Confessions of a Political Animal

September 30, 2008

“When the facts change…

…I change my opinion. What do you do, Sir?”, asked John Maynard Keynes, who if there is an afterlife, must surely be enjoying the Damascene conversion of so many unlikely suspects to his economic creed. Indeed, many seem to have gone still further, with the new ‘bash the bankers’ duo of Cameron-Osborne sounding almost Leninist with their spine-tingling threats of ‘a day of reckoning’ for the financiers and speculators.

And with the facts changing beneath their feet, Mr Osborne for one is certainly making a good appearance of changing his opinions, or at least his rhetoric:

As you yourselves know better than anyone, the success and size of your industry makes you an increasingly visible target. The GMB are trying to brand you “amoral asset-strippers”. Brendan Barber of the TUC preferred “casino capitalists”.It’s not just the unions. Alan Johnson said the GMB attack “raised some important points”. Harriet Harman wants to stop what she calls your “excessive, (more…)

September 29, 2008

Boris’ dog whistle?

I have a problem with Boris Johnson. What’s that? You’d worked that out already? Well done; have a coconut, or something.

No, apart from all the other problems I have with our Mayor, my problem is that sometimes I can’t work out if he’s being serious or flippant, or if he is being flippant if there is something deeper behind the flippancy. Sometimes I’m convinced that Boris himself is a bit in the dark about this as well. Therefore, what follows could be entirely the ravings of a paranoid mind.

When the BBC News webteam puts an item in the ‘Also in the News’ section in the margin of their front page, I’ve always understood this as saying something like ‘Yup, there’s a hell of a lot of depressing stuff over there on the main body of the page, but here’s a quirky story about a pet mongoose saving its family from a fire to cheer up your day’. So, when they put in an article headlined Mayor Boris terminates ‘cyborg’ Arnie, the editorial staff must have thought the story was in that league.

I guess everyone knows the background to this story. At last year’s Tory conference, California Governor Schwarzenegger was overheard via video link describing Boris Johnson’s platform performance as ‘fumbling all over the place.’ As far as I remember, (more…)

European Left Watch: Still ahead in Austria, but will the SPO get to lead?

It’s Monday, so it must be the day after a European legislative election.

Austria went to the polls yesterday and, as the Animal (and the polls…) predicted, the social-democratic SPÖ emerged retaining its position as the largest party in the Nationalrat. The SPÖ’s leader, Walter Faymann, has claimed the right to the Chancellery. However, the big story of the night was the worrying surge of the hard-right at the expense of the two mainstream parties. The combined vote shares of the FPÖ and Jörg Haider’s BZÖ amounted to 29%, well in excess of the 25.6% achieved by the centre-right ÖVP, and only marginally short of the SPÖ’s 29.7%. This success appears to have been built on the back of a virulent campaign of anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric: the FPÖ’s neo-Nazi linked leader Heinz Strache went in for some particularly choice phrases, including describing burqa-wearing women as ‘female ninjas’.

As was widely expected, the elections, which were the result of the ÖVP walking out of their deadlocked grand coalition with the SPÖ appear to have done absolutely nothing to break the (more…)

September 28, 2008

When Irish eyes stop smiling

Filed under: Conservatives,Economy,Ireland,Public spending,Tax — Political Animal @ 9:03 pm
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British right-wingers have spent much of the past decade or so constantly turning their eyes enviously towards our neighbour across the UK’s only land border. Now that the Conservatives and their ideological fellow travelers are no longer required to see the Republic of Ireland as some kind of state sponsor of terrorists, they have noticed that this is a county which in many ways must appear as a kind of centre-right utopia.

Two right-wing parties, with significant historical differences but few contemporary ideological variations, alternate in constant government, with the ultra-free market Progressive Democrats often featuring in coalitions (albeit by all accounts the party will soon cease to exist). The three left-of-centre parties combined achieved less than 22% of first preference votes in 2007 elections. Ireland has the lowest levelof public spending as a proportion of GDP of any of the pre-expansion EU member states (35.2% compared to an EU-15 average of 48.5%) and saw phenomenal levels of wealth growth. The easily-made, albeit false, (more…)

September 27, 2008

Well, if you can’t convince yourselves…

Trust him to manage the economy? Lib Dems don't.A quick post, because I’m off to eat cheese today and really don’t want to do too much cheesy politics.

A bit of a splash earlier from the story arising from a BBC Daily Politics commissioned ComRes poll which showed the Labour team of Brown/Darling retaking the lead over the Cameron/Osbourne combo in terms of who is trusted most to manage the economy.

This result should hardly come as a surprise, given the combination of a Labour conference bounce, some reasonably competent economic pronouncements and policies from the government over the past few weeks and the total radio silence from Osborne as the global economy crashes and burns. I guess when your entire economic worldview is being destroyed before your eyes, silence must seem like the best option – after all, I doubt anyone told Mr Osborne as he learnt his political trade at Douglas Hogg’s knee, that the day would come when the only stimulus that would pull the markets upwards would be massive state interventions in the financial and banking sectors.

But, for me, the really interesting points lie in the full breakdown of the Daily Politics poll results, available here. The regional breakdowns on page 1 show that the Tory team remains ahead of Labour (more…)

September 26, 2008

European Left Watch: Is Austria’s decree nisi going to be denied?

Austria goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a new Nationalrat (National Council), almost two years to the day after it last did so. The 2006 elections produced electoral stalemate, with both main parties losing significant numbers of votes, but leaving the centre-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ) with a very narrow plurality of seats, regaining the position it had historically held until 2002. The results thankfully prevented a continuation of the coalition between the centre-right Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP) and the neo-fascist Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (BZÖ) led by Jörg Haider. The inclusion of the far-right in government had led to a degree of international isolation, with diplomatic sanctions imposed against the country by the EU and Israel.

The only workable solution after the 2006 elections involved a return to the traditional SPÖ-ÖVP grand coalition, which had been a regular occurrence in post-war Austria. The government was led by SPÖ Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer. On this occasion, however, the grand coalition has proved to be (more…)

September 25, 2008

In favour of feudal roads

I’ll freely admit to being pretty slow on the uptake on this – and indeed it has been touched on elsewhere already, but given the apparently inexorable march of the right (sorry Gordon, ‘the novices’) towards power across Britain, it probably makes sense to take a critical look at the underlying ideologies that inform Tory policies.

Living in London, which despite denials, is clearly at least a sounding chamber – if not a petri dish – for future national Conservative policies, we have the dubious honour of seeing policy development in the raw. And every now and again, the Cameronite mask slips ever so slightly to reveal something of what lies beneath.

The July (told you I was late with this) edition of Transport Times (currently available via the Latest Edition link here, see page 4) carries a worrying article about the Mayor’s Transport Adviser, Kulveer Ranger’s stated opinions. Ranger (who would almost certainly fit anyone’s description of a novice being left in charge of a vital portfolio) told the London Assembly Transport Committee in his first appearance before them on 25th June (full transcript) that:

Bearing in mind that no mode should be seen above any other as well, so we have to keep in with a view that there are still a need to understand that the motorist is not at the foot of all traffic modes, right at the base of it, there is no hierarchy here.  We need to ensure that those people who need to travel by car and travel by car get a fair crack at the whip (more…)

September 24, 2008

Whose vanity is fairest?

Probably classifiable as a vanity project

Probably classifiable as a vanity project

‘Vanity project’ is a widely thrown around phrase, much favoured by right wing commentators to describe the schemes introduced or championed by left-leaning politicians. The implication is clear: this is a project that will involve spending your hard-earned money on a scheme with no better purpose than to inflate an already engorged political ego.

Hence why I have seen, in the past few weeks, projects as diverse as the extension of free nursery places to two year olds, the 2012 Olympics, Housing Information Packs, the nationalisation of Northern Rock and the upgrade of the West Coast Mainline all described as ‘vanity projects’. You get the feeling that 1900’s answer to Andrew Gilligan probably described the Labour Party as a ‘Keir Hardie vanity project’, and that Ye Olde Dailie Maile carried an editorial in 1215 denouncing Magna Carta as a ‘shameful vanity project dreamt up by lefty-liberal barons’.

Inevitably, the truth is normally a little more complex than that suggested by the glib phrase. But what we can quite easily work out is the rationale under which it may be deployed by some of our more reactionary columnists and leader writers.

Step 1) Is this a scheme being proposed by a politician who would probably have voted for the Great Reform Act?

Step 2) Do I suspect that this scheme will not benefit me as (more…)

September 22, 2008

European Left Watch: Breakthrough in Slovenia

Slovenian Parliament, Ljubljana

Slovenian Parliament, Ljubljana

In the early life of this blog, I promised to keep a watch on the electoral fortunes of Labour’s sister parties in Europe. And whilst it isn’t big (but is certainly beautiful), and the current incumbent of the White House isn’t quite sure about its identity, our first point of call is the republic of Slovenia, pop. 2.02 million and the richest of the former Yugoslav states.

Slovenia went to the polls yesterday in a parliamentary general election for the Drzavni zbor (National Assembly), with a turnout of 62.2%. Whilst the results are not yet official, at least in part due to the need to await overseas votes (these account for over 2.5% of the electorate and are expected by Wednesday), it seems highly likely that a coalition led by the Socialni demokrati(Social Democrats – in part a descendant of the Yugoslav Communist Party) will have narrowly defeated the incumbent centre-right coalition of Prime Minister Janez Jansa. The result is something of a surprise, as opinion polls as late as last week were giving a sizable lead to Jansa, despite corruption allegations, although the most recent polls suggested the race was tightening.

It now seems likely that Social Democrat leader Borut Pahor (currently an MEP) will become Prime Minister at the head of a three party coalition involving (more…)

September 21, 2008

Dreaming spires and nightmare admissions

The issue of access to higher education continues to receive significant levels of media attention with Universities & Skills Secretary of State John Denham issuing two slapdowns in as many weeks, first to Cambridge vice-chancellor Alison Richard, then to Oxford director of admissions Mike Nicholson. In a not wholly unprecedented pincer movement by the UK’s ‘top’ universities, Ms Richard and Mr Nicholson both criticised the apparent pressure that their institutions are under to admit a more representative cross-section of UK society, suggesting that this represented ‘government meddling’ in the running of Oxbridge. Mr Nicholson went so far as to suggest that it was actually impossible for Oxford to take a greater number of students from deprived backgrounds. This is, of course, nothing but total rubbish, but the remarks are not meant to be taken at face value, nor was Mr Denham the intended audience.

Rather, Oxbridge is engaging in an unstated game of brinkmanship with a future Conservative government, effectively giving an incoming Oxford-dominated Tory cabinet a final chance to stop the UK’s two most famous universities opting out of state funding and therefore any form of state control. Their price for this (more…)

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