Saturday, November 22, 2008

Spectator and Iain Dale snaking around the truth

Iain Dale is 'terrified, if true' by Fraser Nelson's Spectator column where he:
 "asserts serious economists now view the London financial markets as "Reykjavik on Thames""
What Iain Dale and Fraser Nelson fail to mention if that the FT article which coined the phrase, by LSE economist Willem Buiter, went on to say that:
"If Iceland had been a member of the euro area, its central bank would have been part of the Eurosystem - the euro area central bank consisting of the ECB and the (currently 15) national central banks of the euro area member states."

"As a member of the euro area, it would have been much easier and cheaper for Iceland to defend itself against speculative attacks on its banks - provided the banks and its government were indeed solvent and perceived to be so"
I wonder why two supporters of the infamously Eurosceptic Tory party, whose leader Cameron made pulling out of the European People's Party a leadership manifesto pledge, didn't mention the rest of what 'serious economists' * were saying.

Taken out of context, Buiter's remarks create the impression that he is simply accusing Labour of driving the economy to disaster rather than urging the UK to enter the Euro.

Just to ram the point home, one of Buiter's previous articles on his Maverecon blog was titled: 'When will the UK wake up and join the Euro Area?'

*NB: Why did Fraser Nelson say 'serious economists', not 'serious economist' or even 'Willem Buiter' - Does Professor Buiter have a Doppelganger?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Margaret Thatcher was not the devil

There is something not quite right about this rant by Chris Dillow, linked by Jonathan Calder.
The death of Reg Varney has rightly led to many tributes. However, his largely pernicious - albeit inadvertent - contribution to economic and political history should not go unnoticed.
His portrayal of Stan Butler did much to perpetuate the image of the 1970s worker as a bone-idle work-dodger; we forget today just how enormously popular On the Buses was. And this in turn might subconsciously have contributed to the popularity of Thatcherism. How many of those who, when asked by Tories in 1979 whether the working class had become too big for its boots, conjured up a picture of Stan Butler and so voted for Thatcher?
Why exactly is this pernicious? Chris Dillow doesn't argue that the vision of the unionized working class presented by Varney is inaccurate. The only negative point is that it contributed to the political popularity of Thatcherism. Neither Dillow nor Calder feels the need to explain why this is a bad thing.

It isn't unreasonable to think that the success of the Tories and the failure of Labour in the early eighties was a bad thing. But to assume that it goes without saying that it was a bad thing only makes sense if you are a partisan of the Labour party, which neither Dillow nor Calder is.

Thatcher took over a country with double-digit inflation and increasingly dismal productivity, which was borderline ungovernable after the previous two elected governments had been driven out of office by the unions. She left a country that did not have these problems, and although it had been rendered temporarily ungovernable by a boneheaded local government finance policy, her successor could restore order relatively easily by promising a change of plan, and go on to win an election. You can argue that the cure was worse than the disease, but that is an argument that needs to be made.

Nobody who is seriously trying to win elections wants a return to the economic policies of the 1970's (nationalisation of large companies, wage and price controls, a 95% top rate of tax etc.) So if Reg Varney caused a social change, it was a social change that almost everyone (including a supermajority of the Labour Party, given the inability of the left to put a candidate up against Brown) agrees with hindsight was a good thing - including Dillow and Calder.

Yet otherwise intelligent people assume that anything which contributed to Thatcher's election victories must be regrettable because they have forgotten the difference between "right-wing" and "evil".

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Of course Cameron was playing party politics with Baby P

It's his job. If David Cameron wasn't playing party politics with the Baby P story, then he was culpably incompetent in choosing to raise the issue.

Before PMQ's, he will have sat down with his advisors and asked them "How exactly can I make political capital out of the Baby P case?" and asked the questions that came out of this analysis - namely a question that Gordon Brown quite properly refused to answer because he hadn't had time to read the report. So we then saw a a yar-boo exchange of "you didn't answer my question" and "you are playing politics". Tedious.

There is nothing wrong with making this a party political issue. The question of how central government should relate to local government is an ideological one on which the three parties have very different views. The Liberal Democrats tend to believe that local voters are quite capable of supervising local government. Labour think that councillors should go to civic events while their council administrations administer central government policy in a politics-free manner. And the Conservatives think whatever looks best in the paper that day.

There is a non-political element to this row, which is about how Haringey social services screwed up. But that is something that needs to be dealt with in Haringey, not in Westminster.

Disgusted by David

This morning, I read this News of the World article that graphically details the horrific abuse inflicted upon Baby P. I challenge you to read it without tears coming to your eyes - it is truly harrowing.

Subsequently, I finally found time to watch the PMQ time exchange about it on Iain Dale's blog. It's interesting how differently people view the same footage. Bearing in mind I support neither the Tories nor Labour, I was horrified by what I saw to be David Cameron's grotesque attempts to make political capital out of the situation.

Gordon Brown's position was "The report is on our desk. It is a major priority. We will read it and comment on what needs to be done when we have the facts". This seemed reasonable to me. 

But this wasn't good enough for David Cameron. He continued going on and on, which sounded to me like an attempt to ramp up the political temperature. When Brown pointed this out, Cameron launched into a lengthy tirade of righteous indignation about Brown needing to retract the remark he had made about HIM. Yep, around half the exchange seemed to be David Cameron trying to make it all about David Cameron. 

It's interesting that Iain Dale had the opposite impression. I guess Iain knows the guy so judges the exchange by what might have been going through Cameron's mind at the time. Perhaps David Cameron did feel frustrated by Brown, making it a temper tantrum rather than something more machiavellian. If so, he should have listened to what Brown said before mouthing off. I would feel much safer in a world where I knew politicians engaged brain first, rather than switching off their ears and listening to their heart strings.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Aliens from the planet Fashion

The best footwear for walking in London's wet and dismal winter is a pair of £235 satin ballet pumps. With them, wear trousers with pavement-skimming hems.

Sounds ridiculous? Yep? I vote the Times Fashion and Style team onto the naughty step for this utterly useless and impractical advice. There, they will be joining the Guardian style team who, if you remember, suggested readers avoided the credit crunch by stocking up on £40 (each) cushions).

Not knowing the value of money I can almost forgive, but this howler confuses me. How do these people get to work? Perhaps they take cabs everywhere, a la Carrie Bradshaw, whose impoverished youth was the only time she "wore Candie's and took the subway". Certainly, they've never tramped through puddles or they'd know their suggestions were a recipe for soggy trousers and dirty, drenched, satin shoes. 

For the rest of us, I'd recommend a nice pair of £44.99 Henderson Fizz ballerina shoes from Clarks with a special cushioned insole. Alternatively, if you want a heel without the discomfort, I'd recommend some (again Clarks) £54.99 Bamboo Palm shoes. These feature a nice corrugated wedge heel for maximum grip on icy streets, and are almost as comfortable as trainers. 

Clarks shoes are almost indestructible - my patent leather, wedge sandals are still going strong despite being worn daily this summer during my two-hour daily walk. They occasionally need re-heeling.

Finally, consider your skirt length. If you often wear mini skirts or skirts just above the knee, I'd recommend smart black boots. Flat boots look great with short skirts, and have the added advantage of keeping your knees warm. Most shops sell suitable styles.

[NB: Their suggestion for Russell & Bromley loafers isn't completely stupid. It's just they look like something my granny would have worn. Surely this was what the gal writing in was trying to avoid!]

Friday, November 07, 2008

Hazel Blears: Pretty words mean nothing, it's action that counts

I'm late into the fray where Hazel Blear's speech on bloggers and the media (I have exams this week, ok) is concerned, but I think she is spectacularly missing the point.
Bloggers and pundits are no threat to Hazel Blears, democracy or anything else. This is because Hazel Blears has decision-making powers that can affect millions of people. Polly Toynbee has the power to, erm, mouth off to an audience in the hundreds of thousands.
So let's get more explicit about where Ms Blears goes wrong.

1. "A culture of cynicism and despair"

How can Hazel Blears write that political disengagement (if it exists) is due to the media when the record turn-out to vote for Obama shows it is all the fault of the politicians.

Whatever Obama does next, his campaign excited people. This wasn't just because he was a black guy in a country riven by racial division. It was also because he wasn't George Bush, a man who had lost two wars and presided over the collapse of the American economy while delivering such howlers as "I believe man and fish can co-exist peacefully together".

Politics in Britain has been a bland rush to the centre. Perhaps that means we're happy. In which case, Hazel Blears should stop complaining because if people were rushing to the ballot box it would mean they disliked her as much as Sarah Palin. Obama's win proved it.

The purpose of the media is not to push an agenda. It is to sell newspapers, TV shows or whatever. This requires pandering to what the readers want to read and (to a lesser extent) what the advertisers want to see.

Powerful owners like Murdoch are accused of pushing an agenda but, if their pocket books started hurting, they would soon switch their allegiances. People like cynicism but they also like fluffy celebrity weddings so, if the media is bored of politics, it's merely reflecting what the readership feels. Hazel - don't shoot the messenger.

Having slain this sacred cow, let's turn to the second way Hazel Blears misses the point.

2. And in recent years commentary has taken over from investigation or news reporting, to the point where commentators are viewed by some as every bit as important as elected politicians, with views as valid as cabinet ministers.

Do you know what I find alarming about this? That Hazel Blears seems to be suggesting that she has as little influence and importance as Polly Toynbee. Polly Toynbee is a columnist - she rocks up and writes an article. She goes home.

Now, I may be wrong here, but I thought Hazel Blears rocked up, made important decisions that would change the way local government services were delivered for decades... and went home.

Given that the Guardian has a circulation of around 350,000 people (about 0.5% of the British population), but most people have their bins collected then it's obvious whose job is more important. Pretty words mean nothing, it's the person who changes waste disposal policy that counts.

But I'm obviously wrong. Hazel Blears evidently believes the most important thing she does as a cabinet minister is deliver a brain fart in the Guardian and to the Hansard Society.

I'm worried - if government ministers have no influence then who is in charge of this country?

3. But mostly, political blogs are written by people with a disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy. Unless and until political blogging adds value to our political culture, by allowing new and disparate voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge

What is the difference between disparate voices, legitimate protest and unearthing scandals? I suppose it's like splitting the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. It depends whose side you're on.

Even if she had a legitimate point about bloggers, are they actually as important as she thinks? Guido writes a tabloid gossip site, which explains his popularity, but it doesn't have the readership of The Sun. It's political groupies only. Most of his scoops are about the inner workings of Westminster, which may interest broadsheet journalists, but probably won't reach "white van man". And it's white van man who floating votes.

Guido is also unusual among bloggers in carrying out "journalism", i.e. finding and publishing original stories. He is also unusual in having the time and a line into the Westminster Village. Most bloggers don't have the contacts or the time to get proper stories and the small ones they can find don't get anywhere like as much attention as someone who squats in cyberspace writing "Ban abortion, I hate black people, chain women to the sink".

In short, blogging's fun, but how many people out there are affected or care about the results?

Hazel Blears needs to step out of the Westminster Village and realise just how irrelevant 99.999999999% of UK bloggers, broadsheet journalists and such-like are to a majority of the people who will elect or not elect the Labour Party into Government. Thirty-five percent of people don't even HAVE an internet connection, never mind read a blog.

These people are affected by their bank balance, childcare, public transport and even waste disposal. These are things Hazel Blears can do something about. It's also something that Polly Toynbee and Guido can do little or nothing about.

So maybe she should get on and do her job instead of getting into bunfights with the London wowzersphere.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Ding Dong the witch is dead - thoughts on the Obama landslide

Congratulations to Barack Obama, and congratulations to the American people for, as Churchill put it, doing the right thing in the end after trying everything else first.

Thoughts on the map:
Obama gains Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Iowa in the East. All classic swing states except Virginia, which is becoming swingy because of growth in the DC suburbs.
Obama gains Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico in the south-west. This is more important.

The south-west should be classic Republican territory - smallish, heavily suburbanised cities, a culture that tilts towards the rural, utter dependence on cars, and a generally libertarian political outlook. I have been saying for some time that a Liberal (in the British sense) Democratic party could shift the south-west for the long term because religious nuttery wasn't that popular with the Republican voters down there. Two interesting points about Arizona - McCain won by a shockingly small margin (55-45) in his home state, and Maricopa county (Phoenix and Scottsdale) was also 55-45 - in the south-west there isn't the cities blue, country red phenomenon there is in the east.

Indiana, Missouri, and North Carolina still too close to call, and Montana still too early to call. Montana state politics is weird and I don't understand it. Missouri is a classic swing state that has voted for the overall winner the last umpteen times - what is surprising is that Obama can win without it. North Carolina is John Edward's home state - not impossible for a Democrat to win there, but difficult. I assume Obama won on a massive black turnout given the coverage overnight.

Indiana is the big one - I am assuming Obama will win because he is 23000 votes ahead with only a few hundred plus provisional ballots (which typically favour Democrats) still to come. Indiana used to be absolutely core Republican territory. It now looks a bit lonely as a red state in the north-east, but the facts (socially conservative, rural-dominated culture, mostly white and Protestant, people who don't like tax) mean that it should still be safe Republican. If Obama can win in Indiana then the Republican heartland is reduced to the bits of the mountain west where nobody lives, Alaska, and the old slave states. And if the Republicans now can't win big states outside the south, then the witch is not only dead, but has a large stake driven through its heart.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The yoof of today...

Are all over 30. Surprised? The BBC was. LibertyCat wasn't.

F&M have blogged about Strauss and Howe's 'generations' theory before. This poll is further confirmation that our cultish devotion to this theory is not misplaced.

Back in 1990, Strauss and Howe wrote a book called Generations. It argued that people did not get more conservative with age. Instead, a devotion to sex, drugs and rock n'roll among the 'yoof' was a cohort effect.

They identified four Generations, which appeared in sequence throughout (American) history. They said it 'looked' to people today that young people grew out of rock chick behaviour with age, because the Baby Boomers (teenagers in the 1960s/1970s) were an 'awakening' generation who rebelled against their conservative parents by smoking weed, protesting and going to rock concerts. Since Boomers dominate the media (because of their age and numbers), they constantly tell us that young people rebel in exactly the way they did.

However, the Boomers are now aging hippies so their children, the Millennials, have only one place to rebel. Strauss and Howe predicted the Millennials would be more socially conservative and less idealistic than their parents.

Three friends in their late 20s have mentioned to us independently that their 21 - 25 year old colleagues/friends are more likely to get married than their friends over 30. Now, it seems, the 'yoof' of today don't like bad-mouthed entertainers abusing elderly actors either. Unlike their parents.

The Telegraph and New York Observer ran articles last year about the so-called New Victorians (Millennials). Admittedly, all their case studies are the seriously privileged, but do you think your average 1960s labourer 'turned on, tuned in and dropped out'.