Confessions of a Political Animal

May 27, 2009

No expenses spared

banknotesStudy leave, exams and recuperation now over, the Animal is given to understand that there has been something of a hullabaloo going on in the febrile world of British politics. Before going on to my substantive point, therefore, four quick observations on the whole ‘Troughgate’ merriment.

1) A number of the claims are beyond the pale. There are some MPs from all parties, including my own, who need to go, go now, and go, like, yesterday.

2) We are getting dangerously close to a situation where certain sections of the media and population will denounce any MP with an expenses claim greater than, say, £0.00 as having their snout in the proverbial trough. Yes, there is a collective failure of non-whistle blowing; there is very limited evidence of a collective malaise of greed.

3) If at the conclusion of this mess, we end up with a situation whereby the only people who can afford to be an MP for a non-London seat are those who can privately afford to rent, furnish and run a second property, then democracy in this country will be in a far worse state than it is currently.

4) <Selfish mode> As a former employee of an MP, I am so glad that the feudal, tax-exiled Lords of Brecqhou have probably got my bank account details.</selfish mode> (more…)

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May 1, 2009

Revealed: £2.75m down the River

boris-johnson-11“One thing we cannot do is spend tens of millions keeping projects alive, for political reasons, when there is simply no government funding to deliver them. The truth is that we don’t have to cash to do everything we would like, and it is better to be honest than continue to play upon false hopes.”

Boris Johnson, “Way to Go“, November 2008

So said the Mayor last year, as a justification for removing any ambition from Transport for London’s infrastructure investment programme. Johnson’s implied criticism of the previous mayoral administration was that it had spent money developing and promoting transport projects that were unlikely to ever come to fruition. The weakness of the argument is palpable: it was investment in the development and promotion of schemes such as Crossrail and the East London Line Extension that paved the way for funding eventually emerging from central government.

However, a few schemes escaped the Johnson Axe, including stage 1 of the Greenwich Waterfront Transit, a partially-segregated bus route linking the Jubilee Line station at North Greenwich with Woolwich and Thamesmead. The principle aim of the route was to improve bus services to Thamesmead, a heavily deprived area on the borders of Greenwich and Bexley with woeful public transport links. Given the opprobium heaped on the Transit scheme by Boris-friendly commentators, in particular Andrew Gilligan, its survival in November was very surprising: all the more so as its proposed future extensions across the river had been rendered impossible through Johnson’s scrapping of the Thames Gateway Bridge. (more…)

April 23, 2009

Brain drain or brain dead?

darlingSo now we know. You only have to wait twelve years into a Labour government before you get a sensible top rate of tax. Much celebration ensued yesterday at the Town Hall when we realised that our beloved Chief Executive would be…erm…required to contribute generously to the economic recovery.

And why these sour grapes from a certain Mr Boris Johnson Esq? According to the BBC’s budget calculator, a hard-working 44 year old married man with 4 children under 16, earning £137,759 a year, plus £250,000 of self-employment income, will be £455.32 better off, thanks to the Chancellor’s largesse.

But to be serious, whilst the introduction of the 50% tax band is welcome, it is as Polly Toynbee rightly says, too late. Whilst I thought Cameron’s budget response to be a rather empty exercise in rhetorical grandstanding, the likes of which I haven’t seen since the Animal last attended a university debating club, one of his attacks ought to stick, although not really as Cameron meant it. Criticising the level of the budget deficit and the PBR, he rehearsed the old line about Labour ‘not fixing the roof while the sun was shining’. (more…)

January 20, 2009

Liberal with the spin

Norman Baker MP

Norman Baker MP

Skimming through Guardian Online yesterday, I came across this doom-and-gloom article about rail franchise holders going cap-in-hand to Geoff Hoon, waving the threat of service cuts if the Department for Transport (DfT) doesn’t show some ‘flexibility’ (for which read slashing) in the premium payments that it will be demanding from many of them in the next financial year. This has come about as a result of falling growth in passenger numbers – note falling growth, not falling numbers – due to economic circumstances pertaining.

No-one is expecting the franchises  in question to cease to be profitable (only the most lucrative routes have to pay premiums – others receive subsidies): simply that the profit margins will be a bit less comfortable than their holders bargained for. Given this, my advice to Hoon would be to wave an offer back at the franchisees – if you don’t want to pay up, hand in the keys and a new National Rail will run the services, keeping all the profit for re-investment in the railways.

But this is all as an aside. What really caught my eye was the footnote to the article, headed:

Go further in Serbia

What could this possibly have to do with the UK’s railways, wondered the Animal? Well, reading on… (more…)

January 15, 2009

Elephantine miscalculations

elephantAh, the Elephant and Castle. Exotic (well, exotic sounding) southern terminus of the Bakerloo line. World-class example of everything that was wrong with the car-centric planning of the 1960s. Site of one of Europe’s largest ever regeneration schemes. Perhaps. Maybe. One day.

The Elephant, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, is an unappealing mixture of vast, traffic-clogged roundabouts, slightly threatening pedestrian underpasses, poor quality housing, shabby shopping arcades and badly integrated Underground, rail and bus hubs. The people who re-planned the area after substantial war damage thought visitors would come to watch  cars going round the roundabouts. For some reason, that didn’t happen.

On the fringes of the Elephant is the huge, barrier-block Heygate Estate, one of the most deprived areas of one of London’s most deprived boroughs and itself the subject of a major regeneration scheme– albeit one which shows all the signs of being horrendously badly managed by Southwark Council, who seem to be intent on clearing the blocks earmarked for demolition before enough suitable ‘decant’ housing for residents is available.

The Elephant regeneration, which centres around the creation of a pedestrianised town centre and the construction of new homes and businesses, is, however, in an even worse state. Southwark (more…)

October 31, 2008

Short hiatus and some updates

I am away this weekend (the picture should be a clue as to where) and today looks busy, so probably no posting this side of Monday. Don’t cry too much, please.

However, I thought it might be worth providing some updates on a few of my earlier posts, just so they don’t feel forgotten (and so in some cases the Animal can say “told you so”).

October 28th Is the Game Afoot? The Animal speculated that a prolonged period of single figure Conservative poll leads over the next couple of months would suggest that the narrative about the next election would change, with a hung parliament maybe becoming a stronger possibility than a stonking Tory majority. We’re a long way off a prolonged period yet, and the latest Yougov poll does show Labour moving out a smidgin, but the Tory lead remains (just) within the psychologically important single figure zone. 

October 27th European Left Watch: Out of Office in Lithuania The Animal reported on the defeat for the parties that formed the Social Democrat-led government in Lithuania by a mixture of (more…)

October 28, 2008

Is the game afoot?

One of the essay titles that I can choose to write 3,000 words about for my masters module on British Politics is ‘Can Labour win the next general election?’. Given that the questions were set some months ago, I’m guessing that they were expecting me to address the likelihood given a Conservative opinion poll lead of 20% plus. But now, at least temporarily, the rules of the political game have changed with those of the economic game. Keynsian economics is back from the dead and dead political ducks might just be learning to fly again.

So far in October, three opinion polls from two different organisations have shown Labour’s poll deficit to be in high single figures (either 8 or 9%). With the exception of one 9% lead in a September poll, this is the first time since April that the deficit has been that low, with no fewer than 20 polls having shown a Conservative lead of 20% or greater during that period. Throughout those past few months it was widely, and understandably, assumed that a Conservative majority in the Commons was now a (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 16, 2008

‘These cows are near but those are far away. Near, far away.’

all the fault of Hoover's big government?

1929: all the fault of Hoover's Big Government?

With apologies to Father Ted Crilley for the post’s title. The ever-fascinating ConservativeHome* has introduced me to the delights of the blog of Douglas Carswell MP, the obscure Conservative MP for Harwich & Clacton, and in particular his latest post: ‘Big Government made the credit crunch‘. From reading the article, it strikes me that Mr Carswell, a member of the hard-right Tombstone Cornerstone Group, could do with some of Father Crilley’s advice on recognising the effects of perspective, particularly when it comes to recognising a ‘big’ government.

As the financial crisis deepens, it’s important to remember that the events unfolding are not a failure of the markets – it’s the market response to a problem created by Big Government.

 Note the capital letters. Apparently Big Government is a proper noun now. Mr Carswell continues:

For years, central banks – particularly the US Fed and the European Central Bank – have kept (more…)

September 13, 2008

Is it time to boom-proof the economy?

Time to raise public spending, Darling?

Time to raise public spending, Darling?

As the prospect of a recession looms in Britain, this may seem an odd time to talk about how the country should be preparing for the next global up-turn. However, the reality is that if the UK fails to make long-term considerations paramount in how it deals with this down-turn, the next up-turn could prove to be even more damaging than the effects of the credit crunch.

The simple truth is that there is no cast-iron reason why the next upward trend of the economic cycles has to include Britain. Nations have managed to sit-out boom times before – indeed, France and Germany seemed to manage it quite well last time round – and without the right choices being made, this could be Britain’ turn. Contrary to some expectations, there is no sign that the late 90s-early 00s boom will prove to be the last hurrah of globalisation. Rather it was the catalyst for the next stage of the globalising of the world economy: the breaking of US economic hegemony and the growth in the power of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Behind the dust cloud created by slowing or non-existent growth in the old economic powers of the US and Europe, these emerging powers appear to be largely weathering the storm – the IMF is, for example, continuing to predict 10% growth in the Chinese economy in 2008-09.

This means that when the older economies emerge from the slow-down, as they eventually will, they will have a lot of catch-up to play. This will be particularly hard to achieve given that some of the causes and symptoms of this recession, particularly high energy prices, are here to stay. But the countries that will find (more…)

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