Archive for June, 2010

Putin honouring ex-Soviet spy George Koval, 2007

I love John LeCarre and his greatest creation, George Smiley, so it’s super to know that whoever the real Karla is, whatever the real Moscow Centre actually is and however many times the KGB has changed its name, some things will never alter. The Russians’ eternal paranoia being one of them. From the story:

They were alleged to have met US government officials given codenames such as “Farmer”, “Parrot” and “Cat” as well as engaging such tried and tested espionage methods as dead drops and brush passes.

And so it goes on. Whoever thinks LeCarre was writing fiction can think again, as, indeed, the newspaper points out itself. Con Coughlin has also written a good little comment piece on the real spy ring bust but, much more importantly, Radio 4 has just finished the last instalment of an excellent, year-long re-working of the complete Smiley collection with the superb Simon Russell Beale as the planet-brained superspy. Sometimes they still get it right. Well, rarely.

Still, I think I might buy this one. I’ve come over all nostalgic

Besides, in this case truth and fiction are the same thing anyway, but with one, small exception: Smiley is serious but the truth is bloody hilarious.

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Bucket List

I’d love to try walking route one down some busy city street like this just to see what would happen. Without the film crew, the cameras, the choreography and the overdub, I just have that sneaking suspicion it would all quickly end in (my) tears.

But it’s still on my Bucket List, just after taking part in the Paris-Dakar rally, sailing round the world on my own in a hovercraft and learning how to pilot a helicopter.

Half-decent song, that. Owed a lot to the Stones, I hear.

Be that as it may, I wonder, what’s on your Bucket List? Not sure I’ll tick off any of mine in time, but from now on, I’m definitely going to try!

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A serious Labour politician

The sound of son of a butcher and former schoolteacher Paul “Lord” Myners on the Today programme this morning was all the reminding I needed of how utterly delusional members of the previous government remain, particularly in the area of their economic (mis)management. He seemed to be saying that what the coalition government is doing in announcing what amount to, in reality, pretty modest savings in the short term, designed merely to halt the speed of expansion of the national debt by slowing down government spending rather than slashing it, is putting some kind of Labourist-inspired ‘recovery’ at risk. I kid you not.

He and his ilk still seem to think that the last months of Brown, where spending was allowed to run out of control not as part of any genuine attempt to kick start the economy through some kind of novel notion (which even Keynes never proposed) that you can spend your way out of recession while servicing gigantic levels of borrowing, but as part of a calculated effort to save nothing more and nothing less than Brown’s political career by bribing Labour’s heartlands and key marginals, is actually defensible. It’s not, epsecially because it worked, predictably, in the North East, North West and, to a slightly lesser degree, Yorkshire, hence there was no Labour wipeout even if it didn’t save Brown (nothing could), but it didn’t work in the marginals, hence the coalition.

The point is, let us hear no more from the likes of Myners pretending that there was no political calculation involved with the reckless spending levels following the crash, or, indeed, that Labour had nothing to do with causing that crash with its disastrous system of banking regulation or deliberate stoking-up of cheap credit into a gargantuan property bubble. Even without the credit crunch (which did start in America) there would have been a crash in Britain inevitably, and a pretty big one at that.

Additionally, Myners completed his flight from reality by claiming that the latest G20 meeting was pointless and lacked the substance of the London summit in 2009, presumably because Cameron was there making the case for deficit reduction in the UK, rather than arrogantly lecturing the rest of the world about how to manage their own economies. I suppose Myners was so dismissive about the event because there was no really big chunk of money to boast about at the end. I think it was a mere one trillion dollars at the London event wasn’t it? Well, of ‘promised’ money that is, of course, although hardly any of it ever materialised and hardly any of that which did had any effect on the forces of nature driving the economic cycle anyway. But socialists don’t understand that, see? Sometimes the right thing to do strategically is nothing. Well, it matters not for the likes of Myners or Brown or, come to think of it, Alistair “Apologise To Me!” Darling any more. All they can do from now on is nothing. That, at least, should mean that they can do no more damage, thank God.

One last thing I thought worth mentioning: at the end of that programme we also had the annoying, schoolboy voice of Nick Robinson putting the sneering BBC spin on the Cameron G20 performance by referring to a picture of him with his head in his hands as the utterly outclassed, out-thought and luckless England team went 4-1 down to the dreaded Germans and musing, rather lamely I thought, as to whether this “new leader on the world stage” (he’s not that new) would end up “hapless” and ignored by the others. I wondered to myself at that point, seeing as it was apparently the day to make sweepingly dismissive statements, whether the performance of this England team, rather than somehow reflecting a “hapless” David Cameron, at least in mind of the Robinson talking head, had far more symbolic force as representing the end of the era of expensive under-performers who nevertheless walk away with a fortune despite having been kicked out of the tournament. That’s not England, thought I, that’s New Labour! Funny how the two eras, the “Golden Generation” and the gilt-edged years of plenty under New Labour, seem to parallel one another. But, of course, the reality check in the Merchant of Venice (Act 2, Scene 7) says it all:
All that glitters is not gold/Often have you heard that told/Many a man has his soul sold…

Less money (unless deserved), more passion (motivation) and more graft (productivity): that’s what we need not only from England’s footballers, but from the British population generally. Less bling and more sting; more passion – and less fashion. The superficiality of England’s performance almost perfectly parallels the intellectual and moral vacuum at the heart of New Labour. Over-rated and all mouth, costing a fortune, but when the going gets tough they crumble and the results become disastrous. In England’s case, Germany showed them up for what they really are, in New Labour’s, it was the crash. The only difference is, of course, that England were beaten by superior opponents, which is fair enough, but Myners is trying to defend Gordon Brown, the team captain who made all the wrong moves, chose all the wrong tactics and managed to defeat himself, taking the country with him. And that was after the credit crunch began. That was merely his Germany in the economic tournament. The moment Brown was really tested, the whole economic kingdom of debt that he created crumbled, and so did New Labour.

Myners and others who choose their own narrative on this lamentable passage in British history according to their political orientation are naturally welcome to do so. It might even be a coherent, even persuasive, story for the gullible, but it will never make it right.

As for the BBC, well, I assume there will come a time when the Conservative party finally has its bellyful of the licence fee-funded, left wing dominated organisation’s constant breaching of its charter and either disinfects it once and for all or breaks it up into little pieces, some commercial (the ones that are already, that is!) and some taxpayer-funded, with no licence fee. Then the left will have to go away and infect some other institution, if there are any remaining in the United Kingdom, which I doubt.

PS: Actually, Myners’ performance on this morning’s show was all the more bizarre when you consider that speech he made torpedoing current Labour politicians’ arguments against Tory plans. As Wiki says of the speech:

On 8 June 2010, Myners made headlines with a speech he made in the Lords. He said, “We clearly need a policy of fiscal caution. It was right to support the economy during the global recession but there now needs to be fiscal adjustment, as evidenced by the last Government in the Fiscal Responsibility Act. There is nothing progressive about a Government who consistently spend more than they can raise in taxation, and certainly nothing progressive that endows generations to come with the liabilities incurred by the current generation.”

Well, my feeling is now that he made that speech certainly not for the benefit of the Tories but to influence the Labour leadership race, possibly in favour of Ed Balls. Conclusive proof, if you’ll forgive the straw man, that Labour is only talking to itself. Long may that continue.

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Guido has the lowdown on the latest sighting of the Brown Pimpernel. Apparently, like Flash Harry from the St Trinians films, he’s taken to wearing a trilby hat low over his eyes and a long coat that makes him look like he’s gliding along without any sign of leg movement, slithering from Important Rich Luminary to Important Rich Luminary, touting for a bit of trade. “Inconspicuous” is the watchword.

After some excitement this morning that Gordon Brown might actually be in town to represent his constituents the truth unravels. While he may have put a fleeting five minutes in the chamber, (making the number of days he as been in two out of a possible forty-nine,) King of the Lobby Gary Gibbon has; what he was really down here for. A meeting with a Kennedy, a chat with Sir Tim Berners-Lee about his future employability and a natter with his old cabinet allies.

So it seems the great Brownian contempt for his own constituents, the public purse that provides his unearned salary and his abject lack of contrition for – or even interest in – his role in the debt disaster now confronting Britain thanks to him will just go on and on and on. Until someone in government has the guts to put a stop to it, preferably with legislation on the conduct of sitting MPs.

People should be a lot more angry about this than the painful budget Brown has brought down on our heads thanks to that sponging loser’s economic incompetence and political desperation.

As much as it was a Coalition budget, this was Brown’s budget. The Tories were right: let no one forget that. Oh, and if we are expected to make sacrifices for the sake of the future security of the nation’s finances, then might I suggest that everyone should be forced to pull his or her weight. We’re all in this together, after all.

Flash Gordon, that ex-wrecker and now dodgy shirker, would be a top target for me for the chop. Why should I be paying for him not to do his job? Cameron can lead by example, but he can also make them – preferably of the predecessor who is so frightened of facing the music to the extent that he is effectively now on the run.

It’s time Brown’s past caught up with him.

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At least that copper’s happy

I almost missed Charles Moore’s interesting review of a startling new biography about Edward Heath in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph. Had it not been for the fact that I was looking up the latest footy scores (7-0 to Portugal against the North Koreans, eh? See article below) I would never have seen it and missed a treat. The book is by Philip Ziegler who I imagine is the same author who in the late 1960s wrote one of my favourite books about the Black Death. Hang on, I’ll check.

(Time passes…)

It is he.

Moore gives some examples from what we are to believe is a whole litany of character flaws associated with Heath. I’d always wondered why my grandmother threw a (full) cup of tea at her television when his face appeared on it 30-plus years ago. Well, perhaps here’s why:

Although he faithfully sets out the virtues – honesty, courage and determination – Ziegler gives a catalogue of blemishes. Here is a tiny selection of the numerous examples. At the Oxford Union, Heath declared that, “Women have no original contribution to make to our debates.” He did not answer the plaintive letters of Kay Raven, the only person who ever came close to being his girlfriend, but when she finally gave him up and married someone else, Heath was angry with her. In sharp contrast to the young Margaret Roberts (soon to be Thatcher), who stood, in the 1950 general election, in the seat that adjoined Heath’s, young Ted took his constituency workers for granted and treated them like children.

Heath grabbed perks and luxuries, scoffing chocolates by the boxful, demanding money for his travels from commercial interests and taking no trouble about the comfort of those who had to travel with him. When, as Leader of the Opposition, he took up sailing, his yacht Morning Cloud cost £20,000 a year to run. Various businessmen paid for the yacht, but Heath was not worried by the danger of a quid pro quo: he got around the problem by never thanking them. “Gratitude,” as Ziegler puts it, “was not one of his more marked characteristics.”

At this point we realise that Heath must have been an absolute nightmare to work with, for, near or under. It’s also pretty clear that no matter how smart and even gifted he might have been, and I am unconvinced that genuinely intelligent people are unpleasant to those who work for them (Maggie wasn’t), he had not clue-one about motivating people and would not have survived for long beyond his cloistered, soft-furnished world. And yet it goes on. More is yet revealed about the man who took us in to the EEC on the back of a pack of lies, out-Laboured Labour with the NUM and behaved as though he and only he understood human nature, when quite the opposite was patently the case. As Moore goes on:

He had a huge sense of entitlement…[but]…as Ziegler points out, he had no gift for exposition, because he was utterly uninterested in what others thought. This is why people felt cheated, and still do to this day, about the terms on which Heath took Britain into the EEC. He never took the British people into his confidence.

Once, when attacking free-market attitudes, Heath said: “What distinguishes man from the animals is his desire and his ability to control and shape his environment.” Is that really the key distinction? This arid, managerial philosophy was reductive of human freedom and possibility. It also ensured that the country was very badly run. The famous U-turn over economic policy and state support for industry, the rigidities of the Industrial Relations Act, the hopelessness of trying to control prices and incomes, the defeat by the miners were all related to the beliefs and character of the man who presided over these disasters.

Moore then goes on to say that Ziegler’s book provides a first class illustration of Heath’s character and its flaws and his subsequent failures, but the historian does not provide any political explanations, so Moore then offers one of his own which resonates with another, recently departed, deeply flawed but clever prime minster of Britain. Moore says, of Heath, tellingly:

Heath’s future opponent, Keith Joseph, persuaded Margaret Thatcher to vote for him as leader in 1965 on the grounds that “Ted has a passion to get Britain right”. Perhaps he did. He was certainly brave in pursuing what he believed in. But he got Britain wrong.

I can’t help thinking he had Gordon Brown in mind when he wrote that. But then it struck me: of course he didn’t. There’s no comparison. Heath might have been a selfish, puffed-up, interventionist Tory Europhile with a talent for music and boats, but he was no liar (not even on Europe – I suspect he really believed them) and he knew how to go when the time came. He also stayed in Parliament till nearly his dying day, maybe to spite Margaret Thatcher (“that evil woman”) or – more likely in my view – because he liked being an MP and he was good at it. But where’s Gordon? The contrasts with Brown are there for all to see, and I’ve just touched on one or two of them.

The point is, if Heath was a terrible Prime Minister (and I’m certainly not alone in feeling he was), then Brown was a catastrophe (ditto). If you were forced to choose between the lesser of these two weevils, my guess is that you’d plump for Heath, though through gritted teeth, naturally. I would.

My God, we don’t half pick ’em.

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Ich bin ein Old Holborns?

I use the term “political classes” quite a bit on this blog but I’ve never really bothered to define what the term actually means, at least to me. Well, Charles Moore on the Daily Telegraph used it too in his bit on the death of the Euro today (which, incidentally, is quite a good read in my humble, whether you are a Europhile, Eurosceptic or just curious). He talks about the “German political classes”, which, on the face of it, seemed to me to be sensible enough being, as it is, a sort of currency term that appears to refer to the totality of our, or their, elected representatives as some kind of separate entity to the rest of society, and harks back to days before universal suffrage and when hereditary entitlement was purely a class phenomenon.

However, I wasn’t satisfied with my own explanation so I phoned a friend and asked her what she thought it might mean, reminding her that “body politic”, for instance, by contrast refers to the entire electorate and not to the collective body of elected representitives (a confusion I’ve seen even on the more august political blogs). Couldn’t it be the case that we are all part of the “political classes” one way or other, given that in an advanced democracy the people, theoretically, are where political power ultimately rests? Isn’t the term therefore mistaken in this day and age?

“Oh no,” she answered, “that’s not right at all.” What did she mean, I asked, fascinated. “Well, it’s simple really. ‘Political classes’ refers to anyone who stands for election, lies to win it, spends the next five years planning how to get re-elected, leaves running the country to a professional civil service, and all the while gathers as much expenses money, lobbying patronage, consultancies and directorships as possible so that if the unimaginable happens and they’re voted out by an even more effective liar, then they’ve got all that to fall back on, plus the gold-plated pension plan. That’s what “political classes” really means, with very few exceptions and regardless of political affiliation”.

As she said, simple really. Or is it?

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Hayward: Bleak Prospects

It’s getting pretty clear now that the United States government will settle for nothing less than the destruction of BP as punishment for the environmental and economic impact of the disastrous Gulf oil spill. This is the conclusion that a lot of people have now if not reached, then are certainly nearing. After BP’s flat footed and presentationally poor chief Tony Hayward’s performance in front of a bunch of nauseating US administrators yesterday, which demonstrated his stamina but nothing more than that, no one in their right mind can dismiss the idea that BP is gravely ill. The oil leak is bleeding it anaemic. Credibility, credit worthiness and gargantuan sums of money are all being poured into the stratosphere. Pretty soon, all that will be left is the name.

The evidence for this pessimism? The Telegraph’s report today, which has been covered widely in the US on Fox and CNBC too, that the cost to BP for its liability will top $100 Billion should be enough, shouldn’t it? No company can withstand that kind of bill and remain intact, no matter how large it is. That’s the kind of money that takes down entire middle-sized countries. United States congressmen and women don’t give two hoots about that, however, this being an election year. All they care about is the hysterical US public opinion. It’s a simple calculation that US politicians from the pisspoor president down have made: ‘the more we hurt BP (shake it down and pump it dry) and dogwhistle the anti-British meme, the more votes we get’. It’s as pathetic as it is dismally feeble as it is dishonest.

BP will be gone by the end of the year. I’ll put money on it.

The economic, political – even the historical – implications of this are truly frightening (particularly in terms of just how rotten the United States political classes have become) but they’re separate issues that I’ll have a stab at in a later post.

Or maybe someone else, if they accept the basic premiss (that BP is finished), could have a go.

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