Archive for May, 2011

FIFA and Sepp Blatter

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Leaders who have been at the helm for a while, sometimes hang on too long. Often they feel they still have a lot still to give. This appears to be the situation with the outgoing president of FIFA. Not only is he the only candidate in the new election, but he does not think FIFA is in crisis. He sees issues to be dealt with and he feels the ‘football family’ will cope.

This upsets everyone in the UK, not least because of the scale of the rejection of our world cup bid. The FA, itself not an organisation without blemish or questions, thinks at this late hour that the Presidential election should be delayed. Most politicians who have spoken on the matter have already called for such a delay. It is, however, far from clear what the rest of the world thinks and since all countries from the largest and most powerful to the smallest and least known have in FIFA one thing in common, a single vote each, this matters. Two thirds of all of these would have to be in rebellion for a delay in the election to be mandated. That does not seem likely. Indeed nothing seems likely other than Sepp Blatter gaining another term.

Whether he will then mobilise his unchallenged authority to effect root and branch reform, is not a prospect in which many feel able to invest their hopes. It is perhaps, or is, the case that too much of FIFA is happy with the way things are. The power to effect change is too diffused and the authority to run football, whether through bribery or whatever, is too concentrated. A unique centre of influence rests with the sponsors. Some have expressed disquiet at the turn of events. If they shut off the cash flow, reform could come quite quickly.

Sarah Palin

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Will she or won’t she? There are reports she is about to begin a mini tour of eastern States. Is this a sign? Who else is there lining up for the Republican ticket? Are there any big hitters? Or is it clear already that Obama cannot be stopped? Sarah Palin has charisma and is a media heavyweight. She is also a woman. She has devoted followers, but, outside the United States she is seen as little more than a joke, almost clueless about the world at large, who, if elected would isolate the US in international affairs and destroy its leadership of the free world. The question, however, is not what the rest of the world thinks, because it does not vote in US Presidential elections, but what do Americans think? At the moment they are not sure.

Obama has restored America’s reputation and authority in the world, within the new dynamic of its reduced economic power and the rise of China, upon which it is economically dependent. This loss of American economic sovereignty has much to do with past Republican Presidents, namely Reagan, and the two Bushes. Their arithmetic which told them that it was okay to run record balance of trade and budget deficits in tandem, year in, year out and to build an economy on consumer debt, is why their country has wound up where it has.

Now Republicans want to cut spending and government, or more specifically, federal involvement in both. There is evidence, borne out by their election successes mid- term, that their country agrees. So, do they have a chance in 2012? Only if there is evidence that they have a good chance, will any known name be willing to run. If that evidence does exist, Sarah Palin will run and she will win the nomination.

What then? It might be worth remembering at this point Barry Goldwater, the first ultra conservative Republican since Reconstruction, who reversed the posture of the party, so that it opposed Federal interference with State’s Rights, the Civil Rights Act and other stuff, which would have caused Lincoln to turn in his grave, but delighted that part of America which remained emotionally tied to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. He won the 1964 Republican nomination to tumultuous acclaim from his party activists. He lost the election for the Presidency by a landslide, carrying only his own state, Arizona, and five states in the Deep south, the first Republican ever to do so.

Whether Sarah Palin would go down to such a spectacular defeat would, if she runs, depend upon America’s mood and its vision of itself today. Because today it is not on the up any more. Other powers are rising faster, it is in debt on a scale which defies numbers and millions are workless. This may be a moment to return to the principles of the American dream, which is essentially that every American is free to do his or hers, without government weighing down upon them and taking taxes from their pockets, where the federal authority is small and where the community and the home state is big. If America feels that it can recover its place in the world order by returning to these older truths, not only will she put up a good enough fight to assure the nomination in 2016, but she may, just may, win outright.

Astride the road leading to the prospect of President Palin stands the considerable reality of President Barak Obama. He has restored America’s international reputation, is curbing the Wall Street excesses, is giving Americans the chance of universal healthcare for the first time in their history and, AND he successfully ordered the killing of Osama Bin Laden. That is quite a list. Whether it is enough to assure his second term depends whether modern America is, deep down, the same sort of country as the United States of 1964.

Growth Forecast from the BCC

Monday, May 30th, 2011

The British Chambers of Commerce have marginally downgraded their growth forecast. These projections, of point this and that, are really not the story. The BCC acknowledges the importance of re-balancing the economy from domestic consumption to manufacturing and exports and this cannot be achieved without near flat lining while the changeover is in play. They also predict the interest rates will rise sooner, in August, rather than later. This would be good news for inflation, though not so good for exporters if the pound rose by more than a whisker.

There is now a developing need for the government to give the growing sector of private business, upon which everything hangs, a boost. The BCC wants it to be easier to employ people, especially for small firms. This is right. It sounds reactionary to suggest that it should be much cheaper to hire (and lay off) employees and for them to work in a less regulated and simpler framework. This is especially important when jobs may be part time initially and workers may have more than one employer.

There must remain protection from ruthless exploiters among employers and these do exist, though nowadays most employers want to do right by their workers. There are skills gaps and the Education Secretary needs to redouble his efforts to bring young people to the conclusion of their eduction with useful knowledge and skills, rather than the useless litany of high grade passes in meaningless subjects, which crowned the Blair ambition of Eduction, Education, Education.

Nothing would do more to spur economic growth than the reform of the income tax system to a single rate, long promoted by this blog and in my book. This would allow the high threshold of £ 15000 pa, before any individual pays income tax, providing not only incentives to work but simplicity of employment. The inability of modern governments to really get to grips with the important reforms to sharpen up the whole performance of UK Ltd, whilst at the same time fooling about with faddish changes which make no difference, is one of the outcomes of the modern politician having done nothing but politics before taking high, even the highest, office.

Sharon Shoesmith: Villain or Victim?

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Politicians and the media, when news broke of the Baby P. tragedy, lined up to attack and blame this unfortunate local government officer in a way which was both unjust and unfair. The Court Of Appeal thinks so too, but not the government, nor Ed Balls.

The list of injuries suffered by this toddler, which told of cruelties to a child beyond normal comprehension, not only brought the whole country, even the hardest hearts, close to tears, but it gave rise to a lust for vengeance. It was not enough that the guilty had been punished. There was responsibility to share. What were the authorities doing? Heads must roll! Yet it was not and still is not that clear cut.

The ultimate responsibility for this ghastly episode lies with us all. We have created a society where such things are possible because boundaries have been broken, cohesion lost, personal responsibility emasculated, parenting skills abandoned, human rights taken to the lunatic fringe, all in the flawed belief that process and procedure would somehow make up for the abandonment of the fundamental principles upon which a civilised and benevolent society exists. New Labour was in the vanguard of this headlong rush to disaster; many of the barmy regulations which clog the workings of daily life, are its creation. Nonetheless there is no certainty that the Tories would have done better, because they began, within a programme of de-regulation, a gluttony for centralised control. They invoked the idea that there should be a Minister for everything with the final say in all.

This blog has no certain knowledge whether Ms Shoesmith was good or bad at her job. She has many supporters who worked with her and rated her highly. The Ofsted report commissioned by ED Balls at the time of the furore when news of Baby P’s treatment broke, is critical of much and many, but it contains nothing which would demand the summary dismissal of Ms Shoesmith in such a draconian and conclusive way. Because there exist all these laws, processes and procedures to ensure fair treatment and fair play, the Secretary of State had a duty to ensure that they were invoked to deal with the LGO, whom he wished to hold responsible. By not doing so he has ensured a drama of the fight for justice by a conscientious and loyal public servant, which may yet prove very costly indeed.

At the heart of the matter lies the problem of the child protection process as an added duty of the social workers, the police,  the medical authorities and the adversarial family courts. For nobody is it a sole responsibility, a qualified vocation,  a full time job, a departmental function or a legal discipline.  In my book 2010 A Blueprint For Change I argued for a better way and backed this with a personal campaign for reform. Nobody really listened, though some, including the then PM, Gordon Brown, did take an interest and respond. Of course nothing happened. Until it does we must brace ourselves for more tragedies to tear at our hearts. Doubtless we will assuage our pricking national conscience with new scapegoats. It is the easiest way.

Osborne:Economic Choppy Waters

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

It was inevitable that times would get more difficult. The UK economy has to completely re-balance as well as reduce the budget deficit. That is two major undertakings at the same time. The Eurozone is struggling to contain its sovereign debt crisis. Up to three countries are on the potential debt re-structure list, which means default in plain language. That will mean big new losses for fragile banks, not all of which will be able to cope.

Now the OECD warns that UK growth will be slower than forecast. Ominously it also warns that the pace of cuts may have to slow to take account of slower growth in the short term. That in turn would mean borrowing more; already the interest bill each month is impacting on the deficit and making it wider.

There is a fine line between having to borrow more to maintain economic activity, which in turn boosts revenue, or cutting fast which reduces revenue but also reduces borrowing. If the line is breached it is possible to cut more and borrow more at the same time. That is and always has been, Labour’s message. The trouble is that this line is so fine that even the best economic minds do not know where it is. So you can end up cutting less and borrowing more until debt levels become unsustainable, or conversely cut too much and end up in the same place.

However there is a difference for the UK. Our economic model was shot and the state was too big. If we ended up in the bad place but with a better shaped economy we could cope. To get there with the old dysfunctional economy would be economic curtains. Osborne therefore needs to stay the course. If he comes under irresistible pressure to ease back on cuts, he should borrow to build schools and roads, not another cathedral of quangos. Let us hope it will not come to that.

That Relationship: How Special?

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

There is no relationship in history which has been so dissected and discussed as that between the US and the UK. Sometimes dismissed as a fiction, but a mandatory point of reference for contact between the two governments of whatever political stripe, this peculiar bond defies definition. This blog will now try to do just that.

President Obama has begun to talk about an essential relationship. He is right to give more precision to the notion of this bond; special can mean almost anything, essential has  more bite. To test all this we have to go back to an older war, the America War of Independence. The two countries recall this drama with sharply different emotions. For America it was the moment of triumph, the genesis of its very being. For England it was a loss of its American colonies, which was no big deal. They were a nuisance anyway.

England was wrong in this laid back view. It was the single biggest disaster to befall the British Empire and guaranteed its early demise. For America became not just a country, but a dream and an ideal. It sucked people and resources west across the Atlantic. Worst of all it became a rival and a jealous rival at that. It pedalled a disruptive message to the millions under British rule – take your freedom as we took ours. One by one they did.

Into the vacuum of authority left by the unravelling of the British Empire post WWII, stepped the now omnipotent United States, confident, victorious, rich and growing richer. Such was the aura of triumph and righteousness which followed America across the globe that none remembered the native  people of that continent , crushed and herded into so called reservations, nor speared many thoughts for the blacks in their struggle for equality in this land of the free, nor recalled the shattered and starving Confederacy. America was wholly good, the British Empire was wholly bad.

Of course, neither label was true to the facts. Both were part good and part bad. Oddly both had the same ideals, though each put a different gloss on what these might be. The US, one of the most democratic of all free countries and a republic, promoted democracy above everything. The UK, much less democratic in its institutions and remaining a monarchy, promoted freedom and above all freedom of speech. But in the end, when it came to a crunch on big issues, they mostly wound up in the same place. This was sometimes good,   but occasionally bad. Of one thing there was no doubt, America was on the way up. Britain was on the way down.

Times have changed. America too is slipping. Other unremarked countries of yesterday are the rising powers of tomorrow. For the first time both the UK and the US have the same geopolitical dynamic.Their business model, which failed so spectacularly was not only similar but intertwined.

The interrelationship between the two, financially, culturally, militarily and in common ancestry far outstrips the common ties of any other nations on earth. There is meaning in the phrase Anglo-American. It speaks of two countries. But they are one nation.

That is the essence of this perplexing relationship. That is why it is special or essential or whatever. It is there whether you want it or not. It is fundamental. Moreover, treat them as one nation with a common heritage and purpose, link their two economies as one, combine their military assets and you have still the greatest power on earth. They need each other. They also owe untold $trillions to everybody else.

After Hours Visits

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

There is a report that the numbers of parents taking their children directly to hospital A&E, when they have ailments such a fevers, has risen sharply. The government is said to be working on an after hours strategy. This is all absurd. GPs used to be available to their patients 24/7. As a consequence of the craven and befuddled thinking which afflicts politicians and state bureaucrats when dealing with doctors, changes were made so that medical hours were made more like office hours, where at a given point people knock off and go home.

Medicine is not like that. It is not that sort of vocation. It is not that sort of responsibility. GPs have to provide a round the clock service as the first line of support for their patients, for whose healthcare they are quite astonishingly well paid. This does not mean that every GP has to be on duty round the clock. There are very few single doctor practices nowadays for whom special arrangements would have to be made. Most practices have two or mostly several doctors. My own local GP surgery, a rural practice, has seven. It is easy to organise an after hours rota. GPs should be ordered to do this. The present set up is rotten. It is expensive, strains the resources of A&E and may even cost lives.

We do not need a strategy. Every fool knows what is needed. Just get on and do it.

The Obama State Visit

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

This blog was among the first to recognise the global significance of the Queen’s Ireland triumph. What has happened is simple. She has morphed from a ceremonial figurehead and tourist attraction into a political monarch of extraordinary authority. This does not mean she has become partisan, favouring one group above another which would breach the spirit of our constitution (not the letter because as it is unwritten, there are none). She has become involved in an issue, Anglo Irish reconciliation, which has not just defined her reign, but to millions who thought she was pointless or undemocratic, she has acquired meaning and with meaning comes power. The power to heal, to guide and to enable.

In his interview with Andrew Marr, the President said the Her Majesty represented  ‘all that was best about England’ and the ‘we were all very proud’ of her. That meant we the Americans. Such a thing has not been said since the American War of Independence. This is because the issue over which the Queen acquired her new aura was Ireland and so much of the worst about England is its historical treatment of the Irish. At the same time so much of America is derived from the suffering of the Irish people, including, we discover, the President himself.

So those words in Dublin had an echo and nowhere more resonant than across the Atlantic ocean. But there is more. For long I have promoted a more independent (of America) foreign policy for Britain and this, little by little and after some initial hesitations, is beginning to emerge under William Hague. His outspoken attitude over Israel and his exhortation to the U.S. to get a grip of its ally has clearly struck a chord, with both countries calling for the start of negotiations with the Palestinians to begin at the pre-1967 border.

A furious Israel calls on us all to face the reality. The response is, we do. The reality is that the annexation of Palestinian territory was, is and will remain, illegal under international law. Israel must begin by facing that reality. When it does it can call with moral authority for everyone else, including Hamas, to recognise it as a sovereign state with a right to exist. The border issue will then be solved with a certain amount of give and take, which will have to be based on common sense and the need to secure both states into the future.

Meanwhile, with its tougher and more independent foreign policy, the UK has not drawn closer to the US, but rather drawn the US closer to the UK. This will become more evident during the President’s visit. For the sea change in atmosphere that has made that possible, everyone must thank the Queen.

The Twitter Spring

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

For too long the law has been used not just to protect and organise a just and civilised society, but as a tool of enrichment and the protection of privilege. In a modern age of celebrity there are those who, sometimes with quite modest talent or skill, but with either a fashionable persona or a lust for power, use the law as a means of coercion and concealment. It falls to independent judges to interpret and pass judgement, but they have to do this within the terms of the law. Any unreasonable interpretation will be challenged by appeal.

All this works beautifully provided the law has public acceptance. Once the law fall into disrepute or loses public support it becomes unenforceable. It then becomes, in the old phrase, an ass, making the judges look impotent, while expensive lawyers are humiliated. Such has happened to the peculiar devolution of the Human Rights Act, to enable celebrities to keep activities which would upset their followers and spoil the value of their brand, out of the media.

This is because the media, as an organised business run and owned and managed in conventional ways is ever more overtaken by a new media run by the people themselves. These are the very people who bestow celebrity; in return they demand knowledge 24/7, of every little detail of the private as well as public lives of those whom they have anointed and to whom, through brand support, they pay untold riches. They will not have it when those riches are used to shut them out. There is no law that can contain the power of the people, whether the Arabs in their Spring or Twitterers and their footballers. The world is now waking up to this new reality.

Establishments everywhere are under attack. Their borders, secure for so long behind despotic, unfair or unrealistic, laws customs or regulations, whether propping up murderous regimes, or allowing an after shave brand to fornicate in private, look increasingly unstable. This is all because in the old media the people were told what their masters or exploiters thought they should know. In the new media people everywhere can talk directly to each other and tell each other everything.

Vince Cable Speaks

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

At last someone in government has begun to really spell out the issues with the U.K. economy. For too long politicians of every stripe have tended to portray the economy as temporarily stalled, but able to pick itself up and carry on. This is just not possible, as this blog has pointed out time after time. The economic boom of the Labour years (there is no evidence that the Tories, if in power, would have acted differently) was based upon an unsustainable theory of endless borrowing secured by rampant but meaningless property inflation. Industry was neglected and everything revolved around estate agents and shops.  75% of all bank lending was on property and the economy was declared to be one based on consumption and services, fuelled by utterly unsustainable house price inflation.

The so called growth was an illusion, without foundation in fact, because for every £ of growth there was another £ of borrowing, on which interest has to be paid and repayment made. The real worth of the economy, judged by its capacity to sustain its population, employ and care for them, has been shrinking. So has its net wealth.

What is happening now is a fresh start. It will also be a new experience. Britain has now slumped from fourth to seventh in the world ranking of GDP. It is no longer a market maker or price setter. Our leaders have been in denial of these realities. Labour remains gob-smacked and uncomprehending. All focus is on the budget deficit, but that is only the symptom of the underlying crisis, not the core. Nobody has really dared to speak out. Except, now, for Vince. Not for the first time either. That is why he is something of a national treasure. People listen to him.