That’s it, I’ve really had enough. The blog is constantly having to express its frustration about the coalition government because if it didn’t I would run the risk of spontaneously combusting into a fireball that would hurtle into orbit. The draft primary curriculum, which I haven’t even mentioned (yet), exercises me, the high-handed attitudes infuriate me, the sticking of the fingers in the ears in an I can’t hear you gesture frustrates me. The no Plan B drives me up the frickin wall. How much longer are we going to put up with this shower of ego-driven, small-state ideologues? What do you have to do to get rid of these incompetents? Where’s the annual performance review – one every 5 years at an election – seriously???
It’s the Mansion House speech that’s pushed me over the edge. Yesterday’s announcement of cheap credit to banks to lend to business and households has caused bank shares to jump with joy today, but, mark my words, it will be shortlived. I’ll tell you why too. It’s because just as the banks were too anxious about the economic climate to lend the billions they have already been given under quantitative easing (to lend to small businesses – ringing any bells?), so small businesses and households will be too uncertain of the future to borrow from the banks, start spending, and stimulate the growth the Chancellor is probably praying for. It’s not going to happen George. It’s not going to happen because all we’ve heard for 2 years from this government is what a terrible financial position we as a country, and as individuals are in. It’s been drummed into ‘us’ on a daily basis, more-or-less. We’ve lived beyond our means, now get with the austerity programme. It’s what you need and, actually, it’s what you deserve. That’s been the harsh ideological message from Osborne and his chumocracy, a message that gets us to shut up and take the medicine of cuts, cuts and more cuts. The medicine may be disgusting but it’s what you need…
And now he’s shot himself, and us, and the UK economy in the foot. We’ve been brainwashed. When I say, we and us, I mean the squeezed middle; the middle-earners who now simply can’t afford or are too fearful to spend, the same squeezed middle that drive 70% of the economy. That’s right people, the pathway out of this mess lies in our ability, potential or willingness to spend. But we can’t can we? We can’t think of spending more, because we don’t have more to spend. Inflation and the increase in VAT and petrol duty (and the knock-on costs on food) have seen to that. And that’s where the plan (not B) but A with panic buttons attached is going to fall down. The way things are right here, right now, and never mind the Eurozone, we aren’t going to spend more, so business can’t expand – even with billions to borrow – because the market for their products has shrunk.
Well done George et al, well done. You’ve not just shrunk the state, you’ve shrunk the pounds in my purse and the whole of the UK economy. That’s what you’ve done – you bloody idiot.
What George should have said yesterday:
# Reduce tax on fuel
# Cut VAT
# I’ll get my coat
As this inquiry churns on and on in the background of economic gloom and matching weather I have been interested to think a little about how it all works, not on a legal or regulatory level, but in the minds of those giving evidence and those charged with making judgements about the evidence.
Memories are not showreels, fixed in our minds for evermore. Memories are made up of a cocktail of chemicals and electrical energy fired around the brain, as neurons share encoded sensory information with each other, whilst creating new synaptic connections and neural networks, or something… What I am getting at, is, that a memory is not fixed. A memory changes in the recall, so it is a dynamic process and the way you happen to remember events becomes the strongest connection in your brain over time. Which is how we arrive at an inquiry to find that people remembering the same events are describing them in contradictory terms, whilst all still telling the truth.
So how does Leveson decide what is what in this jungle of interconnected, yet sometimes opposing memories? Well, I suppose he might consider who seems more consistent, more reliable as a witness, by examining whose testimonies have some underlying cohesion to them. If I were him, and I am glad I am not, I would also think about the personal story about the event that the witness has revealed in their recalling of ‘the facts’, because within the language used I believe there are some hints to a person’s inner processes and subsequent narrative about their public self.
Take George Osborne’s testimony about the BSkyB bid by the Murdochs. His tone and bearing appear equanimous, he sounds a reliable witness. He may be so. Examine the language he uses to rebut allegations that the Tories were somehow complicit in nodding the takeover through after the election, because they had already agreed to it prior to the election in return for support from the Murdoch press. He talks about a ‘vast conspiracy’ it being ‘complete nonsense’ ‘you have to be a real fantasist to believe that…’ ‘cunning plan’. He then concludes that the ‘facts simply don’t bear it (the allegation) out’.
So despite his apparent equanimity, George Osborne, rolls out this colourful and descriptive language to merely assert that the Conservatives followed ‘proper process’ in the matter of the BSkyB bid. This big gun language seems to have been specially drafted in by the Chancellor and, to my mind, sits outside his usual lexicon. There may be two reasons for this: one, that although he believes the facts do speak for themselves, they are somewhat thin on the ground so the forceful language is an attempt to fill the gap between evidence and belief, and two, that his fundamental belief that his political opponents are ‘fantasists’ who are willing to entertain ‘complete nonsense’ has strongly influenced his recall of events. His memories then, are not an account of the facts, but an account of his beliefs about the protagonists, including himself: Tory = rational and truthful, opponents and others not totally convinced = fantasists.
It’s not like that though is it? Most of the facts and ‘the truth’ are going to lie somewhere in the grey middle. With partisan evidence like this, I fear we are never going to get there. To me, and I don’t care for the guy – so take it as you wish, the language comes across as arrogant and self-serving and does not even hint at an interest in getting to the heart of what Leveson is all about. In terms of getting to the truth he may as well have said, ‘What? Me, Guv? Not me, Guv’ and left it that. Except that he’s not that humble and if he had it wouldn’t have got me thinking. I think it is almost possible to hypothesise that the strength of the memory does not guarantee its veracity. A vivid memory may not always be down to an accurate recollection of the original event, and may be more to do with the manner and narrative within which it has been repeatedly recalled since.
Next up, Gordon Brown, and what he said about his wife, Rebekah Brooks and Rupert Murdoch.
I really try to catch myself if I start indulging in a bit of schadenfraude because, like sarcasm, it’s a largely distasteful practice. The last day or so then has been a real effort of will for me, as we have been bombarded with images of MPs eating hot pasties, sausage rolls and pies, talking about hot pasties, sausages rolls and pies and visiting purveyors of same.
I am not sure when I cracked the most. Perhaps it was when George Gideon Osborne was asked in a Select Committee when he had last entered the hallowed portals of a Greggs, or whether it was when Newsnight devoted time to the debate, or indeed was it when our own, dear pasty-faced, spam-headed PM was pictured (with crumbs down his front) eating some pastry product in 2010, albeit not the hot pasty he mendaciously claimed he had once purchased at Leeds station.
When a spokesperson for Downing Street is forced to clarify the Prime Minister’s pie-purchasing habits, then we can only surmise that the world is indeed an absurd place, in all the classifications of the word. When our much-vaunted democracy is employed by the government of the day to place piddling taxes on hot baked products, to bring a high street bakery in line with a global industry such as McDonalds, what else can you think but hmmmmm.
The Conservative Party carry on like a bunch of repressed Billy Bunters at heart, given the way they perpetually get themselves into trouble over their high-handed attitude to the foodstuffs of the rest of us. Who can forget John Gummer force-feeding his daughter a burger at the height of the mad cow outbreak, or Edwina Currie who, despite trying to laugh off Pastygate this morning on the radio – hahaha, has a public persona that will always be synonymous with salmonella in eggs. The only food-related hoo haa I can recall in the Labour Party was when Blair and Brown dined at Granita. It’s hardly the same thing.
And then there is the language of the Conservatives, mentioned in the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme this morning. Whilst the Labour contingent Eds Miliband and Balls hot-footed it down to Greggs to by a bag of sausage rolls, Francis Maude from the Conservatives was suggesting we fill up our jerrycans before we had supper in our kitchen thus painting a vivid picture of a landed gentry snacking on quails eggs and still holding a grudge against the *Germans.
To be honest, I am not in shock about that which their language purportedly reveals, most of us had worked it out anyway without an analysis of the Cabinet’s lexicon. They are what they are, the Conservatives. Yes, the big sticky clue is in the name. To conserve means to protect from loss or harm, to use carefully or sparingly, to avoid waste. It also means to make jam, chutney and pickles. Of course our Prime Minister shouldn’t bother to tell us whether he eats a hot pastry product, and he shouldn’t really need to avuncularly advise us to ‘top-up’ our cars in the face of a fuel tanker drivers’ strike. But the thing is the Conservatives just can’t help it, it’s in their DNA to protect us nitwitted ones from harm, to avoid us wasting their jam and petrol. As much as they want to shrink the state locally, when it comes to their own fiddling at a national level with the very fabric of our lives, down to what we might want to eat for lunch, or at a football game; or telling us when we should be prepared for things we could easily deduce for ourselves, well they just can’t help themselves.
And finally, aside from the nannying and the language, my more serious point is: how has it come to this? The absurdity of last week’s tinkering with the tax system resulting in VAT on hot pies on one hand, whilst with the other they hand back money to millionaires. And, we pay them to do it to us.
*Wehrmachtskanister is the German word for their invention that we call the jerrycan – literally translated as a canister that makes a dam or a weir. Who of us has one, or indeed the garage to put it in? My linguistic objection m’lud is: what would we be calling it in the Conservative Party today if it had been invented in Italy or Spain or anywhere else for which we could coin a derogatory nationalistic term as a prefix?
I would analyse yesterday’s rubbish spewing from the Chancellor’s maw (first name Gideon until he changed it), but you know what? I can’t be bothered. I’m too tired. And be warned people, that is how they will keep getting away with it. It will be because people like you and me, with no money, who work but can barely make ends meet, will not have the energy to keep opposing the coalition government policies.
We won’t have to time to protest, and if by chance we do, we won’t be able to afford the petrol or the train ticket to get there. We will be In Our Place and we will be silenced and those cock-eyed, ignorant pillocks on the government Front Bench will keep feathering their nests and those of their mates. Apparently, the money a millionaire will save in tax, thanks to yesterday’s budget, will keep them in a new Porsche EVERY YEAR. Meanwhile the pensioners’ ever-diminishing pots will continue to be raided. Under a stimulus package for growth, things are starting to pick up in the States. Over here the austerity cuts have had had a negligible effect on the deficit and many of those of us on modest incomes aren’t spending because we are tired and miserable and fed-up. I can’t speak for people on benefits, but my professional experience shows me that to be a benefit claimant under the coalition is little different from being a fox hunted by a pack of hounds. The current benefit regime is putting people constantly under pressure to find jobs that either don’t exist, or that they are wildly unsuited for.
Gideon Oddball and his loathsome spamhead mates are nothing more than throwbacks to the Victorian landed gentry. I wish someone would kick them out and find them a more natural home where we can pay through the nose, only if we want to see them.
I am no economist, as the state of my bank deficit can testify, nonetheless I have taken some time to try and understand what the hell has gone on with the global economy in the last few years. I lived through the boom and bust of the late 1980s and early 90s and my experience with credit then, gave me a good grounding in how fragile life becomes when we live on a play now, pay tomorrow basis.
On the other hand I still live in a Western capitalist economy, some people live without debt, but they are probably the minority. I learned from the 1980s but I could not entirely mend my ways. I did learn one thing though. Don’t buy a buy now, pay later sofa – that’s just stupid.
And that’s where Friedrich August Hayek comes in. His economic theory can be loosely applied to DFS, MFI and the like. If too many people buy sofas they don’t strictly speaking need, with money they don’t strictly speaking have, we have created a sofa purchasing bubble. The bubble contains too many bums on sofas that will be paid for later, and when easy credit becomes hard to come by, the sofa bubble bursts. Suddenly, the demand for new sofas, or kitchens, or white goods decreases sharply. Companies that manufacture or retail these items make less money and worse might not even be receiving the money for the sofas they sold two years ago. Production slows, jobs are lost; it’s not a pretty sight.
Hayek said that to return to a sustainable model of production, liquidation was inevitable. Liquidation of companies and jobs – that’s the pain of a recession. Sustainable production and the accompanying modest consumption, as a model is not all bad surely? However, in a recession I find I am far more drawn to the Keynsian way of doing things. John Maynard Keynes promoted the idea that government could control the business cycle of boom and bust and that in times such as now the government should spend to stimulate growth. There’s sense in both. The weakness in the Keynsian model is that national government most evidently cannot control the business cyle in a global economy that relies so heavily on the financial sector. The weakness in the Hayekian approach is that he would see us all return to subsistence farming, living hand to mouth whilst the sustainable model of production found its feet.
Given that both these influential economists were knocking about in the 1930s and 40s isn’t it well overdue that we quit with the either or approach, where we put the notionally opposing ideologies in conflict, and try to take the elements that might work in a 21st century context?
Take the state sector in Britain, it is true to say that the public sector payroll swelled under the last Labour government, but the proportion of people employed did not exponentially increase. Employment of workers by the state is unevenly distributed regionally. Putting the same proportion of state sector workers on the dole in areas of low industry and high unemployment is not going to make Hayek’s model kick in, as if by magic. It might work better in the South East, where the spread of private and public sector employment is more equally balanced. On the other hand it might not, and it has not so far. Cutting jobs as George is doing is effectively making the poor poorer and increasing unemployment in places where you are more likely to stay unemployed – which is why Keynes’ growth model is so much more attractive.
Having said that Hayek was right at a fundamental level, which is that false demand for consumer goods will lead to boom and then bust. Equally, Keynes was right about the state spending to stimulate growth either; note no Plan B George Osborne’s announcement about a building programme to enhance rail and road infrastructure – jobs and income to stimulate the economy.
To be bold and try to decide which came first, the chicken or the egg you might conclude that the generation of state income needs people employed in the private sector. I have heard it said that the split for public sector and private sector employment is around 40/60. Apparently it has not changed much in the last half century and was actually the highest it’s ever been, in terms of jobs in the public sector, under Thatcher and not Labour, which is interesting and not much advertised. Therefore despite the private sector apparently driving things we may surmise that the state and the private sectors’ fortunes are now inextricably linked – which probably puts Keynes back in the driving seat. After all, when the banks were deemed too big to fail, who bailed the private sector out – the public purse.
In a sense, the balancing act is to cut carefully and judiciously, not quickly and savagely, and to implement a more finely tuned tax system where the rich, the 1%, are not getting wealthier at the expense of the majority. As President Obama asks ‘Is it right that Warren Buffet’s secretary pays more tax than he does?’ Warren says no, I think Obama says no. Certainly the Occupy movement say no! I am not so naive as to think that slamming the super-rich against the wall and fleecing them through higher taxes is going to generate enough money to reverse the tide, but it is can’t be beyond the wit of man to develop a fairer tax system – the paltry 0.001% levied on bank trades is a joke.
To be fair to the coalition government it appears the Big Society, with its focus on the development of social enterprise at its heart, does aspire to take a combination of Keynsian and Hayekian theory – the state funding new businesses with a heart (not for profit). The problem with this approach is that the cutting of the public sector does not immediately covert into quantities of social entrepreneurs kicking their heels. Becoming an entrepreneur, even a social-minded one, takes a particular vision and skillset, an low aversion to risk and a willingness to work every hour of the day – making money available to set these businesses up does not guarantee a supply of people wishing, or able, to start and run them.
The best that could be hoped for is that voluntary sector providers going to the wall due to lack of funding manage to rejig themeselves into a social enterprise model. There’s another problem too. Sustainable business develops at a steady pace, the subsequent impact on unemployment and growing the economy is a very long way down the line and in the meantime the unemployed (former public sector workers included), especially those in regions of high unemployment, cost the state money and generate precisely zilch state dividends. As much as I fulminate against the current regime, there’s no doubt, particularly set against the Eurozone backdrop, we are in a tight spot indeed.
Here’s some food for thought. I was listening to a radio programme at the weekend that contrasted our Chancellor and his career to date with that of his opposite number, Ed Balls; the link is here. It turns out that although Osborne has been an MP for a number of parliamentary terms, his most notable achievement has been his contribution to consistent team failure (Back to Basics, BSE, four election defeats for his party).
You might well argue that creating the largest deficit in history is nothing to be proud of either (Balls), but Labour’s subsequent management of the crisis did indeed seem to be shepherding the UK economy back to some sort of mini recovery until Osborne came along and put the skids under that with his swingeing cuts, incidentally the largest and fastest programme of its kind ever, in the world. As I personally carried on in some degree of debt having learnt my lesson partially in the last millenium, so did the Labour government and every other Western capitalist government, more, or less. What we are not told by the government when we are being given the message that budget and household deficits are bad, is that debt long since became a commodity in itself. That much of the crisis was caused by the slicing and dicing of debt and the selling it on, and on, and on, in various forms for profit. Bad, wrong, mad? It doesn’t really matter now, it is a fact. And to deal with the situation we have to deal with the facts at hand. Putting growth and austerity into head-to-head conflict with each other undermines both approaches – and in the meantime the Eurozone, lead by Germany and France, try to repackage their member states debts to make them more attractive to traders and our own government offers start-up loans to social enterprises willing to develop and sell more financial loan products to new social enterprises…
And that’s kind of what happens with this whole debt-ridden thing: we all start chasing our tails and it needs to look like we’re not because at a corporate or national level this kind of behaviour rattles the markets, stocks and bonds take a tumble and we are back to chasing our panic-stricken tails in ever decreasing circles. Which is a bit how it felt trying to write this.
It’s broke folks, and it needs some fixing. We need some radical responses to effect some real change. I wish I knew where they were coming from. In the absence of that, we probably are stuck with an ideal of cautious austerity with a little bit of growth. It’s like nursing the Selfish Giant’s garden back to life when the children have all gone away. But before we can do that, the Giant needs to drop the Selfish bit…
I get so angry with George Osborne on so many levels it’s probably impossible to write about the current economic position in a coherent manner.
I’ll try. He rolls into town less that two years ago (why does it seem so much longer?) with his gun-toting, whey-faced public school colleagues, desperate to reduce the deficit and sets about shrinking the state to fit his own political ideology: small state, big business, or something. He’s never been overly explicit about his evangelical zeal, but I smell it on him.
The problems he has engendered with his approach, as I see them, include:
#1 – you can shrink the state much more quickly than you can grow a business
#2 – shrinking the state manifests itself, amongst other things, as shrinking confidence and the money to fund the products and services that businesses might offer
#3 – in the meantime, whilst the state shrinks and businesses fail to grow immediately into the gap, the government exacerbate the inflation problem with the one tax hits all unequally VAT, allow energy companies to run absolutely riot with their charges to consumers and defend the continuation of the policy whereby the tax system is run to suit the rich and banks can carry on like one-armed bloody bandits
Anyone with half an eye and an incoherent blog could have predicted rising unemployment, high inflation, low confidence and the failure of the business sector to pull new jobs like rabbits out of hats. And they did.
The Autumn Statement came then as no surprise; having cut the state and reaped the rewards, George announced he was going to cut it a bit more, and a bit more. And then he was going to, once he had saved up some money (and perhaps borrowed some too) spend a bit on roads and rails to stimulate growth (sounds like public spending).
Maybe I’m just an idiot, but isn’t cutting public spending, which is working so well so far as we have seen not, to save money, to fund future public spending a bit whack? Or maybe it’s just the type of public spending Osborne prefers ideologically: roads and rail a more fitting testament to the soundness of his ideology. And that’s even before we mention cutting public spending to reduce borrowing, before announcing more borrowing. Isn’t that an #epic fail by Twitter standards?
I am certain that doing more of the same (cuts) will get more of the same (unemployment, cuts in income and confidence, a battle with inflation etc.). I can’t give you a theory-based reason why, but as I run things round here, I don’t actually have to. George is wrong; he is wrong not least because the economic model he bases his policy on is fucked.
Here is an article from Bloomberg that might elucidate one reason better than I can. It is by an American entrepreneur. It explains why business doesn’t create jobs, that the demand of the middle income citizens does. You can agree or disagree with that, but you’ve got to love the following line:
When businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it is like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it’s the other way around.
Of course, the whole pact with the devil, consumerist capitalist shebang is busted up, perhaps beyond repair now. We are chastened over-consumers and that, to my mind, is probably the positive in all this. World debt is killing economies like nothing on earth. Tinkering around the edges and putting people out of jobs, reducing your PAYE returns as a result, and failing to get tough with corporate greed is going to continue to get us nowhere fast. There is some radical thinking required. And soon. I am going to get on to that later.
In the meantime, here’s an example of a rather disobedient and impertinent red squirrel that would like to tease the Chancellor.
I’ve said in the past he and his cronies are taking a dangerous gamble and, given the influence of the Eurozone debacle, its now obvious how wrong it’s going.
I can only conclude that if we keep this crew for the full-term then we must be nothing short of a bunch of masochists. Not to mention, fairly stupid.
When’s Gideon going to stop blaming variously: Labour, the global financial collapse, snow, weddings, the Eurozone (whose growth forecasts exceed our own) and go and have a look in his own mirror?
If I were in the vicinity, I’d trace the rather impressive-looking but miniscule figure of the drop-in-the-ocean bankers’ tax across his reflection.
*inserts picture of a pile of steaming horseshit*
I like to entertain the notion that I am not such a narrow-minded individual as to immediately lie down in the road and object to every last thing that comes of out of our coalition government’s mouth, but yet again my heart sinks as George Osborne has his moment of: Georgie Porgie’s not for turning on the television yesterday.
He has to stick to the plan of cuts, he said, because mind-changing would induce market panic. Maybe so. Then he was so dismissive of the unions that I would like to poke him with a sharp stick. Apparently, he hopes to sort out a possible wave of strikes by having a “mature” conversation. Of course the implication was that a union was not capable of such a thing. He also said he’d be willing to change the union laws to prevent striking if necessary and, if that were not outrageous enough, he proceeded to tell unions what was best for their members anyway i.e. what he proposes.
What rank arrogance. How long I will have to wait for that man to come a cropper, I do not know, but please let it be soon. Get after him Mr Balls, and get after him good.
Aside from the jaw-dropping conceit of the Chancellor, we are also witnessing the Tories scratching around like Old Mother Hubbard for the odd crumb on the floor to flog to private interests. Maggie only left them the Royal Mail and the Forestry Commission (the NHS they only dare to give to GPs to run). I can be reasoned with over the Royal Mail, but the idea of handing over forests and woodlands to charities or community groups, knowing full well private landowners are going to pick up the slack, is plain depressing.
Many communities can barely function as a community; thanks in part to this shower’s ideological inspiration. Remember there is no such thing as society…just individuals…and families. Those communities that remain, struggle to effectively run a community centre without support from the local council, so how the heck are they going to effectively manage a forest? It’s not just a case of listening out for falling trees and letting nature take care of the rest; it involves hard work, dedication, skilled management and conservation. In fact, all the things the Forestry Commission currently delivers. Please don’t be hoodwinked people. The Government say they want to hand us our own forests to share and enjoy together, but we haven’t got the time, the energy or the expertise to do it. This is nothing more than a money-making exercise that will leave much of our forests in the hands of private individuals. And don’t think they’ll want the likes of us tramping about on their land; not unless we are prepared to pay handsomely and join a pheasant shoot or summat.
Thankfully, and I never thought I would write this, Melvyn Bragg is on the case. Go Melvyn…
I am sure I am not the only person to snort with disgust when the media report today’s figures, from the Office of National Statistics, that show a “shock” contraction of 0.5% in the UK’s economy in the last quarter of 2010?
How can it be a shock when ever since the Coalition cobbled themselves together in May they have been taking money out of the economy, meaning that most of us have less to spend, and that what we need to buy costs more. It’s a simple equation that means we consumers cannot afford to grow the economy out of recession. And because our version of capitalism has been so closely linked to excessive consumerism – I’d say the model is in trouble.
From April more public sector workers will hit the scrapheap; that will take more money out of circulation and so on until down the plughole we will go. Shrinking the state has been one of George Osborne’s long-standing ideologies before he got his mitts on the public purse and his dogged persistence in pursuing that aim, before industry is in a position to expand to fill the gap, is at best short-sighted and at worst downright vandalistic.
The equation is simple about our own spending and so is the model of swift action by the coalition: they want to get the pain out of the way in time for the country’s economy to have taken a turn for the better in time for the next election. George can’t afford to hang about because he wants the glory run. I don’t think it’s coming. The devastating effects of the cuts and inflation are kicking in now and private enterprise is not going to be able to pick up the slack in time for there to be a quick upturn in the economy.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the state of the economy has given the coalition carte blanche to viciously shrink the state in short order not just for our own good and to pay off the nation’s debt (economists say we are not even going start touching that for another 5 years), but to fit with certain politicians’ pre-existing ideas about how economies and countries should be run which are then blindly applied. A scientist would look at the experiment so far and observe that it isn’t working in the way they had predicted. Unless Osborne knows that we (yes us, not just some thing called the economy) are going to go through this and is lying.
Instead Osborne just blames the snow for the downturn in the quarter that included Christmas: well you may as well just say leaves on the line George, leaves on the line…