Monday, 24 March 2014

Osborne: an idiot in the Lawson mould?

To listen to the cheerleaders, Gideon's Budget last week was a triumph that transformed Britain's prospects - reversing a century's worth of decline, national immolation and the impacts of the transgressive state.  A bad Budget is always given this amount of acclaim before its perpetrator is found out.

The Chancellor's economic cretinism is now directed internally at the right - attempting to buy off the UKIP defectors while positioning himself for a leadership election in the wake of Hamster Cheeks's none-too-soon departure.  The rest of the nation and the economy are collateral damage in a tragedy of the Tory making.

There have been two criminally-insane Budgets in recent Tory history.  Barber's dash for growth in 1973 coincided with an increase in external inflationary pressures, starting with overall commodity price rises and then capped by the oil crisis following the Arab-Israeli conflict and OPEC flexing its muscles.  The last gasp of Keynesianism was the equivalent of pouring petrol onto a fire, and much of the rest of the decade saw Labour desperately trying to damp down the flames.  Yet Barber's incompetence can at least partly be mitigated by the global crisis against which he took action - a defence which is not permitted to anyone from another party.

However, the closest analogue to Osborne's Folly is Lawson's budget of 1988, which unleashed tax cuts at the top at the same time as providing a feeding frenzy in the property market - abolishing double tax relief on joint mortgages created a property bubble which then burst with spectacular effect - introducing the period of stagflation that overshadowed the first half of the 1990s.  Lawson, now a ridiculous figure of climate change denial and venomous prejudice, presided over a period of allegedly triumphant growth followed by a debt hangover that took a decade to fix - at the same time deregulating the City to create the first stages of the corporate welfare state that persists to this day.

Gideon clearly has nothing beyond political tactics to offer - and Labour should be ashamed of their backing of his pension changes.  There is nothing right with the current annuity system, which allows parasitic fund managers to cream off fat commissions for supposed expertise - much of which could be emulated by sticking a pin into the race cards at Ladbroke's - but the proposal to allow unfettered release of pension equity risks pensioner poverty if too great a risk is allowed, and the creation of another class of welfare dependents whose improvidence or short-term greed means that their funding runs out before they shuffle off their mortal coils.

Reform - and allowing alternative investment vehicles - would have made sense.  Abolition is the short-term equivalent of economic amphetamines - and rather than encouraging current savers to ensure they make suitable provision for their old age it creates the potential for yet another intergenerational transfer when misguided avarice, stupidity or bad luck pauperises a group of improvident old people.  As they tend to vote, their plight will be listened to with sympathy while the remainder of the taxpaying public bail them out.

The real parallel with Lawson is the total irresponsibility with regard to the property market.  Lawson allowed four months of feeding frenzy which created a bubble.  Osborne, being a resourceful chinless no-mark, decided that a direct bung to the areas where the wealth illusion is propped up by property price inflation (mainly Tory- or UKIP-leading) would be too obvious even for the current bunch of canting fools.  Instead, the pension changes are being played for all they're worth as a means of further pumping up the buy-to-let market - driving up prices yet further and therefore creating both perceived wealth for the lucky beneficiaries and further transfers of income from the relatively poor to the rich.  Tory behaviour at its most obvious.

Encouraging further speculation in an already-disfunctional market is a recipe for disaster.  While in the short-term tax receipts will go up through stamp duty and (if these new Rachmans are not clever) through tax on rental income, this is not a fool-proof mechanism for ensuring the economy is sound and sustainable.  Hardly surprising - yet anything that encourages the further concentration of money wealth in property further transfers power to the already-lucky, while the rest of the population is still reeling from the pillage of bankers, global deregulation and the pursuit of austerity as a means of cowing the proletariat.

The Tories are now, blatantly, trying to play out to the old, rich and the aspirational but innumerate who assume that the new £15,000 ISA allowance will benefit them - although the number of people who can save that amount are those least in need of incentivisation.  This is the Daily Mail fallacy writ large - with a touch of totally-cynical populism on sin taxes such as beer and whisky (note that the duty freeze - called for for several years - only occurs in the year of Scotland's independence referendum) as well as a reduction in bingo duty.  Murdoch's Scum hailed it as a Budget designed for their readers - which is enough of an indictment to stand on its own,

Osborne could have done much more to reform taxes and allowances - and to encourage productive growth.  Instead his audience was neither the country at large nor those already squeezed and marginalised by the combination of the necessary rebalancing of public finances (which Labour would have had to move towards) and the contempt and disdain exhibited by the crony Conservatives.  Where it comes to the election next year, the impact of this Budget will be seen to have been perverse, and will hopefully result in a much more balanced assessment of Osborne/s record before two fingers are raised via the ballot box.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Exhuming McCarthy - Paul Dacre and the Paedophiles

To watch the Daily Mail is to view an unfolding tragedy of hypocrisy, cant and revulsion.  Paul Dacre, its hypocritical editor who takes European money to prop up his already-lavish lifestyle while lambasting the excesses of Brussels and welfare-dependency, is a man who would be despicable scum if he had any aspiration to better himself.  Its proprietor, Lord Rothermere, is a tax-avoiding humbug whose peddling of the demagoguery and hate-filled bile his newspaper contains to the small-minded, fearful bourgeoisie is a prime demonstration of aristocratic contempt for the little people.  The vision of Dacre being manipulated, like Sooty, by a succession of right-wing propagandists and spin doctors, is one that should bring a wry smile to anyone to the left of Nigel Farage.

The Mail's current witch-hunt is against a number of Labour party luminaries who were active in the National Council for Civil Liberties in the 1970s.  The allegation is that they were not merely inactive in drumming out the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) but complicit in its continued affiliation with the organisation.  In terms of rightist dog-whistles, this hits home at every level: Labour, civil liberties and sex.  Given the hypocrites pursuing it, the prurience and the sheer unreason is hardly surprising.

Liberty is uncomfortable for the Dacres of this world.  Their definition appears to be the freedom for people to agree with them and to be subservient to their agenda.  The inspiration for this is in the totalitarian states of the 1930s, which, after all, were cheered on by Rothermere's ancestor and his editorial stooges.  The Mail has never apologised for this act of calculated and sustained treachery, yet seems to imagine that it, as the moral tribune for its own sectarian interests, has the right to demand acts of contrition from others.

Paedophilia is repugnant and disgusting, principally because it is a fundamental and grotesque abuse of power.  For the Salemite tribunes of the right, irony is an alien concept - for all Dacre does is exploit the position that he occupies to commit outrages against civilisation.  Morally and philosophically there is less separation between sexual and political abuse than perhaps he would wish to acknowledge.  The prurience of the papers and their soft-core website, devoted to titillation through celebrity gossip and the exploitation of the cult of idealised youth, is not exactly the high ground from which such a vitriolic call for a witch-hunt should be emanating.

Yet paedophilia hits every button - as to even question the ethics and approach of the Mail is to invite accusations of apologism for criminality.  This is the trump card that they want to play against Labour in the run-up to the election, given the absence of any compelling reason to support their narrow-minded crusade against anyone who dissents from their authoritarian nostalgia for the 1950s.  If you dare to question their retarded agenda then you are by extension supporting every evil they can define - the Lynton Crosby approach at its crudest and most revolting.  The scum, when backed with tax-avoided cash, rises to the surface.

Sexuality is not a matter of absolutes - although there are rightly legal boundaries that cannot be crossed and, where transgression does occur then offenders should be pursued through the law.  Instead its gradations and subtleties are individual tastes and choices - consent is central to its deployment.  The idea of the inner life, and the freedom of the individual, is anathema to those who seek to control and confine both thought and action to a narrow band of externally-defined acceptability.  Taken in this context, Dacre's approach to the world around him would not have been out of place in the kind of dystopian fantasy (such as 1984)  with which he, and the second-order rightist cretins such as Simon Heffer and Melanie Phillips, use his diseased organ to castigate the so-called libertarian left.

People make mistakes, misjudgements and decisions based around incomplete information all the time.  Reflection and the passage of years should mean that these are understood and regretted, as part of a journey through life that results in fewer screw-ups as one gets older.  Hewitt, Harman and Dromey might have done less damage by a speedy public apology, but the way in which the Mail operates raises legitimate suspicions that even this would have been twisted - and made to fit the subliminal agenda that anyone who doesn't agree with the neo-fascist narrative is an immigrant gay child molester, and by the way the Labour party is full of them.

For those equipped with mental faculties, which clearly excludes Dacre and his cronies, complexity and relativism become more important in understanding choices.  Yet when you have the shield of cretinous certainty to hide behind, nothing ever changes.  Apologising for not holding a set of views thirty-five years ago or not responding in the way people would today is apparently the bare minimum, yet the Mail has never seen any need to regret its idolisation of Oswald Mosley or its support for appeasement in the 1930s.

What is cheering, though, is that it is able to continue its exploitation of the repellent and the unthinkable without considering the implications.  When Harriet Harman had the temerity to point out that while excoriating the civil libertarians of forty years ago, it was printing pictures of pre-pubescent girls in bikinis, this rang home as a stark demonstration of the gap between its public outrage and its recognition that there is a market to be exploited for such repellent images.  It uses the Savile scandal to continue to vilify the BBC, yet never seems to refer to the close relationship enjoyed between him and its deity, the former Prime Minister whose legacy it celebrates all the time.

In recent months, the Mail has passed from being a deranged but legitimate part of the political spectrum into a parody of the kind of propaganda sheet that would not have gone down badly in Germany or the Soviet Union in the 1930s.  Perhaps Rothermere has decided that the North Korean Communist Party wants to franchise its daily newspaper, as his flagship paper's exploitation of the black arts is textbook totalitarianism.

In a final irony, the NCCL (now Liberty) made all its material from the 1970s available some years ago.  If this was so interesting, why has Dacre waited until now to spring out from under his EU-funded stone?  If one were as paranoid and ignorant as the other side, there is always the suspicion that mud is being flung at the left because there is worse to come for the right.  Here's hoping - because lowering the discourse to this level deserves an equal and opposite reaction.