Tuesday, September 30, 2008 

On knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

For all the undoubted benefits that the internet has brought, one of its most malign effects has been on the state of journalism in this country. The big bloggers can moan all they like about the dead tree press, but without the dead tree press those self-same bloggers would have far fewer stories to write about. For that, without question, is what the MSM does: it provides the facts; the bloggers provide the views, very rarely indeed breaking stories, or at least stories that penetrate into the mass media.

More on which in a moment. Something that can also be linked to the rise of the internet, but more resultant on the multi-channel digital/satellite/cable boom and the decline in advertising is today's announcement
by ITV that it will be cutting an astounding 430 staff working in regional news. Just last week Ofcom rubber-stamped this apparent inevitability, disregarding completely a slight thing like the public interest. ITV is to condense its 17 separate news regions down to just 9, with the massive area which was previously the Border region, Tyne Tees North and Tyne Tees South to be"rationalised" into one, with those in the Borders region not unreasonably protesting vigorously about the likely outcome. Additionally ITV will only have to give over 15 minutes a week to regional programming in England, or a derisory 13 hours a year, all part of an attempt to save £40 million a year.

These cuts would not be so bad if there were other organisations that could pick up the slack. The "rationalisation" process however is not just limited to TV, with both the BBC and ITV cutting back on both local and national news, but also to the local press and the wire agencies. Where once local papers ran training schemes, with reporters subsequently spring-boarding to nationals, these have almost entirely dried up. Instead graduates are thrown in almost entirely at the deep-end, on pitiful wages and with excessive, monotonous hours spent in the office, rather than out cultivating the sources which are vital for any reporter to be able to present an accurate picture of their respective patch.
Nick Davies ably describes how this came about in Flat Earth News, with the benevolent families that previously owned the regional press selling out to the "grocers", whose only instinct is to make a profit, endlessly cut costs and make payouts to shareholders. The wire agencies which once had dozens of reporters covering the courts and elsewhere have either disappeared entirely or been cut to the bone, while vast areas of the country such as Greater Manchester are now covered by just five reporters for the Press Association, while Scotland has just 15. It's worth also pointing out that the local journalist and their sources are even further threatened by the prosecution of Sally Murrer and Mark Kearney, ostensibly on the grounds of "aiding and abetting gross misconduct in a public office", but almost certainly because of their role in uncovering the bugging of Sadiq Khan MP whilst visiting Babar Ahmed at Woodhill prison.

In an apparent attempt to add insult to injury, Ofcom justifies the cuts on the basis that it will provide "credible means to sustain quality national and regional news services on ITV1." In other words, ITV was laughing at the regulator which has no clothes: it can't do anything about ITV cutting back, and so provides apologia on the basis that these cuts will allow it to keep broadcasting quality services despite reducing the funds to them. Confused by such contradictions? You're supposed to be. You're also supposed to be glad that this guarantees local programming until 2012, when the digital switchover will be complete and presumably the waste of time and money on such mundane things as local news will be abandoned altogether.

After all, aren't there other things that ITV could cut back on rather than on news production, which provides a undoubted public service? ITV has for example 3 digital channels, which for the most part broadcast block repeats. Possibly the two most notable original productions for ITV2 are
Secret Diary of a Call Girl, the ludicrously shallow, badly acted glamorous prostitute drama starring Billie Piper, and a "reality" show which turgidly and stupefyingly follows around Katie Price (aka Jordan) and Peter Andre as they showcase their mind-numbing stupidity to the world. It makes BBC Three look like BBC Four by comparison. Who knows how much could be saved by shutting down just one or two of these channels, let alone all three, and instead concentrating on just one brand, but the first casualties are always the worthy things that are considered expendable, while the stuff which gets media attention and the one-handed brigade excited are untouchable. ITV could also cut back on its "superstar" pay packets: fittingly, Ant and Dec, stars and culpable in the "fixing" scandals of last year signed up to a £40,000,000 contract, while Simon Cowell has a three-year £20,000,000 deal. Not bad money for humiliating those with delusions of fame with scripted put-downs.

The National Union of Journalists seems to be ready to strike over the cut-backs, but their chances of forcing a rethink are tiny to non-existent. This is the way that both TV and print journalism is going, typified by the thinking of the likes of Richard Desmond who upon buying the Express and Star thought that posts such as health correspondent could be filled by someone getting all their stories off the internet.

The irony is that is exactly what is now taking place, as Davies' rules of production are increasingly followed. You'll have probably noticed it on news sites: the latest decree from on high is to go big with celebrity stories, which draw in massive amounts of hits and and boost sites
up the ABCe tables accordingly. Up until very recently the Guardian website for example punched way above its weight because of its early investment in the internet; since then the Daily Mail has come out of almost nowhere to reach very nearly the highest reaches in terms of hits. This is partially because Paul Dacre famously originally said "bullshit.com" to the idea the internet was the future, something he has since changed his mind over. It's also though because the Mail Online concentrates on celebrity and entertainment stories which can be quickly copied off wire services, and which gain most of their hits from overseas. Seeing this was working, the idea has since been pilfered not just by the other tabloids, but by the likes of the Telegraph as well. Even the Independent is currently running the Britney Spears sex tape story which was the front page splash on today's Daily Star, economic news being far too depressing and boring for paper's demographic. Again, this wouldn't matter so much if other resources were still being placed elsewhere, but increasingly this is where the funding is going.

A case in point was the recent revival of the Satanic panic, this time in Russia.
The Mail, Sun, Times and Telegraph all published the gruesome details of a group which had apparently murdered four other teenagers and eaten some of their remains, having stabbed their victims exactly 666 times. The natural sceptic will immediately wonder about the truthfulness of such claims, and a quick search for an original source proves futile: there doesn't appear to be one, neither a news wire source or one from Russia, so where on earth had they came from? An investigation suggested that the story had in fact originated on that notoriously factual Russian newspaper site, Pravda, but the story has even disappeared from there. Searching Google now still doesn't turn up a Russian source, and searches on the Moscow Times and Russia Today sites also turn up nothing. Wherever it came from, no one actually seems to have done any checking whatsoever other than repeat the claims completely verbatim. After all, contacting the authorities in Russia would doubtless be costly, and if it turned out the story wasn't accurate, that would mean that a sensationalist story that would naturally bring traffic to a website couldn't be published. The changing rules of journalism now in fact mitigate against the original purpose of the craft: to report facts. Ninja turtle syndrome, where if somewhere else is reporting something, everywhere has to report it, is becoming the norm.

One Telegraph hack has become so concerned with what they are now tasked to do that they wrote to Roy Greenslade with their anxieties:

The growth of blogs and online communities seems to be contributing plenty in the way of opinion, of which there's already plenty and not much in the way of facts. This is creating a brand of journalism in which it doesn't really matter if you get things wrong.

Again, it's becoming all too clear at the Telegraph, whose online business plan seems to be centred on chasing hits through Google by rehashing and rewriting stories that people are already interested in. Facts are no longer the currency they used to be.

I don't have a particularly rosy view of the past and I am all too well aware that many of the things I've loved about papers, particularly the craft of putting them together, are becoming obsolete.

But I do worry that without the professionalism of the career journalist, society will be much less well equipped to hold the powerful to account and that serious and intelligent debate will be lost under a global shouting match between anonymous partisan supporters of particular opinions or interests.

As the journalist also relates in a paraphrase of C.P. Scott's quote, comment is cheap but facts are expensive. To pull out and slightly paraphrase another quote, this time one of Wilde's, we are in danger of knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing. As the media becomes ever more "rationalised" around London, those outside the bubble become ever more enraged by media which they find no longer represents them or even tells them anything that they are interested in. All politics may be local, but the news no longer is. There was no golden age, but what is certain is that now is as far away from that as it seems possible to get. As the Telegraph journalist states, this isn't based on parochialism, it's based on the fact that as news retreats every further into the obvious and cheap, while the comment becomes ever louder and brash, we risk completely losing the ability to hold the powerful to account, and fundamentally, democracy itself is and will be undermined. The really depressing thing is that things, especially with the "credit crunch" and the increasing flight of advertising to the web, are only likely to get worse.

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Monday, September 29, 2008 

Our new overlords.

If the Liberal Democrats' conference was overshadowed by "Meltdown Monday" two weeks ago, the Conservatives hardly seem to be cursing their luck for suffering the same fate. Even with the polls suggesting that Labour's conference, or rather, Gordon Brown's well-received speech, has given the government a boost, the edict from on high was obvious: try not to look too triumphalist.

Accordingly, even if the swinging dicks in the party are on the inside brimming with confidence which only the most expensive private education followed by Oxbridge can provide you with, their faces and actions must be the opposite: stern, determined, serious. It's almost reminiscent of a faintly apocalyptic sect that are constantly reminded that they are living in the last days, and that The End could come at any time; when it does, they must be ready, lest the outsiders be put off by their exuberance at being saved whilst all around them are set to burn in economic hellfire.

The deeply depressing thing, apart from that fact that all the banks are going to collapse tomorrow leaving us in a Threads-like future eating rats to survive, is that the Conservatives truly do look like the government in waiting. A party flush with cash and the knowledge that they probably already have the next election in the bag is always likely to be able to put such a powerful show on, but that it's so apparently natural is what digs in and inspires anxiety. Not only are they appealling aesthetically, but also on policy they are finally starting to cobble together something approaching the beginnings of a manifesto. Their plan to set-up an Office for Budget Responsibility to monitor government spending is one of those simple ideas which is all the more effective for it. The announcement that they will not build a third runway at Heathrow and instead opt for a high-speed TGV line between St Pancras and Leeds was a master stroke - pissing off all the right people while further underlining their "green" credentials. It's hardly likely to win over the real greens, but those worried about about the contribution of flying to CO2 emissions will likely be impressed.

Take as a further example George Osborne, who ought to be on an absolute hiding to nothing. He's young, resembles a caricature of the smarmy, upper-class snob that spent his tender years smashing up restaurants when he wasn't shovelling white powder up his nostrils, with a face so punchable it's a marvel that he hasn't got a broken nose and a good number of teeth missing, knows next to nothing about economics, and has all the charm (to this writer at least) of a self-portrait of Kate Moss drawn in lipstick and Pete Doherty's blood. Instead his speech was pretty much as good as it could have been: for a party that has been absolutely anonymous on the economic fall-out of the past two weeks, he came across as ready to take over the reins should become available. The message about the cupboard being bare with there being no possibility of sharing the proceeds of growth, as they promised and as Vince Cable mocked them for, with a recession about to bite may have been stating the obvious but was still jarring. He declared that the party was over, and while you somehow doubt that is by any means the thinking within the Tory party, he undoubtedly meant it. While acknowledging the party's own role in deregulating the City while encouraging the housing bubble, he attacked the bankers "partly responsible" harder if anything than New Labour has ever dared to or would dare to.

There was of course chutzpah along with the clarity, Osborne hilariously claiming that they were "not bedazzled and don't fawn over big money", just as a Dispatches documentary showed that a donation of £50,000 to the party brought membership to the Leader's Club, where they could argue the toss over Champagne with Cameron, but the right tone had been struck. It will though be the promise of a two-year council tax freeze that gets the headlines, despite the cupboard from where it was presumably pulled being bare. This has all the makings of being just as much a con as the inheritance pledge was, with many being under the illusion that they will benefit when they most likely won't, as councils will have to decide to take part, before you even bother to actually look at the figures. None of this though will matter, just as the IHT pledge didn't last year, as the Conservatives are getting away with their promises barely being examined, as Labour's invariably weren't prior to 97.

This was further apparent when Andrew Lansley stepped up to the lectern, holding forth on the NHS just as Osborne had stated that the party was over. His big promise was a single room for any patient who wanted one, despite the unlikeliness of there being any extra cash to deliver such a bold pledge. When you consider that the NHS cannot even currently deliver single-sex wards, this was the sort of unachievable ideal that the Tories would have once criticised, and which Labour would have been crucified for as yet more wasted spending. He had previously promised to end the constant reforms under New Labour by introducing even more reforms, but this time ones which will democratise, empower and free the staff, as if Labour hadn't sold their constant rejiggings on exactly the same buzzwords. The contradictory, contrary thinking would have been mocked normally, but these are not normal times, and with the economy taking precedence over everything, Lansley and the party will probably be glad that few will take much notice.

There's likely to be more such flummery tomorrow, when the favourite Conservative subject, the "broken society", will be the main topic. Dominic Grieve, fresh from attacking multiculturalism as he enters one of the most multicultural cities in the country, will apparently offer changes in the law to help "have-a-go heroes" who are supposedly being prosecuted for daring to interfere when they see crimes occurring, often highlighted by the tabloids who hardly ever report the full real story, such as when they were outraged by the man and son who were arrested after they performed a citizen's arrest on a boy who had err, allegedly committed a crime the day before. He will also look to change health and safety laws supposedly stopping the police from doing their jobs, highlighting the case of Jordan Lyon, which err, involved community support officers, and as this blog has previously noted, was not the scandal which it was made out to be, as the boy had already disappeared from sight when they arrived and the police themselves were there within a few minutes of that.

The underlings though have been thoroughly overshadow by Osborne, just as they will be also by Cameron. While Osborne ineffectively threw back the "novice" tag at Gordon Brown, something not shown in many bulletins, his "stop go" soundbite will have a struck a chord with those tired of a government which has just one strength remaining, the experience of Brown in a crisis. This, lamentably, may be the end of even that.

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Up the arse corner.

Mark Clarke is #2.

This blog tries not to dwell too often on tittle-tattle, but the story about one of the "Tatler 10", Mark Clarke, is improved dramatically by a comment from Sarah Gill herself on Recess Monkey:

Ok, now that i have gone on the record about Mark I would like to say that I am NOT doing this because I am “scorned”. Frankly the fact that I had a relationship with this man leaves me feeling soiled.
I have gone public because I think this man needs bringing down a peg or two. If I thought that speaking to the Tories would do the trick I would have done so but I fear they would just close ranks. (sorry Justine- didn’t want to implicate you-Mark told me you tried to get him deselected - beware- he is indiscreet about who and what he tells people. Glad you are now friends.)
Everything I have said is true and Mark knows it. He has many characteristics which in my opinion (as a Tory and a constituent) make him unfit to be an MP.(God help us if he ever gets the title “honourable gentleman” after his name….)Let’s face it, who would you believe, me who has nothing to lose or gain or a highly ambitious man. He has a lot riding on becoming an MP, afterall he gave up his six figure salary to persue a life of public service…. (meanwhile happy to enjoy the generosity of his cash poor girlfriend!)
One thing I never accused Mark of is lying but having seen his response to the article that can be added to his list of characteristics.
Oh, about the girl who he slept with to get back at his friend. We were having a discussion about the saying “revenge is a dish best served cold” (or Mark’s version- revenge is a dish served hot over many courses”). He told me that he shagged her up the arse and boasted “I was FIRST”.
Mark was SO right when he said that we weren’t right for eachother- I prefer my men decent and with integrity.

The Conservative conference theme is "Plan for Change". It would be immeasurably improved if it was "The Conservatives - Taking revenge by shagging your friends up the arse."

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Saturday, September 27, 2008 

Weekend links.

It looks possible that before Monday we could have another people's bank, this time the Bradford and Bingley. Robert Peston is optimistic that if taken into public ownership, B&B's mortgages could eventually yield a profit, something that no other bank at the moment is willing to countenance. I'd be more inclined to let it go bust - but then I'm not in the government that will take the blame.

Speaking of which, Question That explains why the US bailout, at least in its apparent current form, is just a sticking plaster. It says something of where we've come that I'm in agreement with a libertarian on this - even if for completely different reasons.

Plenty of comment, as could be expected, on last night's presidential debate. Most of the pundits seemed to call it very narrowly for McCain, but it seems that some voters may well have been turned off by McCain's attitude towards Obama, who if anything didn't attack McCain anywhere near as hard as he should have done. Michael Tomasky is confused, Juan Cole has four fisks of McCain's various distortions and lies, while Dan Kennedy concentrates on McCain's apparent contempt for Obama. Freemania both stayed up and live-blogged it, for reasons known only to himself.

Paul Linford delivers his weekly newspaper column on why Gordon's figthback may have begun on Tuesday, but there's still a very long way to go. Jennie Rigg on Lib Con links to a piece by someone at the sharp end of the immigration reforms and introduction of ID cards for those we don't much like or care about, who persuasively makes the case against New Labour. The debate is also well worth a gander. Matthew Parris writes on why the Conservatives ought to, in Vince Cable's words, stop kicking the twitching corpse, while Giles Coren comprehensively proves that he simply cannot write comedy, except unintentionally.

Over at the Scum, the story of the week has been the amazing exclusive that Omar Bakri Mohammed has a daughter who's rather fruity. Anorak recreates the conversation that probably took place between the Sun and Bakri himself, who for a Islamic extremist seems to be remarkably restrained about his daughter's "kufr" ways. Probably complete bullshit is the Sun's follow-up which claims that Bakri paid for her breast enlargement with money from benefits; or that if he did, he must have been saving up for a while for to get the supposed £4,000 which it cost. Notably the paper doesn't seem to have asked him to confirm this, despite being easily able to contact him for the previous report. Over on the Sun Lies Aaron Heath looks at just how piss-poor Jon Gaunt is.

Finally, the Yorkshire Ranter reminds us that yesterday was Stanislav Petrov day, the 25th anniversary of the Soviet lieutenant colonel quite possibly preventing nuclear holocaust when he decided, rightly, that the five missiles flashing across his radar screen were a malfunction rather than actual warheads. Worth remembering that a false alarm could have potentially killed billions, especially when so many today try to tell us that the terrorist "threat" is far above anything that the Soviets ever threw at us.

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Friday, September 26, 2008 

On the jihad in Iraq and online.

By almost all accounts, the extreme-Salafist takfiri jihad in Iraq is not going well. Down mainly to the Awakening movement, which started when the Sunni tribes tired of the sectarian bloodshed, indiscriminate murder and imposition of the most harsh and ridiculous interpretation of Sharia law rose against the Islamic State of Iraq (formerly al-Qaida in Iraq and the Mujahideen Shura Council) and its allies, over time attracting other former insurgents, and to on a much lesser level, the US troop surge, the few remaining sanctuaries are Mosul in the north and Diyala province in the centre of the country. Along with the continuing ceasefire by the Mahdi army (and its eventual dissolution), which for a time had been the main cause of casualties to US troops in and around Baghdad, combined with the effective ghettoisation of the capital into sectarian enclaves, the drop in violence has resulted in the number of troop deaths falling to its lowest since the start of the war, with just 13 killed in July. Civilian deaths are still though rarely below three figures a week, even if the suicide bombings which were once a daily occurrence in the capital have fallen significantly.

Away from the real war, the online propaganda war is also, if you listen to some of the hyperbolic jihad watchers, in trouble. The most prominent jihadi forum, al-ehklass.net, has been down for almost two weeks, and its front page currently resolves to a domain bought place holder. Also down, or at least were, were three of the main four forum sites, with only the most exclusive, al-Hesbah, remaining up, but even that at the moment appears to be down. Why they are down, or rather, who is responsible is equally unclear; those who have formerly and continue to involve themselves in removing jihadi material from the web have refused to comment or denied it. The main point of taking down the forums was to deny as-Sahab, al-Qaida's media arm, from being able to distribute their yearly video marking September the 11th. Not only was this successful, but when the video was eventually posted for distribution and mirrored across the net, the password to the archive was wrong, further delaying and disillusioning those waiting for it.

The Islamic State of Iraq would still presumably prefer to be in as-Sahab's position. As it becomes apparent even to the most deluded and dedicated of its supporters that it faces a battle for its very survival, even if still clinging on in Diyala and Mosul, its media releases are increasingly being derided. Their "Two Years with an Islamic State" video claimed that they had chemical warheads capable of reaching Israel, something which not even the most die-hard supporter of the group or most swivel-eyed jihad watcher could possibly believe.

For as ISI declines, a group that had existed in Iraq long before al-Zarqawi's organisation pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden continues to punch well above its apparent weight. Ansar al-Islam, first formed in 2001 and active in the autonomous Kurdish north, and which may well have sheltered Zarqawi before he moved south and established the forerunners of the ISI, continues to impress (if that's the right word) both those in the "online jihadi community" and observers of it. While sharing almost exactly the same ideology as the ISI, the same brand of extreme Salafi Islam which led it to carry out one of the most notorious atrocities of the insurgency, the execution of 12 Nepalese hostages, it has never allied with the group, even if they have often carried out operations together. More recently the group, previously known as Ansar al-Sunnah, reverted to its original name, and with it established a media arm based on both As-Sahab and al-Furqan, al-Ansar. Their latest video, The Earth Rain, is even by the high production standards of those two "media organisations" especially ambitious: featuring a host, translated, apparently non-Googlish English subtitles and credits at the end, it attempts to document last year's American "Arrowhead Ripper" operation in Diyala province. Whether Ansar al-Islam with this new approach intends to become a rival to al-Qaida in general remains to be seen, but the aspiration appears to be there.

The bringing down of the jihadi forums though, however satisfying for those in the short-term who seem to imagine that doing so is striking a blow against the movement in its entirety, is by no means necessarily a good thing. Putting matters of censorship aside, it not only makes things more difficult for those on them, but also for those with the equally important task of monitoring the forums. Whilst doubtless the intelligence agencies have moles on the inside and at probably the very highest levels of the administration on them, not every activity on them can be monitored by the security services, which is why civilian organisations that do so have sprung up. While these tend to be rabid and completely overstate the level of threat from takfirist jihadists, their role is still a noble one. It isn't just the monitoring of them for potential threats though which is important, they're also a goldmine for the also vital research into who exactly it is that is most likely to become a jihadi sympathiser. As the leaked document from MI5 showed, this is an area in which the stereotypes generally don't apply. Only through delving into more backgrounds and the lives of those on these forums might we improve our ways of targeting and stopping radicalisation before it takes place. Just knocking the suppliers down while not targeting the source itself will do nothing to help in that.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008 

Won't someone please think of the Catholics? (and the women...)

I think I can leave you to come up with your own clichéd analogy - rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, fiddling while Rome burns, etc - all of which would more than apply to the ludicrous proposed constitutional reforms of removing the barrier to a Catholic becoming monarch, while also allowing the first successive heir, regardless of gender, to ascend to the throne.

You would have thought it was patently obvious, but you cannot improve an institution based on the hereditary principle and the accident of birth by making the rules ever so slightly less discriminatory. In fact, doing so brings it even further into disrepute: modifying the monarchy at this stage to make it slightly more equitable and less openly bigoted gives the government's seal of approval to the head of state being anything other than elected. It gives the impression of both fawning and respect to a bunch of inbred half-wits whose only modern function is to be propaganda props for the army, having failed to find anything else to do with their lives, whilst giving the nation's tabloid journalists something to write about when they spend the other part of it falling out of London's more exclusive clubs and bars.

It's not even as if there is any great need to modify the religious rule, as the royals themselves have already figured out a way to get round it: Peter Phillips, 11th in line to the throne, was still so desperate to retain the chance of becoming King should a bomb drop on Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle or Harry or someone else go postal ala the Nepalese Crown Prince, that his fiancée, baptised a Catholic, swiftly converted to Anglicianism. If these unimpeachable scroungers are so desperate to remain royalty, let them convert, however cynically, to the Church of England.

Unfair perhaps though may it be to pick on just one person for their response, but you really would expect the Liberal Democrats to be a little more circumspect in giving it the OK:

Lynne Featherstone, the Lib Dems' spokeswoman on equalities issues, said: "This is an overdue but welcome move. Whilst the hereditary principle itself is obviously still a bit dodgy, at least this modernisation ends the outrageous discrimination against Catholics and women."

Quite so. I mean, there's nothing outrageous whatsoever about a dysfunctional family receiving at the very least £40m a year from the taxpayer just because of who they were born to, it's the fact that this wonderful institution discriminates against Catholics and women that we should really be concerned about.

If we aren't going to rid ourselves of the entire shower, then surely we can at least make the whole charade slightly more accountable. Let's take a leaf out of the management cost cutting guide and get each member to reapply for their "job" every so many years. There won't be any chance of them actually losing it of course, but at least reading their self-justifications might be good for a laugh. Alternatively, we could call the bluff of those who so seem to love the royals over politicians and get them to job-swap and see how they fare in their respective tasks. Who knows, we might even be so impressed with the results that our first president could be Princess Eugenie. Well, she couldn't be worse that the next generation of Milibands....

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Three horsewomen of the apocalypse.

After having performed her essential role as little more than a fluffer for her husband, but for which she was given the sort of praise and coverage that most politicians would kill for, Sarah Brown went across the pond with Gordy and attended a women-only dinner for the White Ribbon Alliance, "aimed at improving the health of mothers and babies around the world". This was the result:

For the uninitiated, that's Wendi Deng, aka Mrs Rupert Murdoch, on the far right. Also in attendance according to the Telegraph, was Queen Rania of Jordan (where women can be taken into "protective custody" to protect them from "family violence", rather than offering voluntary shelters), Elle Macpherson, and the Duchess of York.

With friends of mothers and babies like those, who needs enemies?

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008 

Kelly's gang.

Few tears will have been shed at the departure of Ruth Kelly, one of those government ministers that never came across as anything other than grimly approaching competent in all of the jobs she did. The only really remarkable thing about her time in the government was that she was thought to be an appropriate choice by Tony Blair to be equalities and women minister, despite having never voted in favour of gay rights, almost certainly down to her staunch Catholic beliefs. Her disingenuousness, both regarding her membership of Opus Dei, which she never actually confirmed, and her views on homosexuality, where she also refused to answer whether she regarded homosexuality as a sin, were hardly likely to have been tolerated had she been of any faith other than Christianity. One of the other alleged reasons why she has left government is that she would have been required to vote for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill, something that the ideological dogma of her faith would not have allowed her to do, leaving no room for rationality or the genuine scientific considerations involved.

Kelly's stated reason for departing, to spend more time with her family, is also always seen as instantly suspect. Alan Milburn claimed he was leaving the government to spend more time with his family back in 2003, but this desire to be with his family more didn't stop from him taking up directorships with companies or fatefully becoming Labour's 2005 election supremo, before the party was forced to turn to Gordon Brown for help after it initially floundered. While Kelly has 4 children, all of them are of school age; far be it from me to suggest to someone else how to bring up their family, but one would have thought that more time and effort would have been required when they were youngest, rather than now, although she may well be making up for lost time.

None of this though really matters; what's more important now is the apparent leaking by someone, possibly disgruntled over Kelly's lack of support for Gordon Brown, of her immient decision to go. Accusations have been flying between the two camps of Blairites and Brownites, like cats squabbling in a sack. They're all going to drown, it's just a matter of when. The most likely explanation is that a junior official appears to have been indiscreet, possibly while tired and emotional, and in the vicinity of a Newsnight reporter, who swiftly speculated that Kelly was leaving and that Geoff Hoon was off to Europe in place of Peter Mandelson.

The Blairites claim this all of a piece with the Downing Street stategy of late, with flushing out Siobhan McDonagh and David Cairns because of their disloyalty, while leaking to the News of the Screws Ivan Lewis's mid-life crisis, which involved him leaving his wife and sending indiscreet text messages to a civil servant, who complained. This is denied categorically by Brown's supporters, and at least this time round their explanation is rather more convincing. After all, why would Downing Street carry out a purge on the night after Brown's big speech, denting the overwhelmingly good coverage it received? The Tories also seem to have been acting mischeviously at best, and downright underhand at worst.

That such a breakdown of relationship between the different factions has now undoubtedly taken place is hardly good news for the party as a whole, especially considering a YouGuv poll for the Sun which shows that the bounce given by the Labour conference has narrowed the gap to the Conservatives to 10 points. Whilst hardly a ringing endorsement of the party, so grim have the polls and news been that it's probably the best news for Labour in ages, and suggests that it could still be possible for the difference to be made up. There will surely be no chance of that however if Brown is still to be forced out, which the Kelly debacle seems to have again raised to the fore. Labour has to decide whether it wants to lose the next election to a landslide and leave the Conservatives to make the running for the next ten years, or whether it actually wants to at least go down fighting. The attitude of some gives the impression that they don't seem to care what the new Blairite Conservative party will force through - and that ought to make every single one of us concerned.

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Nadine Dorries just cannot stop lying.

What is it exactly that causes individuals to lie and mislead when they know full well that their untruths are likely to be quickly exposed? Is it because they genuinely can't help themselves or that they've got so used to repeatedly bending reality that they come to believe it themselves? I ask only because a repeated serial offender has been caught once again lying through her teeth:

Today I have received a letter from John Lyon CB - the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards - in response to a complaint made about my blog by a Liberal Democrat (sic).

...

For the record, John Lyon's letter to the complainant states the following:

"The position is that no Parliamentary resources have been used to fund Mrs Dorries' weblog. Questions about whether its content is consistent with the rules in relation to Parliamentary funding do not therefore arise."

He goes on to state, "No further action on any point is required, and therefore consider your complaint now closed."

Yes, we're referring to the glamorous and flagrant Ms Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for mid-Bedfordshire, and the complaint made against her by Sunny Hundal regarding her blog being funded out of the incidental expenses allowance (since changed to the communications allowance), which expressly forbids such funds to be used for party political activities or campaigning. Sunny was good enough at the time to put up for all to see the complaint and the evidence which quite clearly showed that Dorries was apparently abusing the allowance, especially regarding her vindictive attacks on female Labour MPs in marginal seats who had a record of voting not to lower the time-limit on those seeking an abortion.

It was therefore a surprise to learn that John Lyon had dismissed the complaint so apparently out of hand when the evidence was so transparently damning of Dorries' conduct. Despite not claiming to know who Sunny was, and also erroneously describing him as a Liberal Democrat, Unity noted that Dorries or her web-hosts had subtly altered the site after the complaint had been submitted, removing the text which suggested that the site was funded out of the inicidental provisions allowance, and ostensibly moving the blog away from Dorries' constituency website, although it was quite obvious that both still used the same address. At the time Unity wondered whether she was going to plead ignorance and apologise, but by the account give by Dorries herself this apparently wasn't necessary, as John Lyon had cleared her entirely.

Except that wasn't the case at all. Sunny, having been busy with both preparing for a well-earned holiday and also attending the Labour party conference, hadn't had time to post himself on the response of Lyon to him regarding the complaint. He now has:

A few months ago I submitted a complaint, with the help of some Liberal Conspirators to the Parliamentary Standards Commission against Nadine Dorries MP. In short, it was regarding her blog. Last weekend I had a response.

The most relevant parts of the letter stated:

The rules of the house, however, do require Members to make a clear distinction between websites which are financed from public funds and any other domain. At the time of your complaint, Mrs Dorries’ website did not meet that requirement. Nor was it appropriate that she use the Portcullis emblem on the weblog given its contents. And the funding attribution on Mrs Dorries’ Home Page should have been updated to reflect that the funding came from the Communications Allowance and not from the Incidental Expenses Provision.

To these three technical aspects, our complaint was upheld. But, the Commissioner adds:

I am, however, satisfied that Mrs Dorries has take effective action to rectify the situation, for which she has apologised…. She has expressed her regret for the confusion caused.


In other words then, the complaint to all intents and purposes was upheld, and not only that, Dorries had apologised for the confusion caused. Presumably because Dorries provided evidence that showed that the blog had not been funded out of the incidental expenses provision after all, as the site claimed, Lyon decided to accept her apology and take the matter no further.

All of this though is rather different to the complete bill of health which Dorries gave her own readers the impression she had been given. She failed to inform them she had apologised or that she been upbraided on 3 separate counts, even if the complaint was not subsequently upheld. Iain Dale, the inventor of blogging, therefore took this up on his own site:

I have waited a few days to see if he might do us the honour of posting about it on Liberal Conspiracy, and maybe apologising to Nadine for the smear. But not a bit of it. He's remained silent on the matter.

There is no apologising to be done because the complaint itself was, as Lyon in his letter to Sunny makes clear, fully justified on almost all counts. Iain though seems to have been mislead by Dorries herself by yet again not revealing the full facts of the matter, and trying to make out that she has been the innocent party through blatant omission of them. Dorries ends her post with the following:

I think this has been a most revealing episode as to his type of politics - it's certainly not mine.

Dorries is of course quite right. Sunny and Liberal Conspiracy made a completely legitimate complaint about a member of parliament apparently abusing their allowance, one which the parliamentary standards commissioner agreed was wholly justified in bringing, and which was upheld on 3 counts, with Dorries herself apologising. Ms Dorries on the other hand has yet again lied to the very people that she is meant to be serving -- her constituents -- through omitting those facts and only revealing the parts of the letter which apparently exonerated her. It shows her up to be fundamentally dishonest, which has been the most overwhelming feature of her politics up till now. I think it's well worth repeating again the final paragraph of a previous post of mine:

Out of all the MPs that this blog has covered over the last few years, it's safe to say that none (with the exception of dear Tony) has been as underhand, as genuinely unpleasant, manipulative, vindictive and dishonest as both Dorries has been and apparently is. She is both a disgrace to politics as a whole and a liability to the Conservative party.

How many more examples of exactly the above does the Conservative party need before it takes action against Dorries for her behaviour? Perhaps that's one that Iain Dale could answer for us.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008 

The joy of new comments on old posts.

Many thanks to grumpy old man, who saw fit to dump this on an old Scum-watch post involving the Polish stealing our benefits:

This scottish dictatorship is intent on flooding our once great country with surly,criminal minded,foreign spongers.Wake up Joe Public and lets get rid of Gordon Macbrown and his bunch of incompetent arseholes before the immeasurable damage already done becomes terminal.I dont want to live in a multi cultural society surrounded by blockheads and spear chuckers.They dont like us and I sure as hell dont like them.

One can't possibly imagine why those individuals Mr Grumpy refers to as "spear chuckers" wouldn't immediately take a liking to such a gentle and welcoming elderly gent.

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Brown's speech.

For almost the first 500 words, Gordon Brown managed to deliver the speech that few felt he had in him: passionate, personal, introspective, admitting mistakes, and setting out what he believes, what he thinks and who he claims to be fighting for, with a clarity and purpose that he has seldom managed in the past. Ignore the fact that he still can't bring himself to call a spade a spade and refer either directly to the poor or to the working class, instead relying on those "on middle and modest incomes", and this was as powerful a rallying cry to Labour's core as has been delivered for quite some time.

Words, however, on their own do not make things better. The speech had three somewhat major policy announcements, almost all leaked in advance, and none were really satisfactory enough to back up the rhetoric. An extra billion to go towards childcare for those over two is welcome, but too late, the decision to give vouchers to the poorest without computers or internet vouchers screams of both being a gimmick and a potential vast waste of money, and the making of prescriptions free for those suffering with cancer elevates one disease above all others, hardly the equity that Brown was promising elsewhere.

After the excellent start, the speech quickly faded, enlivened only by the sycophantic, needless clapping which seemed to happen approximately every minute and a half. He received two standing ovations during it, both of which again seemed to be mainly because the delegates were applauding themselves and how great their vision and policies are rather than that of their leader's. Brown attempted throughout to insert a personal touch into what was otherwise the ever familiar reading off of brilliant successes, with the minimum wage providing a dad on security shifts with the extra money for a birthday party or the mother who doesn't have to visit the loan sharks to pay for Christmas. Both of these imaginary individuals would presumably like the minimum wage to be an actual living wage, providing them with the ability to save rather than just continually splash out, but that still is beyond the thinking of New Labour.

Almost every cabinet or junior minister got a mention, perhaps to instil the idea that they're working together as a team, or perhaps more cynically, to give them pangs of guilt if they are shortly to take their part in the coup, despite being praised by Gordon in his conference speech. David Miliband, interestingly, was mentioned, but only as part of how he and Douglas Alexander along with Brown will be helping to "bring justice and democracy, to Burma, to Zimbabwe and to Darfur", presumably again with a magic wand and the words "izzy wizzy let's get busy". Included also was the obligatory attacks on the Conservatives, mostly weak and blunt, but the two assaults that were not directly on policy were the strongest: attacking Cameron for using his children as "props", even though Brown's wife had introduced him prior to his speech, and that these times most certainly don't require a novice - targeted just as much at Miliband as at Cameron.

Did it do anywhere enough to secure Brown for now? Almost certainly not. It was a speech going through the motions, just like the conference as a whole, resolute but without any convincing backbone or the confidence that the party is not already doomed. There was nothing here that will make the plotters think twice about a political assassination, and it might come a lot quicker than some are anticipating.

Update: I wrote this in something of a hurry before going out, but I think it stands up pretty well regardless. It's always fascinating how different people can see entirely different things in a speech - according to Polly Toynbee he delighted the hall but that certainly wasn't clear when the BBC themselves asked some of the delegates what they had thought, when it was notable that they were evenly split between those that thought it was great and those that still felt Brown should go. The Sun, typically, sees some vast left-wing conspiracy which simply doesn't show up in absolutely any reading of the text. One of the least enthusiastic, or perhaps resigned was Jackie Ashley - probably the most identifiable Brownite commentator in the press. The less said about Denis MacShane and his ridiculous denunications of 80s leftists the better.

One thing I didn't mention above is just how weak Brown actually was on the one thing that he ought to be defining on: the state of the economy, or at least should be, if we were to believe those including himself demanding he stay on because of his immense experience as chancellor. It's worth quoting his five-point plan in full:

Tomorrow I and then Alistair will meet financial and government leaders in New York to make these proposals:

First, transparency - all transactions need to be transparent and not hidden

Second, sound banking, a requirement to demonstrate that risks can be managed and priced for bad times as well as good

Thirdly, responsibility - no member of a bank's board should be able to say they did not understand the risks they were running and walk away from them

Fourth, integrity - removing conflicts of interest so that bonuses should not be based on short term speculative deals but should be a reward for hard work, effort and enterprise

And fifth, global standards and supervision because the flows of capital are global, then supervision can no longer just be national it has to be global too.

Have you ever come across such a set of vague platitudes from a supposed serious politician on perhaps the ultimate issue of our time? Any vision for how Brown intends to implement these brilliant proposals on taming the market tiger was completely absent, as was likewise any real attempt to say anything of any merit on the bills which will shortly be dropping onto doorsteps, more likely than anything else to further hasten the demise of New Labour via the ballot box.

Perhaps the one thing that Brown can take heart from is that David Miliband has either been successfully making a fool of himself, with pictures splashed all across the papers of him dancing at a fringe meeting, bizarrely holding a banana and finally pulling a face whilst shaking Gordon's hand that makes Brown's own horrible, shit-eating forced grin look normal, or contributing to his own damp squib of a speech by being overheard saying he couldn't have gone further because it would have been seen as a Heseltine moment. As Simon Jenkins notes, perhaps he too like Heseltine might have overreached himself too early, and fail to pick up the position which he covets as a result. Or he could be in office within 2 months. Stranger things have happened.

Elsewhere, Justin, Dave Osler, Paul Linford and the Bleeding Heart Show all provide more comment, should you for some strange reason desire even more of a very bad thing.

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Monday, September 22, 2008 

Dawn of the Dead comes to Manchester.

According to Nick Clegg in his conference speech last week, we have a zombie government. That probably isn't entirely accurate; more appropriate is that we have a zombie Labour party. We aren't here talking about the sort of zombies depicted in certain films that acquire super-human strength despite being dead, being able to rip apart the living with their bare hands to feast on the gooey treats within, but rather the sort of undead creature that is to all intents and purposes dead but refuses to give up the ghost, like Norman Tebbit or the Queen Mother in her final years. To stretch the analogy even further and refer to undoubtedly the greatest zombie film of all time, Romero's Dawn of the Dead, the conference attendees are even reflecting the behaviour of their fictional cousins by taking over a fortified building, somewhere that reminds them of what they used to do. The difference is that this time there's going to be no Roger, Peter, Fran and Stephen to evict the zombies before themselves being forced to leave by looters on motorbikes.

There is little doubt that the stench of death pervades the Manchester Central conference centre. This is a party, truly, desperately going through the motions, pretending to the outside world that everything is going swimmingly, that the economic crisis has given them an opportunity they perhaps didn't have a week ago, that it can still be turned around, and that in the words of David Miliband, the party should "prove the fatalists wrong". It's probably not worth going by remarks which can be misconstrued by those overhearing them, but Miliband's apparent suggestion to an aide that he had toned down his speech because he wanted to avoid a "Heseltine moment" speaks volumes. Ostensibly, the entire event is building up to Gordon Brown's speech tomorrow afternoon, which supposedly is meant to help determine how much longer he might have in office. The reality is that the conference has became so stage managed that reading anything into the immediate reaction is almost as pointless as the entire sojourn itself. Long ago was anything that might really trouble the leadership stripped out; now delegates just vote for policies that will go before the party's national executive committee, where they'll be sharply rejected.

All that's left therefore is for ministers to announce the odd new policy, if they can be called that, in otherwise soporific speeches which nonetheless bloggers and commentators rate because they simply have to write something. Accordingly, David Clark asks whether Miliband is "the English Obama", hopefully rhetorically. Likewise, Lance Price, an ex-spin doctor, asks whether James Purnell is "Labour's Theo Walcott". No reason here to not respond bluntly; no, he's a right-wing Blairite that chose the wrong party to join, and if he's another leadership candidate, then Labour is not just undead, it really has passed on. Jacqui Smith additionally emerged yesterday and revealed the plans for "reform" on prostitution. While these are not quite as bad as they might have been, Labour still intends to try to make kerb-crawling illegal, enhance powers to both police and local councils to close down brothels if prostitutes are being run by a pimp or are trafficked, which in other words will most likely mean anyone who fancies ridding their neighbourhood of the moral scourge will more easily succeed, whilst men who pay for sex with women "who are exploited", i.e. controlled for another person's gain, which again means either run by a pimp or trafficked, will be able to be prosecuted. This should at least lead to some interesting conversations in brothels up and down the land, where the punter questions the worker before handing over the money and dropping his/her trousers about their working conditions. If anything proves that New Labour is still just as illiberal, idiotic and distant from the realities of the real world as it's always been, then this must be it.

The award for the most chutzpah though must go to both Alastair Darling and Brown himself for their various utterances over the weekend and today. Only now that the proverbial horse has firmly bolted do they dare to mention the inequity of the City bonus culture or suggest firmer regulation of the City, but even now such a simple little word as "greed", one even used by John McCain in the United States, is too obscene to pass their lips. Simon Hoggart has already referred to Brown's vision of the reform needed to correct his own reforms which got us into this mess as the Theseus defence: thanks to his magic thread, we'll all be OK, which is reassuring. Even these slight sops to the left though are in keeping with the pretence being kept up by the party of doing something whilst actually doing nothing, as we all know that they don't mean a word of it, nor is there much in the way of legislating which can be done to stop CEOs and board members from awarding themselves such pay deals. Instead we must be thankful that the government stepped in last week and allowed Lloyds TSB to take over HBOS and create an behemoth of a bank, a merger that would have otherwise have been rejected by the competition commission as likely to become a monopoly. Doubtless we will be just as thankful in a few years' time when the bonuses are again being ramped up whilst the difference and diversity on the high street will be even further restricted and diluted.

Does it really seem five years ago that Brown made his barnstorming, defining speech whilst chancellor about being "best when we are Labour", which made some of us hope, probably beyond any reason, that a Brown premiership would be different, bolder, better than Blair's? There won't of course be any repetition of that tomorrow, nor should there be. He needs to get the balance right between introspection, admitting he was wrong over the 10p rate, that he has made other mistakes over the past year and that he needs to improve, and setting out something approaching a vision of how he intends to lead both the party and the country from now on. He could do worse than go along the lines of suggesting that the economic crisis is a paradigm shift or an epoch making moment, even if it isn't, suggesting that the time when the party leadership would ask how high when the CBI said jump is over, and build from there. Moreover, he ought to confront the "elephant in the room": the challenge to himself. Directly ask the party what they will replace him with, and just how much difference there really is between what he is offering, both to the party and the country, with the so-called contenders. It won't stop them from overthrowing him if it's what they've already decided upon, but it might strike a chord with some in the nation itself. If you're going to go down, you might as well do it with both some glory and some dignity, and when neither of those qualities have been present in Manchester at all, that really might make some sit up and take notice.

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A special plea.

If anyone attending the Labour party conference happens to come across that fat Republican twat Frank Luntz, would they kindly knock him over and repeatedly jump on his head until his skull shatters, so that the nation can be spared the pointless, meaningless, boring and beyond endurance focus groups which he keeps holding for Newsnight? Thanks in advance.

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A declaration.

I support this message.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008 

Weekend links.

The Labour party conference is getting under way - and how better to set the mood than a truly dreadful Gordon Brown article in the Grauniad. Even that isn't the worst of it - the theme for the conference is apparently "fair chances for all, fair rules applied to all", which surely must be there with the most vacuous statements of the New Labour era. No wonder that Diane Abbott isn't even bothering to attend.

Meanwhile, JK Rowling has unfathomably given Labour £1m, on the ostensible grounds that she "believes that poor and vulnerable families will fare much better under the Labour Party than they would under a Cameron-led Conservative Party." Well, they couldn't possibly fare much worse, could they? Justin comments further.

Craig Murray is being threatened legally by yet another uptight businessman, this time friend of Tony Buckingham David Weill. Our Craig certainly knows how to put the wind up those with interests they rather wouldn't be made public.

Mr Eugenides reports on an attendee of the RNC who after advocating the bombing of Iran on camera returned to his room with a woman who swiftly drugged him and disappeared with $50,000 worth of his personal effects.

Alix Mortimer and Paul Linford both comment on the Liberal Democrat conference.

Chris Dillow on what the left's response to the financial crisis should be. I think I linked to it yesterday but Naomi Klein's belief that this is by no means the end of the free-market ideology is also an excellent read. Flying Rodent's post from Thursday on Fuckyounomics is also worthy of your time.

David Semple rounds on intellectual masturbators and Ed Balls (connection there, possibly?) in two masterly posts.

Finally, all week long the Sun has been bigging up the march against knife crime taking place in London today, claiming that up to 100,000 would be attending. By most accounts it seems that a few thousand at most have actually gone. Considering that right-wingers (especially at the Sun) have long derided peace marches that actually might achieve something and disputed the numbers attending those (often erroneously), I hope you'll excuse my schadenfreude on what is a worthy cause - just not one that necessarily extends to marching against. You can put pressure on a government; you can't on someone carrying a knife because they're concerned for their own safety.

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Friday, September 19, 2008 

Taken from the bleakness to come.

The week began with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, and the commentariat decreed that this showed that the Fed was no longer prepared to bail out anyone who came running begging for mercy. The week ends with what might be the biggest dead cat bounce that the FTSE has ever seen, leaping nearly 9% in one day, all on the back of the Fed announcing a plan which will to all intents and purposes involve the nationalising of all the losses and bad debt that has led to this week's banking crisis. Dsquared in the comments on Blood and Treasure probably sums it all up:

What a fucking unbelievable day. I haven't seen a man eat his own head yet, but I have now, officially, been present on the trading floor during a melt-up.

Despite all the hyperbole which is floating around like the effluent in a festival toilet, this week's financial meltdown and then the melt-up probably is the once-in-however many decades event which so many have suggested it is. It is not however, necessarily, the end of an epoch, or even a turning point, as Larry Elliot believes it might be. No, it seems to be something quite different: this isn't the end of the neoliberal consensus which has undoubtedly directly led us towards this huge default, it's probably just the very beginning of it.

To go with a cliché, all the chickens have came home to roost. The deluded dream of the everyone a home owner society, coupled with the complete abandonment of anything even resembling financial regulation and the evisceration of the manufacturing sector, all of which you can blame both the Conservatives and Labour equally for, has reached the nadir which many that have long been derided as Cassandras always said it would. Some have been left to go to the wall, but the vast majority have all instead been either taken over or taken under the wing of the state, the same state which those in charge demanded to get out of their boardrooms and to inexorably lower the burden of.

For what we have now clearly came to is not socialism for the poor, but socialism for the uber-rich, all of whom are incredibly likely to get off scot-free, or even more amazingly, even with golden goodbyes for their part in the crisis. The irony of it all is also completely overbearing; a Republican government in the United States that cut taxes for the super-rich and which continues to believe in the smallest of small states has probably just involved itself in the biggest nationalisation project of all time. Things have of course over here not yet reached such a catastrophe, but the takeover by Lloyds TSB of HBOS is a similar example of all the usual rules being broken; conspiracy theorists might even reason that some of those involved in the short-selling of what the vast majority concluded to be a solvent and viable business just might have something to gain from a bank which will now own 1 in 3 branches on the high street.

It then has to be asked: who exactly is going to pay for all of this? It certainly doesn't seem to be those that got us into this mess in the first place, unless we blame the humble taxpayer for going along with everything that was offered him in good faith. We see Gordon Brown claiming that he is now going to clean up the City, but who on earth honestly believes it? This after all is the man that has helped deliver us here, a leading member of the party that accepted all the cheques courtesy of numerous businessmen now involved up to their arm-pits in this crash, that promised to abolish boom and bust and has succeeding in abolishing boom while nationalising the bust, all for his fair-weather friends in the City that howled and squealed and got everything they asked for but still complained that levels of corporation tax were slightly higher than in Ireland.

As others have noted, this ought to be the greatest opportunity for the left potentially for decades. If Keynesianism ended in 1976, then surely Friedmanism has now been left similarly low in 2008. The Labour party, the party that ought to be the one to lead us out of this mess, instead signed up completely and utterly to neoliberalism, declared that there was no alternative and set about emasculating the welfare state, and if anything, it's only likely to continue at a far faster pace now. After all, how else is the government going to pay for all those shortly going to be claiming jobseeker's allowance if it doesn't cut to the bone those that are genuinely sick? As for your pension, well, might as well forget that. All the more reason to accelerate the privatisation of the health service and close down those failing schools so that our friends in the business and voluntary community can re-open them as academies.

We can all point to those that should share the blame. What might really come to matter is that we force them to take it. Some, as stated, will see an opportunity; I see only the bleakness to come.

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