multiple murderers and terrorists enjoy their freedom.

There's no way the peace process can gain anything from it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Would we have 'cuts' had it not been for the bank bailout?

Read the papers and it's as if the real reason behind the "drastic" cuts in public spending, the big bank bailout, never happened.

Just a passing thought.

In the past few days, Prime Minister David Cameron and his coalition chums have been warning of "drastic" measures and "decades of pain" as the £6bn cuts get underway in an attempt to rein in the country's £156bn annual deficit .

Cameron admits that the decisions "will affect every single person" (though I'm sure he's hardly going to trade that radiator for an extra jumper himself). However, he's also very clear in laying the blame on the previous Labour government and their "reckless" spending.

But here's the thing.

Less than two years ago, at the height of the financial crisis, the Labour government pumped £37bn directly into the banks. Earlier on, an estimated £50bn had already been spent to rescue Northern Rock (fine purveyors of high-risk 110-per-cent mortgages) from disaster.

That alone would cancel out the forthcoming "drastic" cuts by a mile. Do you hear anyone talking about it?

Not to mention the gigantic £850bn announced at the end of 2009, the official cost to the British taxpayer that included - amongst other things - buying duff shares off banks, indemnifying against losses, providing guarantees and insurance cover for assets.

Yet - in a textbook case of collective goldfish memory - this now seems to have slipped away from public consciousness. It's been literally sanitised from the dominant discourse. It's as if it never happened. The only thing that happened, apparently, was a "reckless" Labour government living beyond its means and wasting homongous amounts of money.

That they did that to rescue "reckless" banks is not something David Cameron will remind you of.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Robert Green gives immigrants a breather

The tabloids have stopped ranting against immigrants, evil foxes, social workers and the EU. That's because they have a new obsession: England's goalkeeper.

Unless you spent the weekend in outer space you may have heard that a clumsy mistake by untested goalie Green cost England the victory in their opening World Cup game against the US.

If an external observer were to make a guess on the basis of newspaper coverage, they would probably conclude that Green's clanger got England knocked out. Or maybe that it cost them the semi-final, the final or even the World Cup itself. Instead, it was only a 1-1 draw in the opening game.

Yet - as usual - hysteria and hyperactivity is reigning supreme amongst England's red tops.

For once though, the target is not immigrants, asylum seekers, social workers, killer foxes or the EU. It's Robert Green.

The country's "patriotic" tabloids are obviously unaware that all the pressure they're now cooking up is going to make the goalkeeper - and the whole team too - even more self-conscious and nervous. This, rather than Green's blunder on Saturday, may result in an early flight home.

Take a look at them.

The Sun dug up Green's sentimental past. In a piece called 'Robert Green: I've let nation down' (one of the many about the West Ham player), the tabloid happily announced that the goalkeeper "let his gorgeous girlfriend slip through his fingers just weeks before the South Africa tournament began". The report comes with a picture of his ex-girlfriend in a bikini.

The Daily Mail, still revelling in the BP-related Britain-v-US diplomatic spat, gives extra coverage to the so-called internet viral about "Soccer and oil spills" .

As it does its bit to keep the atmosphere calm and level-headed, the Daily Mail sports the headline 'James furious at Fabio Capello over World Cup opener snub', even though the article does not contain a single quote, not even a second-hand one, to support the story. Other pot shots at Robert Green include 'No excuse! Robert Green can't even find friends in the goalkeepers' union' and 'Calamity! Robert Green faces England axe after his howler hands Americans a draw'.


The Mirror is host to 'The Rob Green debate'; "Drop or keep?" is the paper's big question, amongst revelations that the goalkeeper is "pleading for a second chance".

No pressure, eh?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Nationalism: BP's desperate card?

Don't let anybody tell you that nationalism and big capital don't match.

Look at how BP's PR machine is turning the whole thing around. And with some success too.

What started on April 20 with an oil rig explosion and the death of 11 workers, quickly turned into one of the most devastating environmental catastrophes ever. It is estimated that 40,000 barrels a day have been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

The consequences for the environment and local economy (and when we say "local" we mean the equivalent of a semicircle going from Cornwall all the way to East Anglia) are devastating. Millions of people depending on fishing and tourism, the two most obvious areas that spring to mind, are obviously very concerned.

For the record, BP encountered hostility because: 1) evidence of criminal negligence is gradually surfacing (regarding cost cutting and lax security measures); 2) the company has been fined several times in recent years for negligence over, again, security, safety hazards and environmental crimes in the US; 3) in the wake of the accident, company's CEO Tony Hayward came up with one tactless comment after the other and got lambasted for lacking empathy.

Now, bear in mind that BP shares started nosediving straight after the accident and continued to do so after each attempt at cleaning up failed and each time Mr Hayward engaged in inept remarks.

On June 1, BP shares already lost 34 per cent of their value before the spill.

Obama's notorious "whose ass to kick" and "he wouldn't work for me" remarks didn't take place until June 8. Shares kept plunging until they reached half their original value, but to say the President is responsible is a complete smokescreen.

So what happened? When it was clear that "ordinary" PR couldn't cut it on behalf of BP, aid came in the guise of the "patriotic" card. And it worked.

Just look at it. In the past few days, the focus has shifted completely. It is no longer on the environmental tragedy, its impact on millions of lives, the clean-up and BP's obvious responsibilities.

Boris Johnson and Lord Tebbit
accused Barack Obama and the Americans in general of anti-British rhetoric, "buck-passing and name-calling", even though the buck does indeed stop at BP.

Tebbit, in particular, called Obama "despicable", unleashed accusations of "anti-BP rhetoric" and putting BP pension schemes at risk, as he kick-started the game of "whataboutery" that the "Americans too" have caused environmental disasters in the past (and?).

On Thursday night's BBC Question Time the rhetoric had hit such crass levels that panel member Toby Young ("journalist and author") got a round of applause by saying that "if you wanna see some ass kicked you should tune into the England v USA World Cup game on Saturday".

Never mind questions should be raised about a messed-up system where millions of pensions are literally left to the gambling world, just blow the dog whistle and start mentioning "British interests" (to be read in a manly, gravely voice)...and that's it, people's attention is easily sidetracked.

So imagine that. Basically Barack Obama, his administration, and the millions of American citizens affected by BP's ineptitude, should just say: "don't rush, BP. No sweat. We know some British pension schemes are invested in BP, so just leave it. Actually, have one on us".

Friday, June 11, 2010

Why Abbott or Ed Miliband can revive Labour

Why a clear break from New Labour without going too far to the left is the only hope for the party.

With the nominations closing on Wednesday, the quest for the new leader of the Labour Party is now officially underway.

Thanks to David Miliband's last-minute gasp of generosity, the contest was handed a lease of life with the addition of the only contender who doesn't fit the template of a fortysomething white middle-class male opposing two fortysomething rich white males already in government (Cameron and Clegg).

Diane Abbott ensured that there is still a glimmer of hope in the Labour Party and that the millions of activists, voters and supporters who took a battering after the other during Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's era have not been shut off completely.

The background is simple. True, like some die-hard New Labourites point out, their party managed an unprecedented 13 years in power and three consecutive election victories. But, if you excuse my analogy, it's like a fat bloke stuffing his face without checking whether the amount (or quality) of food he's guzzling is going to give him the shits or make him sick.

The consequences of Blairism on the party and its identity have been devastating.

Since 1997, Labour lost a staggering five million votes as well as more than half its membership. Just to give you an idea, in the period 1997-2007, around 230,000 people chucked their Labour Party card into the bin.

Not only that. In constantly sticking two fingers up at its grassroots voters, the Party lost credibility. It doesn't know where it stands anymore. On many issues, such as civil liberties - but also aspects of the economy, the environment and, more recently, immigration - it even slipped to the right of the Tories. On others, like workers' rights, the job market and empathy with the not-so wealthy, it left millions of potential voters with nowhere else to turn to.

The general perception (though by no means exclusive to Labour) is that the party is now the monopoly of a specific breed of professional politicians: bureauspeaking middle-class policy wonks whose only route to Westminster is a self-perpetuating career in research, think tanks and policy units.

It was telling that, in the run-up to May 6, Gordon Brown and his inner circle would constantly cling on to Labour's few progressive achievements (i.e. the minimum wage, SureStart, LGBT rights, tax credit) in a last-ditch attempt to garner enough support.

Someone should tell Ed Balls and David Miliband. If the New Labour project wasn't, after all, so bad...why didn't they centre their election pitch around their least Labour achievements? Why didn't they walk around replaying slogans like "we're-intensly-relaxed-towards-the-filthy-rich" or "we-need-more-millionaires"? Why didn't they remind voters of the beauty of 42-day detention, top-up fees, the Iraq war, peerages for bankers, PFI, City deregulation and the third runway at Heathrow?

Which is why a clear break from New Labour is the only hope for the party. And it can only come from two out of the five candidates.

One is Diane Abbott, a maverick MP with a good media profile who speaks like an intelligible, normal human being. Placed against the Cleggeron white male upper-class clones, she would certainly stand out as a more ordinary person.

But Abbott's strongest points are not just presentational.

People appreciate politicians who speak their mind. And Diane Abbott has never been afraid to speak against people in power, even if they belonged to the same party. She was never part of any New Labour government; she opposed the Iraq War even when it wasn't the fashionable option; she has an excellent record on civil liberties and, unlike manipulative Ed Balls, she has stated clearly that concerns about immigration were often "a proxy" for concerns about jobs, housing and poor pay.

The second is Ed Miliband.

When he first threw his hat into the ring, this blog dismissed him as yet another New Labour clone or the prototypical continuity candidate.

We were wrong. Credit when due, Ed Miliband is showing he's got the guts to make a clear break from Blair and Brown, acknowledging past mistakes as well as fighting his campaign on a range of policies that speak, factually, to ordinary people.

Unlike his brother, he fully admitted that the Iraq war was a mistake.

Unlike Ed Balls, he's refusing to use immigration and ethnicity as a convenient political scapegoat to dodge Labour's responsibility in issues such as labour casualisation, agency work and housing.

Above all, unlike his more senior rivals, Ed Miliband finally twigged that there are millions of people who are gagging for a party representing the interest of the low-paid and the most vulnerable. With pride - without triangulations, politicking and opportunism.

Aside from making the pitch in favour of a wage ratio between top and bottom salary in the workplace, Ed Miliband has made the fight for a Living Wage the centrepiece of his leadership campaign, making the most progressive statement coming from a mainstream Labour politician since the days of the minimum wage. On Wednesday, in an article penned for the Mirror, he wrote:
"Our party is worth nothing if it is not true to our values. Our values define who we are and who we stand up for. Our values led us to victory in 1997 - when we promised a minimum wage, smaller class sizes, and a windfall tax to help the young find work.

There is something wrong with a society where nurses earn less in a year than bankers - whose botched deals caused the credit crunch - pay themselves every week. It would take a low paid worker at a top company 80 years to earn what their boss makes in a single year in the boardroom.

The gap between rich and poor matters morally because it touches our deepest sense of justice. It matters because across the world, more unequal societies have higher crime rates, more mental illness and more social problems. And it matters for our economy. The credit crunch shows what happens when it is too easy for bankers to earn a fast buck from deals that go rotten just after they have pocketed their cash. So we need to act".
For the Labour Party, it's the last chance to do so.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Cars vs foxes: which poses a bigger threat?

Watch out foxes: tabloids are out to get you.

Following the fox attack on two sleeping baby twins in Stoke Newington, an enormous amount of press coverage has been given to the apparent threat posed by foxes.

Of course what happened in North London must have been truly scary. It was a real tragedy and our sympathy goes to the family as we wish the two children a prompt recovery from their injuries.

However, this accident has proven a textbook example of how the British press loves to scream "tragedy!" and "outrage!" without any sense of proportion or perspective. To say that reports on the alleged "threat" posed by foxes were distorted and over the top is an understatement.

Foxes are at risk of turning into the new social workers.

Just look at the photos selected to accompany many tabloid "reports" of the incident. They didn't just show a fox. It had to be a snarling sinister one too. Just in case you weren't convinced of what "vicious pests" those animals are.

Let's be logical about it. How many panic-laden TV reports or tabloid pieces do you read about children killed in traffic accidents?

And yet every year there is an enormous amount of kids losing their lives on UK roads. According to the Child Accident Prevention Trust, in 2008 131 children under 16 were killed in traffic collisions. Almost 23,000 were injured.

According to the NSPCC, the number of child homicides (that is, at the hand of adults) has averaged 79 a year for the last 28 years.

More news. Each day 55 pre-school children need hospital treatment for burns and scalds in domestic accidents. That's each day - in Britain.

In 80 years, no child has ever been killed by a fox in this country, whether in urban areas or in the countryside.

There are more chances that someone will be killed by lightning (5 people each year in the UK) than there are of foxes attacking humans.

The incident in Stoke Newington was the second reported of its kind in eight years. In 2002 a similar one in Kent resulted in a baby getting injured.

It's quite obvious that, as per usual, the press at large (not just the tabloids) are enjoying preying on people's fears. They obviously think the image of a fox on the rampage can turn into a juicy news story. Maybe because injuries caused by a wild animal strike some chord with our subconscious, as it may evoke childhood nightmares or similar.

But then again, the Sun or the Daily Mail rarely do "perspective" anyway.

Breaking news: Spanish test for British 'expats'

Britons who want to marry people already in Spain must pass a Spanish language test.

Spanish language tests are to become compulsory for expats wanting to join their husband or wife in Spain, it was announced yesterday.

People who are married or engaged to a Spaniard or a Briton already living in Spain must prove they have 'conversational' Castellano before they can settle in the country.

The test will become part of the marriage visa application process later this year. Last year, 38,000 immigrants were granted spousal visas lasting two years. Another 21,000 were given the right to stay indefinitely.

Ministers hope the change will help combat bogus marriages and ensure new arrivals integrate into Spanish society.

In 2003, it was estimated that the number of Spanish properties owned by the British was 600,000. Figures from 2007 indicated there were 761,000 British residents in the country, most of them highly concentrated in pockets (urbanizaciónes or newly-built developments) where English has become the main language.

To pass the test, applicants will have to be able to speak, read, and write Spanish as well as a seven-year-old at primary school.

Home Secretary Maria Teresa Mayo said: "This is only the first step. We are currently reviewing Spanish language requirements across the system with a view to tightening the rules further in the future".

In the wake of rising problems, expats will also have to prove they can support themselves financially and that their relationship is genuine. If they comply with all the requirements, they will be issued with a two-year visa.

Don Andrés Verde, chairman of think tank Cuidado Inmigración España, said: "This is an essential step forward if new spouses and partners are to play their full part in our society, but the level of Spanish specified is at the very bottom of the scale. It will have to be moved up before long if this measure is to be effective".

[From El Correo Diario, a right-wing Spanish paper]

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


I took the liberty to cut and paste this comment from an online Daily Mail reader:

Letter to Sunny Hundal

On the suprising support lent by Liberal Conspiracy to Ed Balls' attack on immigration.

Dear Sunny,

Ed Balls' piece in the Observer two days ago seems to have caused a bit of a stir.

In a nutshell, his point was: we were wrong to allow so many Eastern Europeans into Britain; we should revise the free movement of labour and keep it one way only (1m Brits can live and work in Europe, but not the reverse); his government, Labour, was wrong in a) both not placing restrictions on new EU states and b) not implementing the agency workers directive.

James Macintyre and Mehdi Hasan in the New Statesman dismissed Balls' "tough rhetorical stance" on the grounds that "[e]vidence -- from the BNP's trouncing, the fact that the Tories had the same 'cap' policy and lost in 2005, and the fact that even Mrs Duffy's seat was retained by Labour -- suggests this is a bit of an easy myth".

Others have noted how unfeasible it all looks that Balls is suddenly laying into entire chunks of 13 years in power while he seemed to be happily going along with it all until May 7 (he recently claimed he wasn't really pro-Iraq war too - and don't give me that "collective responsibility" stuff because Balls wasn't even in the cabinet in 2003 - he was free to speak).

I'm sure you will agree that it's baffling when an aspiring Labour leader get his words praised by Balanced Migration and even Stormfront (links not provided), whereas even the Conservatives ("on immigration Ed Balls is to the right of Enoch Powell"), the Spectator ('Balls: we have to be more bigoted') and the Daily Mail ("shameless hypocrisy") found his words ranging from opportunistic to altogether wrong.

But what I found most disheartening was the argument you put forward on your blog Liberal Conspiracy, an important voice in the left-of-centre "blogosphere" (god I hate that word, blogosphere).

For some reason, you appear to be giving Ed Balls a fantastically easy ride ('Why I'm defending Ed Balls over immigration').

Yet when only two weeks ago another leadership hopeful, Andy Burnham, spelt out concepts not dissimilar to those now backed by Ed Balls' ("Our priorities were not [the white working classes'] priorities: [...] we were in denial about the effects of immigration - on wages, housing and anti-social behaviour - in places where life is hardest", said Burnham), you dismissed it all with sarcasm and exclamation marks:

"Mr Burnham will be radically different from everyone else by having a one-issue campaign. Immigration! The issue no-one talks about. The issue that Phil Woolas did not constantly bang on about. Talking about immigration will bring back voters and help Burnham take back the country!".

It reminds me of Arsene Wenger when he complains that Man Utd players' tackles were out of order, but he's fine when his own do exactly the same.

Andy Burnham bad, Ed Balls good. And why is that?

"Because", you explained, "I think we have to accept we lost the debate on immigration and do something about it. We failed in pushing a coherent and positive narrative during all those years and now have a situation where the public is very right-wing on the issue. [...] We can't afford to ignore people's perceptions whether we like them or not".

You get that? You lose a political argument, so you may as well start agreeing with the "winning" side.

Just think if that applied to every aspect of politics. Like, the British public have consistently supported the death penalty over many years as the best way to combat crime. Does it mean we should concede defeat and look sympathetic with "public perceptions", or shall we still reject calls for the introduction of death row because we believe they're wrong?

Or...Those old enough to remember will note how, throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, Tories and assorted supporters of Section 28 would routinely dismiss the pro-LGBT argument by saying that public opinion was simply hostile to same-sex relationships. It was true. Opinion polls at the time did not leave ground to interpretation. But we didn't give up the fight because we were a minority.

For, call me thick, but there is a simple, unanswered question here: are Ed Balls' words to be backed for reasons of PR - that is to say, so that the left doesn't look like it's ignoring "people's perceptions" - or because they make for good, honest, coherent policy? Is Balls right because his (newly adopted) principles are right, or simply out of political expediency? Do we believe in them, or do we just go along because we're tired of fighting an uphill struggle with a tabloid-led rhetoric that has started to seep through society?

There is a fallacy the size of the Gulf of Mexico in your line of reasoning, Sunny. You later commented:

"The changed reality is that we lost the debate on immigration because of the lack of political courage on behalf of politicians and because the left didn’t have a narrative on this either. We avoided the issue and now it’s become an albatross".

So, on one side you criticise the "lack of political courage" (presumably to point out that what the left needed to do was to tackle the problems for which people blame immigrants rather than the immigrants). On the other, the moment the issue becomes "an albatross", we should just somersault the other way and go along with a bit of Eastern European-bashing because it chimes, apparently, with "people's perceptions".

You wrote that "[J]ust screaming racist everytime a politician talks about it is not getting us anywhere and frankly I’m getting sick of that too".

But no-one said Balls was being "racist". Why are you saying that? I don't think anyone, for a second, believes he was being "racist". Opportunistic, maybe. Unprincipled, possibly. A hypocrite, surely. But racist? That's a red herring, my friend.What next? Are you going to say that "immigration is a taboo subject" too?

Those, like me, who are shocked by Balls' road-to-damascus conversion do so not on the basis of "racism", but because we think it's unfeasible, it's wrong, it's ill-conceived.

If Balls really wanted to "reconnect" with traditional Labour voters he could, for example, go further than just pay lip-service to "the agency workers directive" that, lest we forget, only six months ago he himself contributed to rejecting.

He could endorse Jon Cruddas' analysis of how endemic casualisation has led to a race to the bottom in the workplace. He could look at the central issue of affordable housing.

He could choose to go the Ed Miliband way, making the living wage "central to his campaign" or calling for the introduction of "wage ratios" between top and bottom salaries in the work place.

Because, fundamentally, these are the battles that nobody is fighting. There are plenty of parties, groups and newspapers setting migrant workers against British workers as they advocate that there are "too many immigrants" taking our jobs and depressing wages.

But very few arguing loud and clear that, if only working people were paid properly and were handed back appropriate protection in their work contracts, the issue of immigration would probably eventually self-regulate.

Until the root of the problem is addressed - the fact that in this country it is possible to pay people a non-living wage, sack them on a whim and hand them an existence cut out of job insecurity - tuning in to the dog whistle politics of "too much immigration" will just remain that: dog whistle politics.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Looking for Eric

Ken Loach at his top, again.

Though possibly his least political film, Ken Loach's 2009 release is unmistakeably Loachian in its unique blend of drama, comedy and social realism that long ago turned the man from Nuneaton into a national treasure.

Even at their most light-hearted and entertaining, Loach's films are never banal, superficial or mono-dimensional. Even when they depict day-dreaming, they never feels unreal. When they turn gritty or desperate, they remain tasteful and inspirational.

Looking for Eric will just grab you right from the start. The setting is so real and so ordinary, yet so original and unusual. It stands out from a mainstream saturated with obvious heroes, fast action, special effects and overclipping - which is where the likes of Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Shane Meadows gain immense credit.

While the premises are certainly not of the chirpy variety, the film never feels depressing. The script (courtesy of Loach's long-time collaborator Paul Laverty) is delivered in such a caring, quirky, uplifting manner that it's impossible not feel any empathy or involvement.

Looking for Eric is centred around a postman called Eric (Steve Evets), a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Having walked out on the love of his life is still haunting him and so is his troubled relationship with his teenage kids. His life is simply going nowhere.

After a botched suicide attempt, his excellent mates and colleagues decide to pick up the pieces and help him with some motivational techniques - some of which will include truly comical moments. Ask to think of a model to look up to on his road to recovery, long-term Man Utd fan Eric goes for his namesake and footballing legend Eric Cantona.

It's from that point on that the film enters unique territory, when Eric begins his imaginary conversations with Cantona - whether at home, or during his morning delivery - as the two try to find solutions to the protagonist's problems, with the French legend gradually and touchingly talking Eric into turning things round.

Although at times the film feels like a tribute to Man Utd's most cherished champion, the whole thing never feels conceited. Cantona can actually stand his own and even take the piss out of himself. His part in the film is just pure genius.

But the Cantona sections is only a part of what goes on. Eric goes through one emotional rollecoaster after the other: from attempting reconciliation with his former partner and sorting things out with his own kids, to the gut-wrenching discovery that his eldest son got lured into a gang. Further complications ensue, including an incredibly original twist which we won't reveal.

We said earlier that Looking for Eric is Ken Loach's least political film. But that is only because his previous films were incredibly political. In this case the message feels more like a leftist self-help book, if there ever was such a thing. It does well to acknowledge gritty realism, but it also offers a way out of things, primarily via old-school solidarity. Together we stand, basically, even in the face of the biggest adversity.

Absolutely amazing.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Ed Balls sets new standards for the meaning of hypocrisy

Why the wannabe Labour leader has the coherence of a spraying hosepipe.

This is a man who sat at the core of the whole New Labour project. He was part of the inner circle since 1994. He went along with whatever was agreed. He made significant contributions to all aspects of government policy.

Now Ed Balls has decided to involve himself in a game of triangulations, positioning and politicking so pathetic that, compared to him, even Tony Blair would look more genuine.

Two weeks ago he came out with the revelation that Britain was "wrong" to join the Iraq war, without a shred of dignity or a passing thought that he would just be viewed as a spineless opportunist.

Like Mark Steel commented in the Independent, Balls could herald a new Labour tradition, that of opposing wars after they've ended: "Even a month ago [Balls and Miliband] said nothing, so they've all just changed their minds, have they?", wrote the comedian.

That was about Iraq. But Balls didn't stop there. His article in today's Observer is further proof that this second generation New Labourite only believes in two things: hypocrisy and opportunism.

Probably aware that his chances to become Labour leader are getting slimmer by the minute, Gordon Brown's economic adviser decided to raise his profile by turning to the Daily Mail brand of populism and cynicism - that is playing workers off against each other.

Essentially, Balls is calling for an end to the free movement of labour within the EU.

"We were wrong to allow so many Eastern Europeans into Britain", he writes. "Europe's leaders need to revisit the Free Movement Directive, not to undermine the union, but to make it economically and politically sustainable". Those words alone set him automatically to the right of the Tory party on immigration.

Balls, however, went further. Look at this staggering piece of hypocrisy, arrogance and subconscious post-colonial instinct:
"While it is true that one million British people do migrate to work in the rest of Europe, they are more likely to be working for higher wages in Brussels, Frankfurt and Milan than undercutting unskilled wages in the poorer parts of Europe."
This argument is infinitely worse than what you hear from the likes of UKIP. Because at least UKIP has the coherence and the intellectual honesty to argue in favour of Britain pulling out of the EU altogether. Instead, Balls' opinion is not just flawed, it's obnoxious.

1. Apparently it's ok for the British to take other people's jobs, the good ones in fact, but it's not ok for other people to take our jobs, even the shit ones. One rule for us and another for everyone else. Proper School of Post-colonialism;

2. Balls also displays a worrying lack of perception which, for an aspiring leader, is very bad news. Leave aside the crass sweeping generalisation that Brits in the EU work "for higher wages in Brussels, Frankfurt and Milan", as if they were all investment bankers, market analysts or fashion gurus - which is total balls (I know, I couldn't help it). Balls is totally unaware of the impact that significant chunks of the million British people living in the EU are having on certain areas;

3. Entire provinces in Spain have seen property prices hugely distorted by the high influx of hundreds of thousands of Brits in the past ten years. Not only have locals often been priced out of the property market, but the strain on public services has been significant, especially as thousands of Brits don't bother to register with the local councils, with the result that allocated funding to local hospitals and services doesn't correspond to the actual local needs.

There's also a final atrocity in Balls' article. Exactly like with Iraq, the wannabe Labour leader spews up eye-watering levels of hypocrisy when he writes that immigration undercutting unskilled wages was made "worse" by "the failure of our government to get agreement to implement the agency workers directive"(!).

Another Road-to-Damascus conversion. How do you call that? Cheek? Nerve?

On the TUC blog Owen Tudor just stopped at "chutzpah":
"What [...] the trade union movement argued all along – for over a decade - was that, with labour market regulation like the agency workers directive and the posted workers directive, migration would not set worker against worker, allow employers to undercut existing terms and conditions (regardless of the nationality of the victims), or lead to a downward spiral of wages".
Ed Balls sat at the core of the Labour government which, just over six months ago, took the active decision not to implement the agency workers directive, leaving 1.3 million workers in the most precarious and vulnerable situation.

Quite simply, there is enough evidence to suggest that Ed Balls is all over the place. He's got the coherence of a spraying hosepipe and, to quote the excellent Paul Sagar, "he comes across like a slimy, self-satisfied, mendacious and slippery political manipulator".

Make him Labour leader and the Tories are guaranteed half a century in office.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Sun blames Lady GaGa

The singer sparked "fury", apparently. Only in the Sun's newsroom though.

For a country where tabloid-led witch hunts and collective hysteria are the order of the day, the reactions to the tragic Cumbria shootings have been surprisingly sober.

Most parties accept that no law can shelter society from an unpredictable switch flicking like it did in Derrick Bird's case.

Beyond a call or two in favour of even tighter gun laws and a few questions on how quick the police were to react, no-one has attempted to whip up hysteria and make political hay of such a tragedy.

That is, until the Redneck's Gazette, widely known as The Sun, decided that a focus for outrage had to be found regardless.

Within 24 hours of the Cumbria murders, the target came in the guise of Lady GaGa (Lady Gore Gore- Lady GaGa sparks fury with cannibal-murder scene in stage show).

According to The Sun, it's "sick" that the singer's current UK tour includes a stage act featuring red paint and death poses.

So does the Sun expect every single videogame, CD or DVD in the country with the slightest reference to violence to be taken off the shelves too?

Can that "paper" function without concocting faux outrage, even when it's so blatantly meaningless?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Cumbria shootings: who do you blame?

As usual with this type of crime, singling out patterns or invoking further legislation is pointless.

With Britain waking up to the worst firearms tragedy since Dunblane, the predictable finger-pointing begins.

And yet the police are still trying to piece the story together. It was unclear what exactly tipped 52-year-old Derrick Bird, the killer, over the edge. Was he having financial problems? Did he have a row with his fellow taxi drivers over queue-jumping and touting? Did he fall out with his relatives over a will? Did years of solitude and a broken marriage take their toll?

No-one will probably ever find out. The only certainty is that something made Bird lose the plot completely. Something flicked a switched that got him to embark on a deadly rampage, killing thirteen and injuring more in a mist of rage reminiscing of the worst horror films.

Derrick Bird was certainly angry and frustrated. But there are a lot of angry and frustrated people about. He was a bit of a loner. But luckily most quiet people don't usually pick up a gun and aim at random passers by.

Bird didn't fit the stereotypical Daily Mail and Sun profile of council-estate-dweller-turned-monster courtesy of New Labour and dole handouts and he wasn't, at least on the surface, a "victim of neo-liberalism" and the bankers' crisis either. He lived in a quiet town and he wasn't party to any rival gang.

The simple, terrifying, fact is that we can all suddenly lose it. Anyone, anytime. There is little point in trying to rationalise or establish visible patterns that would explain behaviour like the one seen yesterday in Cumbria.

Some commentators like Peter Squires in the Guardian wrote that better and stricter gun control "could have prevented [the] Cumbria shootings". And yet, without wishing for a second to play down the tragic nature of the events, this is only the third such incident in 23 years.

Like Richard Ford points out in the Times, both after Hungerford in 1987 and Dunblane ten years later, gun laws were significantly tightened with the Violent Crime Reduction Act of 2006 adding further restrictions.

Yes, 1.3 million shotguns in the UK are way too many. And, for the life of me, I can't think of anything good that's ever come out of gun-ownership and the intrinsic machism that come with it (incidentally, why is it always men who are responsible for mass shootings?). I agree that no guns would mean no gun violence and that knives, slingshots and baseball bats, however dangerous, can't be compared in terms of deadliness.

Yet -let's keep it within perspective and say something positive for once- 3 appalling incidents in 23 years from a total of 1.3m shotguns in the country means that 0,0002% of firearms in Britain have resulted in an incident like the one seen yesterday.

There is no point in passing further legislation just to impress public opinion. No law can do anything when a person loses it like Derrick Bird did.