Thursday, 1 April 2010

Tax To The Rescue

Today's furore on the Government's proposal to add 1p to National Insurance is caused by a letter signed by 23 top business people in the Daily Telegraph which says that they back Tory plans to scrap the increase.

Ostensibly, they believe it is a 'Tax on Jobs' and that after steering their companies through the recession, now is not the time to compromise corporate recovery by increasing tax burdens. Naturally, the Government says that they have to cut the budget deficit and so how else are they to make inroads as this would raise £19bn toward that goal - and is actually only a fraction of the ever increasing problem.

I think it is more fundamental than this. On the one hand, the Government finally recognises the need to cut the deficit and then argues that it should not cut spending as this jeopardises Britain's economic recovery, so it says it must raise taxes and therefore individuals and business should make the necessary compensation for lack of cuts. So the burden is transferred to business to make the cuts in order to afford the amount needed - the circular argument here is that the payroll bill rises and this threatens jobs which in turn puts an increased burden on the Welfare State if Unemployment rises again.

On the other hand, if Government does not tackle the budget deficit, they have at least realised that Britain risks major issues on the bond market where it is so heavily reliant on raising debt - if our credit rating gets affected by market confidence in our ability to repay then we join Greece and Dubai as being the world economic pariahs and our bonds will become junk.

But the real issue is this, to my mind. The whole economic mess we are in came from appalling hubris and suicidal economic policy over a long period. The Credit Crunch arrived with the recession and banks rolled over like nine pins. Who had to come to the rescue? The taxpayer. We have been used as the crutch for the economy and the banking industry is making the same mistakes all over again at our expense. As we still reel at the magnitude of the problems and gasp in awe at the incredible cost of the bailouts, we are the ones expected to have to pay for more stupidity - the basic mismanagement of the economy as well.

Even successful businesses strive to contain the growth in costs and gain efficiencies at the best of times, let alone the worst. There is no point in spending money if it does not give a tangible return in that vain. And so to Government. The now ingrained belief is that if we stop spending a single penny then the whole economic recovery will implode and we would be plunged back into recession is clouding the need to re-evaluate what is important in terms of spending in Britain. And this is a typical economic dogma from the Government who seem to go to bed each night to read the same pages of the same economics book that got us into the mess we are in.

The stupid voters seem to take it all in. As we foot the bill for all this, the banking idiots who got us into this mess are making bumper 'profits' and are making huge bonuses once again thanks to us resetting the levels of debt they clocked up - we actually created the money for them to earn, it is that simple. It could not have been more stupid. But that's economics for you - it isn't for logical folk like us. We are the ones who sit bemused and just keep paying more of our earnings back into the pot to be wasted all over again.

The point that these business types make, which they do not make loud enough, is that the Government should go find the inefficiencies and save some money first before coming to the supposed limitless trough that is the taxpayers' pockets and goodwill. If this is just the start of it, would it not be nice to know before the Election just how much we are to be fleeced for over the next 6 years to get to the mythical halved deficit?

Because if it goes not come in spending cuts, guess who will be paying.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Death Wish?

The second planned strike by Unite has gone ahead and BA reckon that 75% of their scheduled flights will go ahead.

The two statements within that one sentence should be the most terrible things a world class airline could possibly imagine but for Willie Walsh, the CEO of what was once 'The World's Favourite Airline', it seems to be music. He has been described recently as being 'macho' in the face of an unreasonable Union but the reality is that the fight with Unite over changes to Cabin Staff contracts is only one area of failure amidst a whole plethora for the CEO. In fact, about a year before the recession, he was voted one of the Executives of the Decade, right now he is about the biggest chump. Having lost the hearts and minds of some of the best and most loyal staff a business could have, it seems that the Board of BA are 100% behind his absurd actions but this cannot be good for shareholders.

In the grip of the first strike, I had to travel to Germany. Our agency got quotes for the required travel times and BA came out at £800 for the planned journey vs Lufthansa's £237 - standard economy fares on a standard route. OK, so that was in the middle of the strike, but last week I flew to Milan and Lufthansa again came in at around £325 to the similar flight of BA's at over £700.

All along, it has never been about the cost cutting for me - it's been Walsh' abject lack of strategy and business acumen. How can you have a business that is going to succeed when it is charging such prices at recessionary times against its main rivals? Lufthansa is cleaning up - full planes each trip, efficiently run, on time and with decent service with real technological advantages like Boarding Cards via SMS. BA is lost in the wilderness between premium class and low cost. So what does it do with the cash injection it got? It buys the second largest loss making airline in Europe, Iberia, who is similarly placed and tries to combine them. Iberia is perhaps worse off - all its old premium roots into Malaga, Valencia and other cities are dominated by low cost airlines who fly customers in waves - supposedly cheaper - for no frills. BA inherits few new profitable roots, a heavy cost based business and a management equally defunct of ideas from an airline that does not yet lose as much money as BA.

But that's not all - less than a year after two decent airlines flying all business class service to New York went bust (and both were excellent), BA launches one from City Airport which flies just 32 people via Shannon for around £5,000 each. The target customers are City Bankers, the most hated part of society since the recession and credit crunch - Walsh could not have made a bigger PR and business blunder.

Yet he survives. The lack of strategy is almost childlike, the tackling of Unite is pathetic. You can feel it happening again as the whizz kids at Royal Mail found out when capitulating to the Unions for a cost much higher than originally asked for, that modern businesses cannot take prolonged industrial actions and Walsh will have to relent or let his business die. Why would you do that?

BA is basically ruined. It will never rise again to be the airline it was but maybe the world wants something different. The trust and belief that the loyal staff had prior to all this has been ruptured and will never be regained. Walsh has put a sword through the heart of what was one of Britain's best companies.

It takes some skill to be that incompetent; to make a once loyal and much loved staff strike to kill their own company. When BA was the world's favourite airline, it was all about the staff.
He simply does not get it, does he?

Monday, 22 March 2010

They Think It's All Over.....

Oh, how naive of us to believe that dodgy expenses was the full extent of Political trough-snouting.

No one seems to realise that Politics is the ultimate game of sales - how else can a former PM be suddenly worth an accumulated £20m in just 3 years whilst being a Middle East Envoy. I mean, think about it - it's all about selling your rolodex of contacts, it's all about telling people that you can get things done - why else would someone like Blair be useful to Insurance Companies?

And we thought the Hamiltons' were sleazy. Just look at the crop we have now, not emptying mini bars anymore, the going rate for the likes of Byers and Hewitt, allegedly, is between £3,000 and £5,000 per day. Yes, that's per day.

It puts fiddling expenses into it's correct perspective - it's all just part of the way of making money.

By sheer coincidence I had lunch with a couple of people who are employed in the Lobby Industry and they had no idea this story was about to break. They talked about only the bit of the industry which they see - the endless stream of 'freebies' which MPs regularly and repeatedly partake of which royally look after their holidays and make their schedules less stressful. They believed it was right on the edge, and in some cases, well beyond the boundaries of 'influencing opinion'. The latest revelations remind me of the famous case of John Prescott being taken across the US by private jet and lauded at a ranch owned by the CEO of the lottery co-bidder, who gave him the infamous cowboy suit. Soon after, the same company landed the rights to run the lottery as part of the Camelot consortium and have remained at the heart of the biggest and easiest money making scheme since it's start in 1995.

My lobbyist friends believe that there is growing fear in Westminster and Brussels that there will be a hung Parliament causing at minimum financial inertia where no one can get things agreed and done. They said there is also a growing belief that over half the sitting MPs will lose their seats and be replaced by a new batch of wannabe MPs - the biggest churn of Politicians in ages. It would be a great thing if it happened and we got rid of the stagnant thinking, populist policies and cynical abuse of the system but I think it's naive to think so.

I agree that a huge number of people are really upset about the expenses thing and will clearly be angered about the lobbying scandal too. The belief that constituencies will vote as they should, about the individual candidate, is likely to occur in the extreme situations like Luton South or Bracknell but politicians have thick skins and voters have short memories with a limited capacity to reason. In many areas, the local MP could commit murder but the locals would still vote by Party while many will just look at the value of their staples like beer and fags and vote accordingly.

This year is unusual. We have a sitting Inquiry into the steps that led to a war that cost us billions, led to unnecessary loss of life and has stoked up the rattler's nest of fanaticism to endanger us more. The sitting PM has already admitted he has lied to the Inquiry - God knows that others have. Our economy, that we were led to believe was impregnable, has suffered a worse recession than any of its rich counterparts and our GDP is now lower than that of Italy's. We have a spiralling budget deficit and no plan to tackle it; we have the prospect of more taxes and yet we are already the most taxed British citizens of all time.

The fact we haven't voiced our discord to date is testament that we will revert to type at the General Election. It may get close but the sweet talk of the likes of Mandelson will likely win the day. And before you think I'm too biased, I predict the likes of Nadine Dorries will somehow get voted back in and what about Julie McBride?

It comes to something when we trust the likes of a twice disgraced MP.

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Truth Will Out?

The revelation today that 'Bush's Brain', former senior adviser Karl Rove, has admitted he was 'proud' of the use of waterboarding as a form of 'information gathering' may be startling to some - simply necessary to others.

Under legal notes passed at the time, Bush's administration effectively relegated waterboarding to a 'non-torture' status therefore allowing its use in extracting information from alleged terrorists. It was the non-torture method of choice in places like Guantanamo and if that was considered non-torture, then the mind boggles at what methods were used in the name of 'getting the truth' on non-US territory.

Waterboarding is a lovely method of 'questioning'. It involves putting a prisoner into a position where water is doused over their face so that they cannot breath, therefore making them think they are drowning. Clearly, it is a method which may not work first time and so it is repeated ad nausea until the information required is extracted. For anyone who has been in the very terrifying position of believing they are going to be drowned, there are few more dreadful feelings in life, especially when you know that the difference between you living or dying is entirely controlled by someone else.

Under such pressure, it is argued from laymen to eminent psychologists then the prisoner will say anything in order to stop the torture. Often prisoners will say many things, much contradicting what they have already said in an avalanche of extracted information in the vain hope that the investigators get what they believe they are looking for. In fact, so primal is the whole thing that more intelligent people than I would strongly argue that any such information extracted under such duress is most likely to be unreliable.

Rove reckons that umpteen terrorist plots were foiled by using such methods. Perhaps it could be argued that umpteen plots that US investigators wanted to believe were to be perpetrated were uncovered. After all, amid the failures in Intelligence Agencies leading up to the Iraq War to get even the basics right, the last thing you would want is that new, more aggressive methods, actually found that no new attacks were known about. It could be argued that success rates were written by the investigators in order to justify their methods and their jobs, for that matter.

Anyway, it's a moot point as the method is rightly outlawed by the Obama Administration and Guantanamo hardly achieved a thing with only one tribunal enacted so far. Even the famous case implying MI5 knowingly gleaning information from torture seemed to come from a person who was ultimately freed with no charges against him, to be hailed as some kind of hero. But, with the definition of 'non-torture' afforded to waterboarding and its enthusiastic approval by Government officials, would it not be interesting to find out what would have been revealed had we used the methods in official inquiries such as the Chilcot Inquiry?

Perhaps the sleek, svelte calm of Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell would have been broken. Perhaps the contradictory evidence from Jack Straw might have been tested for veracity. Perhaps we would have easily got Gordon Brown to tell the truth about his spending policy when many officials before him had attested to it.

But in reality it is all about the skill and tenacity of the questioner to obtain information. Sir John Chilcot and his team seem to be just writing down whatever is said with no cross referencing or rebuttal questions to test the truth. I watched the film 'Frost/Nixon' last night and saw how devastating good questioning can be in terms of putting powerful, intelligent people on edge and taking them into territories in their minds that they do not want to go - forcing the real truth out of them. I am an exponent of testing truth in interview techniques as I have a firm belief that those coming for jobs only want to talk about what they want to talk about and highlight themselves to their own advantage. Getting at the truth in an interview is vital as only under pressure will you find out how people will really perform.

The Chilcot Inquiry has had lines of questioning which frankly could have been put together by school kids and the follow ups to answers have been woefully absent. Ministers have gone before the Inquiry and basically said what they want with impunity from challenge, even when others have already said something entirely contradictory. It's as if the whole thing is choreographed and scripted to once again suit the Government and the stooges involved.

Perhaps Karl Rove is right - waterboarding and the like does get at the truth. Personally, I think it would be far better if we got a bunch of investigators in the Chilcot Inquiry who really want to get at the truth and who have a healthy cynicism about how Politicians and their mandarins lie to protect themselves. We will have spent millions, learnt nothing and will repeat the same mistakes time and again until we find out just why Iraq was so important for us all to be lied to in order to justify a war.

With that central question asked, perhaps we would have got somewhere near the truth.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

A Month Is A Long Time

I am happy to say I have enjoyed a month away from writing as I have been lucky enough to become a father for the first time at my ripe age. It's been a very rewarding time.

Not much has changed around us, if truth be told. I thought Gordon Brown's performance in the Chilcot Enquiry was cynical beyond belief when even ex-Ministers, let alone ex-heads of Services, have already told everyone that the UK troops have been denied vital equipment through budget restraints. It just seems that lying to the Enquiry is perfectly acceptable and Brown is playing a 'It's your word against mine' routine. I just hope that documents to be reviewed by the Enquiry actually discover what actually went on and that the word of a defunct PM is not taken as gospel.

Brown has told us that we still have a long road to go on the economic crisis and cuts should not be implemented right now for fear of upsetting the delicate recovery. His precise judgement, which has served us so dreadfully in terms of a ballooning budget deficit which is growing faster than he predicts each month, is that at approximately midday on 10 May will be the exactly time when a tumult of cuts will be finally be required - uncannily that is almost certainly to be one day after the election result is known. How spookily cynical is that?

Meanwhile, the IOD and CBI have urged the Government to start making cuts immediately as the budget deficit seems to be completely on its own spiral with Alistair Darling completely unable to predict where it will be month on month let alone in 2014. It's laughable but somehow on the back of this and the appalling news in Afghanistan and the lies about Iraq, the Government has closed the gap in the Polls to just 2 points.

The old Mandelson Magic is at work - our brains are washed. If we really do think things are ok, then we are barking mad.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Misplaced Priorities

I was accused by someone who read my blog on London 2010 and my chance meeting with a homeless person that I had lost a sense of perspective and implied I had gone soft.

I understand the point the person was making -without banking and bankers we would have no system for trading and the fabric of our world would collapse. The fundamental point that you need a system for transferring credit and money around to make the world grow and get better - that's obvious.

However, I think we lost all sense of perspective not just in the last two years but over the last 15 years or so. We have missed enormous opportunities to get to grips with problems and get our priorities right yet so much of the last 15 years has been about greed and gain - and usually involving a relatively small amount of people.

As well over 1 billion of the world's population struggle and starve, in the West we fight wars about control of oil that really benefits the US and UK in the main, whose combined population is around 400m but in reality it benefits just a slim percentage of those populations. The banking system is allowed to trade amongst itself for 12 clear years and create vast profits based around fictional products that ultimately depend on their over-inflated view of our properties and then we when they get it wrong and lose it all, we actually get told we have to pay the entire bill so that these people can maintain their standards of living and once again earn the vast profits and salaries they are used to.

Meanwhile the world passes by the homeless person I saw on the train in London - it passes by the millions in Africa who look on in total amazement that we would waste so much money saving the skins of so few people in order to preserve our way of life and forget about those we have left behind.

The polarity of our world is more than just two white caps of snow - it is about those who have and those who have not. I am not in favour of communism or even full scale socialism but I am not in favour of allowing besuited creeps in fast cars being saved when they are abject failures and fraudsters.

The global bailouts are thought to be totalling more than $11 trillion - it will not go down as the price paid willingly to save our world as Gordon Brown would put it but the cost of the missed opportunity to do something more fundamental for a world lost in its own self-importance and greed.

I don't think I am being soft in my view or misunderstanding the point. There was a time when banking was an honourable industry because it did what it was supposed to.

My father used to describe compulsive gamblers as the sort of people who would sit in the pub and bet on the hair colour of the next person who entered the door. Go take a look at the range of products you can 'buy' in the world of banking today and it's no different and has little to do with reality but much more to do with the spinning wheels of a casino.

We have just funded the whole thing to perpetuate. That makes us all culpable for that missed opportunity. Here is the rub, if the Government had issued a tax before all this happened to go pay for feeding Africa or the homeless we would have rose up and told them where to go. But because it saves the fortunes of a few thousand bankers we have, without question or complaint, paid the lot and there will be more to be paid.

So run that question by me one more time. Who is the soft person who misunderstands?

Saturday, 13 February 2010

How Much Is A Greek Urn?

The old Morecambe and Wise joke doesn't seem so funny anymore as one of the beneficiaries of the modern innovation of a single European currency is virtually bankrupt - Greece is on its knees and the Eurozone is having to bail it out.

It sounds chillingly familiar. I blogged on the subject of National Debt being the new sub-prime and Greece was not the first to succumb as arguably that was Dubai. In both cases to date, rich neighbours or alliances have had to bail the countries out, but in the case of Greece they are part of the Eurozone unpleasantly known as PIIGS or Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain where National Debt is about to send the countries into crisis. Greece, having gone effectively belly up first, is the beneficiary of a bailout but can the Eurozone and the Euro currency sustain a long, hard attack on it from all those countries? Can the rich, like Germany and France actually have deep enough pockets to help them all? Will it affect us in Britain?

As we sit here making pithy jokes at the expense of the Greek economy it's worth a thought that part of Greece's huge budget deficit problem was the cost of the Olympics and guess what is just around the corner for us. While we sit here doing nothing about our budget deficit in case the frail recovery falters, we share with Greece the nasty fact that both our deficits are over 12% of GDP. We are both in the current state through stupid spending, low savings and cheap money.

On a league table I saw of currency debt swaps, Britain's position in the league table is just behind Austria who, in turn, is just outside the PIIGS zone. In other words, speculators are beginning to rate our Sovereign Debt and our ability to pay as weakening and only marginally worse than those in the PIIGS zone.

While we sit here contemplating a General Election and the possibility of a hung Parliament leading to a further period of economic inertia and all the while no-one actually tackles the growing budget deficit, we are sending further alarming signals to the world markets that our National Debt is not only a huge problem getting bigger but that we really see paying it off as a low priority. That will not help us if a) we need to borrow more - even as we speak the cost of borrowing for Britain is far higher than say that of Germany whose economy Gordon Brown scoffed at for so long and b) if the frail recovery starts to falter as it has done last quarter in Germany.

Our current hope that growth will lead to our recovery alone has already been dented by Germany's latest figures of flat growth while France's advance of 0.6% last quarter was only slightly more encouraging. The fact of the matter is that Britain is not that far different to Greece and time is running out for us to address our problems.

In the week, we saw a cleverly timed documentary on Gordon Brown designed to show him in a more human light just two months before an Election and to dispel his imagine of a granite-faced, humourless old fart with about as much feeling as an ice cube. Yes, we saw that he has feelings - to be frank he has suffered tragedy and to have not been emotional would have been strange beyond belief. The program's aim was to present an alternative view to the PM than hustings or debate - this was a sugar-coated sell worthy of the masters of spin themselves, Blair and Campbell, stage-managed by the obsequious Piers Morgan.

I just wish he would take his eye off the Election and act. Britain is sinking fast - Dubai and Greece are the warning signs of a potential domino effect and we are in the line of dominoes waiting our turn.

Will someone not do something about it?

Friday, 12 February 2010

London 2010?

I am not sure what point I'm making here but bear with me.

Yesterday, on a tube train in the bowels of London, I was sitting in a crowded carriage, travelling from Kentish Town to Bank. At Camden Town at young man with gingery hair and beard, supported by a crutch got on. I vaguely noticed him as he steadied himself as the train pulled off.

"I know you're thinking, it's another homeless person," said the man. He was no more than 30, looked not scruffy but not smart in a mock leather jacket. His voice was clear, bearing no discernible accent and he sounded intelligent. "But I am just collecting to get enough money to get some food and a place to sleep tonight. I know it's not you're problem and I am not here to force you or make you feel guilty but if you could spare some money, I would appreciate it."

As he spoke, he made no eye contact and kept looking at the carriage floor. In his free hand he held is woolly beanie hat and he limped through the carriage holding it ahead of him. The lady next to me and I dipped into our purse and pocket respectively. I felt a coin in my pocket - it was bigger than most and I knew it was a £2 coin. I hesitated a second as I had a few smaller coins but as the man passed me, he must have known that I was reaching into my pocket yet he did not offer the hat to me. I pulled my hand free and I dropped my £2 coin into his hat and he said, "God bless you" to the lady and I.

He made his way to the next part of the carriage and used his clearly well rehearsed patter on the people in there.

Several things crossed my mind as I looked back at my crossword. I was struck by the man's humility and humbleness - and the fact he was not transferring his problem onto us or blaming us. He just needed some money. Another thing struck me - the act of giving him anything made me feel no better or worse - I neither made eye contact with him nor attempted to engage him in conversation; it was a perfunctory donation on my part and, financially, I was only marginally worse off. I don't know why I chose a £2 coin and I had no idea if it was the going rate or whether I was being wildly generous.

I had no idea what the cost of maintaining myself in food and shelter for the night if I was in the same position. I was intrigued that such a unscruffy looking man with an intelligent voice and manner could be a homeless person - he did not look drunk or on drugs, he was not dirty or smelly; he clearly had some pride in his looks.

His patter was well honed and his delivery was good - he made no attempt to engage with people or to make them feel uncomfortable or guilty. His manner was non-pushy and there was no implied threat; it was simple and easy to understand. There was no attempt to make you feel sorry for him or to get angry with the intrusion into your journey. The man had a gift to to get what he needed without need to resort to emotional blackmail. It was actually quite skilled.

With all that going in the man's favour, I wondered how could such a person be homeless and down on his luck. He had more things going for him than against him. Yet he was homeless and £2 or any coin meant something to him.

Last night, I looked up that there are estimated some 1 million, of which 400,000 are known as 'hidden', homeless people in Britain and up to 2008 this number had trended downward. London is one of six regions in Britain which statistically has the highest concentration of homeless people - around 0.6% of the population of people in London are homeless. These figures go up to 2008 and obviously do not take account of the recent recession.

I have no idea how much is the bare minimum in terms of cash required to get food and a place to sleep in London if you are homeless.

As I travelled home last night, I realised that this young man, without meeting my eye or talking to me personally had said something to me. I looked back over the various themes to my blog and realised that much of my own issues are with the injustice of greedy bankers getting a 'get out of jail free card' and then moaning about how few £millions they are allowed to earn this year or at 50% taxation and that Britain is pricing itself out of the financial market. That or trough-snouting politicians on the make, justifying themselves as if they needed it. Or lying politicians sending kids to die or get blown to pieces. I am angry about something.

I am not sure of my figures but I would suggest that 0.6% of people in London may be far more than the number of bankers who earn over £1m a year in bonuses. Perhaps it would be pertinent for the two populations to swap for a night or two just so that we can all get a sense of perspective.

Modern Britain is full of such peculiarities - in a population of 64m in Britain, over 1m are still classified as homeless. I would suggest just than a few thousand people in Britain are rich bankers earning over £1m for trading on the back of their company's big name. They are the people who leaned out of their windows at the time of the G8 talks waving £10 notes at protesters after losing £billions.

It would be good for such apparently educated and intelligent people to get some real education and humility.

Again, I am not sure of my point here but I guess I felt more humble about some homeless guy asking me for £2 than some rich kid robbing me of thousands so that he or she can continue to earn £millions and for them to act as if I owe them.

I shall remember that the next time I see bankers trying to justify themselves on TV or a politician feeling stressed by questions of their honesty or greed. What I shall forever feel guilty about is that I hesitated giving the man just £2, thinking it too much while I had no choice in giving thousands to some ungrateful little swines who had lost £billions and did not even have the humility to ask us to bail them out or thanks us.

They just expected it and we paid. And we keep paying. Perhaps we all need some education.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Premier League Banking

Premier League football is lot like banking.

Do I mean that all bankers have girlie hairstyles and fall over whenever someone passes them in the corridor clutching their leg as if they have been shot by a sniper? No, what I mean is that most Premier League clubs have unsustainable and high risk business models.

Portsmouth got a stay of execution yesterday and while that was good news on one level, it was bad news really. In just one week they have to get some point financing, i.e. a bank-style bailout, to help balance their books but in reality they have to find a new business model as this is only a short term fix - as with banks.

With banks, they just used the new cash to go ply their same business model and with all other banks participating this will work for a while until the next crisis on money supply. For Premier League teams they have a more acute problem as their income stream is actually not likely to change significantly in the short term no matter what they do. For Portsmouth, their regular income will not vary drastically as they have known and fixed TV money and a fairly constant income stream from fans, more likely to go down rather than up.

It means that unless they drastically cut costs, they are still going to have problems. And therein lies the problem - cut your costs and you simply cannot compete in the modern Premier League as you need to pay unsustainably high wages and fees to get ahead. The more you do that, the more money you need and that can only come from outside finance - usually rich owners who have no connection spiritually with the club who think they can make a fast buck on the TV money or just lose it like Abramovich.

Portsmouth are a dead team walking - they are likely to get wound up, then they lose points which means they can only be relegated which means no Premier League, therefore no more new money. Like Leeds Utd, they gambled and lost and the decline can be massive.

The Bundesliga in Germany has a far more sustainable model - with personal tax regimes far better for the players, it is likely over the next couple of seasons that stars will migrate as Spain, Italy and the UK economies will become high tax zones.

If that's the case - it's bye, bye Premier League. Like banking and the British economy, it became greedy with an unsustainable model. You always pay the price in business for such thinking.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Oh What A Lovely War!

There is yet another new push in Afghanistan's Helmand Province, this time advertised as a 'final' push against the Taliban.

Bob Ainsworth, our bungling Defence Minister, has warned us all to expect more casualties. On the same day, we hear that British hospitals are struggling to cope with the growing numbers of seriously injured servicemen arriving back from Afghanistan. It really makes you wonder if anyone, anywhere actually talks to one another. Then again, different to the troops in Afghanistan, being in the MoD or Government is just an ordinary 9 to 5 day job with nothing to fear except not having your bonus paid.

On Radio Five Live this morning, Sheila Fogarty interviewed Mrs. Jane Hurry (I believe that was her surname) whose son Ross is a Lance Corporal in the Royal Engineers. Yesterday, Ross returned to Brize Norton to go back to Afghanistan for a second tour of duty after two weeks R&R. He will take part in Ainsworth's new campaign and the family shed tears on their return home after saying their goodbyes.

Ross' mum is not a political lady - she does not concern herself with why or how we are in Afghanistan but she does has great admiration for what our troops do and how they do it. She is clearly very proud of her son but equally fearful for his safety.

During his R&R, Ross visited his Captain who suffered terrible wounds and is recuperating in Selly Oak. Ross was deeply disturbed by what he saw, not just the extent of his captain's wounds but of the amount of others suffering from equally horrific injuries. I cannot believe that such thoughts and memories will not dwell upon him when he returns to duty and in the quieter moments before the battles he is about to face. Ross is a professional and he does his job to the best his ability, but there is only so much people can take in such conditions of fear and danger.

So it must not help when he reads of defence cuts, merging of armed forces and the stress on hospitals to deal with wounded. It cannot help when he looks at the Chilcot Inquiry and finds Ministers trying to justify their decisions with flawed intelligence and Government suspending democracy in order to make the biggest of decisions to follow different agendas. It cannot help him when he sees that Osama bin Ladin continues to taunt us with videos and messages. It cannot help him when he sees his comrades getting blown to pieces for the lack of armoured transport and the right kit or helicopters when we spend £1.3 trillion to save banks whose staff continue to award themselves massive bonuses which we foot the bill for.

If we are going to fight a war in such hostile territory, history shows us that you have at least to be fully committed even to stand a chance. Lady Elizabeth Butler's famous painting depicts the return of Dr. William Brydon as the sole survivor of a 4,500 troop of British soldiers after a battle - he was arriving in Jalabad after the retreat from Kabul (called 'Remnants of an Army'). The history of this region shows that no modern army has held it and yet we are fighting with effectively one arm behind our backs. An excellent blog on this is by Dr. Richard North.

Incompetence, hubris, lack of priorities, lack of plans, lack of strategy and lack of objectives have achieved only two things in Afghanistan - terrible casualties and a corrupt new Government.

We ought to hold our heads in shame - our brave soldiers on the front deserve more than the donkeys leading them from the staterooms and offices of Whitehall and Westminster.

Monday, 8 February 2010

The Last Straw?

Round Two for Jack Straw. Having given evidence earlier, then the Chilcot Inquiry heard from Tony Blair and two of Straw's legal advisers, it seemed things did not add up so he was called back to explain himself further.

Today Mr. Straw got a second grilling in which he described himself as a 'broken record' when talking about UN Resolution 1441. It seemed that he, and the Government's legal team, had actually gone back over and read the resolution to help them 'clarify' their story - suddenly he claimed to be an expert on the matter having 'intense history' on the subject. It seemed that there had been a good deal of legal advice from Civil Servants advising Straw which pointed to a an invasion as being an 'Act of Aggression' and that Straw had 'ignored' this evidence. He denied this and pointed out that there were two views on this - his, and the supporting evidence for it, could be read in the papers of the time, he claimed.

His main trail was that, while a second resolution validating an invasion was preferable, Straw argued that UN 1441 had a second stage which did not require a second resolution which allowed the use of force. This is interesting, as I have researched the resolution and looked for any second stage and while it points toward Iraq meeting its obligations at no point does it mention, or does any further stage document, the result of non-compliance allowed any state to use force - that is absolutely clear to be seen.

Breach of UN 1441 did not give anybody the right to use force in any way. Such was the intrigue at the time that the US admitted they had kept taps on the communications of the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Anan.

Of course, this also presupposed that all the intelligence regarding WMD and imminent threats of a 'rogue state' like Iraq actually existed when Hans Blix's team had found no evidence. We had the stupid circular argument at the time that Saddam had blocked the Inspectors and lied about the WMD but Blix could not find any evidence - therefore Saddam was hiding them and lying. No one bothered to attempt to believe Saddam or Blix as the convenience of a liar and an apparently duped person was all they needed to justify their case - that and a dossier that could have been compiled by a 10 year old. OK, so I exaggerate on the dossier but the evidence was clear. The Resolution had not been technically violated as there were no WMD found anyway.

Straw was asked about why March 2003 of all dates? Chilcot seemed fascinated by that particular date as no new evidence had been found, diplomacy had not been exhausted and there had been no imminent or new threats? What galvanised the UK and US around that specific date and why had it become so important?

Straw was visibly flummoxed as if this was not a question he had anticipated. He stammered a little before whining on about rogue states, destabilisation of the region and testing international authority. While all this seemed vaguely relevant, it did not address the question - what was special about that date and time? What had happened that had put a deadline of 'compliance' to UN 1441 and why had the US and UK stopped working to a new resolution, which in Straw's own words would have 'toppled Saddam without a war'? Too late, Straw waffled his way around the subject and gave us nothing. All he could then offer was that the purpose of the war was not regime change, but echoing the rewriting of history and rejustification offered by Blair, he claimed that most Iraqis would not want to now go back to pre-March 2003. That is a fine position now but UN 1441 gave no mandate for regime change alone, let alone violence of any sort.

I cannot read Chilcot - he summed up the proceedings so far as if he meant business but he had clearly probed Straw but asked no follow up questions or challenged any assumption. It was as if he had asked the scripted question because it was on his piece of paper and that was all that was required. In those brief minutes of Straw's reply, there was not a single piece of insight as to why March 2003 had been important to the US and the UK as the rally point or deadline. There was no follow up as to why it had been deemed necessary to pull out Blix and his team when they pleaded for more time, the pursuit of second resolution was dropped, and diplomacy with Iraq ceased. War had become inevitable but there was no earthly reason why. Even the most rudimentary intelligence officer should have realised Saddam's capability to launch anything more than a rubber band at the West was trashed and he was a spent force. Why was there a need to talk him up as if he had re-armed under our noses, defied sanctions to gain a huge new capability and be of danger to our sovereign territory? And why in March 2003 was it most important of all to take action above any other date?

Chilcot is in danger of becoming another joke Inquiry which has been fully briefed what to ask and, crucially, what not to ask. As if to answer my question, in his summing up, Chilcot said that the hearings were merely the visible surface of an enormous Inquiry, the core of which were thousands of documents, many of which have been published but many will remain classified. In other words, we would have to trust him that within those documents lie the answers to the questions he did not ask Straw.

If you believe Chilcot then you will easily believe it was necessary to invade Iraq in March 2003 - no sooner, no later. If, like me, you believe Iraq was a spent force and that the whole WMD charade was just a convenient excuse to invade a country rich in oil and convenient to be a new staging post in the Gulf then you will find no satisfaction in this or any other Inquiry.

The question of why March 2003 was one of the most crucial to be answered and we got waffle. This could about sum up the whole Chilcot Inquiry. Another missed opportunity to get anywhere near the truth. There simply had to be a compelling answer to that question or none at all.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Crocodile Tears

I hear that Alistair Campbell was filled with emotion on today's Andrew Marr program on the BBC when asked if Tony Blair had misled the nation on the case to go to war with Iraq.

He took time to compose himself before answering to defend his old sidekick and 'that' dossier in making the decision to go to war. He felt that the question kept being raised by those who wanted to 'settle old scores' while Blair had been an 'honourable man'. Clearly, being asked this question again was angering Campbell who felt that enough was getting enough. Referring to Blair's assertion at the time that the case for Hussein having WMD was 'Beyond doubt', if it was subsequently proved by the Chilcot Inquiry that there was doubt, then could it be construed that Blair misled parliament and the people?

In answering Campbell went into a long monologue about being 'vilified' and that enough was enough over this. Blair was an honourable man - draw a line. He even inferred that those who kept asking such questions were just ignorant of the case for war with Iraq.

That struck the main notes for me as, clearly, sceptics like me 'don't get it'. In my eyes, it is Campbell and Blair who don't get it. You see, we were ignorant of the case for war in Iraq as all of us were led to believe there were WMD. Even then, the case for war was slim in international law and a second UN resolution should have been sought. Then, as now, I suspected a sub-plot which was beyond the notion that Hussein was an evil man - we knew that from the Gulf war and his many atrocities against his own people. But the case for regime change does not lie on the whims of minorities of world leaders - that just defeats the cause of the UN and international peace. Perversely, it legitimises Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, over which he seemed to think he had a sovereign claim. Once you decide to break international law or break with it, then you are no better than the evil ones, no matter how 'honourable' you think you are.

Then there was the total under-estimation of the job at hand, as in Afghanistan. Ill prepared, under provisioned troops have laid down their lives for upholding what Blair and Campbell believed in - since the invasions. What Blair and Campbell don't get is that all British citizens are to be held culpable for their actions - we voted them in, the decisions were made by our sovereign and elected Government and the troops bore the insignia of our Queen. The blood is shared equally on all our hands thanks to their 'honourable' beliefs.

We need to find out the truth of what went on and why. How did Britain get so far from the democratic process in its governing? Why did so few people make this decision and where was the real debate of the real evidence to make the decision to send us to war? Why did we allow Blair and his inner sanctum to make these decisions in isolation on, frankly, cooked up evidence rather than 'sexed up'?

Campbell needs to understand that we live in a democracy where we have a right to demand transparency and get to the truth. There is little doubt that Blair was and is a sincere man - but we want to know was that sincerity driven by the wrong motives.

Until we get truthful answers, he had better keep answering the questions. If he things its rather stressful, go talk to the injured kids lying in our forces' hospitals and the families of those who lost relatives. Stress is something they know at first hand.

Problems With Sums

There are many things about life that you simply could not make up yet reality has much more of a fictional feel to it these days.

Think about it - on the one hand we make bold claims that we want more maths graduates, engineers and doctors to help make Britain great again and then we fine universities £3,700 per student over quota they go (or at least Peter Mandelson does). With university applicants up by 12%, many students are finding arbitrarily unfeasible entrance requirements being asked of them to discourage intakes. It means that universities will shun UK students and pack in more, fee-paying foreign students. That's really joined up thinking by the Government who cut funding to universities last year and will do so again this budget.

Meanwhile, in cuckoo land, RBS is clocking up £7bn of losses and the Government is set to sign off a bonus tab of £1bn for the RBS investment banking arm. How does that work when we own over 80% of the bank's shares and simply cannot afford the money? Some may argue we get some of it back through the windfall tax - but bankers are wily sorts and will make sure that is minimised while I would pose an argument that we should simply save £1bn and not pay any of them a penny.

On another note, Sir Jock Stirrup former head of the Armed Forces, has foretold that parts of the armed forces will merge before long in order to save money. Super thinking as we are fighting two major wars with many more likely - run that by us one more time. I heard John Nicholl, the former Tornado navigator shot down and paraded on TV in the First Gulf War, this morning. He made the point eloquently. Arguably with the exception of Iraq lately, all of the major conflicts which have occurred in recent times have been completely out of the blue and unanticipated.

So if we had used Jock's logic, after the first Gulf War we would have contracted the army as the whole war was virtually fought and won by aircraft. But then we could never have invaded Afghanistan if we had done so - conventional thinking is that we no longer need heavy armour as lightly armed, specialist troops are required. Tell that to the kids with arms and legs blown off and no armoured vehicles. From where we stand now, why do we need a decent Navy as wars are in major countries - but that presupposes that we never have a Falklands situation again.

The point here is that you either plan for all eventualities or none as you never know what is going to happen next or where the next threat comes from and in what form. Certainly, there is no point telling TAs to not drill or train with live rounds and then send them into battle situations - you may as well paint an arrow on their backs to a sign saying 'Greenhorn, please shoot at freely'.

It's all about non-joined up thinking and stupid logic. What is the point of paying banker bonuses when the company makes a massive loss and then telling nurses and doctors they have no pay rise? What is the point of paying off sitting MPs who are under legal investigation for fiddling expenses when they should be paying them back? And what is the point of allowing ancient protection to be misused to help them avoid legal charges? This surely shows just how guilty the people are in their squalid attempts to avoid justice.

It's a world gone crazy - the loonies are running the hospital.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Management Conundrum

I thought I would never write a blog article about football, but there's always a first.

Of course, I refer to the long running scandal of John Terry. I am not really interested in the details of his transgressions but am more concerned about the management question - how do you handle such disharmony in a team? The reality that faces England Manager, Fabio Capello, is not dissimilar to situations which occur in business - probably more than we would like. In this instance, John Terry, who is a married man with a child, has had an affair with a former team mate's (Wayne Bridge) ex-girlfriend - the couple also had a child. To complicate matters, Terry was captain of the England soccer team which are in with a real chance of winning the World Cup this summer in South Africa - Bridge, while a lesser player, was expected to be in the squad for the tournament.

This is a familiar situation for business people. Team dynamics are always at risk by office romances. The parallel here is a scenario where a senior manager or director has an affair with one of their subordinates' spouse or partner. If you were the CEO - how would you deal with situation? To add spice to the situation, that team has to deliver on amazing numbers or a project that will make or break the company in the next few months. While the senior manager has transgressed, they are a vital part of the team and the subordinate is also important in terms of experience and skills to achieving the goal - though less important.

It is not a far-fetched scenario. While the focus of a World Cup is unusual, office romances are not. They have to be dealt with regularly and when they involve other team members, they are that much more difficult to handle.

Fabio Capello acted swiftly. Returning from a trip abroad, he made the decision to sack Terry by himself as soon as he could in less than 12 minutes - that was decisive and sensible. But the problem is only slightly alleviated. Terry and Bridge will still have to play in the same team. From a management point of view, Capello has made his policy clear - no man is bigger than the team and ethics are crucial to the well being. Sacking Terry was a clear sign to Bridge and the team that such behaviour is not tolerated with no exceptions and it was a clear signal in Bridge's favour - a basis for reconciliation. It was complicated in that Terry did not see what he had done wrong. Not only did he try to legally gag the whole affair but he did not resign and make Capello's life easy. That was a mistake.

But the two players will still be part of the squad an dressing room even if Terry is no longer captain. Clearly there is much larger job to do. If this was a parallel business situation, many managers would be very poor at dealing with the situation and, often, the whole dramas are left in situ causing huge team unrest and divisions. Capello has more to do - but what advice, as businessmen, can we give him? How would we deal with a parallel business situation?

It's a conundrum that's for sure and it's difficult not knowing the characters involved. However, Capello has many dynamics and unknowns also - not least that the girlfriend in question is being advised by a media expert in Max Clifford; the Sunday tabloids will be breaking more of the story this weekend and so press control is a huge factor. The fact that Terry seems oblivious to his wrongs is an issue. Fans will take sides - so will the team. Capello has a job on his hands - and having created a winning team and a well-run dressing room to date, he has a major challenge to deal with just months before the whole reason why he took the job; the World Cup.

My first take is that if I were in his shoes, I would be pleased I had acted so swiftly in sacking Terry as captain. That has has some immediate repercussions - I would not want Terry to feel that he has been sidelined and I would want the best of him but I want him to realise that his behaviour has threatened success. My next step would be to spend a good deal more time with him to educate him how his behaviour has jeopardised the team and the goal. I would want him to sideline all his private feelings and actions and remind him that the big picture is the World Cup - a once in a lifetime chance to prove you are the best in the world. The goal is too important and sweet to be trivialised by squalid stories and petty squabbles - this is the big time. I would advise him to think long and hard about what he has done to another man and woman and to his own family. I would remind him that inner weakness of that kind is symptomatic of successful people who believe they are beyond question from others and therefore they must question themselves. Such actions show weakness - and weakness will not achieve the goal.

Also, while values and ethics are clearly important, it is about the weakness within that Capello must tackle. Terry has shown he can get side-tracked. When the biggest goal of all is ahead and he is the leader of the effort to get there - he has let his ego and emotions get in the way. That has to be turned back on him. It's not about reaffirming his commitment to England - that's a given. It's about dealing with weakness and handling how that affects others.

There is a step here that Terry must make. Humility, contrition and ethics must enter his mind and he must look at himself long and hard and actually feel how he has let a team-mate and team down, as well as his manager and the public. When he sees that for what it is only then will he realise that he will have to face the demons in his personal life and be humble to both his family and to Wayne Bridge. There is a step here that will be private and beyond the reach of fans, that cannot be viewed in public, when Capello ensures that Terry meets Bridge in private and they talk about what has happened.

Capello will have had to have worked with Bridge before that too - the one thing that has struck me so far is that Bridge has not risen to the bait and gone public about his feelings. That is to his credit and it means there is great hope that a reconciliation can occur. Capello needs to remind both that the team is sacrosanct and that the goal is inviolate and these remain aloof of both men and their feelings - if they cannot understand that then they are both worth dropping as they simply do not get it.

The final piece in the equation will be to work with the team. While club affiliations and friendships may automatically create dividing lines, Capello will need to galvanise everyone around the England shirt and the goal of the World Cup. Club trivia and cliques are to be broken - the World Cup cannot be jeopardised for such insular thinking and the Terry/Bridge potential divide has to be papered over before it appears. Capello will need his team to be a part of the Terry/Bridge reconciliation as much as the two of them. The squad members must not take sides. For this, the lieutenants in Ferdinand (the new captain), Rooney, Lampard, Gerrard, Barry and others as senior professionals must show leadership. They must stand with Capello and uphold his views to make sure that from a leadership point of view there is one message, one goal and one direction they can go.

Finally, Capello must make his mind up quickly of what he must do if the cracks appear and the team starts to divide. As with 'player power' contriving to implode a Grand Slam winning Welsh Team in 2005 when players set the agenda when the World Cup was the goal ending in disaster at a time when the team could have kicked on to become special. England stand at that precipice too - the next few days and weeks could be crucial to their World Cup hopes and will prove the selection of Fabio Capello to be totally inspirational or ordinary.

You know what? I think he just may be the right man at the right time - this maybe when he really shines. Just imagine having that kind of leadership in business.

The Fetid Stench of Rotting Corruption

There was a time when £280million was an awful lot of money, but our senses are dulled to numbers these days and just over a quarter of a billion pounds no longer seems that much.

That's how much BAE Systems, Britain's largest manufacturer, has agreed to pay to a variety of US and UK authorities to stop legal action against its historic and systemic dodgy business activities. To put it into context, a single contract for BAE Systems in question in Saudi Arabia for 100 fighter planes was worth £43billion. Over the years, it was alleged that BAE Systems greased the hands of a fair number of officials and middle men in order to secure many lucrative contracts, including one air traffic control system for £24m to Tanzania which was antiquated technology and not really fit for purpose, which collectively were equivalent to a small financial meltdown in current terminology.

The company has played down the whole payment claiming they are now a clean and transparent company while the systematic corruption at the heart of their business methodology was never referred to as such. No doubt the terms of the compromise with authorities allows them never to be openly accused of such although Clare Short was swift to point out on Radio Five Live yesterday that this was at the heart of the matter.

And so too was our pious and righteous former leader, Tony Blair. It was he, in his own wise judgement, who halted the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into BAE Systems' dealings in Saudi Arabia, allegedly as it threatened Britain's national security.

I dare say it threatened someone's security. It was the same sort of righteous decision making that made him send our armed forces into Iraq, no doubt. The same sort of knowledge, the same protection of our national interests, the same sound legal reasoning. All we can have no doubt over. As in the peerages for donations scandal, when it comes to his integrity, Teflon Tony Blair was bullet-proof. All was done with a 'Pure Heart', as Cherie Blair was to famously say.

I think the all pervading stench of corruption is washing over us all and £280m was the small price to pay to keep a lot of names out of the headlines and save a lot of careers. In that context, this was a small price to pay by BAE Systems to ensure they have the future cooperation of some very senior individuals in Government and middle ground all over the world.

The £280m is 'marker' on all those names that their careers have been saved by drawing a line under the whole affair. In that context, the £280m is the biggest of all the BAE Systems' bribes yet.
It ensures the business will be as usual for the future.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Short on Credibility?

It was keenly anticipated, but Clare Short's turn at the Chilcot Inquiry has already slipped to the back water pages of the internet news sites.

Despite some stunning revelations which confirmed much of the thinking that Tony Blair did much of his decision making outside Cabinet, ran the country with just a few hand-picked, non-elected advisers, spun the truth and somehow got the Attorney General to change his tune, miraculously in favour of an all-out war when a few weeks before the legal case was nil - despite all this, there was something tawdry and sleazy about Short's evidence.

Part of it was that Alistair Campbell had already laid his marker on her when he gave 'evidence'. He had effectively marginalised her by making her appear 'unreliable', suggesting she was a loose cannon and a potential threat to us all. Further, the whole saga of her resignation was an on-off affair and it appeared she wavered about her decision, loyalty and, perhaps, ambition. Did she go because she could not get what she wanted or because she had a conscience? With Robin Cook it was unequivocal; with Short it was questionable. All the more pity that Cook is not around to give his view, as indeed Dr. David Kelly is also not around too.

Clare Short said a lot of damaging things but her colloquial and slangy style made her sound, frankly, unintelligent and, not a little, vindictive. She came across as having an axe to grind - Campbell's careful depiction of her was at the front of my mind when she referred to the country being run by 'Blair and his mates'. Great pub talk but hardly the accurate description for a major Inquiry. She made the Attorney General's volte-face on the legality of the war sound just like the nation's view of 'how could he move so far in just a few weeks' but there was no substantiation of her view and therefore it was no better testimony than that of you or I in this matter.

But what the whole performance did illustrate, if nothing else, was that the country was in the hands of a very small number of mainly unelected people, that Cabinet was just an 'For Your Information Only' pool, where there was little debate, and Parliament was for mere ratification - with the landslide majority effectively stifling any questions or any chance of democracy.

No matter when and where or for what reason Blair decided to go to war, once he had done so there was no turning back and he just made sure that it looked as though it was necessary. Looking back at the evidence that was presented to the Cabinet, Parliament and the nation, it now looks a laughable attempt to provide an excuse for such action akin to a young school kid making up a story of why it was late to class.

What Clare Short's evidence produced, along with Campbell's and Blair's, is how little real thought went into the whole process of decision making, how little debate was invoked and how trivialised were the thoughts, views and consciences of the British people. We were the last people to be considered and the least. Our vote had been cast long ago and was now a chip in the game of world power. By allying with the US, Britain was at the Top Table of international power and that was vital for Blair's future beyond being Prime Minister. He had suddenly found his raison d'etre, his legacy and his future in one go. He would forever be known as the hero who rid the world of Saddam Hussein.

To use a boxing analogy, Hussein was a former heavyweight who still thought he could fight and was lured into the ring with no training and no fitness. He was a spent force. All he had left was his country's oil, it's proximity to Iran, and that he would make a good butt for the vengeance of the United States for 9/11 even though it was clear he was no more a threat to the US than a defenceless old boxer. The United States had a symbolic war it could win.

But they didn't. Iraq, like Afghanistan, has been a fiasco that has cost $billions and many lives at a time we could afford neither. The legacy will be seen as two zealous, power-hungry fools wanting to make a strike for their faith and their egos.

The only thing Short confirmed yesterday was the image of a dictatorial pseudo-President running our country and that democracy had been suspended. If that is not a case for wholesale electoral reform, then I don't know what is.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Smooth Operator

'Teflon Tony' was at it again, as we suspected. The polished and well rehearsed performance of our former PM showed he has lost none of those skills that kept him at the top of his game in politics.

Even his admissions on Fern Britton's show that if he had known that WMD were not in Iraq, he would have still gone to war and just spun the evidence to give a different excuse, was laughed away as if he had been tricked by some skilled advocate rather than a weekday second rate presenter.

We learnt nothing more than what he was prepared to let us know and it was presented as if there was a compelling moral cause to his actions.

Faith is a great gift - it allows you to break circular arguments by providing a neat end point. The fact that Blair had faith meant he knew, no matter what the reason he invented or knew, that he was right to invade Iraq. He would do it again in a heartbeat for another reason - faith told him he would be always right. You cannot challenge faith; there is no logic, no evidenciary reasoning, no rational thought process, there is just a blind and utter belief in what you want to do or something to be.

Blair has buckets of faith - so much so that he has made it a past time to tell us all about his pious beliefs. The warning signs are there for us all to see - faith is not a reason to start killing people. Wars down the generations have relied on such stuff but we are developed, mature and intelligent humans - we need more of a reason to start killing one another.

If we don't, then this world is forever cursed with the burden of religion.

No other species on earth from the single cell structures to the most advanced primates have a concept of a God or worship - they may have pack leaders or alpha males but they do not have Gods. That sort of tells you something about the limitation of intelligence - it gives the ability for us to question, reason, invent, discover but then 'draw a line' under the whole thing when the answer does not coincide with evidence. From planetary motions, to disease control to evolution - faith has challenged humans every step of the way.

Tony Blair never cared whether Saddam Hussein had any WMDs or chemical weapons, nor if he could launch any within 45 minutes. He was more concerned in following his fellow believer in faith, George W. Bush. This week Blair declared, in his clinical knowledge and expertise, that Saddam Hussein was a psychopath. It was a clutch at a straw that at least most would believe.

But that is not what the UN 1441 stated - the grounds for armed intervention were not there. Blair knew that a second resolution would never be passed as both Russia and France at minimum opposed them. So he threw in his lot with the US and would do the justifications later when he was called to account.

The Chilcot Inquiry was advertised as the definitive inquiry into the war, we got nothing. All the evidence in the inquiry to date points that war was unnecessary and that the intelligence around it was deeply flawed at best and, at worst, lies.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

What Happened To Labour?

I am not sure what has been the most obvious in the last 24 hours, a) the fact our economy is about as healthy as a 40 a day smoker or b) that the gap between rich and poor has not been as high for 40 years.

Either way, it begs the question - what happened to Labour? In my youth, I may not have agreed with the rantings of Neil Kinnock, Michael Foot, Dennis Skinner, Arthur Scargill or Tony Benn but you could not fault them for their deep conviction that there was a fundamental inequality in our society. Now, after 12 years of a Labour Government, we find we have the usual defunct economy but also the largest gap between richest and poorest, the least opportunities for our children, and an apparent breaking, if not broken, society that still makes distinctions between sex and gender despite there even being an Equalities Minister and employment laws as tight as a duck's backside.

The reality is that we sit passively reading that bankers at Goldman Sachs will have to make do with only £1m per person this year, we look on with indifference that bosses' average pay is now over five times that of the wages of their average worker and despite the presence of a myriad of laws employers still discriminate on the grounds of race, religion and sex. We may think things are different - but they aren't. You only have to see the rise in the BNP to understand that Britain is not moving forward in its thinking or the clamour to congratulate France on banning the wearing of Burkas by Muslim women.

Then again, we are at war with Muslims and their way of life. We are currently occupying two Muslim countries and we are having another eternal inquiry into why we invaded one of them as it posed no threat to our nation. It's little wonder why people in Britain remain largely anti-foreign, let alone racist.

We convince ourselves that the Taliban are the epitome of pure evil because of the way they treat women and hold them back, yet the recently released figures show clearly that as a society we fundamentally undervalue the contribution of a woman doing the same job and that the opportunities to progress for women are far less than those for men. We have even made the white male worker a class that is oppressed in the media.

I can't say that I know answers to such a complex situation because on the one hand I want a safe place to live, more opportunities for local people to work rather than have more migrant workers in this country, employ the people I think can do the job rather than be told that I must favour certain sections of society, earn as much as I am able and pay less for the failings of others. On the other hand, I know that I am part of the problem. I sit hear and listen to the spoutings of a Government that has failed us through window dressing policies and talk but did little to rectify the underlying problems and I think to myself, 'Well at least I'm ok, despite how much I disagree with their so-called achievements.'

And that about sums it up - as long as we have our Sky TV, a place to live, iPods, 42" TVs, places to eat and pubs to drink in plus the money to support it, we are fat and happy. Who cares about the kids in poverty in this country or the starving in Africa when partners at banks average £1m a year and are furious they are being victimised? It seems Labour doesn't - that party of social equality of old has wooed and knighted bankers as good as anyone and footed the bill when they got so greedy that they broke the country.

We are a society that will gladly fight for the right to watch violent films, make sure our kids have the latest PC games extolling the virtues of stealing cars and defending the right of anyone to do what they want on the internet yet criticise people for having beards, wearing Burkas and being tough on criminals. We are a society that will happily go to war based on false information, then cook the story to justify it when the lie is discovered yet allow countries we 'free and democratise' to have corrupt Governments because it suits our agenda.

The fact is, as a society we haven't really moved very far forward at all. The Labour Party, which once had a passion to tackle such issues, has got as fat and as happy as the society it governs.

I would hate us to get back to the old days of rampant strikes and high powered, politicised Unions that dominated Labour's rise which contributed to the death of the British manufacturing base but I can't help thinking we needed some of those old principles about a better society, because what we have is more polar, discriminatory and broken than it has ever been.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Well Worth The Wait?

A few hundred £billion later on bail outs and £200bn of Quantitative Easing (QE), a fiscal stimulus package worth a few bob, and all the 'right decisions' have 'apparently' been made?!
What do we get for all that money? 0.1% growth in the final quarter of 2009, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Granted, they may 'sex up' that figure later but the reality is that the much-anticipated recovery that Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown got us all salivating over is hardly worth a thing. Given that we spent all that QE money, we had the effect of Christmas buying and pre-VAT surges, the fact of the matter is that we hardly showed a jot of growth.

The majority of the fiscal stimulus has been spent, now we are on the artificial lifeline of delayed spending cuts in order to tackle our ever increasing borrowing - we are in the red zone on the economic barometer. We are in dodgy credit territory and the Government's strategy of 'Hope' in terms of growth has been like a like a firework's touchpaper fizzling out with no bang.

One economic commentator from the FT previously described the economy as like being lit by firelighters and causing a momentary flash of burning but once the firelighter burnt out discovering that the economy is merely glowing not burning.

I said it before - I believed the Government used the strategy of throwing enough manure at a wall in the vain hope that some would stick in terms of the amount of money they spent. There was no focus, no target, no knowledge of the return on the money - just spend as much as possible and hope things would right themselves, all because a bunch of failed Investment Bankers advised them to do so.

It leaves the Government's fiscal policies both before the financial crisis and after in tatters - they were as bad dealing with the problem as the hubris shown in pre-empting it. No lessons have been learnt, banks have not been reformed or restrained, bonuses are being paid as high as ever in the City and bankers still being revered despite the pathetic windfall tax which makes little or no effect.

0.1% represents an economy in crisis still and we have little left to throw at it and a massive budget deficit to deal with. If this is 'prudent' economics as Gordon always told us he was expert in, then we are surely on a slippery slope to ruin.

If I were the Chancellor, I would be almost embarrassed to mention this figure. This is not good news for businesses continuing to hold in a survival pattern, hoping for an upturn.