Friday, September 19, 2008

Brown Must Shoulder Blame For Economy Mess

The distaste for the lies, spin and deceit of the New Labour government, particularly over its smoke and mirrors handling of the economy and who is to blame for the current financial mess, has been highlighted here on a number of occasions. We are living in economic cloud cuckoo land.

Time and again Brown and the cabinet, who just toe the line, hide behind the only excuse they have and blame the global economy for all our ills. 

That neatly side-steps the reasons why we've got in the mess in the first place but no-one is fooled. 

What exactly was 'global' about Northern Rock or HBOS? The only global factor here was when the borrowing and lending model built on greed and fat profits came unstuck, because the global markets refused to prop them up and lend them any more cash.

It's all part of a deeper malaise created by the government's 'light touch' and the spin and hype over a 'strong' economy. 

As observed before, this light-touch has created a soft-touch Britain. This has left the fat cats in the City getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

Fear has gripped the financial markets in a selling frenzy, after years of been driven by greed and fat profits. But behind the scenes, it has been Brown, presiding first as chancellor and the government with its light-touch over any kind of regulation, which has caused the problem.

Jeff Randall in today's Daily Telegraph puts it well:

"There’s no contrition, no admission of fallibility, no recognition of blunders – and most certainly no apology. This isn’t clever. It insults the electorate’s intelligence and helps explain why, like AIG, he’s doomed."

To talk about the current economic mess, as if it suddenly popped up out of nowhere, is quite unbelievable. For more than ten years, the goverment has presided over a 'light touch' economy with little will or effort at regulation and that is at the centre of why the government is to blame. 

There has simply been no regulation of the money lenders. But it kept the crooks and the spivs in the City very happy. 

Richard Brooks, writing in The First Post, is much more insightful. He charts the reason for this lack of regulation from the late 1990s and in particular the useless and toothless Financial Services Authority (FSA). Brooks concludes:

"Brown’s light touch turned into a decade of leaving ever more avaricious bankers to their own devices."

There's talk now from Brown and the government of tougher regulation. No one, particularly the voters, are taken in by this. 

Once again with Brown, it is too little too late and that seems to be the watchword of the government. Too late shutting the stable door now, old pal, the horse has well and truly bolted. 


Thursday, September 18, 2008

MRSA Spin Kicks Off Labour Conference Hype

The Labour Party conference hasn't begun but the spinning and hype has. Today's offering is a pathetic attempt to cover Brown's and health secretary, Alan Johnson's back, over MRSA. 

The announcement that hospitals are getting to grips with MRSA is designed to get them of the hook, after the disasterous £50m gimmick of the hospital 'deep clean' that never was trumpeted at the beginning of the year. 

Brown has got in on the act saying what a "tremendous achievement" it all is.

In the world of hospital targets, nothing is what it seems. The managers have learnt how to play the game. Just move the goalposts a bit and everything looks good. Introduce a few gimmicks and brush it under the bed.

Of course the overall rate has fallen - the way MRSA is reported has been fiddled with, to make it look better than it really is. 

And even the positive spin could not hide the fact that in England, from April to June 2008 there were 836 cases reported. Why start at April? Why not February or March? Or were the reported cases too bad to be included.

And what hospital really wants to admit that its wards are still filthy and people are more ill when they leave hospital than when they go in? 

Not surprisingly, the figure announced are just for MRSA. They don't include C.difficile. Those figures won't be out until - after the Party conference. 

Where's the routine screening for everyone, before they are admitted on to a ward? Where's the bank of single-bed isolation rooms, for anyone suspected of carrying the bugs? Where is the army of dedicated non-contract cleaners, on a decent wage, needed to keep this in check? 

Hospital staff are trying to tackle an embedded problem with few resources and only hard work and dedication. 

Instead we just get a few hospital managers massaging the figures because they're worried about their jobs. And a government happy to go along with it.

Expect more of this spin in the days ahead and treat it all with a pinch of salt.


Windbag Clegg Puts Wind Up LibDems

It was all going so well for Blair-boy Clegg, a-huffin' and a-puffin' around a stage that was clearly too big for him, wowing the crowds with talk of 'this is not a Tory tax cut', all without notes and only huge teleprompters to help him. He'd got them eating out of his hands. Then he went and spoilt it by delivering the final rousing rallying cry. 

"I can't tell you every step on the road... but I can tell you where we're headed - government," he bellowed.

You could smell the fear as the audience descended into a deathly hush and grown men and women turned pale and looked visibly shaken.

Government? That's not what we do. All those decisions. That's not what we're here for. We are an issues party. We just protest. Government - our MPs will be lucky to keep their seats. We're going to need more than Vincent Cable if we are going to pull off that one. 

It's a far cry from the rallying call by David Steel, who after a deal with the SDP could tell delegates at the Liberal Assembly to "go back to your constituencies and prepare for government." He had something to shout about.

With the current track record in elections, Clegg and the LibDems are just not in the same league. 

Clegg's speech should be seen for what it is - just one unpopular man's posturing to stave of any grumbles of another change in leadership. 

So if you are one of the lucky 250,000 who get an automated cold call from Clegg, ask him just which talent he plans to put in his government, what hard realistic policies they have and what they are actually going to do, when they get there.


Psst Brown, Wanna Buy An Airport?

Without so much as a by-your-leave, Gatwick's Spanish owners put a For Sale sign up at the airport. It's now going to the highest bidder. 

The crafty move by Ferrovial will side-step competition fears from the competition commission. 

A major part of the country's infrastructure has just been put up for sale, with no one even bothering to look at what this means for passengers or the UK airport industry and no comment from government.

Businesses are sold off to foreign firms who raise billions on the global money market to finance the deal, to make a fast profit and then the government can wash their hands of them.

Airports should not be something that can be sold and resold like a used car. No one cares about passengers or the airport workers - it's all driven by profit with a supermarket pack 'em in and pile 'em high philosophy. 

But airports are not like supermarkets - the more you pack 'em in and run to very tight schedules, the more the Heathrow effect kicks in, where even the slightest disruption can have a chaotic knock-on effect down the line. 

The competition commission was right to call for the break up of BAA's monopoly. But how was this one company allowed to own so many airports in the first place? 

Gatwick is one of seven owned by the Spanish company, going by the cosy sounding name of the British Airports Authority (BAA). But the money-spinning Heathrow, with its huge retail revenue and lucrative transatlantic business traffic, apparently is not up for grabs.

Gatwick is clearly one of the easiest ones to off-load, without a thought for "putting the needs of customers first".

Now, the hope is another foreign firm will take it over, borrowing the cash from global investment banks and it will be sold on again. Only these days, no one wants to lend the money.

Airports and railways, are an integral and strategic part of the country's infrastructure and, as such, there's a case for public ownership without an eye on profits or shareholders. 

Maybe the government should 'listen to those customers' and create a not-for-profit airport model. If they can spend billions on wars and waste billions on useless IT systems, why not a few bob on an airport?  Or is that too much Labour and not enough New Labour? 


Don't Panic, Financial Frenzy Won't Last

Fear has gripped the financial markets in a selling frenzy, after years of been driven by greed and fat profits. But at least we won't have to suffer mountains of junk mail, tacky leaflets and TV ads. 

Cheap loans, dodgy insurance and ridiculously low-interest mortgages made us feel good for a couple of months, until the rot set in and we worried how to pay for it all. 

Calm down dear, it's only a commercial re-adjustment. Political Profits of Doom have a vested interest in talking up a crisis for political advantage. 

Borrowing on the global market, which got out of hand, will be reigned in. Debt, wrapped up in unfathomable packages, will be controlled. Regulation will be the new buzzword.

Reassuringly,  the financial markets have finally woken up to reality. For the first time, financial experts and analysts are saying what only a few years ago would never have been uttered. 

For years the banks been living off easy credit, borrowing ultimately from the Chinese banks to get out of debt and the bubble has burst. What we are going through is a period of adjustment. Painful for some but a necessary adjustment, nonetheless. 

Lloyds TSB and its £12 billion takeover/merger with HBOS is an example of the good and the bad. Here we have a conservative bank that's weathered the storm, because it didn't expose itself to the risks of dodgy borrowing and the sub prime housing market. Unlike HBOS that got too big for its boots. 

Lloyds TSB's prudence, shunning the get rich quick route, for a more traditional economic model has paid off. The bank has been given a once in a lifetime chance without competition rules kicking in, and they've taken it.

There will be huge casualties as the market adjusts. Bank staff will suffer as the axe falls on jobs. A big merger of this sort can only happen with thousands of job loses. 

Government has a responsibility to step in to help those jobless and protect the savers. But that should be as far as it goes. Taxpayers money should not be used to prop up the greedy directors and shareholders. 

And who's to blame for this mess? Well not the poor saps who were duped into taking out ridiculous unchecked loans. And not the thousands of bank workers who'll be out of a job. Greed fuelled the market and someone would always be on the look out to make a fast buck. But in the end, it's the government which just sat back and let it all happen.

The liberal economist and author, John Kenneth Galbraith, was in no doubt who was to blame for past economic mess - government deregulation and reckless bank lending:

"Careless deregulation of giant corporations and reckless lending by banks posed great risks as well ... because financial markets would overheat, then crash, even as self-interested managers – who in truth controlled the corporations – lined their own pockets while emptying those of others."

Like history, global economics has a nasty habit of repeating itself.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Darwin Foe Quits, Thank God

A nutty professor who thinks creationism should be taught in school science lessons has quit his job with the Royal Society, which has distanced itself from his crack-pot  views.

The reverend professor Michael Reiss, who does not have a background in either physics or chemistry, has a reputation for his creationism but faced a backlash when he made his comments as director of education for the auspicious Society.

His views were reported by the Orange Party  here on Sunday, where it was pointed out that Reiss is well-known in government for his creationist views and efforts to dumb down science teaching.

The Rev Reiss' reactionary views put him in direct conflict with well-established Darwin evolutionary science.

The Royal Society has reiterated its position that creationism had no scientific basis and should not be part of the science curriculum.

"However, if a young person raises creationism in a science class, teachers should be in a position to explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism is not, in any way, scientific."

Professor Chris Higgins, vice-chancellor of the University of Durham, said: "There should be no room for doubt creationism is completely unsupportable as a theory, and the only reason to mention creationism in schools is to enable teachers to demonstrate why the ideas is scientific nonsense and has no basis in evidence or rational thought."

Blair's Academies have been accused in the past of indoctrinating and manipulating children by creationist evangelists and being run by his creationist pals and obscure establishment orders. 

Writing in the Spectator, Melanie Phillips believes the removal of Reiss has damaged the reputation of the Royal Society but it's difficult to see how. 

Creationist pundits like Reiss are welcome to dwell on the subject but not force their beliefs on innocent and susceptible children and not in a school science lesson. 

The loss of Reiss to the Royal Society will be no loss to science.


Nightmare On Downing Street

As the nightmare on Wall Street unfolded, attention switched to the nightmare on Downing Street, in the whodunit, 'Who killed Gordon Brown?', with Blair's bruiser, John Reid's name now in the frame.

Cabinet ministers traipsed out of their meeting trying to pretend they were focussed on the global economy - until insider briefings made it clear a lesson in 'unity' had been delivered and everyone had been told to toe that line. 

But with the two cabinet front-runners now seemingly taking back seats in public and any backlash from a true Labour left looking unlikely, any leadership challenge is, for the moment, being put on the back burner. 

The attacks on Brown continue, the latest claiming he's more unpoplular than Neville 'pieces in our time' Chamberlain.

It seems they could hold fire until after the Labour Party conference and until the Glenrothes by-election is out of the way, giving a straight run to a general election in the spring. 

The Blairite plot has its origins in Blair's Progress group with Miliband and Johnson emerging as cabinet challengers. 

But Brown's Downing Street nightmare got worse yesterday when scottish minister David Cairns became the first government minister to quit in protest over his leadership.

Many of the Brown protestors have links with former home secretary, John Reid. His former parliamentary private secretary, Siobhain McDonagh, was the first MP to go public. She was joined by Joan Ryan, who served under Reid as a home office minister. And Cairns's first job in Westminster was as a researcher for McDonagh. Joan Ryan, another 'rebel' MP, was a junior minister under Reid at the home office.

Reid is no friend of Brown and diappeared off the political radar after Brown was crowned leader last year.

Reid has experience at the top of many government departments and would be quite capable of mounting a leadership challenge. 

He’s been careful to distance himself from the Brown government and could hold his own, for however long Labour can clings on to power. Even if he lost the next election, he can just go back to his beloved Celtic FC.

(Thanks to comics artist, Nick Miller, for his 'Judge John Reid' trying to lay down the law at the home office)


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Palin Smears Exposed In Edited Interview

Further evidence of a media biased towards Obama and obsessed with attacks on Palin, is exposed in the full transcript of an interview she gave to ABC News, which shows how it was edited to deliberately mislead viewers.

The Newsbusters blog shows how ABC News edited the transcript of its interview by Charles Gibson, to create the misleading impression that she was an "ignorant warmonger wholly out of her depth." 

Melanie Phillips, writing in the Spectator, one of the few political commentators over here who have got underneath the spin and hype of the Obama machine, observes that "the unedited transcript of that interview shows the truth to be quite different."

The Orange Party here on Sunday, posed the question why the media is so mad at McCain and Palin in particular. It seems fanatical Obama supporters in parts of the media, will stop at nothing to prop up their Chosen One. 


Don't You Feel Sorry For The LibDems

You have to feel sorry for the LibDems, their timing has never been a strong point nor has their success with a leader and with pointless Blair-boy Clegg, there's no wonder.

First the assorted media tried its best to pay lip-service to Clegg at the Bournemouth conference - while at the same time working the mobile phones and Blackberries for the latest on the Blairite plot to oust Brown. 

Which is more interesting, Brown on the ropes or Clegg on the floor? A tough one that.

Then, the conference got into full swing, while the world's economy lies in tatters with all eyes on Wall Street and the City in meltdown. 

But the knight in shining armour, "Invincible Vince", was there, rising to the occasion as The Times conference sketch so eloquently puts it today, "like a rock star."

"Vince Cable - rock star! Well, the closest the Lib Dems will ever get to one. Honestly that is how it felt in Bournemouth yesterday as they filled the hall, waiting for the In-Vince-able Tour to begin".

A sketch maybe but one with more than a grain of truth. As pointed out here  back in June - he who rocks wins.

Once again, when popular and respected Vincent Cable speaks, the world and LibDem conference stops and listens. 

Clegg was the wrong person to be put in as leader, at the wrong time for the wrong job, in the days when some fool thought a telegenic Blair-type was the way forward for the LibDems. 

Not realising that this is Euro-boy Clegg, the man who set about doing everything he could to scupper the chances of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty/Constitution and push it through the Commons.

A general election could well be round the corner in the spring. Totally pointless, it's time the men in grey sandals came for Clegg to give them a fighting chance. 

Vincent Cable is one of the most competent politicians of any political party and Chris Huhne is very hungry for the top job. That could make a formidable team, something that voters would connect with, rather than huffing and puffing Clegg. 

Meanwhile back at the conference, if you must.

As The Times sketch so acidly observed: 

"When the In-Vince-able Tour was over, there was an instant standing ovation. Then the star walked out, rock-star style, with little Nicky Clegg, looking rather like a groupie, scampering along behind him." Priceless.


Wall Street And City's Death By Greed

The collapse of Lehman Brothers is the latest ominous sign of the cancer spreading through the US and UK financial markets. The prognosis is terminal. More firms will follow but how long can taxpayers' cash be used to prop up firms who set out to make a fast buck out of the market. This is death by greed

Years of low interest rates to entice borrowers and easy credit, meant the bubble was going to burst one day.

The debt and risk had been bundled up and sold on, making big profits on the way, with the Chinese banks ultimately taking up the risk using their huge investment potential and sovereign wealth fund. 

But when the Chinese banks suddenly stop playing ball and went cold, the whole financial system crashes like a pack of cards.

But these are not 'bundles of risk' - these are people's home, their pensions, their dreams and their aspirations which have been put on the line. The collapse of the sub prime housing market is forcing thousands into misery. 

Pictures of City slickers, with their heads in their hands or clearing their desks carrying out cardboard boxes, cut no ice with people struggling to pay their bills and trying to cope with rising and mounting debt, facing the prospect of losing their homes. 

Wall Street and the City have been allowed to ride high on obscene bonuses, dividends and paper profits, by enticing people into debt by taking out loans well above their means and that lies at the root of the problem. 

Lehman Brothers wasn't the first to go under and won't be the last. 

The State of New York has announced a "multi-billion dollar financing plan" to shore up one of the world's largest insurers AIG, amid growing fears of collapse.

Some, like Merrill Lynch, bought out by the Bank of America, will survive in predatory moves, bought out while the stock is low but only when they are underwritten with government guarantees from public funds, as was the case when JP Morgan bailed out Bear Stearns. 

Others, like Northern Rock here and Fannie and Freddy in the US, where the political fall out is just too great, have been bailed out by the governments with the taxpayers picking up the tab. But without Chinese cash,  others will have to go to the wall. 

One solution proposed in the US and here by Chancellor Darling, is more regulation and more transparency but this has little chance of success. 

The investment banks have been allowed to flourish on the back of unfathomable accounting where it's well nigh impossible to follow a global paper trail. In this global economy, regulations brought in by individual nations can be by passed and ignored.

The UK has been happy to follow the US lead with this borrow more debt culture of global finance and a 'free market economy'. 

UK industry and manufacturing, once the powerhouse of any economy, have been allowed to stagnate and be decimated, to be replaced by an obsessive drive to make the City the financial centre of the world. 

The government was determined to make the City a success and saw that as the future but without any plan for when the bubble burst and the inevitable would happen. 

The government has shown little signs of wanting to look ahead. Preferring instead to sit it out and ride on the back of the good times - in the false hope that those days will somehow miraculously return. 

As the cancer spreads throughout the US and UK economies, the blame should rest on the shoulders of those who have allowed this flawed 'free market' economic model to flourish, without any checks, creating the culture of greed and fat profits. 

The casualties, as always, are the ordinary folk, worried about their homes and pensions. 


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Brown On The Ropes In The Name Of Progress

The stalking horse reared up, then it became a stampede. That's Progress for you.

Battle lines are being drawn for a leadership challenge and it's all in the name of Progress - the New Labour group that worships at the shrine of Blair with the shadow of Mandelson lurking in the background.

Even the name 'Progress' conjures up old style New Labour spin and hype. Blair's disciples are using that catchy little phrase to put their names to the call for a "progressive narrative" from Labour. One of those meaningless phrases that when you scratch the surface, you find is all style and no substance. 

In this political game of poker, the Blairite MPs are crawling out of the woodwork in a move designed to force Brown's hand. But it is unlikely to succeed without a cabinet minister breaking ranks - again. Or unless Brown just gives up altogether.

The Blairite strategy has been to accelerate as many of Blair's policies as they can, before they are booted out of power, It is happening already in schools, hospitals and foreign policy. This is a last ditch attempt to cling on to power, in the dying days of their precious and debunked Project. 

But Brown, under pressure from the funding purse-strings of the unions, just isn't going fast or far enough for the Blairites, And he's useless. So it is time to strike. 

The group of 'Progress' MPs has Alan Milburn as its honorary president and the gang's all there, including ministers Andy Burnham and Ed Miliband. 

Brown was there on the side-lines at the birth of the New Labour Project and helped in its delivery. But the rapidly dwindling Brown cabal will do its best to cling onto power ahead of the Labour Party conference. 

There's much speculation about the 70 MPs needed to force a challenge to Brown. But that's not how it would happen. The end, if it does come, will be behind the scenes, trying to prise Brown out of office as happened to Blair. 

The tactic is to try to force the Party to issue nomination papers to all its MPs ahead of the Manchester conference. 

However, the distaste for Blair and the New Labour Project is widespread within some Labour MPs and the true Labour Party. And the Conservatives, SNP, true Labour and LibDems, without Clegg, all have something to offer.

Voters, should be allowed make up their minds, without the rancid smell of New Labour lingering in their nostrils.