Tag Archives: the Brown train

Short Term Thinking II

The most salient similarity between the two inordinately long, one might almost say ’19th Century’, regimes that have dictated our lives for the past forty years is the way the markets reacted to them (of course, they pursued unexpectedly similar financial policies). In both cases, they were positioned for their launch into extremism by a very strong economic position they had precisely nothing to do with creating. North Sea oil and gas was almost entirely paid for by Labour and then sold by the Tories, to their own advantage. This also more or less describes the public infrastructure that was privatised, though several Tory governments had helped build that. The Internet and mobile phone booms were not only not helped by New Labour, they were actively and systematically handicapped.

Both regimes exploited the strength of their perceived position as winning teams to orchestrate subtle, and then not-so-subtle, witch-hunts. Bizarrely, in the case of Thatcher’s social services, there was a literal witch hunt. As Reagan was expanding Nixon’s War on Drugs into Wars on other things, Thatcher was declaring war on organised labour, Irish travelers, peace-protesters, environmentalists and the counter-culture in general. And she was winning, because let’s face it, if you smash all the news men’s cameras and if you’re just beating up a gang of filthy hippies and left-liberal wets, why would middle England care? It’s not like your party will ever need the votes of the liberal and progressive middle class. Er, hang on…

Labour, having surfed into Cool Britannia on a wave of BritPop pizzazz, shambled to the right over the War on Terror and then proceeded to abandon the world of rationality all together. Evidence became a deprecated practice, science policy was subjected to political speculation and short-term party interest. The rational but leftist economic inspirations of a young Scottish Presbyterian in the 80s turned into slavish neo-Thatcherite greed in office in the 2000s. The hysterical Christian wing of the Labour Party are just as terrifying as Christina Odone and Nadine Dorries.

Why did I justify typing all of that when I’m lurking deep within the bowels of a pile of boxes significantly higher than my head, moodily smoking and wishing I’d had more than 4 hours sleep at any time this week? Patience, gentle reader, good things come to those who wait.

The last and most significant parallel I need to draw is between Black Wednesday and the collapse of Northern Rock. In both instances of over-long government by a functional dictatorship (full majority in the commons) their term saw the collapse of significant chunks of the Square Mile boom the government had been exploiting to maintain its autarchy. And unlike what usually happens, where a government is lucky to get ten straight years and very lucky to get ten years of a more or less free hand to legislate, in both cases the economic failure actually had been engineered by the incumbents, not the last guys.

Thatcher over-clocked the economy quite deliberately to gain the largest possible advantage from the North Sea, the privatisation binge, and the world-wide economic and financial boom that accompanied the rise of the Tiger economies. Most governments who run their economy too fast with inadequate cooling are safely out of office when the magic smoke escapes. The Tories weren’t, and David Cameron bloody well knows it; he was standing behind Lamont when the Chancellor announced an interest base rate of 15%.

Unexpectedly, Brown’s Chancellorship saw New Labour follow exactly the same pattern. The City was given its head, the communications boom was exploited ruthlessly while its lucrative consumers, mostly under 30, were demonised in Westminster and Wapping alike. The housing market boom was then artificially inflated well beyond its natural term to off-set the horrendous costs of the War on Terror. The Rock did not fall over because it was heavily invested in US sub-prime instruments, it was a home-grown collapse which came about because the government over-clocked the economy until something blew. What blew was Northern Rock.

I would argue that we can in part credit Gordon Brown’s response with saving us some half a million jobs versus the Tory management of the previous recession. Too late, and in the wrong way, but he did try to respond constructively for the country rather than just happily for the city.

The conclusions are three-fold. Firstly, it is clear that there is a natural cycle which is used by financial traders to consolidate their industry (ensure that very very few new contenders ever make it into the Deep Pocket Club). If permitted by government, it is in the interests of our official gamblers to over-inflate, bust, then over-inflate rather than reflecting the accurate market price of a given commodity or instrument. This is because market men make money in the margin (say that drunk): they can only ‘win’ if the market price is not the same as the actual worth. If the price is too low you make money buying; if it is too high you make money selling. If it’s right, there’s no margin for the Monopoly players in rainbow coats.

Secondly, it is clear that our system promotes governmental short-termism. Both of these two over-powered regimes governed in the short-term interest by actively inflating natural booms until they became insubstantial bubbles which, predictably, burst. This is most certainly not the only way to run a county, it’s just the only way that any Briton under 40 has ever experienced. Safe seats lead directly to ministerial corruption; safe majorities lead directly to autocracy and a bitterly divisive national discourse.

And thirdly, it is bad for Britain to have long-term, majority governments. Both times we’ve tried it in the modern era it has permitted those governments to engineer vastly damaging recessions for short term gain. Twice in that time it has allowed the government to engage us in a war of aggression we didn’t want. Both times won the government significant short-term political gains. Letting either the red or the blue teams run the country with an over-all majority guarantees that they will wreck your economy in their own interest at least once.

Our system is designed to produce majority governments, but it has evolved to deliver (in Sir Humphrey’s words) an aristocratic system of government occasionally interrupted by elections. This situation is well reflected in the educational backgrounds of our current cabinet. In vote-share terms, the country is more or less a quarter liberal, a third conservative and two-fifths labour. That is the direct result of two long, autocratic, socially authoritarian regimes both of which shot themselves in the foot while scuttling the economy. The people, as my friend Laurie suggests, have mumbled. They have spent two generations trying out elective dictatorship in the 19th Century model, and it would seem that they don’t like it much.

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Short Term Thinking I

The economy (and political map) of Britain have changed radically since 1977. This is not a controversial statement. We’ve gotten collectively richer, while in the process metastasizing tumours of disadvantage which will take not years but generations, plural, to heal. We’ve shifted our economy finally and irrevocably from one based on most people working in manufacturing or primary industry to one where better than two thirds of the country work in service, knowledge or other tertiary industries. We have not evolved adequate union models for an era in which increasing numbers of the under-40s are self-employed and multi-skilled but broke and completely disenfranchised by demographic accidents and a broken political system. And we’ve had two, very long, governments in that time, one Tory and one Labour.

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Independence Day

The Sun newspaper failed to publish a YouGov poll showing that voters fear a Liberal Democrat government less than a Conservative or Labour one. […] (The Liberal Democrats have) taken comfort from YouGov’s unpublished finding that more voters would be delighted by the formation of a Liberal Democrat government (29 per cent), than by a Tory government (25 per cent) or a Labour one (18 per cent).

Only 21 per cent would be dismayed if a Liberal Democrat administration were formed, compared to 45 per cent for the Tories and 51 per cent for Labour.

In the 1990s I read the Indy as much as I read any other paper. They seemed to me to be quite independent, and I approved. I was also 16. It became apparent during the course of Back to Basics that the Indy was a fundamentally right-wing paper which talked a very good game but couldn’t back it up with impartiality.

But Simon Kelner’s slavering hacks have, over the last couple of days, performed so far out of that kennel that I might well have to buy a subscription for my new pub. There’s been a series of indications that the Indy alone of the papers usually considered as Cameron’s Crew might be thinking about regaining some honour in journalism. Then, as far as we can tell, James Murdoch decided to take a hand. The replying salvo is a vigorous expose of the counter-democratic and unethical practices of the Murdoch empire.

We all saw the delightfully inept attempt at GOP-style campaigning from the Murdoch empire and their running dogs at CCHQ. We all saw them trot out a different line from the YouGov attack poll in each paper, thus making it clear that it was a co-ordinated but unaimed assault with a single guiding will. Nick Robinson has confirmed that it was the Tories who orchestrated the media bombing campaign, which makes it pretty clear that it was also the Tories who put the attack poll in the field, using YouGov and Murdoch to do it.

Murdoch Loses Britain was a trending topic on twitter tonight. Too fucking right.

The Independent is causing feelings of respect and affection in me. I hope they can keep up the good work. Signs are good: Andrew Grice includes at the bottom of his article a step-by-step deconstruction of each headline in the smear campaign, with the true story summarised alongside. John Q.’s hat is duly tipped to a rare independent voice in the British print media.

Edit: 1357 The Indy have reprised their “Murdoch won’t decide this election” wrap-around, which precipitated this, with another, saying “Neither will Lebvedev”. Someone’s been eating his Wheaties.

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Ties That Bind II

Re-capping my last, the tie made a certain amount of sense as part of the consolidation of British pub trade, in the context of the generally anti-competitive run of business over the later 20th Century. But it didn’t really do any good for anyone except brewers. There were even advantages from the advent of keg lagers, and the occasional keg bitter: they are point and click. To be a real ale cellarman is a craft, with physical and intellectual skills that must be taught and learned, practiced and honed. You have to know the beer, you have to know the tools, and you have to use them every day. This meant that a bad landlord could really mess up your beer (I’ve heard dark tales of the drip trays going back into the top of the mild every night, for example). With keg, you’d have to take an axe to it to really mess it up.

But the over-all consolidation of the trade was, as I said, not really good for anyone except capital accumulators. It made the beer worse, it made pubs worse, it made publicans lives’ hell and it radically reduced competition within the UK market. We’ve gone some way to fixing that, partly through the work of CAMRA and others, partly by just making better beer. Where there were 60 independent brewers in Britain at the start of the 80s there are over 600 now. Brewing is beginning to be a competitive industry again. But the pub trade is getting even worse: 35 pubs a week have been closed in the last year. Think about those numbers for a moment.

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Ties That Bind I

It hadn’t occurred to me, though it really should have, that the British Government is now a considerable player in the pub trade. It was pretty much inevitable, given that the financial crisis is derived from an artificially inflated and then over-exploited property boom, that at least one of the failed banks was going to be a pubco owner.

So, my hat is tipped to Private Eye (1240, p29) who have had a good look at the ridiculous and incestuous relationships between the PubCos, the government, and the Government’s “independent” body of pub valuers, RICS. This Labour administration (by “this” I mean New Labour, not Broon Labour) has continued the trend established in the 80s of setting thieves to encourage thieves when it comes to regulation. In the process, they managed to create the conditions for a scam even more ridiculous than the tied lease.

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Disturbia

There are several very disturbing things about the recent run of British politics. The most obvious one is how well our home-grown far right lunatic fringe did in the recent elections. The BNP got enough of the vote that they get to have two MEPs now. The UKIP, a party whose platform is “We don’t like the French, or the Germans, so there” still have more Members in the European Parliament than the Liberal Democrats do. Surely there is something deeply flawed in a political system which allows a party whose main policy is to do away with the European Union more representation at the EU level than a party whose policies are dominated by the need to, you know, actually survive as an economically viable nation-state?

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Trouble at the Top

How many?

This is a rag-bag of things worth noting that happened, or were written about, while I was down. I didn’t feel comfortable titling a 1250-word post ‘… in brief’ though, so this is what you got.. Starting the day with the continued strengthening of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg clearly had someone competent on his design staff this week. [1] The campaign is one I like; the credentials of the leader promoting it are as close to unimpeachable as you can get, and there’s someone working on it who understands cadence. All good things.

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