Thursday, 30 October 2008

The buck stops here

Mark Thompson, Director-General of the BBC

Russell Brand, Jonathan Ross and Jack Straw

One certainly doesn't have to be a Daily Mail reader to agree with their view of those answaphone messages. The 'humour' the two served up was of the sort that would appeal only to the sort of morons so lacking in decency that they would find entertainment in watching a YouTube clip of a man urinating on a dying woman.

As it happens, I'm someone who has enjoyed JR's Saturday morning radio show over several years, but hopefully no more. The BBC, equally at fault over all this, have been shamefully slow in confronting their misjudgement; hence thankfully the sheer scale of the public anger. Hopefully when Ross departs (as he surely will) the notion that any entertainer justifies an £18 million contract will go with him.

Over on 'Comment is Free', Jack Straw has been sharing his opinions. Yes, that Jack Straw. The one who resigned so promptly as soon as his "cynical premeditated" statements about WMD in Iraq were shown to be just that. I'm afraid Jonathan Ross is not the only public figure who should "no longer be paid a penny by the rest of us."

Monday, 27 October 2008

The cost of policing in Norfolk

I have long been of the opinion that my local constabulary would struggle to apprehend burglars even if they all wore striped jumpers and black masks whilst carrying large sacks over their shoulders labelled 'SWAG'.

It's gratifying to learn that this is finally being tackled.

What can Cameron do?

Private housing has become a compensation for the increasingly gross maldistribution of income. Inadequate incomes mean that large numbers of people don’t have access to the style of life that has always been the ultimate justification of neoliberalism and to which, reasonably enough, they now believe they have a right. What does give them access to it (in the short term) is credit. But credit has to be secured, and that’s what housing does. However, it works only if house prices keep rising and people have enough income to repay debt. When prices stop going up and people can no longer repay what they owe, the financial system begins to disintegrate. This is what has happened; and it has happened because we have replaced something like social democracy with credit democracy, or universal access to credit, and credit is a thoroughly inadequate substitute because sooner or later it has to be repaid. Which means that people’s incomes have to be sufficient to repay it, and in many cases they aren’t. What we have put in place is a dynamically destructive cycle. The number of houses is rationed in order to force up prices; people buy houses in order to secure credit on the strength of those prices; this encourages a heady belief in perpetual profit and thus both risky lending and risky borrowing; this renders the banking system unstable; and lending both to individuals and among banks then collapses.

Ross McKibbin's excellent LRB article.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

City bonuses - big Government clampdown


Elegantly Dressed Wednesday

Post-hippie social worker chic? So where's The Guardian then? It's not clear if this is before or after she dropped her knickers.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Memo to Paul Flynn

Maybe you followed my recent spat with the MP for Newport West. Well, it seems he has a soulmate of sorts. In fairness, Mr Flynn's comments policy looks singularly liberal set against that of Tory sexpot Nadine Dorries. There's one thing they definitely have in common though (beyond being good looking of course) - neither likes to admit to being wrong.

Aside from her shameful trashing of Dr Ben Goldacre, Ms Dorries has been in a bit of trouble over her use of the Parliamentary Portcullis logo, first by using House of Commons stationery for political purposes - the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner found against her in June 2006, and again this year for displaying the same logo on her (political) blog.

You'd have thought that any MPs previously confused about the rules would by now be quite clear as to what is allowed and what isn't; it's not as though the bonkers MP for Mid Bedfordshire keeps a low profile on this (or anything else for that matter, she's plain barking). It's simple, blogs that contain political comment are not allowed to display the Portcullis logo.

I'm afraid that one or two (well, one at least) of her Parliamentary colleagues still haven't quite worked it out yet. Maybe Paul should get in touch with Nadine and ask for advice.

Nadine blogs here. Unfortunately she seems to have taken the post about her knickers down, I can't imagine why.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Osama Bin Laden traced to Iceland

You may well sympathise with our Government seizing the assets of the failed Icelandic banks. Their use of anti-terrorist laws to do so is a different matter though, since it is entirely at odds with repeated assurances that such legislation will only be used in cases that do indeed involve terrorism.

If there is no other legal means of carrying out such action (and I'd be surprised if there isn't) then maybe the Government should consider bringing some forward. Unless of course the collapse of the Western world's banking system is because Al-Qaeda has seized control of it; in that case giving banks large sums of public money is likely to be somewhat counter-productive.

I've never believed any assurances our Governments have given with regards to legislation that impinges on our civil liberties, but I take little satisfaction from finding my cynicism justified.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


I'm sorry to learn that the Political Umpire has raised his finger and even as I speak Fora is heading for the pavilion and probable retirement. His blog has been, indeed remains, one of my favourites, and not just because the Umpire and I broadly share values and enjoy robust debate when our opinions differ.

To those who have yet to discover Fora, I can say no more than that there is a wonderful range of earlier posts to discover there. Hopefully this will yet prove no more than a rain delay; in the meantime go and enjoy the blogging equivalent of Headingley '81.

Peace and quiet

Sometimes I wonder if the first of April has arrived early, but no. More likely 'Andy' Burnham (our so-called Culture Secretary) decided that a second one was called for this year in order to lift the mood of gloom that has engulfed the nation before making this announcement.

Mr Burnham could usefully come to Norfolk and visit my local library. McDonalds haven't quite moved in yet but just about all the other changes that he is so keen to see have already been implemented, entirely to the detriment of those of us who think that there are still places in this world where little children should be seen but not heard, mobile phones neither seen nor heard, and where books and computer keyboards remain entirely free of the sticky residue left behind by fizzy drinks and chewing gum.

It's bad enough that they lend out computer games; that children use the library computers to play them (with considerable accompanying noise) only rubs salt in the wound.

That's before you consider the morning crèche and the afternoon crèche; the young lady who runs those has a singular enthusiasm for the collective singing of nursery rhymes. Then there's the regular 'Community Policing' meet-and-greet; wouldn't they be better off pounding the beat or even trying to catch the occasional villain?

There are still a few books on offer, and even a (rather slim) choice of newspapers - one broadsheet and the local paper - so all is not quite lost yet. But Mr Burnham will do his best to finish the job no doubt.

42 Days

"There could be compulsory cricket training for members of the Barmy Army."

No, correction. I'll make that imperative rather than speculative. There must be compulsory cricket training for members of the Barmy Army. 42 days worth of it, Thursdays to Mondays, should just about cover a summer's Test cricket. A full annual refresher would of course be mandatory.

Failing that, the early return of National Service might well address the problem.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Our planet...

Some stunning photographs (via Norm)

Unfortunately, since posting this link the majority of the photos (but by no means all) have been taken down. Yann Arthus-Bertrand's own website is worth a visit, although it's not the easiest to navigate.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

The European Arrest Warrant

The case of Dr Gerald Fredrick Töben, he of the singularly unpleasant opinions arrested at Heathrow on Wednesday, raises serious concerns about the way in which laws that apply in one EU member state can be pursued in another. Indeed, our Government is one of those in the process of signing up to a scheme where people who have been tried in their absence in one country can be extradited from another providing their conviction is for a crime that carries a prison sentence. There's some pretty odd 'crimes' scattered across the EU so I suppose there's a risk that sooner or later I'll find I'm being extradited to Italy and banged up for five years in a cell with Sabina Guzzanti (oh, the hardship), and all because I've said something nasty about the Pope.

As for Dr Töben, I can only endorse the views of Chris Huhne. Decline him an entry visa and let that be the end of it.

Apocalypse Now

I’ve restrained from posting on World Depression II so far, rather feeling that I’d covered most of the main points in my earlier series of posts on the Northern Rock fiasco. But now thankfully the US Congress has agreed to George Bush’s plan to save capitalism by sending every US citizen a very large tax bill. There will be many who will be thinking that at least he’s good for something, but I’m afraid that I’m not among them.

The one thing on which everyone is agreed is that far too many financial institutions have made far too many reckless loans (on which there are likely to be defaults), and that this is the cause of the problem. Certainly savers with the Bradford & Bingley will feel they’ve had a narrow escape now they’ve realised that their money was being advanced on mortgages where the bank wasn’t even taking the basic step of confirming the applicants incomes.

What worries me is that there is still a failure by the politicians on both sides of the Atlantic to grasp quite how our economies have become dependent on this false credit. Indeed the argument being put forward goes something like this: If we don’t let people carry on using their credit cards, sales will slump. That is of course quite right, but they forget the other side of the coin: If we let people carry on using their credit cards they’re going to owe even more money that they haven’t a hope in hell of repaying.

Excessive credit (of which there has been far too much for the last twenty-five years) overheats an economy and produces a false illusion of wealth. In this country it has manifested itself particularly in sustained property price inflation, with all the negative effects on society that entails. Our Government (and for that matter the one that preceded it) is quite as guilty as that of the US for presiding over an economy financed to such an extent on false credit, and for claiming the economic credit for doing so. Economies are pretty much like credit cards in that sooner or later the bill arrives, and you can only put off paying it for so long. We've had the boom, we've reached the bust, and now it's time to pay. The economic price is recession, and painful as it will be we will need to go through it if we are to emerge with a restructured economy fit for the 21st Century.

As individuals and as a country we have been living far beyond our means and we are going to have to learn to do otherwise.

The most interesting commentary on this crisis can be found on the ever reliable John Redwood’s blog (far too many posts to link individually). He is now struggling to maintain his normal ideological consistency, but I suspect that he was always in something approaching a minority of one with his conviction that much of our current problems have been caused by excessive banking regulation.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Pots and kettles

Our Government, keen to keep all those overstretched banks in business, raise their guarantee on protection of saving from £35,000 to £50,000.

The Irish Government was presumably somewhat keener, since its own guarantee is unlimited. Mr Darling is reportedly not very happy.

I must be missing something here. Other than in scale, surely there's no difference between these schemes whatever.