Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Cameron's evil benefits side-show

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Liberal Democrats in government have been effective.  What we are seeing now is the mad, delusional, knee-jerk response of the Tories to the world, as Cameron lines up assaults on the remains of the welfare state, and encourages his miserable hordes of backbench leeches to undermine Lords reform, a policy that was in the "principled" Tory manifesto that the electorate, so cruelly, denied him the chance to implement.

To deal with Lords reform first, the emergence of Boris as a reactionary bigoted cheer-leader is hardly a surprise.  Democracy and accountability are not something that one has come to expect from a London Mayor (see this blog passim), and it is good to see that he is taking his role as metropolitan champion seriously by concentrating on areas that municipal politics is clearly designed to address.  Avoids the question as to why there has been a breakdown of industrial relations across the transport network, I suppose.

Again, the Tories are basing their position on self-interest - their contempt for the electorate is such that they don't think anyone is bright enough to notice.  So Boris's inchoate rant was picked up by the deservedly-obscure Mike Freer, whom the electors of Finchley and Golders Green inexplicably sent to Westminster.  A little delving into Mike Freer's record is not encouraging, another small-town Poujadist with a mania for self-promotion and the lack of judgement that goes with it.  A Thatcherite mini-me, with the intellectual and personal distinction of a lawn ornament, he was an architect of the unravelling radical decimation through cronyism of Barnet council, and has only been heard since his elevation to maximum snoutage proclaiming the rights of the late Colonel Gaddafi against squatters.  Gaddafi owned property in Freer's constitency, so the Pavlovian response of dictatorial loons was perhaps only to be expected.

Doubtless Freer will jump on Cameron's latest attempt to wow his middle-class paranoids through attacking what's left of welfare provision.  The politics of this are simple - Cameron feels threatened by the right and therefore he moves further and further out into their territory of barren race and class prejudice.  This plays into a sense of entitlement for the "deserving" (in other words the bourgeoisie) and a vague hope that this will get rid of all the groups who cause problems and challenge their brain-dead hegemony (intellectuals, lefties, people of different ethnic origin, religion or capabilities).

The return of the Tory dog-whistle is not rooted in practicality, merely a desire to achieve good coverage and distract from the complete failure of Osborne's economic policy.  The Tory manifesto for 2015 will be a strange, dark, xenophobic place - making out that these policies would have made everything all right had the electorate delivered the just dues of Etonian chancers, thieves and liars.  This did not convince in 2010, when Labour's most tired, dejected and split campaign still denied them a Parliamentary majority, and it won't in 2015.  Playing to UKIP, the BNP and the EDL will not achieve the breakthrough that they want.

Instead, it is a simple way of revealing their true colours without being able to do what they want, hoping that they will be able to sell the hatred at some unspecified point in the future.  This should be a reminder to all the rest of us that the Tories remain the evil and pernicious charlatans that were booted out (too late) in 1997.

Cameron's inept and bungled attempt to draw attention to tax avoidance is evidence that the entire strategy is unravelling in the face of reality.  Whatever the murkiness of individuals' tax affairs, by attacking one named individual he has declared open season on the Tory party's sugar daddies, and about time too.  The sleaze and simony surrounding Hamster-Face's regime, the country suppers with the Murdoch apparatchiks, the complete denial of any economic culpability or desire to address the root causes of depression and the general ignorance of the world are all culpable and should see them drummed out of office.

Further proof that the "we're in this together" is a lie is not needed.  When the Archbishop of Canterbury goes public to denounce its hollow hypocrisy, and the unions go on the offensive, while the inept bankers and crony Tories escape unscathed, we are in the latter days of imperial decadence.  The darkest hour may be before the dawn, but we need the prospect of daylight - sunlit uplands are off the agenda.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

The view from Boris's backside

Yesterday, the vast majority of London's bus drivers went on strike.  From the hysterical hand-wringing of the commuter Andrex doled out by the self-styled "Evening Standard" the average citizen could have been panicked into thinking that the entire basis of human development was challenged by an industrial dispute.  Invoking the Blitz spirit, and the language of Trotskyite wreckers that typified the Thatcher decade, the pathetic pseudo-newspaper demonstrates the extent to which the London press is corrupt.

Notwithstanding the links between Boris Johnson and Rupert Murdoch, the "Standard" has taken on the mantle of mouthpiece to the Mayor - translating Cro-Magnon rightist bullshit into a Kensington-focused, middle-class pyramid paranoia that ignores the reality of much of the city it purports to report on.  Social problems, deprivation and poverty are threats to its worldview, rather than manifestations of a bizarre economic apartheid that Labour wrung its hands over and Johnson and his cronies are exacerbating.

The bus strike is another manifestation of capitalism and the free market.  The profit motive in public services has resulted in staffing levels, even in normal times, being reduced to the absolute minimum.  Therefore when something as asinine but labour-intensive as Coe the Cretin's Olympiad comes along, keeping the services running requires more staff than would normally be available.  The only language that employers understand is cash - and therefore incentivising staff to turn up more often, less flexibly and with less rest requires them to dole it out.  Incentives are funny things - the banking sector sucks out bonuses while denying account holders access to their money (pace NatWest) but if employees demand something in return they are holding society to ransom.

Not that the "Standard" could spell paradox and hypocrisy, let alone recognise their stench amongst the other consumerist, rightist ordure they peddle.  They probably regard being a less erudite and literate version of "Pravda" as having fulfilled some kind of destiny, especially since the biased lies and misrepresentations probably had some impact on allowing Boris back into power.  There are mildly amusing asides on the "Standard" message boards about whether the facile platitudiniser, Sarah Sands, who now claims to "edit" the garbage, had a little more than just a political interest in the blond philanderous incompetent, but these are hearsay and probably no more than wishful thinking.

For those of us who pick the rag up out of force of habit, now that it is recognised that its content is worthless and therefore has to be given away, the daily diatribes are numbing.  Yet as a catalogue of why society is breaking down, even within an allegedly prosperous city, it will be of immense value for historians and anthropologists. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Why the revolution may not be as far away as you think

Today it was revealed that the chief executives of the FTSE 100 companies trousered over 12% in pay rises in the last year.  We're all clearly in this together only to the extent that our contributions to their affluence are delivering them even more objectionable and otiose lifestyles, while simultaneously "re-engineering" their organisations to reduce their staff numbers and eliminate any rights of those who remain, preferring an attitude of craven fear and the kind of forelock-tugging that went out of fashion about the same time as the "Daily Express" formed its worldview.

At the same time, the powers-that-be are clearly praying that distraction therapy works over the summer.  The Jubilee festivities, funded by the taxpayer rather than the murky wealth of the Windsors, are followed by some sort of Association Football competition taking place within the repressive totalitarian East and then the commercial masturbation-fest that will be the "Olympic" Games.  Meanwhile the Middle East burns, the European economy is on the brink of implosion and the corruption and venality of the Conservative Party are unfolding in a blur of incomprehension and amoral posturing by senior Ministers.

These are hardly propitious times, and the continued mantra of grinding away at the public sector, the poor and the middle classes clearly requires a masterpiece of illusion.  There is something mildly amusing about contemplating David Cameron taking lessons from Paul Daniels, but even professional sleight of hand could not really compensate for the sheer volume of incompetence and incapacity being dressed up as the only approach to restoring Britain's tarnished fortunes.

The purely determinist approach taken by the Tories is that the huddled masses like being in that position.  However, this is both patronising and clearly a dangerous game to be playing.  What we are seeing is the creation of a new class of the permanently excluded, not just what would have been characterised as the "underclass" thirty years ago but a generation raised on inflated student debt, a housing market where they are the victims of rapacious landlords egged on by every administration since the Evil Thatch, and employment both insecure and unrewarding.  Aspirations to stability and the desire to contribute to the good of the world are increasingly luxurious in a situation where transience is the order of the day and survival is at the whim of a plutocrat.

Yet the rich go on getting richer, and more protected from the society that they have created.  They eschew the public realm, as it's far too threatening for them, while their mistakes and financial ineptitude is rewarded by bailouts that transfer wealth from the poor to the rich.  This denial of the conditions being created increasingly resembles Tsarist Russia in its final phases - which makes it all the more ironic given the quantity of oligarch's money and influence coming into Britain.  To make this self-appointed elite better off, everyone else must suffer.

Cameron shows no sign of concern about this, despite the riots last year and the ongoing corruption and diminution of respect for government.  Instead, we have a Panglossian arrogance mixed with incredulity that anyone might challenge their legitimacy.

Once trust is lost, it can never be recovered.  The effects of ignoring the need for action to end the British Depression, and ignoring the creeping catastrophe from the frightened-rabbit approach to global economic mismanagement, alongside a growing disenfranchisement of society are frightening in their potential consequences.  The barricades are not that far away, and by the time the last corporate sponsor pulls away from Coe's Catastrophe the nakedness and disgusting hypocrisy of this government may have very few fig leaves behind which to hide.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Allister Heath: neo-con fellow traveller and charlatan?

For those too fastidious to pick up "Metro" in the morning in London there is another free comic, "City AM".  Regular readers of this blog will realise that this is a dribbling neo-con whine-fest, a world where Cameron is a socialist trimmer, the big bad bloc of Europe is an advancing Iron Curtain by any other name, and the only thing that stands in the way of progress is the unpleasant duty of care towards other people who might inhabit the world who aren't either rich or entirely self-sufficient.

Crap AM's editor is the estimable Allister Heath, whose editorial letter every weekday is a miracle of self-referential puffery, either dictated or produced using a keyboard which is easily operated by impacts of a large clenched fist.  Heathy-boy is extremely matey with the Taxpayers' Alliance and wastes no opportunity to put forward their Moonie-style propaganda - bleating about enterprise, the flat tax and the way in which nobody in the public sector deserves to be paid for anything.

Normally I allow this to wash over me, as it is so risible not to be toxic.  On Friday, however, there was a piece so deranged as to make me wonder as to whether the world is really splitting into a number of parallel universes.  Heath allowed himself the luxury of a spittle-filled diatribe against macroeconomics, as a branch of planning and therefore by extension something that should only be permitted in North Korea.

As an economist, my tastes tend towards the macro end of the spectrum, as that is the only area where it might be useful in public policy.  The neo-cons and pseudo-liberals deny the collective at every opportunity, preferring instead to pretend that creating a small-scale, "perfect" market through bogus mathematical constructs is the sole aim of economics.  This denies every major thinker from Adam Smith onwards, but most of them don't bother to read Smith while praying him in aid of the latest attempt to revert to feudal barbarism.

It would be pathetic rather than dangerous if this orthodoxy had not reached into academic circles and government.  However, to put forward the views that what the world needs to get out of the current crisis is an even more extreme version of the policies that led to the financial crash of 2007-08 is so counter-intuitive as to be criminal.  These are the people who preach low taxes and high bonuses for them and their cronies while exhorting cuts to jobs, employment protection and pay for everyone that they consider to be less deserving.

Heath is amusing most mornings, if only because his errors and naked philistinism are so bizarre - the panegyric over the expensive Jubilee celebrations (apparently a good use of taxpayers' money even if paying security staff is not) is matched by frothing xenophobia and baying for European blood.  To make Nigel Farage's arguments seem sane and well-ordered is indeed an achievement.

Well worth watching out for, and even, on occasion, correcting... 

Monday, 4 June 2012

Cameron's ongoing corruption of government

According to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport acted "wisely" in his dealings with the proposed takeover of BSkyB by News Corp.  This fits neatly alongside his other amoralities over the last two years - the staunch support for a Defence Secretary whose extra-Parliamentary interests and relationships were dubious to the extent that many reasonable people might have considered them corrupt, and his apparent blindness to the web of connection between himself, his Chancellor of the Exchequere and various dubious characters in the ongoing phone-hacking investigation.

It was clear from the cross-examination at Leveson that Hunt regretted the hacking and corruption scandal engulfed Murdoch before he could have sweetened the takeover pill.  Colluding with James Murdoch to divest Sky News may not be conspiracy, but as the Labour MP Pat McFadden suggests, there may be criminal investigations around the Financial Services Act to contemplate if privileged information did leak out from Government.

Meanwhile, we now have the self-styled Chairman of the Party, Baroness Warsi, facing calls for police investigation of her alleged failures to abide by the law regarding expenses, as well as facing internal Parliamentary investigation.  Nobody suggested that David Laws's bizarre behaviour was criminal, yet his resignation was accepted immediately.  Warsi remains in office, and in Cabinet, despite being unelected and subject to the kind of challenge that would make an honourable person consider whether they are capable of discharging their duties and receiving public money for the purpose.

Cameron came to the Coalition clean-faced and with the declared intention of "listening" to the requirement for cleaning-up the political system.  Yeah, right.

Since the election the aim has been to make noises about reform and transparency while heading off in the opposite direction.  Crony capitalism, on the Blair model, is being promoted through the constant mantra of out-sourcing and the hatred of the public sector - removing democratic accountability and making politicians and officials even more opaque in their actions.  The relationship between Hunt and Murdoch is not seen as abhorrent but the kind of "business-friendly" policies that should be promoted.

It is increasingly difficult not to see conspiracies everywhere.  Cable's slightly-excessive but viscerally-right condemnation of Murdoch smacks even more of a set-up - its exposure by the Tory Right's house journal it looks much more as though its timing could have been part of an orchestrated campaign rather unfortunate coincidence.  Hunt and Murdoch stood to benefit; subsequent events, including totally improper communications between News Corp and a Government department, do nothing to dampen the paranoid antennae.

Cameron is now resorting to sophistry, the last refuge of the scoundrel.  Whether or not there have been technical breaches of the Ministerial Code, let alone the law of the land, he presides over a Cabinet where there is the stink of misconduct.  Previous, pre-Thatcher Tories would have recognised that this represents an unacceptable stain upon the political system and acted to lance the boil.  Instead he stands behind the charlatans and spivs, hoping that instead of probity that something else turns up to save his skin.

This is typical of the current misdirection of Government - the separation between the legislature, executive and judiciary enshrined in both the French and American constitutions.  We have Ministers who are either too thick or too arrogant to distinguish between their political role and their function within legislation, and who get hacked off when this is pointed out to them.  They presume not to understand that the electorate has the right to expect standards from them.

Cameron presides over this, with apparent uninterest.  This is probably because the political system is now skewed in favour of thwarting the popular will rather than expressing it - the captive nature of the political system and the low-calibre individuals who are steered into it by a combination of arrogance, biddability and incapability of doing anything else combine.  He is the typical patrician crony, much happier when with people of his own type whose amorality and compliance don't pose too many challenges.

In a world where independence and respect were valued, this would result in at least an uprising if not a revolution.  Impeachment, demonstrations and removal from office should follow.  Now Cameron is trying to brief out that if the Liberals vote against Hunt it will be a gross act of personal disloyalty.

This is the most specious crap he has yet produced.  Nowhere in the Coalition agreement is there a requirement to support corruption, incompetence and the destruction of governmental reputation.  If Hunt is a casualty, and hopefully the first of many, then it will be a victory for Parliament against the Cabinet, no more, no less.  The Liberals should either abstain, if soiled by Cabinet rank, or vote in favour of a genuine clean-up of Parliament.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Unlock Democracy miss the point on Lords reform.

Unlock Democracy, whose superb stewardship of the "Yes to AV" campaign raised suspicion amongst those of us who are connoisseurs of conspiracy theorists that most of their funding came from obscure right-wing bodies, are now getting their teeth into the next essential campaign.  Heaven help us.

This week, they have bombarded social media with material drawing attention to the male, public-school world that the Lords consists of.  This is undoubtedly true, but the lack of social mobility, the glass ceilings that continue to exist and be created by the latest manifestation of aristocratic patronage in government, is hardly an argument for the reform of the revising chamber.  It is much more a dog-whistle to the kind of entitled lefties who inhabit the comment sections of newspaper websites who exist only to excoriate the Coalition and all its doings.

The reasons for reforming the Lords are constitutional, not social.  A second, legitimate chamber can provide challenge to the lower House in a way that the nominated farrago left behind by Blair (a typical example of New Labour requiring others to clear up the mess and finish the job) cannot - the belly-aching of drooling right-wing Tory backbenchers that they have been challenged in their stupidity by an "unelected" body would be eliminated.

Arguing that it will, in itself, improve social mobility, is facile at best.  The second chamber should be an empowered, revising entity that reflects the nations and regions of the UK, and which permits the kind of radical devolution required by English regions, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to remain within a national framework.  Imagination could solve the West Lothian question.

Yet we are told that the members of the House of Lords are the problem in themselves.  This is idiotic.  If this is the level of the reform debate then we can expect a further reinforcement of the status quo as a consequence of the alleged proponents of change, and their inability to construct an argument not based around ad hominem attacks but on the absurdity and undesirability of its continuation.

Friday, 1 June 2012

"We're all in this together" - Hunt, Cameron, Osborne

If Jeremy Hunt's conduct in office was merely inept and offensive, then there would be no reason for there to be any public ignominy beyond that justly earned by a Tory boy whose arrogance and breathtaking lack of self-awareness had led him into debt with the Moloch of Austro-American immorality.

Cameron's brazen insistence on Rhyming Slang's probity in handling Murdoch's bid for BSkyB would be risible were it not blatantly designed to save his own miserable neck.  The moronic behaviour of Cameron, Osborne and Hunt is obvious to anyone who hasn't taken Blair and Mandelson's "Book of Hypocritical Sophistry for Boys" as the basis for modern political conduct - the casuistry and contorted justification is increasingly resembling the flimsy excuses that Blair used to crawl up Bush's rectal orifice in the run-up to the hugely-successful invasion of Iraq on behalf of Halliburton.

Truly, Bullingdon Dave is the new Tony Blair, much as he wanted to be.

Cock-up, conspiracy or both?  Cable was withdrawn from his proper job because he expressed doubts about Murdoch's propriety and the desirability of further media consolidation.  Hunt, openly in favour of the bid and its potential cauterisation of political debate and the claims of Murdoch, a special adviser whose judgement and interests were and remain opaque, was clearly much more suitable, even if he didn't understand the "quasi-judicial" term or role.

In other words, he was at best immoral, and at worst, the mind begins to boggle.  The Tories have always worked on the basis that their role in government is to dip their fingers in the till and do favours for their mates - and the Faustian pact that they made with Murdoch in the run-up to the 2010 election meant that bending over backwards would probably prevent them from licking his boots.  Hunt should never have been let near the media briefing, and should never have been allowed out without minders warning him that the role of Ministers is to govern and to enforce and uphold the law before they allowed him to be ungagged.

Cameron cannot understand that people don't trust him and his motley bunch of amoral chancers - the leper has not changed its spots.  Hunt at Leveson was a pathetic figure - either dissembling in a desperate attempt to save his worthless neck or too clueless to be competent to hold office.  The implication of Osborne's intervention in the process leading up to the transfer of the bid to Hunt is that any reasonable person without the naivety of Pollyanna or the cretinism of the Tory press would start wondering where the conspiracy is based.

This does not just make Hunt's position untenable, but it makes Cameron's risible.  Had Hunt stood aside during Leveson, then he would have avoided the impression of a man desperately struggling against being sucked under by sleaze of his own creation.  However, his bumptious self-belief has triumphed, not to mention the requirement to protect the cronies who have dug the Tories into this hole.

None of this cabal would be fit for public office if probity was still seen as a necessary condition for elevation.  They have demonstrated their contempt for the electorate, other politicians and the process of law.  Nothing has been learned in the three decades since Thatcher accelerated the venalisation of public life.

Hunt should have gone and every minute of his continued presence should be used to promote political and moral revulsion with the tawdry scum who are lecturing the rest of us on the need for austerity while scratching their mates' backs and fiddling at the margins of a global crisis.  Cameron's stupidity in backing him will rebound, and the only problem would be if it became inappropriate to celebrate this with glee, hubris and much rejoicing.