What’s a guy to blog about?

Ed Miliband channels the The Temptations’ Melvin Franklin

Its been a few days now since my last post. That’s not because nothing has happened, quite a lot has and is, its just that I feel like Ive written about it all before. That’s not because of any great predictive powers on my part. Its just that the political and economic policymakers I write about most seem stuck in the same ruts.

Take the euro. A little over a week ago the European Union agreed to a second bailout of Greece on the questionable logic that if a cure has failed the best thing to do is try it again. Markets rallied and the crisis seemed to have passed.

Except it hadn’t. As Ive written again and again and again and again the euro is a project with fundamental economic flaws, a fact which no amount of wishful political thinking or borrowed cash will change. To prove the point the last few days have seen rising yields on Spanish and Italian bonds and fresh crisis, the very outcome we were told the most recent bailout would avert.

Opposite the Scylla of the eurozone crisis we had the Charybdis of the near default of the United States. President Obama has been blamed by the right for the ballooning spending but, as Ive said before, the Bush administration kicked off the current orgy of debt. This, as I have also written previously, shows up how empty all the rhetoric about ‘change’ was. The only ‘change’ is that Obama borrows more than Bush did.

What do we see domestically? The economy continues to be sluggish but given the extent of deleveraging going on this is only to be expected. Indeed, I have previously expected it to lead back into double dip towards the end of this year. There isn’t much George Osborne could do to avoid this and despite what Ed Balls says he would only make it worse. On the bright(er) side, the economy wont pick up properly until this happens.

So we come to the one area where perhaps there is room for me to, not only say something new, but do it in between mouthfuls of humble pie; the renaissance of Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour party. I’ve mocked Miliband though I’m hardly the only one, and he does make it so easy when he turns up at marches comparing himself to Martin Luther King or giving the funniest interview of all time. Indeed, Ed’s comedy antics saw him getting an ‘excellent’ rating from just 22% of Labour members while 53% thought he had been “Poor or Very Poor”.

Then came ‘Hackgate’ and all was changed, changed utterly. Labour supporters hailed “The emergence of Ed Miliband Mark II” or crowed that “his courage in putting his neck on the line to take on News International has vindicated the trust that I and a majority of Labour’s Electoral College put in him last September

But a week, a famously long time in politics, is an eternity in the Labour party. Today saw reports that Miliband wants to weaken the power the trade unions have over Labour party policy. A sensible enough idea (though those are no more fashionable in the Labour party now than they ever were) but one that sees those won over so recently warning darkly that “Ed is playing a dangerous game” All is changed, changed utterly. Again.

But, again, there isn’t much for me to write about here as I’ve already said that “Ed Miliband was an incompetent party leader before ‘Hackgate’ and ‘Hackgate’ hasn’t changed that. After its done Ed Miliband will still be an incompetent party leader”

This isn’t to say I told you so or to claim the power of second sight but simply to reflect on how our leaders insist on repeating their obvious mistakes. Whenever they do something daft you find they did exactly the same thing fairly recently and that it was just as daft then whether it be bailing out busted Mediterranean countries, running another trillion dollar deficit, or changing your mind about Ed Miliband.

Marx said that history repeats itself “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce” He was doubly wrong. You don’t have to wait for something dumb to become shrouded in the fog of history for someone to repeat it and it can be worse than farce; it can be a dull Sunday afternoon repeat of Poirot. Personally I think The Temptations had it more right than Marx

Air pollution, revolution, gun control,
Sound of soul
Shootin’ rockets to the moon
Kids growin’ up too soon
Politicians say more taxes will
Solve everything
And the band played on
So round ‘n’ round ‘n’ round we go
Where the world’s headed, nobody knows
Just a Ball of Confusion
Oh yea, that’s what the wold is today


Miliband says Cameron should apologise…but what on earth for?

No straw left ungrasped

Britain used to be a place where innocent until proven guilty was the way things were done. But such is the hysteria around ‘Hackgate’ that that has gone out of the window.

Ed Miliband has today called on David Cameron to apologise for having hired Andy Coulson as his PR guy. But you have to ask what, exactly, Cameron is supposed to apologise for?

In 2007 Andy Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World. Under his editorship a reporter was jailed for hiring a private detective to hack into the phones of celebrities. Both the reporter and the gumshoe were jailed. A few months later, Cameron hired Coulson.

When Cameron took Coulson on board there was no serious suspicion that Coulson had authorised the hacking. Indeed, he resigned as editor not for what he did know but for what he should have known. It was an error of omission, not commission.

So, to recap, back in 2007 David Cameron hired a guy who had resigned from his previous role because of actions undertaken by those working under him, actions he knew nothing about.

Is that what Cameron is supposed to apologise for? Pull the other one.

However, Andy Coulson, like several others, has recently been arrested over suspicion he did, in fact, know about the hacking. Arrested, you’ll notice, not charged, not convicted.

And yet, prejudging an ongoing investigation, Miliband thinks Cameron should apologise. To see how silly this is try and imagine what form Cameron’s apology might take;

“I apologise for hiring a man who authorised the hacking of phones”

Well, we dont know that Coulson did do we?

“I apologise for hiring a guy employed people who hacked phones without his knowledge at his previous job, for which he resigned”

Again, we dont know that either, but its hardly the crime of the century is it?

If Coulson is found guilty perhaps Cameron might have to apologise. It could go something like this

“I apologise for hiring a guy who, at his old job, did something I didn’t know about”

Fair enough perhaps, but does Cameron really need to apologise for a lack of clairvoyance?

This rubbish is a blatant attempt by a cluless bufoon disliked by even his own party members less than three weeks ago to get a few brownie points. In the short term it might even work. His nasal calls for, er, something or other to be done have impressed one Labourite after another, and another

The truth for Miliband is likely to be less of a renaissance, a bit like when Neil Young releases an album slightly less crap than most of his recent stuff people start comparing it to Harvest. In reality Ed Miliband was an incompetent party leader before ‘Hackgate’ and ‘Hackgate’ hasn’t changed that. After its done Ed Miliband will still be an incompetent party leader.

Ed Miliband’s waiting game

Turning up at the March for the Alternative without an alternative

In 217BC the Roman army was wiped out by Hannibal’s Carthaginians at Lake Trasimene. The Roman general appointed in the aftermath, Quintus Fabius Maximus, reckoned, quite reasonably, that his army would be destroyed in a similar fashion if he fought Hannibal so he settled on a different strategy; he did nothing. He would wait the Carthaginian out. The strategy worked and was named in his honour, the Fabian strategy.

Fabianism, such a vital part of the history of the Labour party, takes its name from the Roman general; the Fabian Society, founded in 1884, eschewed violent revolution in favour of the gradual democratic evolution of socialism, hence its name.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband has been taking this ‘do nothing’ strategy too far. He seemed oddly proud to announce that, when it came to ideas, the Labour party is currently “a blank sheet of paper”. Nowhere is this lack of ideas, direction and leadership more apparent than on the matter dominating British politics; the economy and how to deal with Britain’s horrendous budget deficit.

Back in September 2010 Miliband said “I won’t oppose every coalition cut”. Since then he has opposed every coalition cut. Even a cut as ‘progressive’ as ending Child Benefit for top rate tax payers has been opposed by Miliband.

And Miliband and Labour refuse to tell anyone what they would be doing instead. Rather, when asked if he would reverse any of the measures he opposes Miliband said “I can make no commitment to do anything differently”. He is not alone. His Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, said “Ed Miliband and I are clear on this; no commitments to reverse these changes, they would be irresponsible”.

Labour used to have a plan. Alistair Darling, Chancellor under Gordon Brown, proposed to halve the deficit in four years. This involved £14 billion in savings for the year commencing in April, just £2 billion less than the coalition. Both Ed’s signed up to this plan yet have steadfastly refused to outline what they would cut.

The Fabian Strategy here is obvious. The UK is in a dreadful fiscal situation, borrowing £450 million per day £120 million of which is spent on paying the interest on the existing debt – more than on schools, hospitals and the Police. Sorting this out will require the kind of fiscal tightening Britain hasn’t seen in 30 years – since the last time a Conservative government was elected to clean up the mess left by a Labour one. There really is no way to avoid or postpone this. And Miliband, unless he is an utter fool, knows it. But he can, he hopes, keep his head down, stay away from anything smacking of controversy, and ride a wave of discontent back to power in four years when he will, he hopes, arrive in Number 10 with the dirty work done.

Will it work? Already there are rumblings from his own party. Hazel Blears, a member of the Brown cabinet, said “The public expect us to at least give a broad direction of travel. They are pretty reasonable – they don’t expect you to dot every i and cross every t about your policy – but I think they are worried that we haven’t been as clear as we ought to be”

And voters seem unimpressed. Labour have enjoyed narrow opinion poll leads over the coalition parties but on the issue of the key issue of the economy voters consistently prefer the coalition to Labour. At the last count ComRes found that Cameron and George Osborne had approval ratings of 37% and 25% on the economy compared to just 18% and 14% for Miliband and Balls. Even Nick Clegg scored 24%.

The Fabian Strategy didn’t do much for Fabius, the Romans got fed up with waiting for a victory and sacked him. So far Labour’s headline opinion poll figures have insulated Miliband from such a fate. But he has staked everything on the failure of the coalition’s economic program and, if the program works, Miliband, with nothing of his own to fall back on, will be in trouble. Surrounded by deputies who all want his job, he may well end up, not like Fabius Maximus, but Julius Caesar.

This article originally appeared at Global Politics

Oldham East and Saddleworth

A case of premature congratulation

“The voters have spoken for the country” said newly elected MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth Debbie Abrahams a little before 2am this morning. “Across the country there is growing anger against your reckless policies, your broken promises and your unfair cuts. You are making the wrong judgements for the long-term of our country” she continued.

Lets just hang on a minute. The claim was made that this was “better than Labour did during the 1997 landslide”. In one sense this is true, in 1997 Labour got 41.7% of the vote, yesterday this was up to 42.1%. The majority, 3,389 in 1997, was also up yesterday to 3,558.

And yet Ms Abrahams won 14,718 votes yesterday. This is an increase of 532 from May 2010. It is 7,828 votes less than Labour won in the constituency in 1997. Not an incredible result given Ed Miliband’s three visits to the constituency.

Ed Miliband still tried to claim that drumming up 532 extra voters in three visits had sent a message to the coalition to “think again on VAT, think again on the trebling of tuition fees, think again on the police cuts that are going to affect their communities” but the fact is that the combined Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote was 15,641.

The real interest lies not with Labour holding onto a seat it already held with a few hundred extra votes, but in the other party’s results.

Despite opinion poll ratings in the single figures the Lib Dems scored a fairly respectable 11,160 (31.9% of the vote). The Conservative vote, on the other hand, fell from 11,773 to just 4,481.

The answer to the question ‘where did those Conservative voters go?’ is crucial to answering the question of who can take most comfort from this result and what does it signal for the long term. Given that the Labour vote, in terms of actual numbers, barely budged, there are two possibilities;

1 – The Conservative voters from May 2010 stayed at home. This is worrying for the Conservatives and encouraging for the Lib Dems as it means their voters, largely, stayed faithful.

2 – The Conservatives switched to the Lib Dems. This was floated as a possibilty by the Lib Dems candidate himself. But this is worrying for the Lib Dems. With a fall in their vote it means that Conservative voters switching to them were simply making up for the voters deserting them. If this is the case these are the sorts of voters who will switch back to the Conservatives in a general election.

Which of these two scenarios is more likely? If Lib Dems from May 2010 deserted they must have stayed at home given Labours static vote or Labour voters from May 2010 may have stayed at home and been replaced by Lib Dems. This seems unlikely. Scenario 1 is more likiely, the Conservative vote collapsing. Given his half hearted campaign this might not be surprising but there is a limit to how long he can sacrifice the Conservative Party for the coalition.