Archive for the ‘Cameron’ Category

So, the Tories are currently making hay on the economy, while the black clouds are overhead. Unfortunately it’s all drivel, and specifically, it’s drivel because the current economic crisis is entirely the result of the Tory economic settlement. The promise of infinite free money from property was the core Thatcherite proposition, and its costs (specifically, high interest rates and a high pound) were traditionally covered by North Sea oil. Of course, rising house prices aren’t actually money, just a way of borrowing from your kids, with the special feature that they don’t get any schools or railways for the borrowing. But the Tory achievement was to get an economy specialised in property speculation accepted by both major parties. And, as we have seen, they have very good personal reasons to pretend that the government could just stick the bubble back together if it wanted.

All oppositions pretend something like this, of course; but it’s incumbent on them to have some idea of the difference between bullshit and government. Just look at the Tories’ performance over Northern Rock. To recap, they thought the Bank of England’s money was taxpayers’ money in August but not in January; they thought the Bank of England was an independent agency in August but under ministerial line management in January; they imagined the Bank of England had vastly more money that it does throughout. Thank God for the civil service.

And even if you grant them a huge pass on administrative reality, their stated positions are wildly incoherent. In the pastel corner, there’s Huggy Dave’s quality of life reports. In the phlegm-spatter corner, there’s Mad Jack Redwood’s report on how the economy can be revived by letting private “care homes” pack in more codgers per square foot. What an invention – the battery granny farm. Will the staff get Dave from PR’s improved work-life balance? Bollocks they will. However, Greasy Phil Hammond’s specialist NHS property development firm, Castlemead Developments Ltd, would presumably find investments in this field rather tastier. More seriously, what the hell does Mad Jack think our problems are? Aren’t they more about the tradable sector, and what happens to the balance of payments with an energy import bill and tanking City volumes?

None of this should be any surprise. Look at the chief economist of chouchou snackthinkers Policy Exchange. What has he discovered? Well, his tube train was late, and so he’s written “England: An Obituary on a Great Country”. Seriously. And he apparently thinks “Britain” supplies IKEA goods and services, rather than a huge Swedish multinational. This used to be the quality of a middling to poor Tory newspaper columnist. Now it’s their intellectual foundation.

Recently, our dear duckspeaker Philip Hammond MP had his local talking points cache refreshed. He’s now constantly saying that the Government is causing “uncertainty” in the housing market because they haven’t decided whether or not to cut stamp duty, and that this is a problem. Both statements are of course completely vacuous at best, and actively misleading at worst. For a start, the housing market is tanking. We’re in the worst property crash since 1983, says the Halifax; that’s another way of saying that the Halifax started computing an index of real estate prices in 1983. It’s not impossible that it’s the worst since the Great Depression. The price of property is dropping with the almost supernatural swiftness of an economic imbalance that finally clears; at the moment, anyone who wants to buy a house would be literally insane to do so, as it is as certain as anything in economics ever is that it will be much cheaper in a year’s time.

Of course, this only matters if you can raise the money. At the moment, the banks have practically stopped lending, so whatever happens to stamp duty is risibly irrelevant. Further, all these statements go double the smaller the deal; nobody who owns a house is ever likely to struggle to raise mortgage money if they want to buy another, but without new entrants, who can they sell to? What mortgage lending is going on is actually very good business for the banks, because it’s practically all to people with lots of existing equity, and at higher interest rates too.

Supposedly, according to Hammond and the real-estate lobby, reducing stamp duty would help people raise a deposit in order to pass the new and more astringent lending criteria. But this is obviously drivel. The large majority of new entrants are either zero-rated or in the first, 1% band, so their stamp duty bill will be at the very most a couple of grand. If they have to raise a 20% deposit, well. It’s not going to work. If you’ve got £18,000 to plunk down as a deposit, and the stamp duty at 1% is a dealbreaker, shouldn’t you either be waiting a few months, looking for somewhere cheaper, or getting a better mortgage broker?

Further, there’s the marginal issue. The Tories seem to be collectively blind to the existence of marginal effects, as if their love of classical economics had carried them back past Hayek and von Mises and Bohm Bawerk all the way to the 19th century. For example, they want to “encourage marriage” by offering a tax break to the married; but the only extra marriages this will result in are the ones where the spouses wouldn’t stay together but for the tax break. And those aren’t likely to be gems, are they? Similarly, the only additional house sales a cut in stamp duty will cause are ones where that sum of money is enough to make the difference; not very many, as we’ve just seen. But we’re having an epic financial crisis precisely because the banks lent so much money to people who couldn’t pay it back. Do we really want more crappy loans?

So; it’s completely ridiculous to suggest that cutting stamp duty will do any good, it’s frankly irresponsible, and it’s even sillier to imagine that buyers are holding off wondering if they’ll have to pay 1 per cent more or less, when they can be certain they will pay 10 per cent less in a few months’ time and perhaps 30 per cent less in a year or two. So why is Hammond so obsessed? (And he is. Check out the 14,400 Google results, including a veritable barrage of official Tory press statements.)

The first point is pure clientelism. What stupid Tory giveaways have in common is that although their marginal effects usually defeat the stated point of the exercise, they usually succeed in showering one or other campaign demographic with cash. A tax break for married couples won’t actually do any good, but it will provide a payoff for several key voter groups who don’t even have to do anything; the money just comes. Similarly, the people who are dealing in houses at the moment by definition have lots of equity and cash; who else can get a mortgage? They would get the tax break as much as anyone else. Kerching! Another group who would benefit either way would be the real estate lobby itself; and the sheer number of property millionaires who have quartered themselves on London since Boris Johnson’s election should explain this reasonably well.

The second is Philip Hammond’s own personal financial interest. Here’s something he added to the register of interests in June, his shareholding in Castlemead Ltd, a company whose main interest is….property development, of houses through its stake in Castlemead Homes Ltd and of NHS primary care centres through Castlemead Developments Ltd. (I reckon the Tory position on PCTs wants watching, no?)

This must be no small holding, either; he managed to forget to declare a £3m dividend from the firm. That’s enough to make him the the second richest man in the Shadow Cabinet with net wealth (I refuse to describe it as “worth”) of £9m. No wonder he spends so much time howling for the propertied interest. He is talking his own book. But surely even he can’t be worrying about the stamp duty on his £1.5m pad in Belgravia? Even at the 4% higher rate?

Boris Johnston really is turning out to be as bad as it was blindingly obvious he was going to be. There are no shortage of examples, but this one in particular makes me shudder with fear. Yes, it’s the desalination plant.

Desalination? Yes. But it’s not just that. A desalination plant that will produce about as much water as Thames Water loses in leaks. Seriously. Thames Water, and presumably the Borisphere (and surely none could be more spherical) claim it will be cheaper. Well, this may be true…for values of “true” including “assuming that our massive complicated prestige project won’t go over budget” and “assuming the price of natural gas doesn’t go up – after all, there’s an infinite quantity of it in the North Sea, right?”

But it’s worse. The justification for spending a ton of money converting natgas into drinking water and pouring the water into pipes WITH HOLES IN, rather than spending some more money (perhaps) fixing the bloody water pipes already, is that it’s “pro-motorist”.

Yes, the reason is that repairing the sodding water mains might be inconvenient to the bizarre sect who insist on bringing huge metal objects into central London and spending their day looking for somewhere to put the things so they can get out of them and start walking, when there was a perfectly good parking space back home in the suburbs they could have left it in. Yes, he is proposing to burn vast quantities of scarce fossil fuel imported from Russia so other people can more easily burn vast quantities of scarce fossil fuel imported from Saudi Arabia, when they have no reason to do so at all.

But it’s not the specifics that are the worse bit. It’s the general principle; policymaking based completely on pandering. I mean, why not go the whole hog and just GIVE people who claim to vote Tory actual cash? At least plain bribery wouldn’t do as much damage to London’s infrastructure. Unfortunately, this is precisely the spirit of Boris. On one hand, you’ve got the appalling pork barrel fan service. On the other, you’ve got the politics of spite and revenge; the deliberate effort to be unpleasant to anything described as feminist or anti-racist, the made-up stories about fabulous wine cellars, the fake audit team. And that, by the way, is a move copied precisely from the made-up “Clinton staffers trashed the White House” bollocks of 2001. You ask Dean Godson and Sooper Don Blaney.

This is, of course, completely inimical to anything that could be described as competent administration. Which is a pity, because there is famously no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage. The point of a mayor is precisely that; waste disposal, policing, space planning, infrastructure, social services.

Part of the good news is just how good the blogs on Boris are. Tory Troll and Boris Watch have forced their way into my RSS aggregator in the last few days. And it’s all an effective preview of a future Tory government: pandering, content-free government, and ideological revenge campaigns in the civil service.

Said Sir Michael Rose, speaking at the SAS passing-out parade in 1979: One intelligent soldier can achieve more than a fleet of B-52s. There’s some debate as to whether that statement could be applied to Rose himself, but I doubt many would disagree with it.

David Davis apparently agrees. His resignation from Parliament should be understood as an exercise in the struggle for strategic influence, specifically directed at the growing decent/neocon faction in the Conservative Party. I have been a little surprised, and pleased, by how well the Tories have held up on the Counter-Terrorism Bill, ID cards, and related issues; I would have thought the Murdoch influence would be telling by now. And, indeed, there are signs of change within – Boris Johnston’s win seems to have hugely strengthened the Policy Exchange/Michael Gove current, while Cameron’s annoying press chief Steve Hilton has run off to California. His BlackBerry is unlikely to be enough to compensate for the distance, which must strengthen Andy Coulson’s role as Rupert Murdoch’s ambassador to the Tories.

But now: cazart! Davies’ replacement, Dominic Grieve is even talking about repealing the 28 day provisions. Stick that up your punter – I think not. There’s not going to be any cave-in now. It’s part of the Westminster traditional language that, to be considered principled, an act must also be ineffective or poorly executed, which is one of the reasons so many people have been at pains to accuse Davis of Machiavellianism or frivolity. People who want something that isn’t evil or dishonourable don’t get to pull off brilliantly outrageous triple-crosses, do they? Yes, of course it’s Machiavellian scheming – this is politics after all, and that’s how things get done, and the people who complain are usually the ones who were outschemed.

If you needed evidence that the Davis coup is significant, you need look no further than the emergence of an actual Murdoch candidate running against him. Yes, Kelvin McFuck is back, looking to add another name to his litany of post-Sun failures. He is one of very few men to actually fail to make money by underestimating the public’s taste – it’s not like News Bunny ever made a penny… But, this time, he is clutching a promise of actual financial support from News International, plus close air support from the paper itself. Inevitably, the media establishment is busy writing him off as a joke candidate, which makes as much sense as writing Davis off and is being done for precisely the same reasons.

Whether McFuck realises it or not, in a very serious sense Davis was running against the Sun Party from the word go. What does the Sun actually stand for, politically? Well, now we know – we can read it off McFuck’s public statements.

He also told the BBC he would be campaigning on three issues – hostility to the “sense that our country is somehow in the grip of some kind of security vice”, demanding that there be “the referendum for Europe”, and on more populist issues – like seeking changes to government spending on “things I don’t think we care about”.

In a BBC Radio 5 interview, he was slightly more specific about point three, saying that he wanted to ban BT from using “automatic voice responders and call centres”. You have to wonder whether a man who had just come from a late-night dinner with antisocial binge drinker Rebekah Wade was entirely sober, but there is a clear pattern here – he, and it, stand for authoritarianism, the Special Relationship in the worst sense, and fake populist gut-chafing (this latter, of course, is essentially content-free).

Putting it another way, McFuck’s candidacy is an exercise in the promotion of power-worship. It’s Schmittian conservatism; the permanent crisis requires an Ausnahmezustand, which demands a strong leader who may incidentally beat up the odd call centre to demonstrate their compassion for the weak, who are very much intended to stay that way. Note that McFuck’s not interested in the people who work in the call centre. Only a numskull like Geoff Hoon could think the Government ought to field a candidate – it should be clear enough to everyone else that the Government, in many ways, already is.

In this light, it’s clear why Davis is standing and why he deserves your support – it’s only contradictory that he believes in both the death penalty and habeus corpus in terms of generalised progressivism or liberalism, which he doesn’t believe in (or he wouldn’t be a Tory). In terms of classical conservatism, it makes perfect sense to think that the State should have the power to cut your head off, and that its power must be constrained by law as much as humanly possible. (After all, if the State *wants* to kill someone, it’s likely to find a way unless someone stops it.)

And, going by the polling data, this is likely to be your chance to help pour the proverbial vast bucket of shit back over McFuck’s head. Imagine the scene at the Murdoch summer party – McFuck, red-faced, holding forth, James Murdoch explaining to Rupert, ticking quietly on his death-support system, that there’s this thing called the Internet and it’s like TV that you read, Wade drooling slightly over Wendi Deng’s shoulder but still reasonably coherent, the plates of roast baby stewed in the juice of freshly squeezed minority shareholders well dug into but not quite down to the toying level yet. All seems well with the world…and then, the disruption. Forced to show their hand.

This is also to say that Dan Hardie was right. He’s been a Davis fan for some time; I was doubtful, especially after he reacted to the police crime figures going down by suddenly deciding the BCS was right all along. But when the time came…

There’s a PledgeBank here; and what’s this? Bob Marshall-Andrews and Colonel Tim Collins? And Kings of War. And Peter McGrath. It’s like going back to the 2005 general election, maaannnn.

This essay by Ian McEwan in the Guardian Review shows precisely why the Decent influence on British intellectual life is so damn depressing. You may think, and I would say the AaroWatch crew are guilty of this, that they are just a bunch of wankers left behind with their blogs after history moved on. But their unpopularity is not all that important – the whole Decent project is intended to be an elite/intellectual one, based on influence rather than numbers.

On those terms it’s succeeding, what with the ramifications it’s developed in the Conservative Party…and its effect on the literary establishment is pretty grim, too. McEwan will never be a core-group Decent, even though he wrote a whole book about how terribly civilised, self-controlled surgeons compared to those irresponsible scum protesting in the streets. He’s too good for that, and style has a role to play as well – Martin Amis’s epic self-dramatising fits in perfectly with a movement as queeny as Decency, but McEwan’s literary protestantism doesn’t quite fit. But they are having an effect on him.

Consider this essay. It’s a good, solid piece of work; a well-researched reflection on the continuity of apocalyptic thought in human societies, and the way it projects the real horror of mortality – that the world goes on without us – onto precisely the society that will always outlive us. But then, but then; you read this:

It was inevitably a transition, the passing of an old age into the new – and who is to say now that Osama bin Laden did not disappoint, whether we mourned at the dawn of the new millennium with the bereaved among the ruins of lower Manhattan, or danced for joy, as some did, in the Gaza Strip.

They didn’t, though, did they? The TV image in question turned out to be stock footage shot months before, and no-one remembers the BBC lead of that night from Palestine, Yasser Arafat giving blood for New York. There is something wrong here – after all, why would you want to involve Palestinians at this point? They didn’t bloody do it, man. Why not say – in Afghanistan, where the orders for the attack were given? In Saudi Arabia, where the attackers came from and where, in all probability, the money came from? In Hamburg, where the terrorist cell actually prepared the attack? Why give a location at all – someone, after all, will have danced for joy somewhere?

And here we go. McEwan now devotes several hundred words to the revolutionary notion that Wahhabism, Nazism, and Stalinism are undesirable and would be best avoided, something no Guardian Review reader is likely to have thought before him. He cites Christopher Hitchens, raging about John F. Kennedy, but oddly doesn’t seem aware that Richard Nixon nearly started a nuclear war in 1973 or Ronald Reagan in 1984 with the ABLE ARCHER crisis, one which was particularly perilous because it happened without any of the diplomatic crisis management Kennedy’s cabinet wrapped the Cuban crisis in. There is a message here, no? And it’s not about apocalyptic thinking, at least not that kind.

But McEwan, as I said, will never be a real Decent. American Christian Identity types come in for a lot of flak, as does the Israeli settler movement. The fox is struggling to hedgehog up. On the other hand, though, it’s there – the creationists get given an explicit pass on the suggestion they don’t really believe it, and we’ve dealt with Palestine further back. This is undoubtedly a Decent document, which is a great pity, because its indecent curves are stunning when shown.

Meanwhile, I was driving away from Windsor Great Park on the day of the Queen’s Cup polo match when I saw, over a hedge, the top of a Routemaster! Given the bizarre significance of the things to the PolEx/Godson/Standpoint/CCO/Martin Bright club, I’m tempted to imagine it as the transport for the Decent assassination squad.

February 23, 2008:

One of things that I find so frustrating about blogging is dealing with people who are either stupid, venal or willfully choose to misrepresent your views. More often than not, these people post anonymously and decide to tar their opponents with the epithet “racist”, “homophobic” or “fascist” in the hope that by using such a description, debate is closed down and they win by default.

O rly?

February 25, 2008:

Moving on from the oh-so powerful list of race-baiters who announced their endorsement of Ken Livingstone, we now see a new list of Livingstone supporters – except that this time it isn’t particularly impressive at all.

The idea that this alcohol-dependent divisive figure should be re-elected as Mayor is absurd. He has had his time and it is time for a change. While Boris Johnson may not be perfect, he’d be a damn slight better as Mayor of London than Ken Livingstone.

A few years back I observed that the Tory policy which envisaged an opposition on fundamental principle to the Euro, but only for the life of one parliament, made it possible to objectively estimate the length of a Tory principle at something less than five years. Clearly, exposure to the Leadership Institute has enabled the puissant advocate Blaney to dramatically reduce the half-life; it’s like a political linear accelerator that blasts neutrons off anything you place in front of it.

However, given enough power you can transmute lead to gold with a real linac; this version works more in the opposite sense. A reverse Maxwell’s Demon; it actually increases entropy by reducing information.

Further, note the interesting fact; the first post has an active comments thread. The second, containing two arguably libellous statements (“race-baiters”? “alcohol-dependent”?) as it does, doesn’t. Blaney again:

Such is their intellectual insecurity that they will not engage in honest debate and instead they resort to infantile abuse in an attempt to stifle debate. I cannot help but wonder whether these people would not prefer to live in a police state where only certain views (theirs) are allowed to be held because the venom and vitriol that flows when you dare to stand up to them is quite astonishing. It says a hell of a lot about them and their upbringing.

How right you are, eh.

Regarding his “race-baiters” smear, it’s worth stopping for a teachable moment here; this is a classic piece of extreme-right rhetoric. You could call it the phone-in three card monte. First of all, you make a coded attack on some group or other; Where is the BBC White Male Middle-Class Network? Well, it’s called Radio 4, as someone pointed out. The basis of all this stuff is that you deny that racism exists; the existing institutions are perfect, so any specific provision for any other group is illegitimate. (Don’t miss him getting schooled about the World Service Polish programme, either.) Then, when you get called on it, whine like a whipped dog;

The fact that I do not believe in multiculturalism, cultural apartheid or so-called positive discrimination automatically makes me, in their eyes, a racist – despite the fact that in opposing these beliefs I share the same worldview as the likes of Martin Luther King, Bishop Nazir-Ali and Trevor Phillips.

Finally, you’re ready to launch an inversion smear: see comments above.

Now, the messages that are actually transmitted here are as follows: first of all, Look at me! Bashing THOSE PEOPLE! (This one for the benefit of your target audience.) Secondly, to the wider public: I’m a lady libertarian. (This one is an exercise in working the ref; it’s necessary camouflage.) Thirdly; RACISTS RACISTS RACISTS!! Nur-nur-nye-nur! (This one is intended to demonstrate your aggression to your target audience; see Josh Marshall’s classic statement.)

Blaney: hypocritical, intellectually dishonest, determined to import everything that is most repellent about US politics into Britain. And apparently cool with the idea of shooting Greenpeace protestors.

So Dave from PR’s got a vlog, then. Well, that’s only realistically going to be crap, isn’t it? It almost amounts to a definition of blogging that, if you issue a press release to the nationals before you start, that’s not it.

May I recommend, instead, one of many fine British blogs? Daniel “Dsquared” Davies on the disease of Crap Government IT, managerialism, and statis (it’s the new change). The Ministry on John Reid, Tony Blair and the word “radical”. Forceful and Moderate on the desperately shit nature of jobcentres – why do they have computers in them that are guaranteed not to have access to the majority of job adverts, and why should you be forced to use them?

Any one of these is certain to beat Dave’s efforts, and might even make you think. And if that happens to you, you’ll just have to read Chris Dillow.

So Dave from PR’s got a vlog, then. Well, that’s only realistically going to be crap, isn’t it? It almost amounts to a definition of blogging that, if you issue a press release to the nationals before you start, that’s not it.

May I recommend, instead, one of many fine British blogs? Daniel “Dsquared” Davies on the disease of Crap Government IT, managerialism, and statis (it’s the new change). The Ministry on John Reid, Tony Blair and the word “radical”. Forceful and Moderate on the desperately shit nature of jobcentres – why do they have computers in them that are guaranteed not to have access to the majority of job adverts, and why should you be forced to use them?

Any one of these is certain to beat Dave’s efforts, and might even make you think. And if that happens to you, you’ll just have to read Chris Dillow.

I’ve never taken the West Lothian question very seriously (how many men have we lost because of it?), and I usually don’t engage with it. But there is something I’d like to fork over about the semi-federal nature of Britain. One may recall that, not so long ago, Dave from PR and other Tories were complaining about the hypothetical situation where a Labour government is elected with a working majority UK-wide, but a minority of MPs in England, implying that it depends on Scottish MPs to continue in office. They argued that, as Scotland has self-governing powers on many issues, it would be wrong for the government to legislate on anything purely English unless it had a majority of English MPs (put it another way, unless the Tories said so).

This would, in practice, create an administrative potmess of epic proportions as the government followed its own policies in all-UK matters and those shared with Scotland and Wales, the Tories’ policies in England-only matters, and God knows what in cases of doubt.

But that isn’t my real beef. The problem is the idea that if one area of the UK elects a lot of MPs of the other party, it’s perfectly fine to chop it off so the Conservative Party can hoist a flag on the rest. I propose, then, the West Yorkshire question.

If it is unacceptable for a government with a parliamentary majority in the UK, but not among English MPs alone, to legislate for England, why is it not also unacceptable for a government with a majority of English MPs – but not if a strongly supportive region such as West Yorkshire were excluded – to legislate for the rest of England?

Update: Charlie’s comment induces me to restate the problem. The Tory understanding of the WLQ is that, roughly, either there should be a new England-only level of government or that there should be an effective Conservative veto on England-only legislation. But why does this argument not also hold for, say, West Yorkshire? England-only legislation could be passed under such an arrangement by a government with no majority of MPs in Yorkshire, depending on their strength elsewhere. If this is wrong at the UK level, it’s very odd to consider it entirely right at the level of England.

My conclusion is that this is purely self-serving. The Tories like West Lothian because it offers the (distant) possibility of gerrymandering a large number of Labour, Liberal and nationalist voters out of much of the parliamentary agenda. They don’t draw the further inference because it would deny them the same privilege. For bonus points, consider this. WLQ assumes that the UK is a confederation, in which the centre cannot overrule the members. Devolution assumes that it is a federation, in which powers are divided among levels of government in one entity. Why do the Tories reject the European Constitutional Treaty, which would have created a confederal structure for the EU, on the grounds that it weakens the UK as a national state, whilst arguing for confederalism at home?