Sunday, June 27, 2010

Nasty Hypocrisy

I've got a lot of time for the Labour MP Tom Harris. I don't agree with him politically, obviously, but he seems to be one of a dimishing number of Labour politicians that doesn't come across as totally deluded and, even more rarely, he honestly expresses his opinions which are usually reasonable.

I say usually because of this blog post. It attempts to provide evidence of the tired old anti-Tory charge that they are the "nasty party". I've no reason to think that what Labour's top blogger claims about the behaviour of a couple of Tory backbenchers is untrue (although he's hardly an inpatial witness), but the final paragraph raises my eye brows.
"(Now, I’m going to take bets on this one: a prize for the first Tory (or LibDem – same difference) commenter who brings up Damien McBride. And a special prize for the first Tory (or LibDem – same difference) commenter who actually condemns this behaviour rather than seeks to defend it. Come on – who’s first…?)"
I suspect what happened here was Mr Harris MP finished writing his post, realised that anyone with even the shortest political memory would know what utter hypocrisy it is for a member of the Labour party to call any other party "nasty" and realised he needed pre-empt people pointing this out.

So, he picks on one possible (and in the bloggersphere, probably the most renowned) example of New Labour's endemic nastiness - Damian Mcbride's Smeargate and attempts to discredit what he knows to be the inevitable charge of hypocrisy by casting the subject as some kind of cliché.

The problem for Tom is that Smeargate was just one of many examples of Labour nastiness he could have mentioned.

  • There's the contempt with which Labour hold the electorate (and even their own supporters) as illustrated by Bigot-gate;
  • The appalling treatment of Dr David Kelly (leaking his identity, his humiliation by a Labour MP at a select committee hearing);
  • The systematic undermining of anyone they consider to be critical of them by briefing against them. For example, members of the public (i.e. bullygate) all the way up to Generals, the BBC (Kelly again) and even their own senior people (Alistair Darling's "forces of hell" and the constant negative briefings between Blair and Brown etc);
  • Alastair Campbell (no more needs to be said about this nasty piece of work).
That's just a few off the top of my head, I could go on, but I think the list, says it all.  It is Labour, not the Tories or Liberal Democrats that are "nasty". To extrapolate the behaviour of a couple of new backbench MPs to represent the approach of a whole party isn't very believable. 

Personally, I think the whole use of the word "nasty" is childish. I know it was Theresa May that started the whole thing off years ago in a clumsy attempt to illustrate the image problem the Tory party suffered from that was causing them to keep losing elections, but Labour jumped on it and have thrashed it to death over the years. For Labour, I'd prefer the words: dishonest, vindictive, bullying, controlling and poisonous. Hmmm, perhaps nasty does actually sum that lot up quite well.

I'd like to say that Tom Harris has never been part of that nastiness. The hypocrisy in his piece arises from his support for the real nasty party and its leadership (including all the likely winning candidates in the current Labour leadership election), not from his own personal behaviour.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Caption Competition - Huhne & Law

Chris Huhne:  "Nice butt, if only I was gay I'd have a piece of that."
David Law: "Don't touch what you can't afford."

Friday, June 18, 2010

After Saville Let's Hope We Never Go Back To This...

How many of you can remember the terror of the IRA's "bomb dogs"?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Armies and Civil Rights Protesters Just Don't Mix

So, after 12 year and almost £200,000,000 spent, the Saville report is finally complete and published. Its conclusions are clear. The victims were innocent and the shootings could not be justified.

It seems an awful lot of time and money to put into a review of a 38 year old event but, regardless of the questions around how long it took and how expensive it was, the report probably is a necessary step in the reconciliation process in Northern Ireland.

For me, one message comes out clearly from this report and from recent events off the coast of the Gaza. That is that armies and civil rights protesters don't mix.

The difficulty for governments facing civil unrest is that there normal police forces are usually not equipped or trained to deal with well organised and intense violence. That was certainly the case in the early 70's in Britain. The army were sent into Northern Ireland to quell the violence on both sides of the troubles. Indeed, it was concern for the catholic/nationalist minority that contributed to the then Labour government deploying the army in the first place. Subsequent governments maintained and strengthened the army's presence as the violence escalated as the nationalist community started to regard the army as an occupying force and turned on them.

I'm not going to pretend I know enough about the Troubles to pass judgement on whether the army deployment was right or wrong, but Bloody Sunday and the recent Israeli flotilla incident do highlight the consequences of placing trained, armed killers amongst hot headed, fanatical activists.

Our natural sympathies are for the "unarmed" protesters. Of course, "unarmed" usually means no guns but sticks, knives, petrol bombs, stones etc, are usually involved. And whatever the rights and wrongs on both incidents in Derry and off the coast of Gaza, you have to feel for the young men put in positions of danger with live weapons in their hands being confronted with a mob of "unarmed" but violent protesters. These guys are trained to fight against an enemy, and yes, they are trained to deal with civilians, but they are also trained to kill when they feel sufficiently threatened. So it should be no surprise that this is often the outcome in these situations.

The miners' strike in the 80's taught the authorities a lot about dealing with violent protests and I think our police are now immeasurable better prepared to cope compared with the late 60s/early 70s. However, such was the intensity of the violence in Northern Ireland I doubt even our modern police could have coped and we would still deploy the army if the same unrest was happening today.

At the end of the day, if you are going to throw rocks and try to break through a barrier defended by armed men, you are taking your own life in your hands. I'm not saying any of the dead on Bloody Sunday were armed with anything other than a deep desire to protest against a draconian internment policy. But the army were duty bound to stop them marching through a loyalist area and specifically to stop the march altogether as it was illegal at the time to march (as it was seen as being deliberately inflammatory to the other side - which usually they were). Just as, having decided to have an exclusion zone off the coast of the Gaza Strip to help stop the smuggling of weapons for Hamas terrorists to use against Israel, the Israeli military had to stop the flotilla as it was breaking their government's rules.

People felt strongly that these rules were wrong and oppressive and challenged them. In my opinion, in both cases, the feelings were inflamed by political beliefs, and probably by terrorist organisations, that polarised the views of the protesters and drove many to act violently towards their "oppressors". Had nothing gone wrong, in either case, no doubt the army could have contained the situation without loss of life and they should have done. But things do go wrong. People make the wrong decisions, there's chaos and confusion everywhere and people get frightened. Frighten people will use their weapons and, tragically, that often ends up with deaths and injuries to innocents in the area as well as those actually attacking.

It's right there's been an enquiry, I'm glad we know the individuals killed are innocent. But lets not have a witch hunt for the soldiers involved at the time. Certainly question the operational decisions made on the day but, really, that should only be for lessons to be learnt for similar situations in the future.

And governments need to think long and hard about deploying military personnel to police civilian unrest as, almost inevitably, that leads to events like these that ends up just inflaming a bad situation and making matters worse for everyone. If you can't avoid deployment, then deal with events like these quickly and honestly or otherwise allow your enemies to use them as recruiting sergents.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Darling Loses Balls

I see the Labour leadership candidates have started to turn on each other already. It should be no surprise that it's the pugnacious Ed Balls that breaks ranks and starts blaming others for Labour's disastrous defeat at the election. How typical of anyone who models themselves on Gordon Brown to look for others to blame. Now the toady faced dissembler is calling for his party to be more robust in its opposition to the attempts by the Government to tackle Labour's debt mountain.

In his latest blog post, Ed "mini-Brown" Balls states...
Over 13 years, Labour made many big decisions on tax and spending: how to reduce the national debt in 1997, how to fund extra NHS investment in 2001, and last year how to reduce the deficit once the recovery was secured.
Let's quickly challenge the misleading suggestion that Labour made any positive contribution to how Britain reduced the national debt from 1997. They didn't, they stuck to Conservative taxation and spending plans for most of their first parliament in power and rode the wave of economic recovery that started when we regained control of our own interest rates following our exit from the disastrous Exchange Rate Mechanism and that was maintained subsequently by Ken Clarke's chancellorship. It was after that period of sensible economic management, that Labour started putting its own stamp on taxation and spending, by increasing both, a lot. But spending even more than tax, hence our current predicament.

Following this fallacious claim, his blog post goes on to make the point that at no point in Labour's 13 years did they raise VAT and that they should oppose any such move by the Government as well as opposing changes to the Child Trust Fund and tax credits to reduce their availability to better off people (or lower and middle income earners as he, again, lies about the policy). It is this approach to opposition that is the becoming a trend amongst the shadow cabinet. They have chosen to oppose the measures necessary to address the debt crisis they got this country into, but at the same time, refuse to spell out how they would clear up the mess.

Alistair Darling, one of the idiots that wouldn't listen to him and therefore lost Labour the election, according to Balls, recently claimed that Cameron would owe him a "very big apology" if the state of the public finances wasn't as bad as had been predicted. This is another line they are deploying. They point to recent figures that show that the Government didn't borrow as much as expected last year and that growth was slightly higher than expected. Let's be clear exactly what the proportions are of these "improvements" - £7bn less borrowing last year. Well, whoopy shit! That still left us having to borrow £156bn in 2009. With the IFS predicting that, of all the advanced and emerging economies, only Ireland and Latvia will borrow more than the UK, you get some idea of the mess we're in. They also predict, that once the new, independent Office for Budget Responsibility reports, we could be looking at a more honest total accumulated national indebtedness of £1.8 Trillion, taking into account PFI and pension liabilities.That's one hell of an overdraft!

Until we eliminate our yearly national overspend we will only be adding to that astronomical overdraft figure. This year's £6bn spending reduction seems pathetically small, put into context. And, of course, the larger that total amount of debt gets, the more debt interest we have to pay and therefore even less money is available for public services.

So, the next time you hear a Labour spokesman asking for an apology because one economic figure is slightly less eye wateringly disastrous than expected, you know what the answer should be from the Government on behalf of the tax payer, it starts with an "F" and ends in "uck off". And the next time you hear a Labour shadow minister or supporter criticising a specific spending cut proposal, don't take them seriously unless they explain how they would make the same saving in a different area of public spending.

UPDATE: following OBR Report

The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported and, as expected, Alistair Darling's growth forecasts are found wanting. The OBR say 2011 will see 2.6% against Darling's 3.25%.

The OBR have decided to avoid using a conservative (note the small 'c'!) central growth forecast to base their figures on. This wa the norm previously and is partly responsible for a slight drop in the overall borrowing prediction. But the most worrying aspect of today's report is the estimated growth of the structural deficit.

Read Stephanie Flanders' blog for a more knowledgable view on the figures! I love some of the delusional comment left by Labour supporters - 'This is now the coalition's mess, they cannot blame the "previous government" anymore' (Disnaymatter at 11:12am). They are so desparate for their party to be exonerated from responsibility for the debt crisis they will say and believe anything.

Here's a telling graph (lifted from the Telegraph):

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Quiet Diplomacy, Not Gushing Rhetoric Required

I happened to catch the Daily Mail's headline yesterday morning calling on Cameron to "stand up" to Obama over his cynical, politically motivated attacks on "British Petroleum".

I agree Obama's reaction is politically motivated. It seems that some American's have unrealistic expectations of their not-quite-so-new leader as they call on him to "do something". Instead of being honest and pointing out that there is little he can do and this is the kind of risk you run drilling off-shore, he's decided to casting BP as an evil foreign owned aggressor who is carelessly polluting the hither-to unsullied US waters with its wicked British gloopy oil.

Many people have correctly pointed out that BP is owned in almost equal measure by US and UK shareholders. So, as many Americans will suffer from BPs falling share price as British. They can all thank Obama for making matter worse on that front. But even if you accept BP is a British company, the US doesn't exactly have a clean record on marine oil spills itself. Indeed, you'll see from the previous link that a US company has failed to completely quell much smaller leaks caused by the destruction of an oil rig back on 2004!

However, I do wonder how wise it would be to lower our own diplomatic language to the same desperate levels as the US President's. In fact, I question the actual degree to which Obama is being anti-British (on this occasion). A lot of the "anti-Britishness" has been exaggerated and conflated with other seemingly anti-British actions, like sending the Oval office's bust of Churchill back to the UK and backing Argentina's Falkland Island claim, to make a more interesting newspaper story that neatly fits an on-going narrative about the death of the UK/US special relationship.

I think there's some truth to this narrative; Obama is the least well predisposed President for a long time towards the "special relationship". However, I doubt Cameron wading in and picking a fight with America over an issue neither government has any real influence, will help reduce the de-specialisation of the UK/US  relationship. In fact, all it will do is make things worse for BP. It would validate, in the minds of undecided Americans, any intention Obama had to pin this on the Britishness of BP and harden attitudes against them. BP's commercial interests in the US (if not already fatally damaged) would be damaged further.

The best Cameron can do is privately ask Obama to tone down the rhetoric and be more constructive regarding his criticism of BP as an organisation. Standing up for Britain, in this instance, would be best done using quiet diplomacy. If Obama ignores it, then so be it. BP will have to get on and deal with it. Their commercial interests are the only interests that should be at stake here. Let's not drag UK/US international relations into this any more than Obama has done so already.

UPDATE 18:00: Downing Street Statement on Cameron/Obama Telephone Conversation

"The Prime Minister and President spoke for over 30 minutes today."

"They discussed Afghanistan, where the Prime Minister briefed the President on his visit. On Iran, they agreed on the need for the European Council to signal tough measures in support of this week's clear message to the Iranian regime from New York that it must halt its military nuclear programme."

"They also discussed preparations for the G20, where the US and UK are also working together closely."
"The Prime Minister expressed his sadness at the ongoing human and environmental catastrophe in Louisiana. The President and Prime Minister agreed that BP should continue - as they have pledged - to work intensively to ensure that all sensible and reasonable steps are taken as rapidly as practicable to deal with the consequences of this catastrophe."

"President Obama said to the Prime Minister that his unequivocal view was that BP was a multinational global company and that frustrations about the oil spill had nothing to do with national identity.The Prime Minister stressed the economic importance of BP to the UK, US and other countries. The President made clear that he had no interest in undermining BP's value."

"The President and Prime Minister reaffirmed their confidence in the unique strength of the US-UK relationship."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Made Me Want To Poke The Other Eye Out...

I missed most of the Bafta award ceremony tonight. I'm glad to hear that Rebecca Front and Peter Capaldi won for their parts in The Thick Of It, along with the series itself as "Best Situation Comedy"; disappointed to hear that Britain's Got Talent won over Newswipe with Charlie Brooker though. And I'd have liked to see Steward Lee's Comedy Vehicle win the "Best Comedy Programme" category.

However, I tuned in just in time to hear Shiela Hancock say that "..the budgets are getting lower and lower and people are having to work harder. But somehow everbody always delivers. As an example of that, let's have a look at the nominees for best actor".

I wouldn't have a problem if that last sentence ended "..let's have a look at the nominees for best cameraman" or " runner". I'm sure people in those roles are working harder than ever, much like many others in this recession hit country. But actors??? Are they really working that much harder than they ever had too? Especially the ones that appeared in the nominations list - established actors who can, no doubt, pick and choose what work they undertake. I doubt it.

Even if they did have to work more to earn the same kind of money, it's hardly a situation of having to make ends meet. The truth is that many actors, comedians, singers, artists etc. live in a different world to the vast majority of people. A world that knows nothing of the stresses and strains that an understaffed office or building site worker has to deal with, or a small businessman facing bankruptcy unless he can do more for less feels. 

Then there's the idea that smaller budgets might affect the quality of an actors performance. What possible difference could being paid less to act out a role have on your "delivery" anyway? If John Hurt was only paid 75% of his normal fee for acting in An Englishman In New York, would it result in him "delivering" 25% less campness in his portrayal of Quentin Crisp, thus rendering it unconvincing to the viewing public? Probably not.

I've no gripe with Sheila Hancock personally, I'm sure she's a wonderful person. But, this comment does illustrate, for me, the kind of out of touch view of the world that many in the entertainment industry have. And as a user of Twitter and follower of a few "celeb" types, it is this kind of Celeb world view that leads me to become irritated when I hear them spout off about politics. The issue for me is that these people are often in a position of being able to influence many fans, while at the same time being utterly unqualified to comment on issues affecting their fans lives, as they reside outside the rarefied world of luvvies, comedy clubs, groupies, art houses or television studios.

You may be thinking that celebrities have a right to their opinion the same as anyone else. Of course they do, and I'm not suggestion they should be censored from expressing them. Not all Celebs are ignorant of real life politics and it would be wrong to dismiss them all out of hand. But, I do wish we'd all take a little less notice of what celebrities think and a little more notice of what our paid politicians are saying and, more importantly, doing. Perhaps, if that had been the case over the past 13 years, we woudn't be in the mess we are now.