Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr. Brown?

Gordon Brown’s speech at Conference was well staged. In fact, it was hard to notice where the strings were on the above gantry that worked his arms or, indeed, where Lord Mandelson’s arm was, as it was so far up his backside that you couldn’t actually see it and you couldn’t see him move his lips either as the puppet Brown spoke. Remarkable.

There was plenty for the feint-hearted New Labour activists – lots of reminders of what might or might not have been achieved and lots of rather desperate rally calls. Then the inevitable happened. Fully 12 years after the Conservatives were last in power, and longer for the hapless Mrs. Thatcher, the entire blame for the credit crisis and recession was landed at the Tory door. Apparently it was their belief in free market correctionism (or some techno speak similar) that caused the whole damn thing.

Clearly in the intervening 12 years, Gordon Brown has not heaped praise on himself for being a financial genius or for how well he has managed our economy and its marvellous growth. He also has worked ceaselessly, albeit unnoticed, in trying to rectify the situation caused by the Conservatives. Right-wing fundamentalism (the reference was fundamentally unintelligible) was the root cause and free markets has caused that whole mess.

To be honest, I had to listen twice to get what he was saying. He basically said that in his whole 12 years in 11 and 10 Downing Street, he was opposed to everything around him. The growth he so (apparently) relished (and took the credit for) must have actually hurt his very soul as he alone knew it would heap doom on us and, clearly, he was powerless to stop it or to tell anyone. In retaliation, the very people he knighted in the City, like Fred Goodwin, are now to be vilified for their greed and money-making as they did it all behind his back so he had no idea what was going on and had no power to stop it. He alone wrestled with the terrible problem of informing the British public that this crash was inevitable yet......

He did absolutely nothing to stop it. Zip. Nada.

He just sat by, congratulating himself, sipping champagne as Hedge Fund managers, bankers and businessmen took tax free profits out of the country as banks made £billions in profits that have now been identified as immoral and illicit. He did nothing to curb bonus culture or to stop banks making deals on risky products. He did nothing to curb the outrageous and unfounded rise in house prices or stop us withdrawing equity from our homes – he did nothing to warn us our average household income was rising lower than inflation and we were saving negatively for our future. None of it. He had 12 years, not just one year or 5. He had more than enough time to have reversed the situation or impose his own doctrine or left wing fundamentalism or whatever he pretends to believe in that would have avoided it all.

It was a monumental and bare faced lie – it was also a stupid, cack-handed attempt to fool an already ‘fooled-weary’ public that he actually was always against what was going in the City and hence the British Economy. Yet in his speech he was proud to pat himself and his Party on the back for the very things that the economic growth brought about. To be absolutely frank, it could have been one of those spoof speeches you see from the desk of Supreme Leader Brown in Private Eye so howlingly morally bankrupt the whole speech was.

Meanwhile, Darling and Mandelson are now waging war on the very people they actually had ‘no issue with if they earned tons of money’ – words from the very mouth of the real Supreme Leader, Mandelson himself. It’s as if they have been swimming in beautiful azure seas and suddenly realised there is a floating turd in it.

Well that’s our Champagne Socialists for you. They ditched the old Labour because they couldn’t sell it to electorate – that served them well. Now that the proverbial has hit the fan, they have found solace and inspiration in the old values and trooped them all out again. Suddenly, the very people they adored and sipped cocktails with on expensive boats and allowed not to pay tax, have become the villainous enemies. They will be curbed, taxed and hounded for their greed.

Of course, next year in Corfu is still on isn’t it, Nat? I take that as a no then.

Is Willie a Willy?

So there is a recession on and a credit crunch. Two ‘all business class’ airlines failed in the last year, both did not use ‘hub’ airports and carried limited amounts of passengers to the US.

I used Silverjet and I loved the service – flying from Luton with a great purpose-built terminal of its own, the service was great for a £1,000 return flight to New York. I was not the only one to think so – as I bumped into Martin Johnson’s knee and Mark Blundell too on two separate trips.

But it crashed, so to speak, and burnt. Even with a nice big Boeing, it did not attract the customers and Luton is one of the more accessible of airports with lower cost, nearer parking – Silverjet offered valet parking service too.

Now BA has launched a new service. From the short take off airport at the City, it has a specially converted Airbus 318 to carry only 100 passengers in total and only 32 in equivalent flat beds of Club Class to New York. Ah, there is a catch too. The A318 cannot take off on the short runway with a full load of fuel that would get it to New York and so it has to refuel on the way which means a stop at somewhere like Shannon.

I have criticised Willie Walsh, CEO of BA, before for his dreadful lack of strategy and his series of knee jerk reactions to the market conditions. But this folly in the face of tried and tested failures in the same sector will go down badly with all those staff who have taken early retirement, worked harder or taken a salary holiday in order to pay for his whims. This is a real humdinger of a poor idea and it frankly deserves to fail in the face of much better thought through services by smaller companies that he harried to put out of business.

Easyjet have criticised it also as a shuttle service for rich bankers which sort of puts it into perspective as we all are now commanded to hate such people by our Supreme Leader who has now issued laws and ultimatums to bankers and all Tories for causing the financial mess we are in. Poor old Willie has taken a good aim at his foot and blasted at it with gusto. Perhaps the resultant pain will wake him up.

At a time when BA has called for an extra £600m in cash and tried nonsensical cuts to try and compensate for the horrendous losses of last year, this was one investment that could have waited or have been binned.

But nope Willie is a real willy, for sure.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The End of A Long Road

It's party time on the tube lines this weekend. My two very good friends, Keith Lewis and Jamie West, finish their marathon of drinking a drink at the nearest drinking establishment to every station on the tube map.

This Saturday sees the boys drink their way to the finish line in Central London after a frantic whizz round on Thursday night to knock off a few straggling stations they have missed in their blurry travels. Their epic journey has been told through their excellent blog at Tracks of My Beers and there promises to be a good crowd to see them home as friends will gather to clap them in.

To get a feeling for the whole thing, just take a look at the tube map - there are some 270 stations on it and the lines extend out as far as Grange Hill and Epping to the North East and Amersham to the North West and many course through some fairly salubrious areas. Some stations did not have a pub or bar near them for miles while others had the most incredibly expensively priced drinks. The lads are hoping to produce a book of their travels as, if nothing else, they have recorded a great many of their views on the bars they have visited as well as the price of drinks. But pub banter is always at the heart of the matter and they have had great fun on the way, talking both rubbish and covering crucial matters like the Top Ten best songs in films or the World Rugby XV. Ladies Day, only a couple of weekends ago, took some of the conversations to a new low with such diverse topics of women discussing who would they would bed even though knew it was bad or silver foxes they would happily surrender themselves too. It made boy talk look positively prudish, to be frank.

There have been some 'guest appearances' along the way. I managed to keep up with the lads as a 'pacemaker' on the West Central Line, bailing out at Greenford having done my bit to warm them up. Many others have kept pace with them, not least Jamie's brother, Gareth and Keith's brother, spookily of the same name, as well as stalwarts like Liam, Pete The Pilot, Rhino and 'Shirt' Gray. They have also been followed by glamourous ladies too, not least their own lovely wives, Susan and Liz, but also Hazel and Siani (and the Ladies Day Team) who have all added a bit of class to what could have been a dour excuse for drinking most weekends for a year. As if any of us needed an excuse, frankly.

So well done Keith and Jamie on completing their journey - well done on a fabulous blog and I hope to see you there on Saturday to raise a glass to your fine achievement. To make sure we are all on the same page here, to our knowledge, this is the first time that such a marathon has been attempted or achieved - to drink a drink of English origin at the nearest bar or pub at EVERY station on the tube map.

Why? As a any climber would tell you, 'Because it was there.'
Good on you, boys.

The Hardest Love

There comes a moment in everyone's life that in order to get a reward you have to bury the hatchet and at least make the pretence of getting along.

I used to find this hard enough as a child when someone would say that in order to have a game of football you had to include the class dolt who couldn't play the game even after lessons by Bobby Charlton - but because it was their ball you had to let them play. As you grow up you often get into situations where you have to hold your tongue and try to get along with someone because the boss says so. I suppose with politicians, it just comes with the territory.

But how slimey it must feel to stand up in front of a couple of thousands of people and the cameras of national tv and, without gritted teeth, stand there and bare faced lie to say how much you think of someone you inwardly despise. Once finished, and you have eulogised some idiot for the sake of your career, you get off the stage after tumultuous applause by those who seem quite convinced by what you say, then find the nearest toilet and vomit violently. Just for good measure, I would find the nearest confessional and plead for forgiveness and thank God for not sending down a thunderbolt when you were actually talking, so heinous was your lie.

Well now you know how Gordon Brown must feel, and for that matter, Peter Mandelson too. Yesterday, they did the equivalent of 'taking one for the Party' and buried their hatchets in shallow ground as they will have to find them again next June when they lose the election, and they talked of each other in glowing terms.

Mandy talked of his pledge of 'undivided loyalty' for Gordon Brown. It was clever wording, as he could easily say at a later date that while his loyalty was undivided there wasn't much of it. Equally, he talked of how Gordon Brown had 'gripped' the financial crisis when other leaders had made mistakes. He was also careful to say that Brown had not caused the crisis by his mistakes but at least, in his opinion, he had done something when it all unravelled in front of him. I think the electorate may have other opinions, frankly, but I susppose what else could he say? Peter Mandelson is the consummate political operator and it is why his own Party dislike him more than the voters - which believe me is saying something - but even he could not talk with any great affection about what Brown has done. You can bet your bottom dollar that in the aftermath of an election loss, Mandelson will be the man to to deliver the coup de gras to Gordon Brown's career.

You have to remember that Mandelson is fabled as having said that when Brown had asked him to borrow 10p to phone a friend, Mandy had replied. 'Here's 20p, phone them all.' Faking love, is the hardest love of all.

What the speech showed was where the power lies in this country. The twice disgraced Mandelson was recalled to Government by the only method allowable via a peerage and then given effectively the leadership of the country as atrade to help save Labour from total annihilation. How it must have gagged in Gordon Brown's throat to accommodate the man who had effectively held back his career for so long by standing behind his arch rival Tony Blair. How it must have hurt his very soul to know that in order to survive he had to resurrect the career of a man he loathed so much. I could call Gordon Brown a lot of things but I would have guessed that he harbaours a grudge with a great deal of passion. But that's politics.

The impression of Gordon Brown in his 10 years of day-counting to the time he would be Prime Minister in 11 Downing Street, was one of a deeply principled man who would not do things just for political sensationalism unlike his predecessor. But we have seen the other side of him. We should have known that he would connive and behave like a spoilt schoolkid who thinks it his turn to have a go on the bike as he sent his bully boys to snipe away at Blair to get his go at the helm of the country. He was like a moody teenager or the school bully who sent others to do his bidding which did not bode well for us. We all thought that even if he did behave like a spoilt brat at least would hold true to some of the traditional Labour values.

Nope, when it came to it, he was stroking the backside of a Gadaffi too for oil deals, willing to trade a mass murderer for a few quid. When the whole financial crisis unravelled in front of us, while he seemed to protect the interests of the common account holder at places like Northern Rock, all he did was save the necks of a few rich people who had lost billions that he was happy for everyone of us to pay for. Even now, as Darling talks of curbing City bonsues, we are long after the event and it has not cured the basic problem of a flawed banking system as Brown depends on unbridled profiglacy in money making to get the kind of growth back in the country to stand a snowball's chance in hell of reducing debt by a single pound by 2015 let alone halve it as he is manically talking about. He allowed his old chum, Fred Goodwin, to walk away with millions when tellers at the same bank were sacked with nothing because he did not care enough about the right people but loved the rich.

Now Gordon Brown has had to swallow all his pride and tell us, straight faced, that his Party should be 'proud' of Peter Mandelson's contribution of the Party. It stopped well short of backing the guy, of saying he liked him or even that what he has done was any good but it still was a complete lie and we all know it. Mandelson's contribution has always been to deeply divide his Party and it is only in his rehabilitation to power as he ever achieved anything of note - and that only is to have a title he does not deserve and that makes a mockery of the whole peerage system.

But after all these years, the man (Mandelson) who architected the whole New Labour Project is still his own biggest fan. He even had the audacity, in his recent speech, to say that, 'Tony always said that the New Labour Project would never be complete until the Labour Party learned to love him. Well maybe Tony set the bar too high, but I am trying my best.'

I think the whole concept of the New Labour has long since been condemned to the muckpile as Britain wallows in the mess it created. That's the lack of reality that Mandelson and Brown have. The rest of the Labour Party may enjoy Mandelson's showmanship but they know that the election is already lost and just vacuous self congratulations and mock love-ins are not going to convince the electorate that a) anyone knows what they are doing anymore and b) that any of them can be trusted.

Well that's show business and politics, I suppose. It remains to be seen whether anyone outside of the Brighton shares the same sentiments of the man who has made politicians one of the most distrusted breed of people in Britain.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

A Slow, Lingering Death By Cuts

Willie Walsh, CEO of BA, is one of the following: 1) a desperate man clutching at any old idea to save money, 2) A desperate man who has no idea how to run a flagship airline, 3) a desperate man who has lost touch with his customers or 4) all of the above.

After the bold and inventive move of withdrawing free meals to Economy Class customers on most short haul flights that frankly no one missed, he has now come up with equally bold but this time, terribly misjudged, idea of charging for seat selection on flights. And we are not talking a nominal charge either, we are talking £20 per person, per long haul trip and £10 for short haul. For a family of four flying on holiday, this is another £160 on a flight and is akin to the racketeering on parking at airports.

This is now down into Ryan Air and Easyjet territory where you can choose to have priority boarding so you possibly can get the seat you want – but it costs far less, even though it’s just a method of queue jumping. I have flown Ryan Air recently and watched how, for dreadful service, prices ratchet up quickly for providing the most basic things for travel which you cannot avoid, like checking in, for example. But BA has got itself embroiled in the area that is fast diminishing the benefits of low cost travel – the additional costs of flying. What is more, let’s not fool ourselves that online check in and seat selection gives you exactly the seat you want – you just find the one that is available avoiding the middle seat in a group of 3 or getting a window or aisle. The chances of designating your row are minimal. It’s a different service but I came back on Eurostar on Friday where online check in told me there was just ONE seat available in my entire coach but when I got on, every table seat was empty. Every one of them – totally bizarre.

More than this, it shows that Walsh and BA have no real underlying strategy. Common sense tells us in order to compete with budget airlines you have to either differentiate your offering so substantially that people automatically value the price difference as being worth the extra price or you simply get down and dirty and compete at the same level. BA seems to be lost in the ‘Neverland’ in between where they want to maintain premium and differentiated service but now are charging for incrementally on standard fares – not budget ones. In other words, as with the withdrawal of meals, there is to be no corresponding decrease in the base cost of the air ticket which included a meal and seat selection, now you pay the same base fare and more if you want the services previously charged for, not ‘additional’ services as BA are trying to call them. To the simple-minded traveller like me, this is purely a price rise.

BA has had a very troubled year. The Terminal 5 fiasco was the pre-cursor to a lot of under par services in what is a great terminal. The main area is already crowded, half the damn thing has yet to built and so you are bussed to all points around the airport, passport control is usually undermanned when peak times occur and the security checking, and this is shameful, is a huge bottleneck – to the extent that the North entry is reserved for those late for their flights, while the South entrance is for those who have turned up in good time. Think about that – you do what the airline asks and allow plenty of time to check in and your reward is that you queue longer, while it encourages you to actually leave less time, turn up late and you get through security with no queues in just minutes. Go figure.

And let’s not get started on how many channels are available and numbers of staff or the lack of ‘redressing area’ to put all the articles you have taken off back on again. It is so poorly thought through as to make the experience very annoying for the frequent traveller.
To add to BA’s woes it has had to raise £600m of new capital, ask its staff to take unpaid sabbaticals while it has lost shed loads of money. It has been an airline which has relied on the large profits it makes at the front of the aircraft in Club and First Class and, as the recession has bitten, less have been taking such seats. It means the Economy Class has had to compete with the budget airlines, who have been kept out of Heathrow which has worked to their advantage as the airport is rapidly becoming one of the most inaccessible, over-priced building sites in Britain.

The strategy appears to be lacking or is just wrong. Once the airline famous for being the ‘World’s Favourite’ and sponsoring the London Eye, people now remember it more for the annoying introduction music to every piece of video on board which has not changed for years. The plan seems to be a series of knee jerk reactions to the cost base in the airline and strategy has flown out of the window. This is very typical of a weak, indecisive management who have been brought up on the mantra, ‘Milk the good times and cut costs in the bad times’. The reality is that BA has been enduring a slow death for many years and it was humiliated earlier this year when it tried to buy lowly Iberian Airlines only to find when the price was to be paid that BA’s share price had suffered so badly that Iberia was worth more than them.

The daftness pervades. This week, my colleagues and I are off to Portugal for a two day set of meetings. The only BA seats left were Club at £850 round trip – TAP was £430 for the same route, arriving in time to start our meetings at 10.00 prompt whereas BA could not get us in before 11.00. For the loss of a meal and the use of the BA Lounge, we get TAP Economy that does you breakfast on a 2 hour flight. Again, go figure.

Willie Walsh has a tough, tough job at the top of a struggling airline but I would argue that he has little idea about a vision that would see BA redefine itself to recover from these bad times – in fact, I would assert his ideas are making matters worse. Instead they wallow in a series of ill-judged moves that will drive frequent travellers away from them as the lure of cheaper tickets for the same benefits at easier to access regional airports become a reluctant no-brainer.

If I had BA shares, which thank the Lord I don’t, I would sell. Quickly.

The Cuckoo Cloud Gathers

Only yesterday I gave some, if I say so myself, very good ideas for Labour to try and turn around their faltering ship and possibly pull off an unlikely election victory.
On the eve of the last Party Conference before the election, they have some rallying to do. However, apparently the News of the World has found just over 1,000 people somewhere, probably who do not read the news or live on this planet, 48% of whom give Brown a 'slim chance' of winning the election while another 11% are more unreserved, and perhaps crackers, in saying Labour will win.

The one piece of advice I failed to give yesterday is that Labour should not delude themselves. While such polls will give a straw with which they can clutch on, the last thing they need to do is to trivialise the task they have ahead of them, because if they truly believe that they can win the election from the current position they are in without a radical change in their approach, then we are talking a landslide to the Tories at minimum.

Mandy has rallied the troops - and he will be lurking in the corridors of conference bashing anyone who starts to talk of ditching the past and looking to the future. On that score, the Millibands, Ed and Dave, are both in line for slaps on the wrist with Mandy's wet Sunday Times (he reads nothing else as he is such good friends with the Murdochs) as they have already started gloom-mongering with speeches about how the party must now 'look to the future' - a known political euphemism for 'we've lost so let's have a leadership election and my name is in the hat.'

Mandy himself has shrewdly said that this election is 'not in the bag - either for us or the Tories'. He can congratulate himself for being at least 50% right with that statement but one thing he must realise also will be that the next few months, weeks even, may well hand the election to the Tories. And that's another matter than trying to rally his team to try and win. Literally, if ministers persist in trying to lie about the next steps based on the position we are in today, then Labour lose by handing the election to the Tories. What I mean by that is that Cameron really doesn't have a policy to think of, and yet he could still win the election simply by Labour handing it to him. In many respects, that could the worst thing that could happen.

But it would be easy to do, particularly if Labour start to believe their own rhetoric and do little to change the public's perception. In fact, if they believe their own bull too much, then they will probably do nothing and their arrogance will get them voted out.

A prime example of this is that Darling has talked of making a legal pledge to halve the debt by 2015. A LEGAL pledge - this is not his word, best endeavours or anything else, but this a pledge that essentially we could all sue him for. How daft is that kind of idiot behaviour? Given his current inability to work out the numbers from one month to the next, not only is he suddenly going to get a grip on his calculator but Britain will now emerge from recession like an Exocet and grow like topsy.

Why must that happen? Because in the same breath, his fearless leader is actually saying that his party will not make cuts in services - in fact, he has implied they will continue to invest. You do not have to be a genius to work out that if unemployment will peak in 2010, then less than 5 years later, we will have halved debt. All estimates by learned and quite sane economists say that by 2014 we will have DOUBLED debt from today's current position to almost 99% of GDP. Is Darling expecting us to believe that by a year later he will have performed a conjuring trick worthy of Gordon's namesake or David Copperfield and made our debt disappear like a rabbit in a top hat?

The answer lies in Labour electioneering. It appears that there will be a series of equivocal statements designed to cleverly say things which mean at least two things. The hand of Mandelson is very much in evidence as only he could be so damn devious and think he could get away with that as he has done many times before.

The tragedy is that it looks that rather than being honest with the electorate to get us all behind what needs to be done, we are going to be played for fools once again. I think that is a terrible mistake for as stupid as we undoubtedly are, we are fully aware of how dire the situation is. Wishful thinking and forlorn battle cries based around ambiguous statements will not fool s this time.
But wait a minute. The clouds in Cuckooland are gathering. Maybe we are that stupid after all. We'll see.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Can Labour Win The Next Election?

There are lot of gloom mongers out there, mainly Labour Party activists, who think it is a foregone conclusion that Labour will lose the next election.

Certainly, I would say that Gordon Brown has more chance of buying the winning lottery ticket in tonight’s draw than of retaining the PM’s seat at the next election. But can he turn around this sinking ship and set it fair to win at this late stage? I will offer some of my pearls of wisdom and advice as a member of the electorate to suggest a few salient ideas.

The first point I would make is that hanging on until the last possible moment in June of next year is just dumb. Firstly, it smacks of a very desperate man who is hoping for some miracle to happen or for the cavalry to arrive to bail him out. It could be a sudden, rapid rise in our economic fortunes with Britain emerging from recession and then putting on a spurt of unprecedented growth. However, the indicators show that by the time of the next election unemployment may have risen to 3m and house prices may not have recovered sufficiently to give us the 'feelgood' factor of new prosperity. It’s a forlorn hope, and Brown may be better off shocking his opponents by calling an election quickly and at an unfashionable hustings time. To be honest, he doesn’t have a lot to lose and it may just wipe that smug smile off David Cameron’s chops.

Perhaps the best hope he has is to try to convince us all that now is not the time to change. We must follow through his tactics to beat the recession and get us out of the dire financial mess those nasty bankers (not him) and sub-prime got us into. This would again argue going to the polls earlier rather than later as the best tack. If he can contrive to dupe us that his super-hero antics of last year actually laid some kind of foundation to recovery and that it is so fragile that even the merest tinkering could destroy its course then he might stand a chance of making the Tories seem idiotic in their plans for the economy. I dare say by reminding us all what fabulous prosperity we all had under his Chancellorship for 10 years as we leveraged our assets rather than earned more will help to dupe us that he is once again right or maybe right this time around.

He could, of course, ‘out Tory the Tories’. It may sound daft but Ed Balls’ tactics of selflessly volunteering education to take a £2bn budget cut and to hell with the next generation of kids, may stymie the Tory bullies who think there are only secret cuts to be made after the election. It would bring it all out in the open and maybe we could see parties duelling as to who can cut furthest and deepest to rescue us. It was an enormous gamble by Balls, one designed no doubt, along with his new hairstyle, to show the electorate he is the new face of Labour while it flew in the face of Peter Mandelson who is carefully organising the tactics and language to once again make us all vote Labour. Perhaps by showing that cuts CAN be made and tough decisions on priorities can be made by Labour, then they might just blunt the Tory sword on all this. Certainly, the rather odd stance that you can actually get the budget deficit and the borrowing mountain down without cutting budgets by Alistair Darling is looking more moronic by the second. As his debt calculations have been out by tens of billions so far, has someone not yet told the poor man that he is going slowly crackers?

On the subject of Mandelson, simple mathematics proves he is a liability. The public, I believe I can talk on behalf of a comfortable majority of it, thinks he is sleazy, untrustworthy and pretty dishonest. He panders to wealthy people, gets freebies and then helps oil the political machine to help those back-scratchers get what they want. Even if he says it is not true, the public think it happens and twice before he has been forced from Government even by his best mate under the shadow of dodgy dealings. Since his dramatic recall to the team and 3 year pay off deal with Brussels, a peerage and the second most powerful position in the country, arguably the most powerful, Labour has seen the Tory lead drift from 12 to 16 points in the polls. No sitting Government in modern history has come back from such a deficit. Sidelining Mandelson would have an immediate and positive effect on the Party and reflect well on Brown – for whatever good Mandelson may doing in the background and the Labour machine, even activists in his own Party hate him. It could be an internal confidence boost that will chirp up and motivate the front end Party workers so vital at election time.

Ditching the sound bites will help. Spin and deception has been the hallmark of this whole New Labour franchise. They are far too clever for their own good and nobody takes things at face value anymore. We got a prime example last night at the UN. After Colonel Gadaffi’s 90 minute, frankly, bizarre speech in which he tore up the UN charter, Brown got to the stand and immediately tried to score a heavy point by saying he was not tearing up the same charter. How dumb was that to try to score points off the man and country he has worked so hard to rehabilitate in the mainstream political and world debate? You either accept that Gadaffi is a Dictator, as mad as a March hare downright dangerous or you rightly place him as a dodgy character whose regime aided and abetted terrorism. Neither option is particularly palatable yet in the wake of the release of the Lockerbie Bomber from BRITISH jurisdiction which has outraged most common people on both sides of the Atlantic; it was a cheap shot to try to endear himself back into the hearts of the people who now so deeply distrust him and his double dealings. The sooner he learns to live with the truth the better it will be for him, his party and the electorate. Trust has fallen to an all time low in the Labour movement, so much so that even the Unions think they are idiots.

Of course, there would be many that would take this a step further. Some would argue that Brown himself should step aside and let the aspiring newbies take over, like Johnson, Milliband or Balls. That has to be a mistake – Milliband looks like an extra from Harry Potter, Balls is another sound bite merchant while Johnson simply comes across as another puerile school snitch that just wants the top job but has no idea why. The fact is, Brown was meant to have this job and Labour have got themselves into an almighty mess – they need to rally around him as at least he has enough intelligence to be something of a leader whereas all the others are just opportunist wannabes.

Accepting the truth is something that simply eludes most politicians. They are taught from an early age that admitting you are wrong shows weakness. The problem is that in the face of overwhelming evidence that Labour has taken us into disastrous territory by repeatedly claiming nothing can happen to our robust economy only for us all to find out that it was about as robust as a damp tissue in a pond means that Labour simply look as if they are out of touch with reality as they continue to try to tell us we are actually better off than we are. The continuously shocked looking Alistair Darling, who always looks like a startled deer, just seems to get his sums wrong monthly and our burgeoning debt mountain gets higher each time as borrowing estimates have to be revised. It doesn’t do our confidence any good but when the magical new money from Quantitative Easing stops buying our own National Debt and the bonds go back on the open market, he could be in for a real shock that may whiten his eyebrows in line with the rest of his hair. There is a real risk that no sane investor will buy them. As an electorate, we are easily led but we are not always stupid. There comes a time that if we encounter a pile of dog poo, despite Government sound bites telling us it’s really a pile of gold, we actually recognise it as smelly and bad. It is time to concede that we are actually in a mess, the Government helped cause it and now here is the path to the future. Instead we got a fix that has saved the necks of a small number of very rich people for them to go and be even more fabulously wealthy while the country pays with extra taxes until 2032 and in lost jobs – and underwrites their antics for the future. In that context, banks could not have got a better result. Only last night, Brown claimed that 7m jobs globally have been saved – we are not stupid, we can read the numbers, British unemployment is up. Further, he Janet & John’d us by saying by saving the banks he stopped ATMs drying up. Not once did he consider an alternative way of doing this as other countries have – in the US they accepted the largest corporate failure in history and 94 banks have collapsed, yet he ATMs never skipped a beat. It is the assumption that we are gullible and stupid that will trigger his downfall.

A really populist, and therefore it could get a nasty backlash as not his idea and that's important to Gordon, is to start savagely cutting the layers of Government - very quickly. The Dept of Business Secretary alone runs 9 junior ministers and is a sub-Government in itself with Mandelson wandering around as effective PM anyway. No one would lose any sleep if that department and few others lost a several faces fast. Risky, but equally enjoyable, would be to see the Welsh Assembly turfed out of their lavish buildings and stripped of office so that not so many of them can claim expenses. Another good move would be to enforce shorter holidays, less allowances and a salary decrease on all MPs. Of course, it would be blasting his own foot but, boy, would all that go down well with the voters.

He's already on the case with bank bonuses but I still don't think he really gets it. This Government has gone out of its way to pander to super rich people in a manner you would expect Tories to do - and it looks so sleazy and sickening as to be revolting. It would really score a few points if retrospective non-domicile legislation came in to grab a portion of the £billions in taxes we have lost to people like Philip Green and other revered 'entrepreneurs' and bastions of Labour's inner court of lovelies. On top of that, it would be really wise to look at what Hedge Funds do in terms of helping the market so that people just cannot earn £billions in a year and walk away from us scot free of taxes. Then there is the general bankers themselves - why fiddle with bonuses when it is what they actually do that is the problem? Outlaw risky products as being what they are, make believe money spinners, and force banks to focus on trading things with intrinsic value - curb these daft bonus schemes as most 5 year olds could do their jobs. That would win a few votes.

Strike back at the ugly mess that MP Expenses have made. Don't just stand around pretending MPs have made forgetful mistakes and call it what it is - fraud. Sack the swines who did it, particularly the worst offenders like Blears and force the Tories to do the same like McBride. The sight of MPs claiming for Chunky Kitkats, duck houses, manure and the likes is just downright abhorrent to an electorate who are struggling to meet their bills with greater fear over the jobs. A touch of reality to all the offenders would be a popular move.

This one is not rocket science. Pictures of dead or mutilated British soldiers coming home each week is not good PR if you honestly think you have the Afghanistan situation in hand. It really is insulting to listen to unqualified ministers like Ainsworth and that idiot Foulkes rabbiting on about what we have done for the soldiers. It's clear we are fighting a war without the kind of support and equipment they need to get the job done without suffering unnecessary casualties. First, stop parading the thought of Mandelson strolling down an aisle in a supermarket smiling and putting weapons in his trolley when that clearly is not what he is doing. Second, get some decent body armour, trucks that withstand more than the force of a peashooter and some helicopters in - fast. Third, up the compensation for deaths and injuries for troops beyond the disgusting levels of today and stop taking victims to court in 'Test cases' to curb payouts when you really should not be quibbling over such trivia.

The public would rather pay more tax for wounded or dead soldier's compensation than for Fred Goodwin's bloody pension or to save some champagne guzzling Porsche driver in the City who is risking our livelihood not theirs - so go figure what wins votes.

Then there are the other, more desperate, possibilities. The Afghanistan war has cost us billions and over 216 brave soldiers have died and countless others have been injured and maimed. History shows that not since Alexander the Great has Afghanistan been successfully occupied and even modern armies have not done so. It’s a losing battle and it doesn’t help that we have soldiers not equipped properly for the job, territorials who no longer use live ammo to train, not enough armour in vehicles to stop IEDs and not enough aircraft to properly mobilise the forces or rescue hurt ones. Afghanistan is a mistake and a lost cause – it lacked a plan from the start and there still is not one. What Brown needs is a short sharp war, preferably picked with a nation of insufficient capability to fight back, that our troops can win one handed and not have too far to travel and we have no helicopters left. A startling victory somewhere will help, like the Malvinas, err, Falklands.

If all else fails, then there are two more options he can try. One is to get his wife on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ (oops gone) or ‘I’m Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ and then she can do jungle challenges half naked and get off with a dismally failed prima donna pop star, then come home and work tirelessly for charity while having a TV program made about her every move. Obviously, she would need breast implants, quick.

Or, Brown needs to hang around a lake or canal in a pair of trunks, wait to see a toddler in trouble and then hurl himself into the water, pull the gasping child out, and give it the kiss of life while selflessly losing a limb in the act.

Like I said, I would start buying lottery tickets if I were Gordon.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Tweets For My Sweet

I am one of those people who signed up to Twitter, gave it a good bash and then left it. I just couldn't understand why a screen full of irrelevant, banal comments on nothing was adding any value to my life. I dare say I am missing the point, but I have tried and just didn't get it.

Well clearly I am in the minority. The company has not made a single bean in revenue - in fact, in the 'pure' world of tweets, the users believe that trying to 'monetise' them would be an affront and most likely drive many away. But that hasn't stopped the latest round of capital raising go ahead with renewed gusto. Twitter has just raised a further $100m led by Insight Ventures which now values the company at a very super-cool $1bn.

Let me run that by you again - no revenue, the users would be really cheesed off if charges were imposed or advertising allowed and the company is valued at $1bn.

For the limited number of characters allowed, this values the company at $7.14m per character. What's more, this is the second tranche of new money this year and many analysts believe they don't even need it. Makes you wonder why any company would raise so much money without a) using it and b) having a business plan of any nature to try and make a profit.

But in the world of web 3.0, which I am told by many is all about who follows you, it is not important to show a profit. Twitter is all about grabbing users, much like Facebook, another site staunchly not making any money but which had the audacity to use some of its funding to try to buy Twitter for $500m last year.

Here are some interesting 'facts' on Twitter that make it both exciting and potentially worrying for its investors. It's 140 character set Tweet was originally designed to be compatible with SMS as seen on mobiles - such was the lack of a business plan by its founder, Jack Dorsey. It is now ranked as the third most popular social networking site with an estimated 6m visitors to its site every month and around 55m unique visits, and it is ranked by some authorities as the fastest growing site in its category.

However, it is estimated that only 40% of all Twitter users are retained. Of the core of users, who love and use it every single minute, as I have found out on my experience to tell me if their dog is abluting or the river is passing by sluggishly in front of the hotel room window, there is a strong backbone of those who regard this site as the last bastion of free, free enterprise. Many users might just walk away if the site was ever to charge or try to send adverts to them as then the whole ethos of Twitter would be lost and they would have to go somewhere else to send me another article link that they thought was good.

From a business plan and profit making point of view, this is bad news. From an investment viewpoint, I assume it is not about making profit, it is about the 'potential' to make money by selling the company to someone who may believe they have a method of accessing the users for gain. An example of this was Sky's investment of $200m in Facebook. In fairness to Sky, Facebook has a ton of ways to make money in the future and the users will not necessarily mind as they might accept it. But Tweeters are a different breed - they vary from the geeky, sandal wearing types, to a new breed of newshounds and then on to celebrities and lots in between. The danger area that I can see is that relatively savvy users of the web like myself (OK I take your point) can easily get disillusioned with the Twitter bandwagon and leave too easily. The sheer volume of rubbish on I found to be actually depressing rather than uplifting - and it seems that 60% of all people who have a go like me, actually leave. That's not a good percentage of churn for investors, believe me.

There is no doubt that many new sub sets of Tweeters exist which group like-minded or similar business sectors such as StockTwits which links stock traders together. This may be useful if you want to get in on the fast information required to make a few bob on shares. Old bulletin boards hat I have used seem now to be so passe yet at least they contained some background information to make your choice, 140 characters seems like just a hollering shop based on guesswork - but what do I know?

The fact remains, Twitter is a social phenomenon and it is here to stay. Or at least until the investors want payback. Then the fun starts to see how the users react.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Post Crash Experts

If only Alistair Darling and Lord Adair Turner had ever visited a front bar of a pub nowhere near the City prior to the credit crunch and financial meltdown, they would have got their chest heartlity prodded and been told in no uncertain terms that there was a massive hole looming in Britain's finances and that our economy had become unrealistically dependent on over-inflated asset values which were being traded spuriously to raise cheap money on the international markets.

Of course, none of us armchair sages would have had an earthly idea about why this was so dangerous, what these derivative products actually were, how badly our economy would be affected by asset value falls but we all new that what went up HAD to come down. There was a bubble inflated to maximum and it was going to burst - and boy, didn't it just.

These Governemt and associated 'illuminati' like Turner sat back murmuring how beautifully under control everything was. Even when things started to go worng like the 'discovery' of sub prime in America, no one linked this with the financial system in general - not even the bankers. As the crisis got worse, Ministers told us that it can't happen to us as we had a 'robust economy' and then that recession would hurt us less as house prices were more stable here. But the whole vicious circle of finance catches you up - all you needed was one small puff of bad gas and the whole financial system would collapse like a house of cards.

So now that it has all happened, Lord Tuner has had an epiphany. After all that education, years in the Consultancy business, heading the CBI and sitting on numerous Quangos, he has suddenly realised that bankers were in fact trading products that had no real implicit functionor even value other than for them to earn money and that these bankers had little understanding of the implications of doing so. Other, of course, than the fact that they could earn sensational amounts of money by doing so. Mr. Darling has also suddenly woken up and has smelt similar coffee and now espouses the same 20-20 hindsight wisdom as Turner. We are all finally singing off the same hymn sheet.

Not as such. What has either the FSA or the Government done to outlaw the trading of these daft products? Nothing. In fact, as we piddle about fiddling with bonus cultures and wondering if everyone will do the same thing or else one us gets left behind, the written down toxic debts are being 'traded' for vast profits right in front of our faces. Stuff that we now guarantee or have written down in value with our taxpayer cash are actually being used to create vast new profits for banks as if they have suddenly reclaimed some value. The embers of Lehmans and some 94 other banks that have failed in the US are being raked over for little nuggets to trade while Barclays do not even use a white cloth to hide their toxic debt that they suddenly make vanish and create a $3.9bn profit by doing so while at the same time they make 45 former employees millionaires - overnight with one click of the computer and a swish of the pen - it even makes their capital ratio look better it such a good magic trick.

Despite all this post-crash wisdom, nothing has been done. And nothing will be. But talk is good - it helps us taxpayers get used to the fact that we can blame people who have added over a million to our dole queue who will this year be getting multi-million pound bonuses after a short technical hitch to their money making. The fact that the sails are set fair for the next crash seems to ellude their feeble minds and that talking is not going to get the problem fixed. It will take one of the leaders to confront the issue and make sure that his/her country's economy is no longer so dependent on a few people making more money each year than an average worker would make even if they won the lottery jackpot at least once a year.

The G20 starts this week, my bet is that nothing comes of it that will change the behviour and machinations of banks substantially and we will all forget the crash until the next one happens again. Then the same sages can act as dumbfounded as they were with this one.

In a cruel blow to Odgers, the recruitment company charged with headhunting the new CEO for UKFI who manage our 'investments' in banks, they have been fired as they took on an ex-RBS banker.
They learned the bitter lesson that headhunters and recruiting managers should all take on board - just because you have experience of an industry, it does not mean you know anything about it.

Tit For Tat

The day the Pan Am flight was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie still lives on in my memory. It shook the world to its core and struck at the very heart of the free world that such a callous, cowardly atrocity could be enacted above our sovereign territory and so brutally.

It was a mere appetiser in terrorist atrocity terms when compared to 9/11 and to some extent Britain had been numbed to sensational acts of violence after years of IRA campaigns but Lockerbie was defining moment - and for many the connection to Libya was one that damned that nation, if not forever, then for a long time.

The flight was bound to the USA and it was an American airline and so many of the 270 victims were US citizens and so this hit both countries with an equal intensity. In Ireland, we had long differentiated the fact that the Government and the vast majority of citizens had distanced themselves from the extremists within the IRA and its sister organisations - they were rogues, dissidents, terrorists. What made Libya different was that the rogue behaviour went right to the top - to its Dictator, Col. Gadaffi.

It came as a huge surprise to most people in the UK and the US, I am sure, who were old enough to remember the old Libya and you didn't have to be that old to remember that President Clinton regularly dropped bombs on Libya, when in the aftermath of 9/11 that Libya was hurriedly, without warning or question, welcomed back into our protective net. Gadaffi had apparently denounced terrorism and that was good enough for anyone. As if the British Government has no memory or conscience about those whose lives were so cowardly taken that terrible night above Lockerbie, they started feeding on Libya's prizes almost immediately.

As soon as Tony Blair could get his fresh face there, Brown since and Straw at the helm, it seems, we, Britain, have been negotiating with the former rogue state, happy to sell the legacy of those who died over Lockerbie for some oil. A 'Prisoner Transfer' deal was struck, and to the annoyance of the Scottish Justice System, who had found Megrahi guilty of the crime and sentenced him to life in prison as the crime was deemed to have been committed on Scottish soil although the bomb may have exploded over England, the Lockerbie bomber's 'transfer' was added into the agreement.

OK, so technically he was recently released on compassionate grounds - he was dying. But what are the families and friends of the Lockerbie victims going to think? For most of us, a life sentence meant that you end your life in prison. What about the feelings of average Scottish people or British generally? What about the feelings of the Americans? Cut it whatever way you want, that bomb exploded above Britain and a British judicial system convicted and then released the bomber - in the eyes of Americans, not the Scottish alone. If the Americans had had their way, Megrahi, would have been tried in a US court and either be dead now or long forgotten in a US jail where his chances of survival would have been slim long before his fatal illness struck. In particular, the man at the FBI who led the whole investigation to find Megrahi was infuriated.

In an apparent tit for tat move, President Obama, is welcoming Government officials from Japan and China prior to the forthcoming G20 talks in Pittsburgh. But all he has afforded the 'Special Relationship' so far is a chat by the coffee machine and he has rebuffed attempts to have some showpiece talks. Just about every US citizen would have been reviled to have witnessed the scenes when Megrahi returned home, a national hero of a former rogue state having been convicted of killing 270 people, and more reviled to have seen a Scottish flag waving in thanks. It will not be lost on US officials and citizens that Gordon Brown is himself a Scot.

The whole sorry saga of Britain's frenzy to get oil deals and sell out justice for the 270 people who died at Lockerbie is a disgusting indictment on modern politics. I condemn the Americans for their own part in suddenly allowing Gadaffi back into the mainstream with no caveats but Britain just could not wait. To us, it wasn't about forgiving terrorism, it was about trade and big money - and we all know how our 'Champagne Socialists' feel about big money these days.

In many instances, I believe our Government has blood on its hands for lots of other reasons. In the case of the Lockerbie bomber, I think it has behaved shamefully and is a disgrace to all people who remember the Lockerbie bombing and the cold-blooded shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher on the streets of London and then watched her killer just walk away under diplomatic protection.

The matter has been conveniently and expertly brushed under the carpet as per usual in this country. But to their credit, the Americans have not forgotten and it looks like Britain has gone down a notch or too in the pecking order of world politics as Obama deliberately avoids directly meeting Gordon Brown and his flunkies.

Good on Obama, good on America. We deserve it.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

When The Law Is Not The Law

Come on, we have all broken a law or two in our time. I will own up, I have speeded and been fined on 4 occasions in over 30 years of driving. I have also had numerous parking and congestion charge fines.

I have even had to spend an evening 'cooling off' after a stupid scene at a restaurant in London many years ago when someone left a bag behind and a friend and I went to retrieve it but the staff had already locked the door. It didn't help that we were worse off after a few drinks, but the staff shouted from inside as we tried to make ourselves understood. What they knew was that one of our table of revellers had snuck the bag out already and so they thought we were shouting at them for something else. The Law duly arrived and seeing that we had had a few drinks there was an automatic assumption that we were in the wrong even though our friends showed that a prank had been played on us. We were duly taken to Bow Street and spent the night at their unfashionable facilities, to have to come back and pay a fine the next morning. In our eyes, it was a simple misunderstanding but in the eyes of the law we had caused a disturbance and were assumed to be blind drunk which was not strictly true.

The law, however, is the law.

I have always been a citizen who by and large goes about my daily business within the law. I don't agree with the wholesale implementation of speed cameras for the sake of catching innocent motorists when the majority of major offences go unpunished, I think it's poor prioritisation and it's all about balancing budgets and hitting 'targets' rather than protecting the public. The general, law abiding public are the easiest majority to extract money from because we pay, without question, on time. Criminals don't. But I still pay the fines if I have to - it's the law, whether I agree with it or not.

So when someone breaks a law due to ignorance, lack of understanding, genuine oversight, or because they were mislead, generally I have a great deal of sympathy. Particularly when that crime endangers no one. A classic example would be employing a housekeeper or nanny who has arrived from another country who has let their employer know they have complied with all immigration regulations when they actually haven't. You have to say, as an individual, do we have all the necessary lines of information that allow us to check every last detail? Probably not - if someone wants to dupe us, they probably will. In that case, who has committed the crime?

In the eyes of the law, it is the employer - even an individual. It sounds barmy, because it is barmy. The onus is on the individual or company to make all the checks beforehand and, as the tax man would tell us, ignorance is not an excuse. It is why, in the case of MPs Expenses, the excuse of oversight and ignorance was the alibi du jour when for everyday citizens such dizziness is not allowable.

So in the case of the highest lawyer in the land, who actually crafted the very law of which she has fallen foul of, it is perhaps a wonderful case, 'Now you know what it feels like.' Baroness Scotland probably made as minor an error as you or I would make and we would be fined a great deal of money. We would be unlikely to lose our jobs, but then again this is a very special case. In this case, Baroness Scotland has experienced at first hand the stupidity of the Law - her own Law. For her, ignorance and oversight cannot be an excuse as she had full knowledge of all that was required as she wrote the damn book on the subject. Ignorance cannot be an excuse in her case. And perhaps it takes a barrister or an Attorney General to be guilty of one of their own 'crimes' for them to understand the nonsense they write.

I would argue that Baroness Scotland may survive her mishap, but the least she can do is to a) go back over all cases where employers or individuals have made genuine oversights and review their cases in the context of her own and, b) re-draft the law with common sense in mind and remind herself of who was the 'criminal' here - the liar or the person who just did not have the time to make all the necessary checks. One other thing to consider - who let the person into the country in the first place?

There is a lot of political hand wringing going on as everyone enjoys yet another moment of discomfort for Gordon Brown - but there have been far worse of late from Fred Goodwin's pension and Lord 'dopey' Myners, to Peter Mandelson's yacht episodes (both Deripaska's and Geffen's), the tragedies of soldiers dying in Iraq, Hazel Blears, the Oil for Bomber deal - it goes on.
I don't have a great deal of sympathy for Baroness Scotland and her daft laws but let's be honest, as a winner of an MC is killed in Afghanistan this week as yet another victim of a poorly equipped army, this ranks pretty low down the priority list frankly.

What Makes You Vote For Who?

Party Conferences are the pinnacle of excitement for most Party Activists - a few days in a coastal resort geared for retiring couples listening to waffle after guff is the height of ecstasy, roundly marked by sore hands and a croaky throat at the end.

The Lib Dem Conference has been about as inspiring as a pound of wet tripe and yet bits caught my eye. It seems that both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are going for the youthful, energetic, almost uncontainable excited kid in a candy store look whereas Labour, having used that formula to formidable advantage in 1997, have the brow-beaten, haggard look of a man who cannot get out of the whole place fast enough.

It made me ponder - do looks have anything to do with how we vote?

Well ask John McCain whose retired diddyman look did nothing against the smart, debonair and refreshingly earnest, but with a smile, looks of Barack Obama. The awful attempt to 'put lipstick on the pig' by introducing a complete unknown, and as it turned out a liability, in Sarah Palin as running partner was a poor attempt to divert eyes from the aspiring but ageing president wannabe. Looking back on it, Obama's words sounded very compelling, prophetic even, and yet when you delved into the detail it was more in hope than with any kind of practical substance, which is very reminiscent of Tony Blair all those years ago. He rode in on a wave of 'Cool Britannia' and it lasted a long while having inherited as good an economy as any incoming PM could wish for and everything looked rosy for a good while as we all enjoyed prosperity.

But execution is the key to success - great plans are just great plans until they are acted upon with dedication and accuracy, making sure all issues that arise are dealt with. So many of the ill-thought policies of this Government have been put into place on the wave of popular opinion without any real substance to them and enacted by people who had no idea what they were doing. Obama may yet suffer the same fate. If people cannot share your dream to the nth degree then they will get the practical bit wrong - but maybe the dream had not been thought through to account for all the possible outcomes.

Yesterday I heard that idiot Lembit whatshisname on the radio who was having a great old time at conference. 'Lib Dem is all about outcomes,' was his little strapline and he claimed boldly that we should not force incoming migrants to learn English as that was imposing on their civil liberties. Then a lady came on the phone and slaughtered him within seconds homing in on the fact that we have 'bubbles' of unintegrated society as many migrants just talk amongst themselves and do not engage with the local population. When Lembit tried to argue the point, the lady pointed out in her superb English that she was an immigrant too and she saw it with her own eyes.

It exposed that fact that so many MPs engage in 'Thought Experiments' with Think Tanks or committees and try to dream up policy by homing in on the 'outcome' of their own choice to 'sell' to the nation as a soundbite. Lembit's next one was a classic on the point that we are a conservative society only because we are nanny-ed by the state and so we cannot see, as a for instance, that if we made legal Class A drugs like heroin or cocaine legal and available via the NHS, then we could reduce crime by half. It was a brilliant notion. In the same vain, we could produce an amnesty for all murderers and issue them free knives to kill people and then perhaps the fun will have gone so much that they won't kill so often. The logic that we should not only legalise high end drug taking but subsidise it by making it available on the NHS is pretty stupid, perhaps we should make alcohol or tobacco subsidised substances also. But the premise itself is abhorrent to most people - we want to tell young people drug taking is bad for them and therefore wrong, yet we legalise it. Further, Opik's premise that it would half crime was complete guess and theorises only that a great deal of crime is committed by drug addicts who commit crime to fund their habit. By legalising and subsidising drugs was his 'guess' that those people would no longer commit crimes. While it may be a fair assumption, in practice it may not be the case. Such guesswork, in attempting to prove its point, may actually have several unthought of and undesired effects, while the British public would have to swallow its feelings on having to subsidise the taking of hard drugs to satisfy the whim of a group of politicians who 'thought' it was a great idea.

It brings into stark clarity why the Lib Dems are unelectable, yet the earnest, youthful features of its leader may con us all into thinking he is progressive and forward thinking. A bright new, young future. It's all spoilt by the main spokesperson being Vince 'The Enforcer' Cable who looks like one of these sidekicks for a movie baddie.

And then there is David Cameron, epitomised by the Private Eye cartoon as an ex-Etonian, fresh-faced lad and toff full of ideas while also pointing the finger at the Government and shouting negative taunts. In the background lurks 'Chief Snitch', George Osbourne, who breached the rules of the workings of the super-rich by ratting on Peter Mandelson attending meetings on Oleg Deripaska's £80m yacht by stupidly forgetting he had to have been there himself to have witnessed it, casting equal suspicion on both - suspicion that was carefully swept under the carpet by both sides as the powerful Rothschild family members subtlety yet forcefully reminded everyone who keeps them in power.

Cameron has failed to make the impact he desperately wants despite his attempt to communicate with the youth by using hip and almost slang language. Again, much of the cerebral work has to be left to former heavyweights like Ken Clarke or the newly invigorated William Hague but the Conservatives are a long way off the pace of a decent opposition and they are only really so popular because the present Government has fouled up so royally.

But do youthful looks and attitudes actually win votes? Do we now value ideas and hip-language more than the voice and looks of experience? Do we take 'Thought Experiments' on ideas at face value? The fact is that many of the great 'Thought Experiments' by the Labour Government, particularly on spending on NHS, Education and transport has got us nowhere and their ideas on the economy have virtually ruined us as a nation. In 12 years in power, we have more unemployed than when they started and a budget deficit that is fast getting out of control. We are faced with drastic cuts to the services they heartily 'invested in', we partially or wholly own 5 High Street banks in order to save them, we have a green policy that is suspended while we sort out the mess and and we have a potential disaster on pensions only a short step around the corner as many on the cusp of retiring have seen their future wiped out and millions more will follow due to inept policies and lack of planning.

Britain is certainly on its knees - whether it will beat the count is yet to be seen. All bets at the moment are on preserving its status as a financial super centre - if the City of London loses that status then Britain could be all but finished. It started under the Conservatives but Labour somehow loved it, but manufacturing has been systematically dismantled in this country while the Finance industry has become more powerful.

Fresh faced ideas are vote winners on the whole. The smiling, confident face of Tony Blair guffawing at Hague's election stance on immigration and the like is a distant past yet how it has come back to haunt us in strange ways as our population rises to 61m and the net increases are mostly down to new arrivals, even this year as births by new arrivals played a huge part. But can Cameron do something special to rescue us? The policies he espouses certainly don't seem to have substance or detail backing them and seem as hit and hope as the Lib Dems. But we need a change from the complacency and hubris of the last 3 years at least.

It is easy to be cynical about politics, particularly after the extraordinary furore over expenses which we have not really flushed through as most MPs just did not seem to get the whole issue on breach of trust. Still today, many remain as MPs when ordinary people would have either resigned or been sacked and the simpering face of Hazel Blears ,as she held up the cheque she fiddled the HMRC on, epitomised the lack of accountability they all suffer with. She broke the law - it is very simple. The new furore surrounds another Labour darling, Baroness Scotland who, having concocted the laws on employing migrants, was found to have cut corners herself to get cheap labour and employed a migrant without properly checking. As with so many laws today, the onus is on the individual to do the Government's work and how gratifying it is to see how easy it is to become a 'criminal' in today's society for failing to think of everything. Should she go? Well, you live by the sword so you should die by it. But Baroness Scotland will not go - careful handling by the Spin Doctors will 'draw a line' under the affair while she will resolutely claim that an oversight caused the problem - but if only the law helped every citizen in the same way. If only bosses up and down the country allowed people to repay expenses with no punishment, if only the HMRC forgave the odd 'oversight' on taxes and let us carry on. If only being sacked twice would not appear on our CVs for dubious dealings as it does with Peter Mandelson.

That's the world of politics. Maybe fresh faced new guys are less blemished by the past but if Tony Blair's 'loans for peerages' and 'convicted felon of a financial adviser who bought them two flats' are indicators, so too are David Cameron's over-zealous wisteria cutting. The fact is, all politicians have to be a particularly thick-skinned and dubious types to actually want the job.

Fresh faced or not.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Lost Generation

Evidence shows that in the record unemployment figures released just a week ago of approaching 2.5m and rising, that the young have been hardest hit by this recession as unemployment figures of those leaving school or University is rising faster than any other sector.

Many commentators believe this will lead to a 'Lost Generation'. As if we did not have enough problems with youth disaffection leading to what appears to be a sharp increase in crime, and violent crime at that, amongst the young, it now appear that prospects for their future are getting bleaker.

You might think that of the Government priorities that have to be juggled to be produce the kinds of savings required to decrease our budget deficits and massive borrowing requirement after the incredible sums spent on bank bailouts, it should not be the time to make life harder for young kids.

But in the world of number crunching and accounting, strategy goes out of the window. So this week we have seen two extraordinary announcements. First, Ed Balls, former Treasury Minister and now in charge of Education, has volunteered to slash £2.5bn off the budget for Education, then we get the Director General of the CBI, Richard Lambert, suggesting that students should pay increased tuition fees. In fact, it appears that the Lib Dems are going back on one of their most important Election pledges on tuition fees.

Perhaps it is because the Government now feel with record pass and top grade levels at GCSEs that the job is done - we no longer have to invest in the education of our children as they are born more intelligent in the UK, perhaps. What a banner that would read at the next Election for Labour, 'Brighter kids under Labour'.

The fact is that as we propose to de-invest in schools having invested instead in stock markets shares of companies like RBS, Lloyds, Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley instead, the prospects for our young are diminishing. And even if they want to weather the storm and go to University to apparently increase their prospects for the future, they will leave University with a millstone of debt around their necks, the likes of which non generation has seen since the introduction of the Welfare State. Oh, and their job prospects will be the worst for generations with that level of qualification as the top companies decrease or even stop their graduate intake schemes - BT has led the way on this.

Only last night, there was a program on TV which showed that some 9 million people will reach retirement age with the prospect of a pittance of a pension as we are never encouraged at the right age to set aside enough money for our future. In fact, only 4% of the population will leave their jobs with the nirvana of two thirds of their final salary income and - you guessed it - the vast majority of those will be Public Sector workers on superannuated fantastic pension schemes. My argument here is that as a nation we should be setting out from the earliest age the conditioning and discipline of saving for retirement as the young enter the job market, instead we have our brightest talent weighed down by debt. And there is to be more of it.

There will be a point when going to University will be the domain of foreign students and rich kids - how un-Labour will that be? Already back in the 80's when I was at University and Polytechnic, there was as many as 25% of my colleges' students from overseas and one class shared students from Iran and Iraq whose countries were at each others' throats. The campus was regularly picketed by students of both sides raising funds for weapons back home and at the Poly of Wales I entered the Junior Common Room where they were lobbying for a quorum on a vote to send aid to the South Moluccan terrorists.

Recession leads to all sorts of daft things but what is most stupid is that the priorities of yesterday become far less important when people start studying the bottom line. Yet, if you looked in the Appointments Section of this week's Sunday Times, you will not see a single Private Sector job advertised - just about everyone was advertising fat salaried positions at the head of some Quango, NHS Trust, Government Think Tank or other Government Department.

I can't say that the Tories are right about their cuts but starting at the top is a great idea in my book. Less layers of bureaucracy will bring into sharp focus who we want to keep in high Government positions and who we don't - plus what flunkies and mandarins are also due for the scrap heap. Personally, long before I got the knife out on education, I would sit down and look at the money being wasted in these administrative departments that have grown up in the last 12 years like The Department of the Deputy Prime Minister or the Department of The Business Secretary - things that did not exist until this Government arrived. As much as a few countrymen of mine might think a devolved Wales is a good thing, frankly we cannot afford the salaries, expense accounts and opulent new buildings of the Welsh Assembly when so few people were actually interested enough to vote for it. It is a layer of Government that is entirely superfluous.

It may not be the time to start thinking about what is important to Britain so far ahead of an election but if we do not do it, the idiot politicians who led us to financial ruin will get their knives out instead. At a time when prospects for young people have been at their worst for years, the last thing we need to do is to take money out of the system and make them pay more for their higher education. It's a double whammy that lays the seeds for another dirth of talent in Britain at a time when we need the best to come through an innovate to make us competitive again.

But, as with so much of the policy of the top echelon of people, the focus of this future is the same as the last 12 years - Britain's only real growth industry was finance and once again we see the emphasis has been to save the careers of people who nearly ruined us. For them, we could not have bunged more money down a drain without any questions as to how much was needed and why and what modifications to behaviour we would mandate. Everyone is afraid of these rich goons who think that raising £9bn of someone else's money with only a tiny amount of their own risked to buy a drugs store chain is great business acumen. It does nothing for the wealth of this nation. Having knights who take £1bn in single dividends and not pay a bean in tax and revering them as business gurus is just sick while kids cannot get a job or a decent education.

The strange fact is that I am not a Socialist and am all for free enterprise but I am not for thin wedges of society using our tax money as their bank and I am not for Governments allowing super rich people and companies to avoid paying their way in tax.

There are a ton of ways that £2.5bn could be saved or raised long before we get anywhere near the Education budget or adding on extra debt for graduating students. The lack of thought put into is pathetic - then again, Ed Balls was a finance man and he has had his education all done and paid for. So no surprises what he really thinks about the kids of today.

In the coming months, we are going to get a lot of stupid decisions made which will wipe years off our progress. In the meantime, the bankers we saved will be taking us enthusiastically forward to the next crisis thanks to our money and lack of constraints. Now is the time to enter the debate on what is important to us all - after all, it's our money they are using.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Scam After Scam

The reason we put up with it is because we have no say in how our own money is spent.

What the hell am I referring too? Of course, it is our 'investments' in UK banks amongst other things - the sort of investment that needs to be managed by some cerebral high-brow who can watch when the cursor gets above the value 'bought' and press the button to 'sell'. For that, one of the top headhunters have snaffled a former RBS banker to lead the intrepid search for the person who has the right sized digit so that they don't press 'buy' - the same headhunters who the TCCB paid a fortune for in order to select the acting coach of England's cricket team to be the coach - the one and only Odgers. Money well spent, indeed.

Well, you may be happy to know that as the banks gear themselves up to do ever more risky deals with our cheap money and then pay themselves massive bonuses like the one I reported on at Barclays on Friday, the scam works equally well with our money at the opposite end.

Let me explain. You see we bailed out the likes of Lloyds and RBS, the former having bought HBOS, has 28% of the UK mortage market. Now we injected some £70bn into them in new capital, guaranteed a load of debt, ring-fenced a load of toxic debt, gave them loans at virtually no cost and walloped a load of Quantitative Easing money down their gullets too. You might possibly think that might be good for us. Well, if you want a mortgage, it isn't.

Last week, the Bank of England voted to keep interest rates at an historic low of 0.5% for the fifth consecutive month. The cheapest mortgage you can get today, even with 40% deposit is 4.95% - that's nearly 10 times the base interest rate. If you wanted a five year deal with RBS or Lloyds, then you are looking at shelling out on their new, 'highly competitive' deals of 7.49% at Lloyds or 7.25% at RBS - some 15 times the base rate. The shrewd people amongst us would note that the current superb mortgage rates are now higher than prior to the credit crunch. The best rate you will get on a 10% deposit mortgage in the UK is 6.19%, a whopping 12 times the base rate.

There aren't many industries where you can charge such rates. And this is at the time when the public owns a share in at least 5 High Street banks, two of which who offer mortgages we own outright (the Rock and Bradford & Bingley). For all the blustering and piffle from Cabinet Ministers and Gordon Brown himself, we are being racketeered by the very companies we so very generously were proxied to bail out.

If you sat down and tried to try to write the worst case scenario for a financial mess, you could never have got to within a million light years of the khazi we are in. You could also never dream of writing some of the guff we are told about how well off Britain is in this scenario by the idiots who run this country.

As taxpayers were are being royally shafted at all ends - and the shafting has only started as the cuts in public services and the higher levels of tax to pay for our own largess has not yet kicked in.

You couldn't dream it up - we bailed out our banks so that they could absolutely shaft us to make massive profits on their lending while they continue to take mega-high risks to pay themselves huge bonuses. And it's our own money they are using.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - we must be stark raving bonkers.