Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Jenny Tonge, Brian Coleman and the Zionist thought police

I'm sure that resigning the Liberal Democrat whip in the House of Lords will cost the redoubtable Jenny Tonge a quantity of angst.  However, she is doing exactly the right thing given the disgraceful denial of freedom of speech that exists around the conduct of the state of Israel.  Even this paragraph will probably mark me down as a committed anti-semite as the only language a certain strand of Zionist zealot appears to understand is that of a totalitarian denial of any potential criticism of the Israeli right's conduct, resembling nothing so much as a toddler sticking its finger into its ears to shut out things it doesn't want to hear.

There is a co-ordinated campaign in each of the three main UK political parties, masquerading as "Friends of Israel", to ensure that discussion about the Middle East is framed in such a way as never to offend the Israeli government.  These people are censors, deniers of freedom of speech and totalitarians whose conduct should be subject to the greatest possible scrutiny.  For over a quarter-century, I have been on the receiving end of attacks for daring to suggest that the human rights of Palestinians are equally valid to those of Israelis, and that there is no inherent moral advantage in breaking international law and UN resolutions for either side of the conflict.  The fact that Israel remains a US client state and dependent upon large sums of imported cash is not a moral judgement, more a statement of the blindingly obvious.

Clegg's desire to propitiate this monstrous farrago of well-funded propaganda risks yet further loss of support for an illiberal tendency to suppress discussion, debate and information.  The constant drip feed of pro-Israel propaganda and the equation of any scepticism or criticism with fellow-travelling with Nazis is one of the most poisonous features of contemporary politics - an elaborate game of "don't kick me" analogous to the barmy attempt to make contemporary Britons apologise for colonialism and the slave trade, but with the added disbenefit of stoking a global political pyre through spreading disinformation and the defamation that any attempt to question the actions of the Israeli regime and its apologists is tantamount to calling for the return of the death camps.

So it's hardly surprising that my sympathies are with the noble Baroness and not with the stooges who have captured discourse in this country.  Imagine my surprise to discover today that Cllr Brian Coleman, who, in order to fund a subsidised lifestyle in sheltered housing, currently takes home over £120,000 per annum per year to misrepresent Camden and Barnet on the GLA, chair the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority (with notable lack of progress and abysmal industrial relations), as well as sitting for the rich and selfish burghers of Totteridge on Barnet Council, where he presides over the most inept Environment and Transport portfolio imaginable (many Barnet blogs can provide evidence of this), is up before the Standards Committee next week.

Cllr Coleman's alleged offences are documented in the papers set out below:

They have yet to be upheld by the Committee - but it is to be hoped that the abusive nature of his approach to constituents who have questioned the involvement of Veolia in a major contract (linked to Israeli government contracts in the Occupied Territories) are indicative that he has not just breached the Code of Conduct but the boundaries of what should fit any person for public office.  To equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is at best ignorant, at worst a facile bid to secure approval from one section of a diverse community at the expense of others.  Apparently there are some Zionists who intend to show their support for Coleman's boorishness next week - hopefully to be counteracted by people whose views are that debate is promoted by allowing discussion, not abusing public office and treating citizens with the respect that they deserve. 

But the Tories, "Friends" of Israel and other fellow-travellers don't see politics like that.  Every time criticism of Israeli actions, including the illegal annexation of territory, human rights abuse and covert and overt violence against Palestinians is raised there is an orchestrated chorus of "burn the anti-semites" and, as has happened with Jenny Tonge, a campaign that does not rest until it has closed down discourse and besmirched the reputation of honourable opponents.  Stalinism has nothing on this, which is ironic considering that I am now apparently a fellow-traveller of Trotsky (according to the bonkers and toxic Melanie Phillips) for opposing workfare, and will clearly also be equivalent to Goebbels for supporting Jenny Tonge's right to free speech and to express an opinion.

There will at some stage be an Israeli Spring.  In the meantime, it is perfectly legitimate, democratic and pro-Israel to question both the practice and the policy that continues - and calling for adherence to international law is hardly the mark of a raving terrorist apologist.  I'm looking forward to seeing "The Death of Klinghoffer" next week, partly because it's been condemned by some pressure groups for portraying Palestinian terrorists as having human characteristics.  Ignoring what one sows is not a recipe for long-term survival, and all Jenny Tonge did was to express a view that whatever denial takes place there is no prospect of the status quo lasting either politically or economically.  The sooner the totalitarian deniers wake up to this the better.  In the meantime, perhaps Britain needs a cultural intifada to shut out the extremists and allow those of us who wish both Israelis and Palestinians well to get on with an adult discourse.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Priti Patel MP: does Witham need a slave market?

The Tories are stuffed with coruscating loons, many of whom are able to exploit their position to spew repugnant reaction over the suffering populace.  In the last few weeks, there has been a crescendo of concern mutating to disgust on the workfare-by-stealth being perpetrated upon the unemployed, and the moral and economic cesspit that this exposes.  As usual, the Trotskyite remnants are drawing attention to it, but it is after all their raison d'etre and it would be more alarming if they remained silent.

What is less predictable is that many large companies have been reviewing their support for 21st century indentured labour.  Firms like Tesco and Sainsbury's usually figure highly on the scale of corporate demonology, but the damage that using forced labour does to both their reputation and their corporate responsibility is large and growing.  Being associated with firms like A4e, whose rapaciousness and corrupt practices are gradually being exposed by the free segments of the press, and who have been profiting from the free labour of those they have been pretending to help, does not help with brand loyalty even in these post-Thatcherite dark days.

So into this situation blunders Priti Patel, MP for the unlucky citizens of Witham, Essex (change for Braintree, it doesn't get much more exciting than that).  Ms Patel is one of Hamster Face's poster Tories - always wheeled out into the spotlight along with the demented "Baroness" Warsi to demonstrate the inclusiveness of the new-model reactionaries - and therefore gets credibility well above the level of intellectual rigour that goes into her interventions.  She has used the columns of "Pravda", or do I mean the "Mail", to attack the BBC for exposing the activities of the workfare advocates, and the activities of A4e, whose doyenne's role as Cameron's "Families Tsar" has been abruptly terminated by the ongoing attentions of Plod.

It's good to see the BBC actually reporting news rather than government spin (see previous blog) - but it does raise the question as to the moral, political and economic literacy of many of our legislators.  Ms Patel may not be the most outrageous example, but in her intervention she is implicitly supporting the resumption of the slave trade - if you are threatened with having your benefits docked if you don't participate in workfare, boosting the profits of large companies, then it is at best blackmail at best the equivalent of economic prostitution.

Quite apart from that, the use of unpaid workers denies paid employment and displaces other people onto benefits - so it doesn't even pass the test of being economically-efficient (not that such trifles worry the patricians who want to keep the proles in order) - and its training "benefits" are spurious as the slaves will be replaced by a freshly-pressed cohort when it no longer behoves companies to keep them on.  So no wonder the Tories like it - it's pretending to do something while not actually addressing why deflationary policy combined with excess profits in the corporate sector spells the route to the next Great Depression.

Ms Patel seems to think that anything reported that does not act as hagiographic scraping before the great God of the new Right is in some way a left-wing bias.  By shrieking bias, she degrades the debate and attempts to turn the violation of citizens' rights into a side-issue from perceived indignities forced upon the Tories by those who call them for what they are.  The problem is that people start believing lies the more they are told, and the more opportunities the Tories are given, the more they will take.

The real scandal is the lack of a coherent scheme to address job creation, and the restoration of a manufacturing base.  This would require a visionary government that learns the lessons of forty years of economic incompetence and does not (with the honourable exception of Dr Cable) feel confused with its relationship with the City.  I can just imagine Osborne asking the Hamster whether he has to keep his nose clean and his tongue brown or the other way round.  But it's "snobbish" to criticise capitalism and its impact, and Dave has clearly got ethics confused with where Priti Patel misrepresents her constituents.

Perhaps a slave market is the way forward - because as with everything else in the Tory universe the worth of individuals is defined by their pre-existing economic power - and I'm sure that there are plenty of spaces in Witham that could host one.  In the meantime, it's good to see that the Tories haven't learnt from Blair and the Romanovs aboout the likely fate of Tsars.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

How the BBC loses its friends

Last week, I finally lost patience with the BBC's editoralising and tabloid agenda, and made a complaint.  Their political editor, Nick Robinson, appeared on the Ten O'Clock News to provide the watching masses with his interpretation of events (if they were neither asleep nor dulled into a stupor by what passes for entertainment on the BBC's alleged flagship channel).  Mr Robinson decided to provide us with his wisdom on the subject of the evisceration of the National Health Service being promoted by Andrew Lansley in the teeth of opposition from professionals, the political opposition, health service users, backwoods Tories, the Liberal Democrats and allegedly several Cabinet members.  Mr Robinson constantly referred to this as "reform" of the Health Service.

The term reform is emotive and value-laden - indeed it is classic editorialising.  So much so that those of us with long memories will recollect that the BBC threw up its hands with horror at the modest proposals to change the voting system last year - it always had to be a "change".  Given that support for the NHS privatisation is lower than the disastrous "Yes to AV" campaign managed to achieve (source: YouGov, as unlike Mr Robinson I try to keep to facts rather than supposition) you would have thought that this would require equal linguistic caution to uphold the standards that the BBC wishes to make us believe it maintains.

So I fired off a complaint, drawing some of these inconsistencies to the attention of the organisation.  In return, the following reply arrived:  [parts redacted but text left intact for grammatical amusement]

Reference CAS-131XXXX-SDNXXX

Thanks for contacting us about BBC News at Ten broadcast on 22 February.

I understand you have concerns with the use of the term ‘reform’ when our journalists like Nick Robinson use it in relation to the proposed changes to the NHS. I note your comments about the language used when discussing the Alternative Vote referendum.

The BBC uses the term “reform” in a number of contexts, such as government proposals on health and education. But the Alternative Vote Referendum asked a single and very specific question: the question of whether one system is better than the other is, therefore, fundamental to the vote.

The definition of “reform” is very clear, both in dictionaries and in common usage: it means “improvement” or “to make better”. It would, therefore, not be impartial for the BBC to characterise the AV referendum as being about “reform”, yet the term is applicable in the case of the NHS.

The political context for the government’s health and education “reforms” is different and therefore our judgement about what constitutes “due impartiality” is different. The question (and it is not an issue on which people are about to cast their vote) is more broadly about how to improve health, rather than about whether it should be improved.

Opponents of the government’s plans, therefore, do not normally raise any objection to the term. Indeed, they often use it themselves. That is not the case with “electoral reform.”

I’d like to assure you that I’ve registered your concerns on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, programme makers, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

Jxxxxx Dxxxxxxx

BBC Complaints

Let us start off analysing this egregious twaddle for what it is.  Firstly, its general tone represents the kind of sub-literate formalations that besmirch contemporary officialdom.  It is a bombardment of inconsistencies that collapses with the readiness of a well-prepared tower block when detonated.  

The BBC apparatchik, clearly hot-foot from performing a similar role for the North Korean Communist Party, provides a partial definition of "reform".  This presupposes that the impacts of Tory policy on the NHS are to "improve" or "make it better" - hardly uncontroversial.  Opponents of the pillage might argue with justification that the only people it will have a positive outcome for are those who will make a financial profit from it.

The issue raised was about the specific proposals being put forward by Liability Lansley - not a general good feeling about whether health is a good thing.  As an economist, I would probably conclude with an "up to a point, Lord Reith", as clearly there are not infinite resources to spend on health care, and the question is how they are allocated and spent most effectively.  That is efficient government, not "reform" - so there is a major logical flaw at the heart of the BBC's thinking.

Indeed, it is very alarming that the BBC's editorial judgement is so impeded and blinkered that it believes characterising proposals as "reform" if the electorate is not required to pass a direct opinion on them.  Perhaps if AV had been proposed without a referendum then the BBC would have declared it as a "reform".  Indeed, if the Government was to propose repressive legislation and dress it up as "reform" doubtless Robinson and many (not all) of his colleagues would be providing pinhead analysis with the alacrity of performing seals being promised raw fish.  The next step from this is the kind of partisan broadcasting that the BBC's Charter is designed to prevent - indeed the same argument could have been used by the German Rundfunk in the 1930s about the Nuremberg laws with equal logical force.

Bearing in mind the nature of flexible posturing and convenient justification, the doublethink inherent with this particular set of attitudes becomes more apparrent.  The idea of extending votes to 16 year-olds would probably be characterised as "change", while semi-privatisation and unproven assertions about the benefits of parasitic bleeding of the NHS and education are given the perjorative editorial endorsement of "reform" without even the slightest recognition that there may be people who neither see the need nor the benefit from change, or the blind assumption that "change" is synonymous with "improvement".

The BBC would do well to send its editorial decision-makers on an extended education programme - the shades of its founding fathers are belittled by the current craven tabloidese.  Indeed, they probably need to supplement this with C.P. Scott's axiom - but how many BBC panjandrums could complete "comment is free but..." without reference to either ConservativeHome or Wikipedia, which appear to be their primary sources for inspiration?  Orwell is another author who should be read and interpreted thoroughly; he did not set the Ministry of Truth in Broadcasting House without due cause, and many of his essays such as "Politics and the English Language" are core texts for those who seek to earn public trust.

In the meantime, I shall go on assuming that the BBC is pro-government, and that its agenda this year will be to act as a fearless cheerleader for the monarchy and the Olympic folly.  In paralell, it will eat away at the pillars that should be the basis of wide support and trust, such as editorial impartiality, and the provision of quality, enlightening programmes.  At some stage I shall wish a happy tenth birthday to two beacons standing out above the general BBC slurry, Radio 6 Music and BBC4, but increasingly the BBC is losing the trust and the support.

To the faceless bureaucrat who wrote the reply above, I suggest that you attempt to avoid familiarity.  Fortunately there is only one Nick Robinson, and hopefully not many "journalists" "like" him.  In the meantime I shall await a reply to my subsequent complaint with interest.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Let's all join the Taxpayers' Alliance

Of all annoying American imports, right-wing ginger groups with mendacious names may well be one of the most pernicious.  Having attempted to infiltrate the soi-disant Taxpayers' Alliance and being told that it is "not a membership organisation", clearly as a result of being a black-listed Liberal with a disdain for hyperbolic misrepresentation, I am beginning to wonder whether, firstly, they should be reported to the Grammar Police for a misplaced apostrophe as the representation is clearly one deluded plutocrat's view of why everyone else should subsidise their lifestyle, and, secondly, whether a truthful campaign on the benefits of collective action and the merits of the state could ever take off.

For the TA (I shall abbreviate it as otherwise my fingers will curl in contempt) any tax is a bad tax, especially if it falls on the corporate sector.  Yesterday hamster-cheeks derided any criticism of business as "snobbish", when in fact the Bullingdon Brain-dead was actually reaching for the phrase "informed and socially-engaged".  Anything government does to improve the general lot of the population is a drain on entrepreneurship and the self-defined "wealth-creating classes", as collective action is by its very nature inefficient.  I intend to return imminently to the oleaginous cretinry of Gove and Lansley so will confine myself to observing that privatisation creates corruption, crony capitalism and the syphoning of profits into the hands of oligarchs, seldom offset by reductions in the costs of providing services or maintaining the quality that the victim encounters at the end of it all.

For entertainment value, and to boost recycling rates, I occasionally pick up the chip-wrapper "City AM", which for those fortunate enough to have escaped it is a vapid neo-con freesheet, and its constant apologies for the TA and its agendas.  The parallel universe that it inhabits would be risible did it not extend to the Government and its advisers (the mountebank Steve Hilton is Exhibit A).  Despite the citizenry having bailed out banking, the City and suffering the consequences, the TA and its clients seem to regard any attempt to hold companies owned by the state to account as unwarranted interference - the recent furore over unearned and indefensible bonuses shows a lack of backbone by the Government in not facing down the wrath of the majority - and the existence of any state spending without profits and dividends at the end is an insult to their desire to achieve a US-style redistribution of income in the direction of the parasites.  The TA doesn't like infrastructure spending, so has been standing firmly behind the flat-earthers who don't consider that HS2 and improving the lot of those beyond the South-East is a legitimate output from Government.

From time to time, pimply wonks appear on television, engaging in the method acting that suggests that the TA is a popular movement rather than a sectional interest group with a view to increasing inequality and social division.  Whenever one commences the hysterical right-wing bleating I tend to shout, loudly, "HOW THE HELL CAN YOU CLAIM TO REPRESENT ME, A TAXPAYER?" and then debate whether to compose another futile complaint to the news organisation for giving them the credibility that a bunch of whack-jobs (to adopt the TA's Republican argot) does not deserve.

Quite frankly, these people do not scare me in themselves, but more for the credibility that is given to them.  Thankfully not everyone buys into this particular scam, including "Private Eye", which has been assiduous in calling out the cant.  Yet there is a reluctance to challenge right-wing nutters that gives the lie to any systemic left-wing bias in the media.

It is difficult to imagine a discussion taking place about why tax is a good thing, but it is elementary economics as well as basic social cohesion that drives the need to collective action.  Services such as health, education, sanitation, energy, policing and even transport cannot be provided solely on an atomistic benefit - so the argument should be about how much they cost and how good the services are, whether or not they are funded through taxation or what people are prepared to pay for them.

The state has a duty to its citizens, and to promote their welfare and advancement.  The nutter tendency regards this as a challenge - they have not really grasped the theories of utilitarianism and the basic divergence between public and private outcomes - because their tendency is to authoritarianism.  The TA believes that you should be able to buy yourself out of being ordered around by becoming rich, because the parasites at the top don't like paying tax and hold people who have either no luck, no ambition or an active repugnance to their selfish toxicity in contempt.

So I propose that a genuine TaxPayers' Alliance is set up that can have a sensible debate on the merits and demerits of the state, ensuring that spending is efficient and doesn't line the pockets of corporate larcenists.  It's not either/or, but the success of the neo-cons has been based around a "Daily Mail" mix of aspirationalism, envy and resentment of anyone who has something that you haven't got.  In the meantime, I shall give up not complaining about right-wing media bias for Lent.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

"The Sun" over the yard-arm - keep vigilant!

There is no appropriate response to the unfolding denouements of Rupert Murdoch other than a broad grin and a sense of optimism that there is more to follow.  Apparently the hacks employed to pump out fetid propaganda feel that the villains of the piece are those sections of the press who have lifted the lid on wanton criminality, amoral cover-ups and the entire crass, depraved perversion of free speech perpetrated in the name of the ex-Australian plutocrat.  Oh, the irony.

For healthy minds, the context is set by Baldwin's put-down to Lord Beaverbrook (if you need to look it up, then do) and the "Morning Star" description of "The Sun" - its first edition under Murdoch being summarised as more resembling "a paraffin lamp in a brothel" than the eponymous star.  The unravelling of crony capitalism, in the City, in the media, in the Chipping Norton set and in the perception of those who are interested in such things, is happening at a sparkling pace before our eyes.

To have a number of senior executives arrested over a prolonged period of wrong-doing is in my mind indicative of a much wider malaise and lack of corporate control.  The Murdoch press, and its acolytes in the true-blue mid-market tabloids, hounded the BBC over the Iraq War dossier - not stopping until such time as there was death, mayhem and a complete obfuscation of the fact that government lied to the population in order to crawl up George W. Bush's orifices - but will cry foul if they are held to account over direct criminality, the subversion of police and military discipline and the complete lack of control and responsibility so long as they weren't caught and the profits piled up.  So not allowing this to happen should be the first priority over the weeks ahead - particularly now that "The Times", the respectable fig-leaf of the empire, is as mired as the Scum and the Mail.

Murdoch's tentacles in the British media are gradually being withdrawn, and the more exposure and risk that this causes the more that those with an eye to the American and Asian markets will seek extrication from the cesspool that News International has created in Britain.  Purgatives and detergent, including the end of the dynasty, may just maintain positive cashflows and the viability of much of the global conglomerate, but that does not mean that crimes implicitly backed by the corporate body should go unrecognised.  He sacrificed "The News of the World" not for moral but for commercial reasons, there is no reason why other parts of the UK empire should not be immolated as well (especially since the profitability of newsprint is much reduced) - but this should not be enough.

The affluence and purchasing power of Sky came under question last year - which is why the Murdoch pursuit of Vince Cable continues with such venom.  Control over the dominant pay-TV operator should be in the hands of "fit and proper" individuals - the Tories could atone for their misplaced gratitude in 1981 when they waved Murdoch's takeover of Times Newspapers through without any scrutiny in return for the easy ride Thatcher had been given in 1979 - and there may even be a case for imposing much stronger regulation on both ownership and content.

What is now becoming clear is that a great deal more corruption and criminality will emerge from beyond the boundaries of Wapping.  Reading transcripts of Dacre, the editor of the "Daily Mail", a man with a fat pay-cheque and a messianic belief in his own importance, suggests that there is another toxic pimple waiting to be squeezed.  The smug, genteel, little Englander mentality thinks it is above the ordure of the "Sun", but it is really the same with added prurience.  So another one to watch out for.  Ditto the "Mirror", albeit feebly and with less common purpose than the Murdoch moloch.

This is highly pleasurable, but also needs to be exploited with respect to the cosy relationship between politicians and the media.  Blair and Cameron are equal in their shameless panderng to organisations that they should have been challenging - mainly through a combination of flattery, money and the misplaced belief that they can buy loyalty.  The incestuous posturing and the craven support for maintaining a status quo that as far as possible removes democratic input are nauseating and should be exploited by oppositionists for all they're worth.  Let's see what happens, and enjoy the ride as it goes forward.

Monday, 6 February 2012

The buffoon and the airport - or Boris's balls-up

The late Tony Crosland buried what was then known as Maplin at a time of similar financial stringency in the 1970s.  Ted Heath's white-heat idea was to build an airport in the Thames Estuary, with plenty of transport links but without the spurious "regeneration" that the current adulterous nincompoop wishes to parade up and down in advance of his re-election bid.  Crosland, being reasonably practical and faced with the reality that it would be destructive both to finances and the environment, interred the floating catastrophe - only to be resurrected at the behest of the London Tories who are clearly completely incapable of recognising politics, economics or the harsh realities of the future.

Nobody claims that Heathrow Airport represents the apogee of anything - it's not the site you would have chosen in 2012 for a major city airport.  But it's there, and it handles a great deal of traffic with the infrastructure to support it (roads, rails and people) provided incrementally since 1946.  It will have Crossrail when that opens, and it will, as planes get larger, be able to cope with at least some growth in passengers (leaving aside whether or not this a good thing).  However, the blond cretin seems to believe that the only part of "predict, manage and provide" that applies to him is the last word, especially when he has to face the electorate.

The British Isles land mass is not entirely dominated by the South-East, nor do the vast majority of the population live there.  Indeed, given constraints on the amount of land and, perhaps less obviously, water supplies available to the region, we should perhaps be looking at politicians to encourage dispersal of economic activity and population to the areas where the infrastructure might have a better chance of coping.  This implies having decent international connections closer to people's homes and offices, rather than channelling them through London.  Boris Island would fail even more spectacularly on that basis, being to the east of London implies almost all its potential market would have to traverse or circumnavigate the Great Wen (more demand for transport!).

Indeed we have plenty of decent regional airports that could probably be expanded at much less cost both financially and environmentally - and with proper local planning they could have decent access by road and public transport.  This would cost a fraction of the ancillary costs (always borne by the taxpayer) than a hare-brained erection through land reclamation and hubris.

With high-speed rail taking markets from the airlines both domestically and to our European neighbours, there is probably enough capability in the aviation system to cope without either a monstrous vanity folly in the middle of the Thames or more runways and disruption at Heathrow.  But that isn't sexy, nor does it create a new black hole to replace the Olympics as a means of pouring taxpayers' money into London aggrandisement.

Johnson is a raging self-publicist with a delusional sense of messianic certainty.  Destroying the Thames Estuary yet further would be a fitting legacy for a man who considers the citizens he allegedly leads as cannon-fodder for an inflated ego and boundless ambition.  Even the Hamster has been prepared to indulge the delusion by putting the Floating Fatuity into the forthcoming aviation consultation - hopefully then it can be shot down and deflated whether or not there is a change of power in London.  The South-East needs to be gently deflated rather than pumped up further, otherwise it will become unbearable to live in.

What can't happen is for the costs of mindless BoJo policy masturbation to distract from the real issues of regional connectivity, sustainable aviation and the need for proper transport policy.  The one thing that can be said with confidence is that the aerodynamic properties of the floating aerodrome are somewhat less impressive than those of the ostrich.

The Jubilee: 60 years of anachronism

Today we are all supposed to be feeling suitably patriotic - it is after all a mere 60 years since the unelected Head of State took over, and we, her supposedly loyal subjects, are meant to be preparing with bated breath for displays of fealty and cringing subservience.  The narrative could have come straight from "Lord" Fellowes and his purveyance of forelock-tugging propaganda - and I begin to understand precisely what Simon Schama was getting at in his amusing and understated attack on "Downton Abbey" and its class-ridden paraphernalia.

The breathtaking hijack of "we're all in this together" and "public service" as part of the mythologising would be amusing if it wasn't for the fact that the monarchy has acquired considerable wealth off the back of landed property, investments and expropriation.  Just like the rest of the aristocracy, in fact, but until recently they not merely accepted public largesse but also evaded tax.  Drones - so the first thing that needs to be done is to determine whether or not they are independently wealthy and therefore need no subvention, or whether this wealth could be better allocated to improving the national lot, and whatever monarchy might remain should become salaried, subject to the same financial constraints as other public servants.

Paradoxically, the focus on the monarchy may advance the cause of republicanism.  Whenever the issue is raised some yahoo jumps up and says "would you really want President Blair?", assuming that the only model is the USA or France where the President has executive powers.  I can't for the life of me remember the name of the German President, but they play second-fiddle (in a British-designed constitution) to the Federal Chancellor.  Much as with monarchy, there's no single solution to republicanism.

What there is, however, is a question as to whether the current constitutional mish-mash serves any interests other than the political classes'.  We remain subjects of the Crown (and public servants don't really enjoy employment rights except by analogy), and property and civil rights are not inalienable but extended to us as a privilege; the potential for abuse by unscrupulous extremists should be obvious even to the most hard-of-thinking.  The Crown is maintained as a fiction for entering into illegal wars or pursuing political agendas through the legal system, while in the last resort it can be used to close down debate because what we have are not inalienable human rights but a range of options that can be withdrawn at will.

The breaking-up of the United Kingdom is no bad thing - there's no reason why this shouldn't then precipitate a discussion on what the best long-term constitutional settlement might be.  A priority for the Jubilee year must be to expose parasitism, cant and hypocrisy, and to engage in a rational debate on what is needed for a head of state capable of supporting a modern democracy, run by consent and based around civic rights and engagement.  Not much to ask.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Rejoice - we have collective hysteria to come

2012 looks to be a vintage year for the flag-waving troglodyte.  We have the Diamond Jubilee to thank for that - very well-timed from the perspective of diverting attention from the economy and the bizarre constitutional depravity that we still experience.  All around the country, local Tory councils are spending money to encourage communal celebration at the same time as the destruction of the remaining vestiges of public services - while in some cases seeing it as further camouflage to outsource yet more jobs and reduce accountability.  Given the municipal Tories' predeliction for feudalism this may be more apposite than we dare think.

Whenever I consider that evolution is a tenable hypothesis, up pops Michael Gove.  The self-aggrandising and parodic nature of this pumped-up toad is now becoming predictable.  As one of the cheerleaders for a replacement royal "yacht", he might consider whether an Italian salvage job might be appropriate - there's even a captain looking for another position.  While Gove is blithely reeling back on the Coalition's commitment not to introduce private profit into state education, he is tugging his forelock (I may have misheard the last word) to the Royals, trying to wrap himself in the Union Jack to disguise his utter odiousness.  At the time of national austerity this is akin to suggesting a whip-round to pay off the board of Lloyds/TSB.

Once the Jubilee is over, we can then look forward to the Olympics.  These are bound to be a fiasco, even if there are no extraneous disruptions from intruding global politics and the weather.  But "Lord" Coe pops up on the television basically blaming anyone else if there's even a hint that London won't be able to cope with it, and Boris is pushing himself to the fore to endorse it all.  For anyone who has to live or work in London, the impression being given is that there is going to be a state of siege and gridlock. 

In order for the city to cope, for around two months, the public transport system will be overloaded and the road network truncated to allow the self-appointed sporting elite to move around (closing cycle routes, pedestrian crossings and condeming bus passengers to twice as long in the company of the sodcasters), with draconian penalties for anyone who breaches Olympic discipline.  Workers and businesses have been told that they are really not welcome unless they alter their lives to suit the expected hordes of tourists and parasites - even to the extent of "working from home" and thinly-veiled threats that there will be no chance of travelling at times that are suitable for working - and we should all be grateful for this.

At the same time, it's clear that the alleged boost to the economy this summer will be a complete lie - but then Blair was behind the initital proposals.  Tourism is down, and will be deterred yet further by the extortion of hotels and the message that London can't cope with the additional pressure.  Cultural venues, already hit by the cuts, are likely to shut up shop for long periods, and the latest is that the way in which the road network is being expropriated may even stop pubs (where the Transport Commissioner from London wants people to go to avoid the rush hour) from having beer delivered for the duration of the fiasco.

Rejoice.  We're all in this together.

"Public interest" and the hypocrisy of the Director of Public Prosecutions

Whatever the ultimate outcome of prosecuting Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce, about the only statement from the Director of Public Prosecutions that made coherent sense was his final recognition that they have a right to a fair trial.  Not being privy to all the information (one hesitates to use the term "facts") available to the prosecution, or indeed the defence, makes it inappropriate to have any opinion on the guilt or otherwise of the protagonists.  The situation has moved from Feydeau to Strindberg with shocking speed.

The DPP is a public servant, and therefore his or her role is to serve the public interest.  What would be more interesting is to understand the definition of "public interest" that is now being used to determine the actions of state servants.

Last week the man whose actions were at least partly responsible for the depression was stripped of his knighthood.  Leaving aside the asinity of the British honours system, this was a near-costless body-swerve by politicians whose main aim was to be seen to be addressing the corrupt and self-serving system that has brought the country to its knees.  It didn't actually achieve anything, as Goodwin is long gone and tarnished goods licking his wounds on a generous pension, but it did make the politicians look good while doing precisely nothing to address banking regulation, excessive rewards and the failure to reform business practice.  Was this the "public interest"?

Simultaneously, the bankers that we, as the public, have bailed out and continue to support in the style to which they were accustomed while they were pillaging pension funds and creating a bubble economy, thought that they might take advantage of Goodwin's humiliation while taking their annual bonus round. While pumping milliions into the London property market is clearly good news for those already there, it is difficult to see how you can justify rewards for failure - profitability down, lending seized up and no immediate prospect of even starting to compensate the taxpayer for our enforced largesse.  And again the smokescreen gets put up with a couple of highly-paid sacrifices at the top of RBS, while millions still get allocated to the tier below them. 

This is hardly recognising and learning from past mistakes.  As an aside, "Dame" Angela Knight, the apologist for the parasites, was given a skewering by Polly Toynbee on the radio this morning and for once I can forgive the latter her simplistic pro-Labour simpering - the cretinous Dame considers that rewarding failure and creating distortions in the labour market is an appropriate stimulus for the economy, as without the banks' fabled wealth-creating ability, where would we be?  I rest my case.

Mister Ed has finally awoken to the reality that people are fed up with bonuses that are either seen as a reward for failure or as a means to avoid tax and further class envy for simply turning up to work.  This is not an anti-capitalist argument, but one of justice.  However, there remain incentives to maintain this culture as the bonus issue is much less pervasive, and not even as fundamental, as the complete ineptitude and unaccountability of leaders of politics, government, banking and industry.  That would be a real public interest issue.

Which is where we come back to the case of the MP for Eastleigh (blighted role, in retrospect, albeit profitable for greengrocers).  In the cosmic scheme of things, the "conspiracy to pervert" is not exactly on the scale of Jack the Ripper, the Krays or even the Farepak Christmas Club debacle. Indeed, you could argue that with Dave the Hamster's constant harping on about marriage as a state elevated above all other, that there should be a defence that your criminality is my criminality.  One suspects that had the events not involved a Cabinet Minister they would have been left on file, but the "public interest" requires media coverage and the marketing of newspapers - many of whom detest the Liberals and whose quarter-witted cheerleading for the Tories is well-served by the subconscious linkage to eccentric figures down the ages (Thorpe, Lloyd George) that will doubtless get trotted out at some point in the future.

The DPP doubtless enjoyed his moment in the spotlight - what will be interesting is how far this has merely taken a personal tragedy for the accused and turned it into a media feeding frenzy.  If this turns out to be the case, then it will be another fissure in the decaying carcass of English public life.