Archive for the ‘Cameron’ Category

I still can’t get over this morning’s Cameron press conference. The incredible thing, as I said, was the transition in what was respectable to discuss. The Guardian went the whole hog and brought up the whole ball of police corruption, and Michael Crick of the BBC pressed very hard on the question of the money. Well, you might have expected that from them.

But ITV News’s reporter demanded to know whether News International might shred all the evidence, Adam Boulton from Sky News was the first to raise the BSkyB issue, the Times wanted to know about the content of Coulson’s “assurances”, and the Sun asked if Coulson had betrayed the prime minister. Even if the Sun guy couldn’t actually bring himself to say “Andy Coulson”, it was quite the showing – about one step from a Nile TV-style on-air apology.

Cameron’s response was odd. At one point he said this:

Democracy is government by explanation and we need the media to explain what we’re trying to do”.

Apparently he believes the mass communications organisations are a transmission belt between the Party and the People. How bizarrely communist.

At one point, he started talking about transparency, government credit cards, and releases of government meetings data. This was frankly surreal; I wasn’t expecting him to go all ScraperWiki.

He also went on endlessly about having given Coulson a second chance. So much so that this was evidently a talking-point he’d been intensely coached with. I do wonder what work this was meant to do. Was it just meant to sound patronisingly nice? Surely someone ought to ask if he’s soft on crime. After all, while criminals are in prison, you know they aren’t spying on the families of the war dead.

The Tory crisis plan seems to be in two parts:

1) Hide behind OFCOM and the police.

2) Counter-attack Miliband’s press secretary Tom Baldwin, because he used to work for the Times.

If you take this at face value, it implies that all current or former News International journos are marked men. So, I asked Tim Montgomerie if he would join me in calling for the resignation of Michael Gove, former assistant editor of The Times and current Education Secretary. We need to get a grip, etc. He’s not replied yet.

I have mostly been blogging the cuts at Stable & Principled this week. Somebody had to.

How the Government produced a comprehensive spending review without mentioning the monster housing bubble or using the word recession more than once. Smoke and mirrors, and housing benefit cuts. Has Dave from PR got his jets mixed up? Why the Army has quite enough helicopters, thank you, and past statements are no longer operative. Carefully taking no decisions at all on defence. Can the Shirley Porter strategy save the Shower Jobby?

This Crooked Timber points to a column in the Economist about interns on the Bush campaign carefully hand-writing a range of fake homemade signs, confiscating the ones their positively vetted audience had brought along, and issuing them to the crowd for the media to wow over their rural authenticity. Well, not surprising. And the Economist guy was clearly so shocked he almost said something.

At the moment, however, I can’t help but think of this touching scene in terms of signalling and secret communication. The problem is Diego Gambetta’s Codes of the Underworld: How criminals communicate, which recently attracted attention because of its section on the vital importance of mediocrity to some Italian academics. I’ll do a formal review of it later, either here or at AFOE, but before we do that, let’s try putting it in practice.

He argues that much behaviour among criminals is driven by the problems of communicating things like group membership, reputation, and availability of goods or services in an environment where it is both easy to fake it and impossible to signal openly. Therefore, members of the Mafia never use the word “mafia” or indeed any specific term to refer to the organisation – what could be harder than trying to convince your mark that you are part of a mighty criminal society whose name you don’t know? – and they operate a sort of web of trust, in which two mafiosi who don’t know each other can only meet if one who knows them both mutually vouches for their identity.

A crucial element is the creative use of biological signalling theories, which revolve around the insight that an identifying signal needs to be cheap for a real user to produce, but expensive for a faker, or at least, that a signal needs to represent a real commitment of resources to be credible. In this sense, I think I can see the purpose of those signs – we know, after all, that the canned crowd were willing to be relieved of their own signs and have others thrust into their hands. Would you put up with this treatment?

I suspect if you’re reading this, you would probably find both the reality of the censorship, and the aesthetic horror of the fakery, quite offensive. But then, you’re also unlikely to want to be part of a canned crowd for George W. Bush….unless you were trying to fake it for some reason. Clearly, one of the effects of this procedure was a form of cost-discriminating signalling – the organisers demanded that their activists signal certain things that fakers would find difficult to mimic. You had to demonstrate that you were willing to abandon your stated opinions and wave ones they gave you instead.

As far as I can see, the qualities this process selected for would be obedience to authority and tolerance of ugly kitsch. Does anyone doubt that these would indeed qualify you to wave a sign behind the former president? This is an example of using costly signalling to communicate with people who score highly on the indices of social authoritarianism; as well as the political implications, it’s probably true that staging a preplanned media photocall with a crowd of people selected for their obedience to authority is just easier.

This is something which comes up occasionally in Gambetta; it’s possible for communication to evolve independently of intention. Even if our man the Bush ’04 intern was trying to stop the rent-a-mob turning up with 666 – TAKE A CLOSER LOOK!!! or OSAMA BIN KERRY signs, the way he did it had the secondary or unconscious effect of selecting the kind of person who would appreciate them most.

Over time, such effects could come to determine the culture of an entire political movement. Obviously, people who go to rallies are likely to be the same people who take part in all the other forms of campaigning, so if this (and other practices with similar effects) are common, it would likely tend to help boil down the base to its stinking, bitter, toxic, sticky residue.

O.K. Enough beating about the Bush. A practical example with David Cameron. The thing to grasp here is that whatever he’s apparently saying, or not saying, may be better understood as a way of identifying and communicating with like-minded people on a secure side-channel. Here, he’s saying that we don’t need to do anything, plus a whole lot of implied ideological justification. The obvious corrolary of not needing to do anything is to suggest that nothing is wrong. But what is the cost investment here?

If it’s possible to get Americans to start a string of minor riots in order not to have at least $80bn worth of national healthcare, surely it must be possible to start a good row about whatever it is the Conservatives have in store for us? We stand to lose at least that and more. I ask in the light of this post at Bickerstaffe Record, which suggests, not stupidly, that making an Aunt Sally of the credit rating agencies might be a good idea for a demo.

After all, it’s very true that they played a key role in the great crash, and before that in the post-dotcom Enron/telecoms fraudfest. As Eavis & McLean point out in The Smartest Guys in the Room, the rating agencies were in the best possible position to work out just how much debt Enron had hidden down rabbit holes and in other people’s wheely bins – because every time Enron pulled another fancy dan financing, they had the ratings agencies rate the bonds that came out of it.

We rate every deal. It could be structured by cows and we would rate it.

And, strategically, this is always going to be a problem, because unlike all other forms of credit risk assessment, the agencies make their money from the party issuing the debt, so it’s always in their interest to be optimistic. (Similarities with this little beauty of a deal are entirely appropriate.) When they are dealing with private clients, that is; if it’s Argentina or Britain involved, they just go ahead and shoot. John Quiggin has an excellent post on their failure and their role in pushing PFI in Australia.

But I have my doubts that any such action will change their opinion; in fact, it wouldn’t be the aim of such an action. The point would be rather to render their opinion less relevant and alter the conditions under which it is formed. However, I have just ordered the domain name standardispoor.com, and I welcome suggestions for what we might do with it.

More broadly, what worries me is that the Tories will pull some horror out of their back pocket in the financial year 2010-2011, and by the time it’s passing through the House, we’ll just have started getting angry. This is one of the historical lessons of On Roads; if you really want to stop something, you need to start earlier than you think.

This is why, by the way, projects like FreeOurBills are important. If there’s no point protesting about a road project after it gets into the national programme, the answer is to shorten the feedback loop and react quicker. This is much more interesting and important – real citizen technology – than Twittering for Iran, DDOSing low value Russian Web sites, or any of the other manifestations of the fake version.

So this is one of the few good features of open primaries I can think of; they provide an opportunity to put together an organisation early in the game, which is roughly how Obama dunnit. In a parliamentary system, though, this is much less important.

Shouldn’t we be getting our lists together now, rather than waiting for the Tories? I agree that this implies giving up on the elections, but then, who wouldn’t, and who doesn’t suspect that a surviving Labour government wouldn’t be just as bad?

OK, so I got no takers for this prediction.

My money’s on the Latvian or the Hungarian to out himself as a buffoon or neo-nazi.

Not surprising, really. But what I didn’t expect was that even though the Latvian turned out to be the neo-nazi, the buffoon would turn out to be Timothy Kirkhope MEP, the Tory leader in the European Parliament, who I had always assumed to be an uninspiring but roughly acceptable placeman. But it looks like the Borat Party’s Borat is actually its leader. However:

He and the Latvian LNNK denied that it was in any way sympathetic to Nazism. “There was a commemoration of those who had served in the Waffen divisions of the Wehrmacht in the Second World War. The Labour Party has been churning this thing out over and over again,” Mr Kirkhope said.

“The truth of the matter is that attendance of the commemoration service for those who have died in wars is not just by members of LNNK — it is by others attached to the EPP because the Baltic states were taken over and oppressed by the Russians and the situation was that the Germans conscripted a number of people to join the Waffen.”

“The Waffen divisions of the Wehrmacht”? What the fuck is that even supposed to mean? For a start, “Waffen” means “weapon or “armed”. Did the German army of the Second World War have any unarmed ones? Of course, it’s completely nonsensical as a unit designation. Kirkhope was presumably trying to skate around the phrase “Waffen-SS”, which refers to the SS’s field units as opposed to its “general purpose” administrative staff.

But even if we straighten out his mangled words, his argument is still ignorant and morally awful, as it rests on the long-discredited idea that all the atrocities of the Eastern Front were the work of the SS, and the regular German army obeyed the laws of war. Further, even if that wasn’t wrong, he would still be hopelessly ahistorical, because the various locally recruited units the Germans set up starting in 1942 were administratively attached to the Waffen SS, not the Army. The Army did recruit a lot of foreigners as individual replacements, but it didn’t create a foreign legion; the SS did.

And worst of all, the earliest Latvian SS were recruited from a vicious militia which emerged as the Russians pulled out in the early summer of 1941 and immediately started murdering the local Jewish population without even waiting for the Germans to show up. The degree of horror they achieved regularly sickened hardened soldiers and deeply impressed the SS Einsatzkommandos that followed the army; they lost no time in signing them up and using them all over Central and Eastern Europe to do the dirty work, including acting as the guard force at the extermination camps.

As if you needed any confirmation of this, the Times report has a useful photo of a Latvian remembrance day parade, complete with red-and-white flag, swastika, and Adolf Hitler’s likeness. A note for the guidance of readers, and Timothy Kirkhope MEP: if you need to know if your allies might be fascists, check if they like to wave flags with Hitler’s face on them. This is not an exclusive test, but the false-positive rate is essentially zero.

(Oh, and if anyone’s still interested in the bet, I’m taking the Belgian guy or at least his party to place.)

What is the legacy of the so-called “loony left”? The conventional wisdom is clear; it was all their fault, for panicking the swing voters and preventing a sensible, Newish Labour solution emerging earlier. Well, how did that work out?

And it has always seemed disingenuous for the Labour Party establishment to blame local councillors for a period when the party’s central institutions were regularly totally out of contact with the public mood and spectacularly incompetent; it certainly serves the interests of the top officials and MPs to push responsibility onto an amorphous and vague stereotype essentially based on hostile newspapers’ take on the 1980s. Arguably, believing hostile newspapers’ take on itself has been the fundamental mistake of the Left since about 1987; the entire Decent Left phenomenon, after all, was all about demonising anyone who was right about Iraq in identical terms. Does anyone imagine that the Sun in the Kelvin McFuck era wouldn’t have savaged and libelled any non-Tory power holders?

In a comment at Dunc’s, Paul “Bickerstaffe Record” says:

I want to kick off a bottom up meets top down economic analysis of how Labour /Left leaning local authorities should now be challenging the Thatcherite orthodoxies of cost control/rate capping in a sort of ‘1980s no cuts militant’ meets 2000s grassroots-dictated economic policy. The institutional/legal framework has of course changed out of recognition since 1984, but heh, that’s a challenge rather than an insurmountable problem

He has a point. Consider the position; it’s still conceivable that Labour might luck into a hung parliament next year, cue Liberal and Nationalist (of various types) rejoicing, but any realistic planning has to include a high probability of a fairly rabid Tory government in the near future. Further, the financial position is not great – it’s nowhere near as bad as Gideon Osborne makes out, as a look at the gilt rates shows, but it’s very far from ideal.

So whoever is in charge will be looking for cuts, and it is a reliable principle of Whitehall politics that one of the best ways to get a policy implemented that you want for your own ideological aims is to attach it to a supposed saving. Only the special relationship and the police-media complex can beat this principle as all-purpose justifiers.

The possibility space includes a Labour government in coalition or under a toleration agreement with the Liberals, which is likely to still be strongly influenced by the Blairite stay-behind agents, a Conservative government heavily influenced by products of 80s Tory culture (the mirror image of the London Labour party in the same period), and some sort of grand-coalition slugthing. It is clear that the balance of risks is towards an effort to legitimise a lot of ugly hard-right baggage through an appeal to cuts.

The Tories are planning to make all spending departments justify their budgets at line item level to none other than William “Annington Homes” Hague; it’s certainly a first in British history that the Foreign Secretary will control the public spending settlement, if of course he finds the time to show up.

Therefore, even though there is a need to steer the public finances back towards balance once the recession is clearly looking over, there is a strategic imperative to push back and push back hard against the agendas the cross-party Right will try to smuggle through. After all, the nonsense industry is already cranking up.

Which brings me back to the importance of being loonies, and a bit of politics by walking around. One thing that strikes me about North London is how much stuff in the way of public services here was visibly built in the late 70s and the 1980s; there is a reason why Ken Livingstone hopped right back into the Mayor’s office. Despite all their best efforts, the Thatcherites were never quite able to shake the core welfare state; was it, in part, because down on the front line people were still pushing out its frontiers and changing its quality?

A lot of ideas (service-user activism, notably, environmentalism, a renewed concern for architecture and urbanism, and the whole identity-politics package) that were considered highly loony back then are now entirely orthodox and are likely to stay that way, especially given the main parties’ obsession with putting taxpayer funds into the “third sector”.

I fully expect that anyone who talks a good game about making black schoolboys click their heels in front of teacher – you know the stuff they like – will be able to secure reliable venture capital funding in the million class from a Cameron government, just as they have been able to from Boris Johnson’s City Hall, with remarkably little monitoring. William Hague will be snarky. Let him. Nobody cares what the Foreign Secretary has to say.

This creates both opportunities for action – perhaps someone should prepare a Creative Commons or GPL toolkit for citizen-initiated delivery quangos and thinktanks – and also targets for ruthless mockery, when the Tories’ preferred third sector entities fuck up. We’ve already had some very fine examples of this courtesy of Boris Johnson. Clearly, the only rational response to the times is to go mad.

Sauce!

Philip Hammond is whining.

One year ago, Philip Hammond thought the economy was OK, that the crisis was made up, and that everything would be even more wonderful if he got a tax break on his own property interests. In fact, Hammond was arguing frantically for the government to encourage people to buy property into the crash, around about the same time as he forgot to mention three million quid in dividends from his own property interests.

Three million quid, made from dealings with the public sector, too.

This really is getting strange. The Tories look worryingly convinced of the wisdom of a plan to build a gigantic airport in the North Sea, split between two separate islands, because you never need to change the runway a plane is going to depart from…right? At the same time, the Government is considering a gigantic tidal power scheme in the Bristol Channel. It’s like French engineering civil servants seized control in a bloodless coup.

In fact it’s not; they would at least think they were being rational, but surely not even the promoters of this weird rush to create Big Dumb Objects all over the shop can believe this.

On the one hand, you’ve got the Tories, who are trying to convince themselves that they can find £40 billion, before inevitable cost overruns, to create a operationally crippled airport 53 miles from central London and only 101 miles from the nearest point of Dutch territory, dependent for land transport on spare capacity on the CTRL and on the 6 (I think) Crossrail and 2 LTS train paths an hour slated for the Southend/Shoeburyness route, and for road access on pure handwaving.

BorisWatch deserves some kind of medal for their reporting here; they successfully derived the actual location of the project by following Boris’s boat trip in real time on ShipAIS, a ship-tracking ham radio site, and then prepared a handy Google Map, which is where I got the measurements from.

How often, I wonder, would Borisport be fogged in? Even with CATIIIA/B autoland it’s a serious constraint, and enough of it will stop ground operations even if you can still get in. And then there’s all those heat-seeking gulls to worry about; they hunt in packs! The air traffic control issues are pretty gnarly, too – departures conflicting with arrivals into LHR, LCY and LGW.

Further, they want to be seen as “green” whilst also creating another Heathrow-and-a-half. But why? What is it with this obsession with airports in the Thames estuary? As always, the key to the present lies in the past. Here’s the Hansard transcript of the debate on the Maplin Development Bill back in 1973. Three things come to mind – first of all, weren’t MPs great back then? Of course, there is the usual parish pumpery, Bufton Tuftonism and tiresome faff, but there’s also a lot of well-informed intelligent debate, and in the end the government lost!

Second, all the problems are still the same. This is because they are mostly what the Soviet general staff called the permanently-operating factors – terrain, human terrain, infrastructure. Third, there’s a fascinating bit of the social history of ideas here. We join the debate with Douglas Jay MP on his feet, following up an excellent showing (or shoeing) from Tony Crosland…

Mr. Jay: What was the pressure exerted on the Roskill Commission to omit Stansted from its short list? The Times told us on 4th March 1969 that its inclusion would have been “emotive”. At the same date the Financial Times said that its omission was “diplomatic”. The British Airports Authority and the Board of Trade assumed that it was bound to be on the short list. The British Airports Authority was even told that it need not ask the commission to put it on because it was certain to be included. Yet it was omitted, and the commission’s work was handicapped from the start. 700 Thus handicapped, in my opinion the Roskill Commission did its very best. Faced with the resulting choice between Foulness and a South Midlands site for which there is a good deal to be said, it came down decisively against Foulness and in favour of Cublington.

Then we had another curious alliance between landed interests in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire opposed to Cublington and commercial interests anxious to develop Foulness—

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Epping): Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the point about Stansted, in fairness to my predecessor in this House I ought to say that he was one of those opposed to the Stansted project. I would never think of him as being in the pockets of wealthy landowners or any set of that kind. It happens that I disagree with him on this issue as on many others, but it is right to be fair to him. Incidentally, I have a house on the approach to Stansted too.

Mr. Jay: I never suggested that. I was recalling what happened. According to The Times of 5th April 1971, the group resisting Cublington spent £50,000 “to persuade the Roskill Commission that the airport should be built at Foulness and not at Cublington”—” not just that it should not be built at Cublington but that it should be built at Foulness.

After the Roskill Commission’s report, this group spent a great deal more, and the same article in The Times said that the pro-Foulness propaganda groups together spent “at least £700,000” to convince the public and Parliament that Foulness was the right solution.

At this point Sir John Howard enters the argument. According to the article in The Times that I have quoted, he was head of a civil engineering firm and, incidentally, a former chairman of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations, though no doubt that is irrelevant. He happened to live near Thurleigh in Bedfordshire and he founded the Thames Estuary Development Company to promote the Maplin project. The Times says that Sir John “first lighted on Foulness during the fight against Stansted, in which he was closely involved.”

He “lighted” on Foulness as it were by chance. His consortium, backed also by RTZ, John Mowlem and Shell, spent more than £500,000 in supporting the Foulness case. Much of the driving force in all this thus came not from people impressed with the merits of Foulness but from those who wanted to keep the airport away from other sites.

Here I return to the speech of the hon. Member for Southend, East. What was the opinion of more than 150,000 people living in the Southend area about this? That is for them and their representatives to say, and I am sure that we shall hear the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine)—

Sir Bernard Braine: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be accurate. There are 310,000 people living in the three constituencies bounded by the Thames and the Crouch who are affected by this proposal.

Mr. Jay: I always believe in understatements because they strengthen one’s case. The hon. Gentleman has strengthened my case further. What were the opinions of those 300,000 persons—far more than live within 20 miles round Stansted, perhaps three times as many? I am sure that the hon. Member for Southend, East will not question this as a fact. But I understand that with the support of the leader of the Southend Corporation the corporation took a share in Sir John Howard’s consortium, and the town clerk of Southend, according to The Times, became a director of it. Whether that was the best way of handling these matters, I have no doubt that all those concerned thought that they were acting in the best interests of Southend.

Sir S. McAdden: The right hon. Gentleman asked what were the opinions of the people of Southend. They were never consulted. This was a decision of the council to invest £100,000 of the ratepayers’ money in Tedco. The council thought that it would make £6 million. Instead, it has lost the lot.

Mr. Jay: It is what I have always suspected to be the truth. I stated it rather diffidently, but the hon Member for Southend, East has confirmed it. From the point of view of this House, the opinion of the Roskill Commission on Maplin is worth a good deal more than 702 that of this consortium formed in the way that I have described.

I am afraid that what emerges from the story is that both the selection of Maplin and the omission of Stansted have been influenced far too much by the money spent on the commercial publicity and far too little by serious consideration of the public interest.

I see Tebbit was already as much of an arse as he later became, too. Permanently operating factors in the human terrain.

More seriously, I’m fascinated by the fact that the whole idea of Maplin/Foulness/Sheppey/Marinair/Borisport pushed by three different Conservative administrations originates with a gaggle of Tory squires trying to win a planning row in some completely different bit of the country. I wonder if Sir John Howard ever seriously meant it? Or did it just get out of hand? The Tories always will be the party of the Landed Interest, just as when their first response to the great crash of 2008 was to look for handouts to their property-shark contingent; another permanently operating factor.

Meanwhile, over the wall, the Government has aimed squarely for a soggy compromise. My own views on Heathrow expansion are heterodox and unpopular. Here goes: I don’t particularly mind if aviation makes up 29% of the 2050 CO2 target, so long as we get there. Nobody sets out to emit CO2 – it’s waste, and when did you last hear of someone saying “Thank God our widget production line produces so many widget flakes we have to dispose of”? Converting stuff into more valuable stuff is what it’s all about, and any production of valueless stuff makes us poorer.

I’m with James Hansen on this one – it’s the coal-fired power stations, stupid, and the buildings. If we can’t fix the cars and buildings and power generation, it doesn’t matter a fucking jot what we do about aviation. Because, after all, buildings are easy, power and cars are getting easier, aeroplanes are hard. We’re not far now; look at this hub-drive electric motor project at Michelin. Solar and wind are now the leading sources of new electrical power.

And, if there must be expansion, it ought to be at an existing airport because of the ATC issues. And if we’re going to be expanding an existing airport, well, it may as well be the one the airlines want to use. Further, it’s good to maintain the various conventions that limit activity at Heathrow – I was surprised to see that mixed-mode operation accounted for almost a third of the expected capacity increase. And yes, I did hold this view when I lived there.

And if we’re doing this, we ought also to do other things, like building a north-south high-speed rail route and better public transport in general – saving oil and CO2 emissions for things that we can’t yet substitute. Like insisting on change to the European ATC system, which could save 10% or more of the air fuel requirement without pouring concrete or sacrificing anything at all. Like air-source heat pumps and insulation, or…well, enter your favourite project here.

Unfortunately, the government has no credibility on this. Neither does it have any credibility on the eventual target for movements at LHR anyway – they always burst the target, which isn’t included in an act of parliament and therefore is pretty meaningless. And their efforts to balance the Heathrow decisions are crap – a high speed rail “hub” at LHR? On a line from where to where? Great Western electrification is good, but this sounds like a piece of recreational investment that might seriously harm the prospects of building a proper LGV network.

And the responsible minister is Geoff. Fucking. Hoon. Of all people. Aren’t you in jail? Aren’t you dead yet? (I suppose that does not die which can eternal lie.) And so, I conclude, I’d better oppose it anyway. It’s the only way to be safe.

Meanwhile, across the way, the Tories want to “examine” high speed rail. Woo. More talk. And, ah, build a forty billion quid airport in the sea, whilst keeping Heathrow open as well (good luck with the 70-odd mile transfer!). As someone said:

Our government is pitiful, whoever you vote for.

They surely can’t mean this; back in 1969, the Foulness scheme was a political manoeuvre, a Straussian statement. I suspect its resurrection is something similar.

What are they trying to hide? Is this an effort to kibosh offshore wind development? Are Dave from PR, Gideon and Boris climate change deniers? Or what?

Back in the spring of 1997, the sterling trade-weighted index stood at 93, exactly the average since 1990, and the deficit (PSBR at the time) was 8% of GDP (See note). This, according to the Conservative Party, was a golden legacy Labour were squandering. Now, the sterling trade-weighted index is at 93, exactly the average since 1990, and the Treasury is forecasting a deficit (PSNCR this time) of 8% of GDP. This, according to the Conservative Party, is national bankruptcy, brought about by the Labour Party for its own inscrutable ends (dog whistle: they’re all communists).

Further, according to the Conservative Party, the State should establish “an institution to lend to small businesses”. (Hey, we could call it the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, or maybe the National Enterprise Board – that one has just the right sound to it, no?) Let’s recap: first of all, the Bank of England was right to lend taxpayers’ money to Northern Rock. Then the Government was wrong to do so. Then the Government was wrong to nationalise Northern Rock because it put taxpayers’ money at risk, and (dog whistle) they’re secretly plotting to take over all the banks. Instead, the Government should have the Bank of England pay for it because its funds suddenly weren’t taxpayers’ money any more. The same procedure was followed for Bradford & Bingley, but the Conservative Party also held that there was no need for this because everything was really OK.

Then it turned out to be not OK at all, and for a while the Conservative Party kept schtum. The Government came up with a plan, which was rapidly taken up by every other OECD nation, to (essentially) underwrite an absolutely huge rescue rights issue for several banks, to guarantee wholesale interbank lending, and to top the whole lot off with a fiscal reflation. The Tories were silent. Now, with this actually in place, they are incoherent with rage; things are so bad, apparently, that the assets of NR, B&B, RBS, and HBOS are worth absolutely nothing and the interbank guarantees will all be called in (even though most of them will net-out). However, things are still not actually so bad that we need the reflation.

Now, apparently, although the Government should not be spending any taxpayer funds, it should also be lending them directly to industry to substitute the banks, which you will recall there is nothing wrong with, but which are also worthless.

On top of this, Private Finance Initiative costs are now, according to the Conservative Party which invented the things so as not to include them in the national debt, part of the national debt. If they really believed that, this would imply that Ken Clarke, John Redwood, Malcolm Rifkind, and William Hague should be drummed out of the party as a gang of fraudsters. Hey, they were plotting to conceal the government’s true indebtedness in sinister Enronlike off-balance sheet vehicles!

All these funny figures are necessary to keep Gideon and Dave from PR from being caught deceiving the House of Commons. Why? Because he decided to say that the UK “has the debt levels of Italy”. Italy has a national debt equal to 103% of GDP; the peak forecast figure for the UK is 57%. But if you torture the data enough, by reclassifying the PFIs, by deciding that all those square miles of Victorian terraces with HBOS mortgages don’t keep the rain out any more, by capitalising all the future public pension liabilities (but strangely not the “unfunded nuclear missile liability” or the “unfunded tax break for Conservative client groups liability”) you can kindasorta get there – if you have absolutely no intellectual integrity at all, that is. After all, if you did that, you’d have to do the same for the Italian public sector as well – and can you imagine what that balance sheet would look like if it had to roll up all those retired posties’ pensions to an infinite horizon? If you want any more of this stuff, try Daniel Davies.

The ideal response to this is already available, thanks to Mark Easton of the BBC.

We might as well report that the date, 2008, is a record number of recorded years. More than in any other year since records began 2008 years ago. Beating by one the record held only last year, of 2007. And that if the trend continues we will see another record number of years recorded in the year as early as next year.

Bravo! Remind me why we have to put up with these fucking people. Meanwhile, for everything else, I think it would be better to spend more of this money on capital investments rather than a VAT cut. Which apparently puts me in harmony with the political party I’m a member of. Perhaps I should take maverick lessons.

Update: Mea maxima culpa. As part of our commitment to quality, I feel compelled to note that the figure of 8% of GDP, £46bn, was the government deficit at the peak in 1993-1994; it was down to £28bn in 1996-1997. It remains true that 8% now is no worse or better than 8% then.

Cameron today outlined his plans for economic responsibility to replace “irresponsible capitalism and irresponsible government” under Labour. He began his attack by accusing the prime minister of basing his financial decisions on “false assumptions” that he said had left the economy in ruins.

Among them were the ideas that a successful economy could be built on a “narrow base of housing, public spending and financial services” and “that you could abolish boom and bust, and that the good times would last forever”.

Eh? A Tory complaining that the economy is too dependent on housing and financial services? Yes.

“We’ve got to broaden our economic base to include more science, more hi-tech services, more green technologies, more engineering and more high-value manufacturing, drawing upon a much wider range of industries, markets, people, towns and cities.”

Did he just say that? Did Dave from PR just announce a medium-term industrial strategy? This is, by any measure, a political moment of the first order; the Tories, the people who decided UK plc should be a huge investment bank based in London, ran a high interest rate and strong pound policy that killed off most of engineering and high-value manufacturing, and whose pet thinktank apparently believes the North should be evacuated…they said that?

Perhaps they’ve realised that yes, Virginia, the UK is no longer an oil exporter because they pissed it all up the wall in the 80s and 90s, and that turn-London-into-a-huge-investment-bank thing ain’t looking so clever any more. Perhaps they’ve found one of Michael Heseltine’s old memos from his shakeout’n’invest period in the files. OK, then, where do I sign?

But what is this?

He dismissed critics who believed that “permanent state intervention” was the only way to avoid a repeat of the problems. Those who believed the change the country needed was a “turn to the left” were wrong, he said, as he promised to inject greater responsibility into the economy through a centre-right platform of measures

Responsible us back the DNA-sequencer activities of Amersham International plc, willya? Could you perhaps responsible up a wave power industry while you’re there? Anyway, before we slide into bitterness…there’s also this.

He promised a new debt responsibility mechanism, with the Bank of England required to write regularly to the Financial Services Authority about sustainability of the level of debt in the economy. “If the level of debt is growing unsustainably, the bank will instruct the FSA to ensure banks either slow their lending or put aside more capital.”

So no permanent state intervention….except for the bit where you take powers to intervene in the management of the entire banking sector, including the bits that are still independent of the state. Also, direct government controls on lending? Isn’t that the Sovietisation of Britain or something? What next, exchange control stamps in your passport?

But that’s apparently it. Cameron is planning to regenerate the entire industrial base (and “high tech services”, which I think means BT Global Services ‘cos we don’t have any other firms like that since Leo Computers in the 1960s), and he intends to do this simply by running a smaller budget deficit, and imposing a bank lending corset. He’s not even promising any tax cut ponies.

There is one actual measure in there, though. Apparently he wants to change the insolvency laws to protect “sound but struggling businesses” (and again, there’s a sick laugh from the 80s for you…). But how is this going to interrelate with the Cameron Corset proposal? Camorset for short, which sounds nicely like the sort of southwest-central shire where the buggers come from. If it’s harder to cut off credit to those “sound but struggling” businesses, but the banks have to reduce their loan books ‘cos Dave says so, where do they cut? Doesn’t that imply they’ll have to bear down on everyone else even more? Why should a sound business that’s not struggling quite enough to be protected take the punishment? (Why don’t any Tories seem to understand marginal economics at all?)