Thursday, 30 September 2010

Good day for bad clothes

I don't know if David Miliband is wearing this shirt (1) for a bet:


Or did his wife buy it, and he thought if he had to wear it, he would do it today, while everyone was feeling sorry for him and wouldn't laugh?

Or is it a cunning ploy to put a stop to talk about electing the wrong Miliband? You couldn't imagine that shirt on the steps of Downing Street, could you?

Though I'm not as bothered about electing the wrong Miliband as electing the wrong Ed.
1 - Photograph by Andy Rain/EPA. Published in The Guardian, 29th of September, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/sep/29/david-miliband-quits-frontline-politics)

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Red Ed finishes ahead

Well, I might have declared Ed Miliband's leadership challenge dead back in June (1), but obviously no-one listen to me and they've now gone an elected him as the leader of the Labour Party.

Probably, given the calibre of the candidates he was running against, this was a good thing. Of the other two, Dianne Abbott and Andy Burnham were never serious contenders. Ed Balls - who has managed to completely win me over - was also a long shot, with Ed Miliband soaking up the leftwing votes and the union backing. That left David Miliband, who was so closely associated with the worst aspects of the last Labour government, so unapologetically Blairite and simply looked too much like the class sneak on a power trip.

Previously, Ed Miliband had alienated me with his vague waffle about 'values' and fluffy crap like that. I have to say that his acceptance speech sounded far more promising:
He said that a "new generation that understands the call to change" had taken charge of Labour today.

Ed Miliband said: "I am proud of the leadership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown but we lost the election and lost it badly.

"My message to the country is this - I know we lost trust, I know we lost touch, I know we need to change.

"Today, a new generation has taken charge of Labour - a new generation that understands the call to change."
In a clear indication of his determination to lead Labour back into power, Ed Miliband told delegates: "I believe in Britain. Today's election turns the page, because a new generation has stepped forward to serve our party, and in time I hope to serve our country.
"Today the work of the new generation begins." (2)
Okay, nothing of actual substance in there, but he sounds far better than previous outings. This 'new generation' meme might be worth sticking with. It acknowledges debt to the past while moving away from it, echoes the 'New Labour' brand while not simply repeating it, suggests regeneration and re-invigoration, and a cleaning out of the old and tired.

Do you think he might have jotted down some notes before the result was announced?
1 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2010/06/ed-is-dead.html
2 - "Ed Miliband elected new leader of Labour Party," by Andrew Woodcock and Joe Churcher, PA. Published in The Independent, 25th of September, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/ed-miliband-elected-new-leader-of-labour-party-2089668.html)

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Arise, Sir Roger?

Just a mischievous thought, with David Garrett about to fall on his sword, and Rodney Hide stoutly refusing to do the same ... once Rodney is pushed on to the blade, who will be ACT's leader?

I'm willing to bet that it won't be Heather Roy. Whatever role the pro-Roy factor may have had in The Fall Of Garrett, she'll always be seen as the person who had most to gain from it, and thus will be rejected. No-one likes to reward treachery.

John Boscawen might be the obvious choice, but I suspect he'd be reluctant to take the job, for reasons idealistic and cynical. Idealistic, because he's probably bright enough to realise that he won't be able to save the party. He hasn't got the profile of Hide, or the charisma of ... well, anyone, really. The cynical reasons are that he's probably bright enough to realise that no-one will be able to save the party, and his future probably lies with National. He probably doesn't want to be forever associated with the demise of ACT.

Likely incoming list MP Hilary Calvert is obviously out of the picture. Parachuting a neophyte list MP into the top job in a party would be just be ... silly. So perhaps we shouldn't right that option of entirely. It is ACT we're talking about, after all.

Which leaves Roger Douglas. No, don't laugh. It makes scarily good sense.

First of all, he's got a political pedigree stretching back to the 80s, and has held high office.

Second, he's got name recognition that none of the other potential candidates have. The rest of the party are non-entities, Roger Douglas is, at least, a somebody. People know who he is, and recognise him as that bastard from the 80s we all hoped we'd never see again a significant political Somebody. Compare that with Whother Roy or John Boscwhoen.

Third, he might just have the gravitas and reputation to either scrap ACT up to 5%, or (rather more unlikely) win an electorate. With National probably intent on squashing Hide, that's probably an essential consideration for the others.

Fourth, and probably most important, he doesn't want the job. He doesn't even really want to be in parliament, so his elevation to the leadership would always be temporary - probably, to try to get the party back into parliament in 2011, followed by graceful resignation of the leadership. By then, the bloodletting between the populists and the purists will have ceased, and they'll be willing to make a rational choice about who is to lead them to oblivion.

And if oblivion comes in 2011, then who is better suited to be the captain going down with the good ship Libertarian Delusions than Roger Douglas?

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Stranger than fiction

One reason I haven't been blogging much recently is because I have - hem - Been Writing A Novel.

I don't want to say much about you, as I want you all to buy it an d make me rich, but I will say that it is set in a slightly dystopian New Zealand, where the government hasdeclared a state of emergency and rules through a series of decrees, granting themselves and their minions whatever powers they think they need.

I've applied a bit of light satire to some recent events in New Zealand - there's a full blown civil war raging in Te Urewera, between the government and Maori separatists, and cargo containers are used to house excess prisoners. But I didn't think the central, enabling idea of the novel would actually become reality as I was writing. But the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill seems to have been drawn from the pages of my magnum opus.

Though never, even in my wildest imaginings, did I vest Gerry Brownlee with supreme power ...

Garrettology

A while back, I developed a brief interest in the shoddy career of David Garrett, following his threatening comments to prison guards testifying to a parliamentary committee (1), and his abuse of statistics with regards to crime rates in the USA (2).

I even instituted a tag, Garrettology, for these posts, expecting more would follow. But either Garrett went to ground, or (more likely) my interest in him waned - thick bullies are, by definition, uninteresting. About a week ago, immediately prior to the Tongan revelations, the identity theft lunacy and his resignation from ACT, I deleted the tag, demonstrating once again my unparalleled prescient grasp of the political landscape.

I also had one just for the ACT party - and it was also deleted in the same clean out.

Doh!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Portends point to double dip disaster

From the Guardian:
The number of people claiming unemployment benefits jumped unexpectedly last month, fuelling concern that the government's austerity budget in June undermined business confidence and pushed the economy into reverse.

The claimant count rose by 2,300 in August to 1.47m, according to the Office for National Statistics, confounding City expectations that a downward trend started in January would continue throughout the summer.

The broader International Labour Organisation measure of the number of people without a job registered a fall, but the decrease of 8,000, to 2.467m was also below City forecasts. Analysts had been expecting a decline of around 35,000.

(snip)

Howard Archer at IHS Global Insight said the data was "both disappointing and worrying" fuelling fears that the improvement in the labour market is coming to an end, "even before public sector job cutting really gets under way".

Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said the labour market was "showing signs of weakening" which can be "largely explained by the fact that the increase in employment was driven by part-time workers" Alan Clarke, UK economist at BNP Pariibas said the increase in employment wopuld represent a peak.

"The worsening in unemployment is consistent with what we know is happening to growth. Hence we very much doubt the buoyancy of the employment data will last much longer.

Archer added the jump in part-time employment indicated that many companies are reluctant to add full-time workers amid serious concerns over the sustainability and longer-term strength of the recovery. Part-time workers now account for 27.2% of total employment, up from 25.4% at mid-2008. (1)
So it's starting to look very dicey, again.

To some extent, we can't blame George Osborne's ideologically driven cuts - too much, too fast - for this. It's part of an international slowdown (2), which Osborne is not responsible for, just as Gordon Brown wasn't responsible for the original recession.

That said, the austerity drive, if it is followed through on, will probably make any double dip worse for Britain, as it will make the recession deeper, and longer. And the big risk is that the government will have too much political capital invested in its cuts and austerity to resile from them and provide stimulus when it's needed.

Even if it does, it's likely that this will be seen as panic, desperation, and disaster as they've made such a big deal of how the cuts need to be applied immediately and the debt and deficit were out of control. Investors won't listen, the bond markets will spook. Then, absurdly, we'll be in precisely the position the Tories claimed we were in prior to the election - weighed down by debt which we can't re-finance, a widening deficit due to the receding economy, and facing a credit downgrade.

Nice work, George.

I'm experiencing the frightening, horrible realization that Ed Balls may be the person who has most accurately described the current situation, and the appropriate course of action.
1 - "Unemployment claimant count rises unexpectedly," by Phillip Inman. Published in The Guardian, 15th of September, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/sep/15/unemployment-claimant-count-rises-unexpectedly)
2 - "Wasteland: Europe stalked by spectre of mass unemployment," by Alastair dawber. Published in the Independent, 16th of September, 2010. (
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/wasteland-europe-stalked-by-spectre-of-mass-unemployment-2080499.html)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Who

... could get involved in a spat with former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and come off looking more duplicitous, ideologically blinkered, vicious, idiotic and dishonest?

The answer is George Osrborne:
Secret plans to slash the welfare bill by £2.5bn for people who are disabled or too ill to work are being up drawn up by the chancellor, George Osborne, documents leaked to the Observer reveal.

Details of the plan, spelled out in a confidential letter from Osborne to Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, sparked a furious row as Labour accused the coalition government of targeting "the most vulnerable people in the country" with "shocking, arbitrary cuts".

The letter, written by Osborne on 19 June to Duncan Smith and circulated to David Cameron and Nick Clegg, will fuel mounting concerns that the government's assault on spending – and particularly Osborne's determination to slash the cost of welfare – will hit those on the lowest incomes the hardest.

Despite official insistence that no decisions have yet been made on where the axe will fall, Osborne stated in the letter – written three days before his emergency budget – that agreement had already been reached to impose deep cuts on the budget for employment and support allowance (ESA) – the successor to incapacity benefit. ESA is paid to those judged unable to work because of illness or disability.

Osborne told Duncan Smith: "Given the pressure on overall public spending in the coming period, we will need to continue developing further options to reform the benefits as part of the spending review process in order to deliver further savings, greater simplicity and stronger work incentives.

"Reform to the employment support allowance is a particular priority and I am pleased that you, the prime minister and I have agreed to press ahead with reforms to the ESA as part of the spending review that will deliver net savings of at least £2.5bn by 2014-15."

In a further extraordinary development, sources within Duncan Smith's department turned their fire on the Treasury, insisting nothing had been decided and suggesting Osborne's department may have leaked the letter to bounce them into accepting the plan. (1)
This is on top of Osborne's recently announced intention (2) to hack a further four billion off the welfare budget, following the demented right wing thinking that people on the dole are basically workshy, and will get a job if their cushy tax payer sponsored lifestyle is curtailed; rather than simply remaining trapped in poverty, resorting to crime, prostitution or alcoholic oblivion instead.

That unemployment is running at 8% and the economy is still teetering on the verge of collapse seems to have eluded Osborne, which is a concern given he is Chancellor of the Exchequer. The jobs - so he thinks - are out there. His measures might lead to more work for social workers, I suppose, as they struggle to clear up the mess of his economic vandalism.
1 - "George Osborne's secret plan to slash sickness benefits," by Toby Helm. Published in The Guardian, 11th of September, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/sep/11/george-osborne-slash-sickness-benefits)
2 - "George Osborne faces benefit cuts backlash," by Hélène Mulholland and Patrick Wintour. Published in the Guardian, 10th of September, 2010. (
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/sep/10/george-osborne-benefit-cuts)

Unspeakable

Following the the Granai air strikes last year, I posted some angry comments about the US Marines MarSOC unit, which had been involved in the operation, along with others which had featured large numbers of civilian deaths in Afghanistan (1).

I described their actions as "savages" who were "killing innocent people for sport." That wasn't entirely fair, but I was sickened by the high death tolls, and the reckless, counter-productive strategy employed.

Now, however, it looks like there really are US soldiers in Afghanistan doing just that - killing civilians simply because it amuses them, with no military goal at all, however ill conceived:
Morlock and another soldier, Andrew Holmes, were on guard at the edge of a poppy field when Mudin emerged and stopped on the other side of a wall from the soldiers. Gibbs allegedly handed Morlock a grenade who armed it and dropped it over the wall next to the Afghan and dived for cover. Holmes, 19, then allegedly fired over the wall.

Later in the day, Morlock is alleged to have told Holmes that the killing was for fun and threatened him if he told anyone.

The second victim, Marach Agha, was shot and killed the following month. Gibbs is alleged to have shot him and placed a Kalashnikov next to the body to justify the killing. In May Mullah Adadhdad was killed after being shot and attacked with a grenade.

The Army Times reported that a least one of the soldiers collected the fingers of the victims as souvenirs and that some of them posed for photographs with the bodies.

Five soldiers – Gibbs, Morlock, Holmes, Michael Wagnon and Adam Winfield – are accused of murder and aggravated assault among other charges. All of the soldiers have denied the charges. They face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted. (2)
While they may have be facing justice, it does beg questions about how much of this sort of stuff is going on. It's barbaric, the sort of savagery that we were meant to be saving the Afghans from.
1 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2009/05/marsoc-murders-in-afghanistan.html
2 - "US soldiers 'killed Afghan civilians for sport and collected fingers as trophies'," by Chris McGreal. Published in The Guardian, 9th of September, 2010. (
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/09/us-soldiers-afghan-civilians-fingers)

Theresa May: Going, Going ...

So, Theresa May is in a bit of trouble.  Tories are scheming and plotting - which they do on any day that ends in a 'Y' - and rumour...