Skip to main content

Avanti populo!

From the North East of England. Poetry, prose and cultural comment to keep you engaged and alert.

Home
About Us
Contact Us
Site Map
Member Login
Poems
blogspot2017
archive2016
archive2015
archive2014
archive2013
archive2012
archive2011
archive2010
19th December 2010
 

The Localism Illusion

 

This week the UK government made great play of the new Localism Bill which, it is said, will mean a shift of power from central government to localities.  That will not be local democratically elected representatives in localities, that will be local people who have a desire to run a local service, manage a local facility or create a local business from an existing public service.

 

The pronouncement, by Communities and Local Government Secretary EricPickles, did speak the language of democratic control and accountability,

 

"The Localism Bill will herald a ground-breaking shift in power to councils and communities overturning decades of central government control and starting a new era of people power.” he said.  "It is the centrepiece of what this Government is trying to do to fundamentally shake up the balance of power in this country. For too long, everything has been controlled from the centre - and look where it's got us. Central government has kept local government on a tight leash, strangling the life out of councils in the belief that bureaucrats know best.”

 

However the reality of the intention behind the the bill is made clear in the DCLG press release which outlines the issues that the Bill will address.  Core to the proposals are the following  intentions,

 

“Local people and communities' will have real power and a bigger say over their area through a new right to challenge to take over services; a new right to bid to buy local assets such as libraries, pubs and shops; a new right to veto excessive council tax rises through a referendum.”  (for the full text go to http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/housing/1794971)

 

There is a basic misconception that ‘control from the centre’, to quote Pickles, is an inherently bad thing. However, without ‘control from the centre’ the UK would never have established an NHS; the nationalisation of major industries after WW2, which layed the basis for addressing fundamental issues of health and safety in mining and the railways, would not have occurred; strategic decisions around economic development and investment in infrastructure are inevitably driven from the centre.  Planning, utilised correctly, is a tool to overcome parochialism and, by exercising ‘control from the centre’, address the greater public good by seeing the bigger picture.

 

This sudden outburst of democracy is somewhat undermined by the fact that on the same day as the Localism Bill the government announced the financial settlement for local government.  The DCLG press release on this one could have been titled simply ‘it’s grim up North’ and it would have conveyed accurately the government’s message i.e there are no votes for us up there so, sod off.  A summary of the winners and losers should suffice to illustrate,

 

“Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Manchester, Rochdale, Knowsley, Liverpool, St.Helens, Doncaster and South Tyneside are among the 36 local authorities which will take the maximum cut of 8.9%.  Meanwhile Dorset gets a 0.25% increase in funding and Windsor and Maidenhead, Poole, West Sussex, Wokingham, Richmond upon Thames and Buckinghamshire all get cuts of 1% or below.”  (The Guardian 14th Dec)

 

This (broadly) North/South divide in allocation is not even subtle.  One can only surmise that, in the great Big Society scheme of things, the government are hoping that local government workers, put on the dole because Councils cannot afford to run their services, will bid back under the Localism Bill to run them voluntarily!  As a means to cut wages, terms and conditions this is a long route but it seems to be the direction in which the government is travelling. 

 

The intention behind the Bill and its likely impact should not be underestimated.

 

There is of course much talk of transparency in the Localism Bill which should be welcome news to Julian Assange, a great advocate of transparency, yet struggling to maintain his freedom as a consequence.  As coincidences go, the sexual assault charges for which Sweden are seeking the extradition of Assange, are remarkable.  Just as the greatest expose in decades of the West’s dirty dealings and underhand tactics hits the international media the attention is diverted to Assange’s personal life. What a stroke of luck!  You would almost think they had planned it! Finally, with only five shopping days left till Xmas it is good to see the UK Uncut campaign, focussing upon tax dodging companies and Chief Executives, grabbing some headlines.  UK Uncut quite rightly point out that closing down the tax dodgers could save public service jobs and help reduce the deficit.  Vodafone have been particular targets along with Topshop, owned by the usually vociferous Sir Philip Green, who is very quiet at the moment.  Topshop is owned by Arcadia, which is controlled by a Jersey based company which in turn is owned by Sir Philip’s wife, Cristina, a Monaco resident.  Not much revenue going to the UK Treasury there then!

 

Experts suggest that in the region of £120bn is lost annually to the UK economy by various company tax dodges.  The response of company accountants has been much along the lines of, if the loopholes are there use them, wouldn’t you?  Well maybe but the same logic is not applied to benefit ‘cheats’, ‘scroungers’, asylum seekers etc. when state handouts are required.  Could it really be that there is one rule for the rich and another for the poor?

 

As we plunge headlong in to the festive season spare a thought for those in even less fortunate parts of the world where headlines could surface over the next couple of weeks, for example,

 

Greece – as the economy totters and could yet be forced into collapse

Ireland – ditto

Palestine – where Israeli firepower can be directed at any time

Iran – where the struggle for democracy against theocratic dictatorship continues

 

More blogging in the New Year – season’s greetings!

 

Avanti populo!

 

 

12th December 2010

 

Kettled into coalition?

 

You have to admit that DavidCameron and GeorgeOsborne have played a blinder this week.  “Why’s that?” I hear you cry, “Aren’t those the bad guy millionaires running the government?”  Well, yes they are, but in a week when the Coalition has been working overtime to secure a Parliamentary majority for the unpopular policy of tripling tuition fees, where have Cameron and Osborne been?  Answer, nowhere.  Or, to be more precise, lurking in the shadows while the hapless LibDem triptych of NickClegg, VinceCable and DannyAlexander take all the flak.

 

For Cameron and Osborne this is what Coalition is all about.  Having failed to secure a mandate to govern in the first place, you seduce the coy LibDems with the promise of power.  You make sure they know that some of the going will be tough but in the end it will be worth it.  They surrender, of course, and with a few flattering government posts they are all yours.  Only six months after NickClegg, in the televised prime ministerial debates, was being hailed as a mould breaker in UK politics, his effigy is being burned by angry students protesting against a policy that was not actually in anyone’s election manifesto.

 

Some opinion polls put current LibDem support at a mere 8% while the Tories ratings are higher than at the time of the election, at just over 40%.  Substantial numbers of defectors from the LibDems are in southern constituencies more inclined to vote Tory if their illusions about the LibDems are shattered.  A LibDem collapse will only be a gain for Labour if the work is put in to make it so.  A clear alternative programme based upon economic investment in jobs and manufacturing; restraining the excesses of the City of London; and tackling head on the waste of expenditure that is the Trident nuclear weapons programme needs to be articulated and built upon in the next four years.

 

As expected the tuition fee increase was approved, although the government majority was only 21 votes.  Getting unpopular policies out of the way early has been a traditional tactic of new governments, saving up any goodies for pre-election budgets.  With this policy coming into force in 2012 however its impact should have just matured nicely by the proposed May 2015 election date.

 

The final word, for now, on the tuition fee protests goes to the Metropolitan Police who stated,

 

"Police completely condemn the outrageous and increasing levels of violence that some of the protesters are now involved in. This has nothing to do with peaceful protest.  Students are involved in wanton vandalism including smashing windows in Oxford and Regent streets. Innocent Christmas shoppers are being caught up in the violence."

 

No word on police tactics then, which seemed to be tantamount to incitement by their riot style policing and the kettling of students in

Parliament Square
for hours in sub zero temperatures.

 

Nobel Peace Prize - debacle continues

 

The credibility of the Nobel Peace Prize was seriously undermined in 1973 when US Secretary of State, HenryKissinger, famous for declaring that the US would ‘bomb Cambodia back into the stone age’ won the award.  Last year, President Barack Obama, after only a year in office and having contributed nothing of significance to world peace, was awarded the prize.  This year Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo received the award, in absentia, due to his current incarceration in a Chinese prison.  There is no evidence to suggest that Liu Xiaobo has any mass support in China unlike, for example, Nelson Mandela in South Africa or Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma.  There is no movement of significance to overthrow the Chinese government which cites Liu as its leader, no groundswell for democratic reform for which Liu is the voice.

 

The grounds for Liu’s imprisonment, for speaking out against the Chinese government, may well be debateable.  The limitations upon the Chinese population in general, in being able to offer a critique of the government, may be a subject for discussion.  Whether awarding Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize helps our understanding of China, or simply fuels the West’s general anti-China sentiments, is more open to question.

 

Cancun - climate change show still on the road, just

 

The struggle to save the planet through inter-governmental co-operation on carbon emissions reduction took its latest step this week in the Mexican resort of Cancun.  The outcomes appear to involve much settling for half a loaf, with an overall commitment upon all economies to reduce emissions, but not enough to meet the promise of keeping the global temperature rise to 2C.

 

Bravely, the Bolivians were the only country to stand against the deal on the basis that

 

“This agreement won’t stop temperatures rising by 4C, and we know that 4C is unsustainable.”

 

While the position of Bolivia is to be applauded the summit did at least move on from the stalled Copenhagen process, which made no progress at all, and managed, at the very least to keep the UN climate change show on the road.  Key elements of the deal should see an end to deforestation; the promotion of the transfer of low-carbon technologies to developing countries; and the establishment of a green fund, by 2020, to shield more vulnerable countries from the impact of climate change.

 

All of this is to be welcomed on the basis that something is better than nothing.  It should nonetheless be noted that saving the UN process is one thing, saving the climate will, however, require a quantum leap in political will.

 

 

5th December  2010

 

Egypt, WikiLeaks and the World Cup

 

Egypt may seem like a strange place to start a political blog in a week dominated by the WikiLeaks revelations, if indeed revelations they are.  However, it is sometimes what is happening just below the surface of the headlines that give us the clues as to where the major flashpoints in world politics may be emerging.

 

In Parliamentary elections last week the ruling National Democratic party in Egypt won 96% of the vote.  The opposition Muslim Brotherhood, who previously had 88 seats in Parliament, will be reduced to zero.  President Hosni Mubaraks National Democratic party have been in power for the past thirty years.  The presidential elections scheduled for 2011 may see the 82 year old Mubarak stand down, with his son Gamal Mubarak favourite to replace him.

 

In spite of a history of human rights abuses and state repression Egypt has long been an ally of the West and is of major strategic importance in the Middle East.  The failure of the Mubarak regime to establish a popular base has left the doors open to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has had a presence in Egyptian politics for over half a century, to extend its grass roots influence.  If, as seems likely, the presidential elections are marred by the same level of state intimidation and violence as the parliamentary vote, the possibility of growing extra-parliamentary activity will increase.  The Muslim Brotherhood have already been quoted as saying,  “These elections were rigged and invalid.  They are destroying any hope of the people for change by peaceful means.” (The Guardian, 1st December 2010)

 

Egypt is the self styled leader of the Arab world and borders Israel.  The West will be keen to see a regime which remains friendly to its interests sustained.  It may be however, that the pressure for change is too great and a more militant form of Islam could be pressing on Israeli borders in the not too distant future.

 

To WikiLeaks then and the revelations that world leaders are a bunch of self important extroverts jostling for the front page or dangerous demagogues looking to spark the next international incident.  That the Arabs hate the Persians is not news, that one has been going on for 700 years,  but the fact that the Saudi dictatorship should be so open in calling for an armed strike upon Iran may raise a few eyebrows. 

 

The alliance of the oil rich Arab dictatorships, with the US and Israel, against Iran is not news either but the fear that Iran may be developing a nuclear capability has heightened the issue, with Iran being described as an “existential threat”.  The fact that the evidence shows that Iran is a long way from being able to develop a nuclear weapon (unlike Israel), does not mean it will not be a reason for military intervention.  The consequences of such action however would make the invasion of Iraq look like a walk in the park.

 

While the leaks themselves are of interest the response to them is, in some respects, even more enlightening.  The US especially has responded with vehemence.  Hillary Clinton branded the leaks as “an attack on the international community“; Sarah Palin called for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be hunted down as an “anti-American operative with blood on his hands”; and there have been calls for the file leakers to be executed for treason in some quarters.  To suggest that such calls are an attempt to divert attention from the content of the leaks is perhaps stating the obvious but it does seem that, for some in the US, the concept of freedom of information only extends to information you wanted to make available in the first place.

 

During the course of the week the WikiLeaks site has been forced to move to different host servers as corporate America colludes to put the squeeze on the right to free speech and the exposure of US anti-democratic practices.  There is little enough scrutiny of the dealings of the worlds only superpower.  Let us hope WikiLeaks survives to keep the little scrutiny we have alive.

 

In the UK the main contender for the front pages has been the failed World Cup bid. In spite of hurling three millionaires (lions!) at FIFA in the last three days, England managed to capture only one vote other than its own.  The brouhaha which inevitably followed seemed to miss the fact that, as commercial markets go, Russia and Qatar (read ‘the Arab world) are much more under exploited than the premier league dominated and football saturated England.  Given the infrastructure at its disposal England could probably host a world cup next week but could it give FIFA the new commercial opportunities of Russia and Qatar? How could our boys be so naïve!

 

Finally, even the tragedy of World Cup defeat to the Russian mafia will not spare the shame of the LibDems in the vote on tuition fees scheduled for the House of Commons on Thursday.   Nick Clegg in particular has proven the old maxim that ‘the higher they climb, the harder they fall as the particular target for student vitriol.  The whole farrago has served to expose the opportunistic nature of the LibDems who are clearly finding so called coalition an uncomfortable ride as the Tories trash their key election promises.  It only requires the Labour leadership to come out of hiding and take advantage for us to have the prospect of a concerted popular opposition to the current government.  Until then lets all get behind the students, at least they are up off their settees and making a noise! 

 

28th November 2010

 

Western fabrications unravel

 

The recent NATO summit in Lisbon (19th/20th November) seemed to fly beneath the news radar in spite of coming out with a proclamation in favour of the development of a defensive shield for Europe (remember Reagans star wars anyone?), without being entirely specific about whom the shield would be defending Europe against.

 

In the (for some) good old days of the Cold War the enemy was of course obvious; Reagans star wars proposal was about defending the West against the allegedly imminent Soviet threat.  The defensive shield prospect is a tougher sell for President Obama.  However, the fact that he has had to sell the product at all is a measure of the extent to which the military-industrial complex still dominates the US economy.

 

The shield is part of the new “strategic concept” for NATO outlined at the summit, which seems to differ little from the old concept of intervening where NATO sees fit to defend Western interests. As NATO’s Secretary General, AndersFoghRasmussen, said of the strategic concept, "I would describe it as territorial defence in a modern world. Nato's core function is still territorial defence of our populations and our member states," he said. "However, we have to realise that in today's security environment it may on occasions be necessary to go beyond our borders to protect our people effectively. And of course, Afghanistan is a case in point."

 

Anyone with half a brain, and we would have to credit Obama with at least that, would be moving on from the concept of a major intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threat to considering the realities of a world in which cyber and other more subtle forms of terrorism are more likely to pose a challenge to Western democracy.

 

Not that the old fashioned ICBM should be forgotten, much damage can be done as we have seen in the recent spat between North and South Korea and as the Palestinian people can attest, having been on the receiving end of much Israeli firepower in the past 40 years.

 

If we were to move in a truly radical direction however consideration of the grievances which lead to terrorist or anti-Western activity in any form might be more productive.  Of course such a move would undermine the raison detre of NATO which continues to excel in its role, not in defence of the West, but in defence of the Wests military industries, for which Afghanistan is the latest product testing ground.  Still, NATOs summit did agree a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan and a handover to (hopefully Western friendly) Afghan forces by 2014.  The Taliban will no doubt watch with interest.

 

The European Union has always been a politically tense concept, nowhere more so than in the UK where successive governments have taken the classic in Europe but not of Europe stance in determining the UKs position.  The recent establishment of a full time President of the EU Council, an anonymous Belgian, Hermanvan Rompuy, has done nothing to raise the credibility of the EU or strengthen its democratic credentials. 

 

To reinforce the point, with the ink barely dry on the much fought over Lisbon Treaty the Germans are seeking to re-write the rules.  As one of the economic engines of the EU (along with France) the Germans feel that they have every right to do so, especially as the current set up restricts their ability to use their economic strength and compels them to contribute disproportionately to the bailout of weaker economies such as the Greeks and Irish.  The concept of ever closer economic and monetary union, which has propelled the EU this far, certainly looks shakier than ever, especially now that the euro as a currency is being severely put to the test in the current financial crisis.  Rumours abounded last year that the Germans already had a secret supply of Deutsche Marks ready in case the euro went under; time will tell.

 

Protestations by the Irish government that no bailout was required were seen quite quickly not to be worth the airspace they took up and the Irish people now face the prospect of an IMF driven austerity programme which will impoverish them for many years to come.  In common with the rest of Europe, the UK included, the brunt of the pain will not be borne by the perpetrators in the banks but by the working people through job losses, welfare cuts and higher prices for basic commodities.  Just to add to the joy, the UK government has had to contribute to the bailout to the tune of £10bn due to the exposure of British banks to the Irish economy; truly, we are all in this together.

 

Little wonder then that protests continued in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, with 100,000 turning out in Dublin, and even in the UK, once again led by the student movement, last week.

 

Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the tragic death of 29 miners at PikeRiver minein New Zealand this week.  The tragedy is a further reminder of the limits to which working people are pushed by the multi-national corporations in their search for profit.  Like their colleagues in Chile, for whom the outcome was more fortunate, the men in New Zealand were working for poor wages in dangerous conditions, more akin to the nineteenth than the twenty first century.  Such outrages should not be tolerated and we must support the mining trades unions across the world who are in the forefront of the fight to improve conditions generally, and health and safety in particular, in the mines.

 

 

14th November 2010

 

Student protests wake up the nation

 

To say that student radicalism has been largely supine over much of the past twenty five years would be something of an understatement.  Stitched into a culture where a degree might just qualify you for a job in McDonald’s, building barricades, let alone setting them ablaze, has not been top of the undergraduate agenda.

 

There has been, and always will be, flashes of activism and protest.  The NUS no doubt thought that last Wednesday’s demonstration would tap into that feeling and register a note of dissent with the Coalition government.  Quite apart from the inevitable media histrionics about the window smashing at Tory HQ, the NUS leadership are somewhat overwhelmed by the turnout and strength of opposition to the proposed hike in tuition fees.  They find themselves, rather unexpectedly, in the vanguard of opposition to the government’s proposals to ‘roll back the State’, which the wider public are in danger of sleepwalking into accepting.

 

To be fair, the outcomes of the comprehensive spending review or the impact of Ian Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms are probably not giving much pause for thought down the pub yet, if only because most of us are still trying to figure out what they mean.  The sight of David Cameron, side parting out of place, phoning in his ritual condemnation of the ‘mindless violence’ against Tory HQ, from South Korea, may just have raised a few eyebrows however. 

 

Interestingly, there are two issues at work here.  A life of debt is one thing, with the ability to pay back student loans and tuition fees before retirement only likely to be within the capability of an elite few.  A university education will be further beyond the reach of the working classes and may even be a struggle for those middle classes who, up until now, have seen it as a privilege their children should enjoy as of right. 

 

Secondly, there is also the issue of broken promises, in the form of the anger directed at the LibDems in general, and their leaders in particular, for reneging on election promises not to raise tuition fees.  The LibDems have prided themselves as a party fashioned upon fairness and made a great pitch in the election campaign to go for the soft underbelly of the middle class vote by appealing to students.  Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency was one such target area.

 

How many actual LibDem seats the student vote delivered may well be a moot point, given their wide dispersal.  The courting of students by the LibDems however clearly contributed to a mood amongst certain sections of the student population that this was a party for them, indeed a party pledged to defend their interests.  The strength of feeling on Wednesday can, at least in part, be attributed to the sense of betrayal many students have felt since the LibDems chose to cosy up in the Coalition.

 

The NUS ‘decapitation’ strategy, aimed at ousting leading LibDems from Parliament, will help to fuel the continuing sense of outrage.  The mass walkout of staff and students planned for the 24th November will undoubtedly add to the pressure.

 

There are further signs that opposition to the Coalition is beginning to stir.  UK Uncut is opposed to the government spending cuts and wants to force big business to pay higher taxes in order to finance public services.  The organisation succeeded in closing down over 20 Vodafone stores recently in protest at the company’s £6bn tax avoidance measures.  The group has designated Saturday, 4th December as a day of mass action against tax avoiders.  The group has emerged as a virtual network through web and twitter links so its actual base is hard to determine but it could certainly have irritant value in the short term.

 

The TUC have called a national demonstration against the cuts in Hyde Park, London for the 26th March 2011, which will be a measure of how the popular mood is developing as the reality of the cuts bite.  Local authorities across the country will have issued redundancy notices to thousands of staff, which will kick in five days later, and the public should by then have some idea of the real loss of services due to the cuts.  Mass demonstration is not usually the TUC’s forte, so given the stance they have taken it is vital that the protests are seen to have a massive response.

 

Giving Ireland back to the Irish?

 

As bad as things are in the UK at the moment it is worth sparing a thought for the Irish as their banking system heads for meltdown.  The Observer today (14th Nov) pointed out that “…for the next six to seven years, every cent of income tax paid by Irish citizens will go to cover the banks’ losses.”  Discussions are currently underway to negotiate an EU bailout, 60bn euros has been mentioned, but this would inevitably come with further austerity measures.  Civil service pay has already been cut by 5%-15% and pension rights are under threat.

 

In addition, the likelihood of mass emigration threatens to undermine any potential for recovery in the longer term as young people leave to seek prosperity elsewhere.  The government is planning for the emigration of at least 100,000 people in the next four years.  The danger of a downward spiral is clear.  With the European Central Bank already keeping the Irish banking system afloat, in order to stave off the collapse of the eurozone, the ability of the EU to cope with financial crisis will be tested to the limits.  One crack and the floodgates may well open.


7th November 2010

 

The fuss about the French

 

Big news this week has been the Anglo-French defence agreement involving co-ordinated use of aircraft, aircraft carriers and joint operations.  The main elements of the deal are:-

 

  • Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, capable of involvement in anything up to ''high intensity'' operations.  It will not be a standing force but will be available ''at notice for bilateral, Nato, European Union, United Nations or other'' operations. Combined land and air exercises will begin in 2011 with ''progress towards full capability in subsequent years''. 

  • Aircraft Carriers - The UK will fit ''cat and trap'' to its future aircraft carrier so that both countries fighter jets can fly from each other's naval vessels. By the early 2020s that should allow the creation of a ''UK-French integrated carrier strike group''.

  • Defence industry and research - Aim to cut 30% of the cost of complex weapons systems through 10-year strategic plan including a single European prime contractor. This will act as a test for co-operation in other industrial sectors. A combined 100 million euro (£87.5 million) minimum annual research and technology budget looking at critical future areas such as electronic warfare.

  • Cyber security framework, joint working on specifications to tackle marine mines and the possibility of France using ''spare capacity'' in the UK future air-to-air refuelling fleet ''provided it is financially acceptable to both nations''.

 

Sections of the British press have reflected the scepticism of sections of the British ruling class.  The Daily Telegraph (2nd Nov), noting that President Sarkozy had welcomed the deal by suggesting that the strategic interests of the UK and France were unlikely to differ, was quick to point out that “…it is all too easy to imagine precisely these circumstances, as they have occurred at least twice in the past 30 years: the Falklands war was not in France's national interest, and the country refused to send forces to Iraq.”

 

The agreement is remarkable in many respects, it is true.  The British ruling class are never keen to join clubs or coalitions unless they are running them.  Having ‘ruled the waves’ for so many years in the nineteenth century, the final ceding of the leading imperialist role to the USA after World War 2 was bad enough.

 

That did not stop the British continuing to have imperial pretensions however.  Part of the post-war consensus was the expectation that British foreign policy was predicated on the right to intervene in former colonies and continues to exert economic control through the transformation of the Empire into the ‘commonwealth’.  The Queen remains not only Head of State in the UK, anachronism enough, but also that of Canada and Australia, hard to believe in the twenty-first century. 

 

DavidCameron sought to quell the sceptics in his own ranks by asserting that, "Britain and France will be sovereign nations able to deploy our forces independently and in our national interest when we choose to do so. The two biggest defence budgets in Europe are recognising that if we come together and work together we increase not just our joint capacity, but crucially we increase our own individual sovereign capacity so that we can do more things alone as well as together."

 

The bigger picture however is more to do with the complex of strategic alliances within the EU.  The UK and France between them account for 50% of military spending of the EU countries.  The military and nuclear pretensions of both countries have been a drain on their economies for decades.  The current deal, in the face of the world economic crisis, is an attempt to mitigate some of the costs of retaining this socially unnecessary but politically desirable (for NATO) capability.  It is interesting that The Guardian’s take on the deal (2nd Nov) noted that, “The agreement required intensive explanation to Washington, but has won Pentagon agreement on the basis that Britain would remain dependent on US nuclear technology.”

 

For the UK the strain is doubled by the desire to continue to maintain the financial services sector in the City of London as the main player in the European markets.  The emphasis upon supporting this sector, over and above manufacturing or design research and development, has left the UK economy over exposed to the vagaries of the world financial markets.  Without making significant inroads into the financial services sector or military budgets the only area left to cut is social programmes, hence the high degree of emphasis upon tackling ‘welfare’ in the current comprehensive spending review proposals. 

 

These contradictions have not, of course, been part of the considerations of the mainstream media.  That the UK should consider de-commissioning the militarily obsolete Trident ‘deterrent’; reduce military capability to reflect actual defence requirements rather that an international intervention capability; or prioritise social spending over the military, has not made the leader columns.

 

There is time yet.  With public sector spending being driven down the viability of renewing Trident, which in any case is opposed by many of the military top brass, will be severely tested.  Should there be a serious challenge to Trident it will not be co-operation with the French which will be at issue, but how much independence in military matters the UK has from the USA, if any.

 

31st October 2010

 

Loadsamoney at home…..

 

It is typical of the British political system that glaringly obvious contradictions are glossed over as if they were part of the natural order of things and anyone questioning them is not really to be trusted.  Ought to take a citizenship test perhaps?

 

Take the current Coalition government mantra, “We are all in it together”.  The fact that 18 out of 23 members of the Cabinet are millionaires, might lead us to question how deeply some of our leaders are “in it”, together or otherwise.   The comprehensive spending review promises nearly half a million public sector job losses, compensated, we are told, by the creation of private sector jobs.  Given the lack of significant growth in the economy (0.8%) and the unwillingness of the banks to lend to businesses ( one gamble they seem reluctant to take) it is not entirely clear from where in the private sector this jobs boom will emerge. 

 

Back in the boardroom take home pay is booming however.   Income Data Services (IDS) this week reported that  the average FTSE 100 Chief Executive earned £4.9m last year, almost 200 times the average wage.  The recession period of 2008/2009 did provide a slight blip but the picture over the decade 2000 - 2010 is of the total pay of FTSE 100 Chief Executives rising by more than 160% according to IDS data.

 

Many of the public sector staff whose jobs are currently under threat would dearly like to be sharing the pain in the same way as the FTSE 100 bosses.

 

There are twinges of guilt out there however.  CBI Director General, Sir Richard Lambert, has said that,  “If leaders of big companies seem to occupy a different galaxy from the rest of the community, they risk being treated as aliens.”   Born again conservative, Business Secretary Vince Cable, has launched a review into executive pay, the conclusions of which are to be published in April next year.  We eagerly await the outcome but will not be too surprised if this particular tiger is made entirely of paper.

 

Loadsamoney away….

 

Western puppet Hamid Karzai, President of Kabul, (to suggest he actually runs Afghanistan is stretching it!) added to his tally of embarrassing moments this week by admitting that he had taken bags of money from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, not the West’s favourite Muslim leader, to help run his private office. 

 

US concern at Iran’s motives was expressed in the strongest terms, suggesting that Ahmadinejad may be trying to 'buy influence' in Kabul.  Tut, tut, that those pesky Iranians should stoop so low!   Imagine the embarrassment of the US administration then when Karzai defended himself by suggesting that he received money from the West by the same means.  Really?  Well, actually yes, conceded the Americans.  Due to the vagaries (i.e. endemic corruption) in the Afghan banking system, hard cash is sometimes the only way to do business.  Whether this cash was to 'buy influence', or for down payments on CIA retirement homes in Helmand, was never made clear but the latter would be the less likely option.

 

The serious side to this sorry tale of course if the abject failure of Western foreign policy in the region and the steady progress of Islamic fundamentalism, in various guises, since the 1979 revolution in Iran.  Karzai is unlikely to outlast the final NATO soldier closing the door on Afghanistan, once the unwinnability of the ’war’ is recognised.  At worst the Taliban will return, at best some form of moderate Muslim compromise government will be cobbled together, as in Iraq.   Of course, it is interesting to note that the government currently emerging form the recent Iraqi elections is likely to contain a strong Shia influence owing its allegiance to Iran.

 

Ahmadinejad’s down payments may yet turn out to be the prevailing investment, unless Western policy towards the entire region changes significantly.

 

 

23rd October 2010

 

Managing the cuts message

 

The UK government’s comprehensive spending review was finally revealed this week (20th Oct) but the spectrum of responses to the widely trailed package of cuts, the deepest in the public sector for 90 years, was not as predictable as the cuts package itself.

 

Much had of course been done to manage the message.  Industry leaders were wheeled out in support of deep cuts to the public sector, thirty five signing a letter to the Daily Telegraph on Monday (18th Oct) endorsing the approach of the Coalition.  The BBC, and news media in general, cravenly reported this endorsement as evidence of the clear necessity of the government’s approach.  After all, who could argue with such luminaries of industry?  In reality this endorsement was no more objective than the TUC endorsing the economic policy of a progressive Labour government, that is, exactly what you would expect from people articulating the interests of those they represent.

 

Of much more interest, and one would assume of more concern to the Government, are the views of Nobel prizewinning economist, PaulKrugman, writing in the New York Times on Thursday (21st Oct).  Krugman’s article, titled pointedly British Fashion Victims, suggests that fiscal austerity is an economic fad whose time has passed “as evidence has accumulated that the lessons of the past remain relevant, that trying to balance budgets in the face of high unemployment and falling inflation is still a really bad idea.”

 

Krugman, although a liberal in economic terms, could hardly be described as a friend of the people.  He argues that the axe needs to be wielded, but not until a solid economic recovery is underway.  So why the £81bn cuts package right here, right now as outlined by Chancellor Osborne?  In Krugman’s words,

 

“Why is the British government doing this? The real reason has a lot to do with ideology: the Tories are using the deficit as an excuse to downsize the welfare state. But the official rationale is that there is no alternative.”

 

The opposition of SeamusMilne (The Bullingdon boys want to finish what Thatcher began – The  Guardian 21st Oct) may be more predictable but it is no less incisive for that.  Milne reminds us that neither of the Coalition parties has a mandate for the cuts package, based on their election manifestos, pointing out that “the abolition of universal child benefit to the privatising top down transformation of the NHS…is what most people at the May general election in fact voted against.” 

 

Milne highlights the ongoing sleight of hand by the Coalition which continues to blame the crisis upon the profligacy of the last Labour government.  As he points out however “the ballooning of Britain’s budget deficit mirrors the average deficit rise across the 33 most developed countries, from 1% of GDP in 2007 to 9% in 2009..”

 

It is unlikely that DavidCameron will lose much sleep over the views of SeamusMilne, although NickClegg may have regarded himself as appealing to The Guardian’s demographic until recently.  The comments of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) could not be so easily swatted aside however. 

 

The IFS was categorical in characterising the government’s package as one which would hit the poor harder than the rich; see spending for most secondary school pupils cut; and cut more deeply into the budgets of Whitehall departments than Labour had planned.  The IFS challenge to the “fairness” of the review, a central smokescreen in buying Liberal support for the cuts package, forced Clegg onto the defensive by denouncing the IFS analysis as “distorted nonsense”.

 

In a turbulent week, two other moments of message management from leading cheerleaders for public sector cuts are worth noting.  Bank of England Governor, Mervyn King, speaking on the eve of the cuts announcements, warned of a 'sober' decade, extending the metaphor by suggesting that, "The next decade will not be nice.  History suggests that after a financial crisis the hangover lasts for a while."  We only hope that Mr. King's city pals will be reminded of this when the champagne corks pop to celebrate bonuses.

 

Finally, Rupert Murdoch was exhumed to give the inaugural Margaret Thatcher Memorial Lecture at the Centre for Policy Studies on Thursday (21st Oct).  Murdoch was predictably trenchant in his defence of Thatcher and her legacy, citing her "ability to change the world by an act of will" as a characteristic he shares.  We are not denying the significant role of individuals in history but Thatcher's ability to wield the axe was because of the backing of a wide ranging rightwing coalition, not least of which was the media empire of Murdoch himself.

 
18th October 2010
 
Up and Running!
 
This is the bit where we get to sound off about whatever takes our fancy and you skip to the next page of interest.  Today's subject is pretty easy as we have spent the entire morning (and a bit of this afternoon) constructing this site.  Amazing, I hear you say, it all looks so effortless and the colour scheme is charming.
 
Okay, so it is not first time perfect but as we are anticipating a Herculean effort just to keep the whole thing remotely current, we thought that we had better get something up and out there quick.  Imperfections can be ironed out later!
 
It is of course quite possible that more time than we had anticipated will become available soon.  With the government's comprehensive spending review announcements in only two days, and everyone except local government managing to grab an extra bit of the shrinking pie, blogging is likely to become more of a boom industry than it already is.
 
If that long lost and (not very) eagerly awaited sitcom about office life had not been gazumped by Ricky Gervais none of this might have mattered.  Still,  it is not about threats but challenges and opportunities, and of course we are all in it together!