If you’re in one, stop digging

Denis Healey is guaranteed his eternal place in the anthology of political axioms for his 1983 First Law of Holes, as in the headline here.

William Keegan, in today’s Observer, gives the saw a new burnish:

Indeed, when the economy is depressed, and business and the general public (we so-called consumers) are cutting back, the only way to prevent the situation from becoming worse is for the public sector to fill the gap, not to make it even bigger.

“Healey’s Law” has been quoted before in this column and is worth repeating. It goes as follows: “When you are in a hole, don’t dig any deeper.” As for all that public sector borrowing, it is being done at negligible interest rates – much lower than the rate at which the private sector can borrow for all those “private” infrastructure initiatives the government is doctrinally trying to encourage. As Robert Stheeman, head of the UK Debt Management Office, observes: “It’s extraordinary. If you had told me just a few years ago how low they [the UK’s borrowing costs] could go, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

That, as part of a heart-felt plea for the early re-deployment — by preference to unemployment— of Gideon George Osborne:

… one notes that there is much speculation about a cabinet reshuffle, although there is also much guidance that this will not involve the most obvious candidate for such a shuffle, namely the chancellor.

Cameron’s more illustrious predecessors, such as Harold Macmillan, would have had no hesitation in giving a discredited chancellor his marching orders. But to sack Osborne would of course be to admit the failure of the strategy, and invite retribution from the rating agencies. A Macmillan, of course, would have been big enough to call their bluff.

Osborne is having a difficult weekend elsewhere. The Sunday Times [£] dishes a bit of dirt with:

The Osbornes at No 42 — and at No 48

Sir Peter Osborne, 17th baronet, and his wife, Lady Felicity, have put their six-bedroom house in a prestigious street in Notting Hill, west London, on sale for a reported £15m.

But they have also found an estimated £10 million to splash out on a five-bedroom house near-by.

This is what certain circles regard as “down-sizing”. Malcolm understands the problem full well, and himself has contemplated removing from Redfellow Hovel to a kennel. That apart, the ST [still £] gives it both barrels:

Earlier this year Osborne Sr embarrassed his son with an interview in which he talked about his lavish lifestyle at a time when the chancellor was under fire for cutting the 50p top rate of tax to 45p. George Osborne claimed in 2009 that “we’re all in this together” when he announced a public sector pay freeze.

For those who have been in a Tibetan lamasery these last few years, that George Osborne utterance was delivered to the 2009 Tory Conference. Even then, and among his own, it went down like a bucket of rat’s regurgitation, as here from George Pitcher in the Torygraph:

My esteemed colleague, Dr Simon Heffer, opens his critique of George Osborne’s Manchester speech by wondering what the shadow chancellor’s mantra “We’re all in this together” might mean and why he repeated it so often.

I think I know precisely why. It’s the upper class way of saying “I feel your pain”. And there is an alternative view and it’s this: No you don’t. It’s a bit rich frankly (and, yes, I do see the irony in that phrase) for the son of a baronet and the heir to a trendy wallpaper fortune to claim that we’re all in this together, all up the same creek in a chicken-wire tub with a similar absence of paddles.

Somewhere a trifle more soigné than “a chicken-wire tub”, we re-encounter Sir Peter Osborne, still in the ST [£ — lest we forget]:

In the magazine How to Spend It, the 69-year-old baronet said he had his eye on a £19,000 Italian writing desk and spoke of his love of Savile Row suits and “unforgettable” holidays on the exclusive Caribbean island of Mustique.

Somehow that pretentiousness is echoed, and answered, in this week’s Times Literary Supplement, acknowledging the death of Gore Vidal.

An unnamed friend of ours had lunch with Vidal in his final home in the Hollywood Hills… a house that could have served as backdrop to one of the more Gothic episodes of Columbo. Mini-staircases connected proliferating rooms; plaster arches stretched between functionless beams; a wrought-iron gate guarded the living-room. Vidal had left La Rondinaia, his fabled villa on the Amalfi coast a few years before, no longer able to negotiate the steep cliff paths.

And then this gem, which is the epitome of Vidal’s astringency:

Around the dining table were six chairs with metallic backrests moulded into the shape of goats’ heads at the crest. ‘I bought these in Rome twenty years ago. The dealer saw my interest and immediately started, Oh . . . ancient-this, cinquecento-that . . . . I said, No they’re not. They’re the chairs from the movie Ben-Hur. I wrote it.’

Let us hope Sir Peter, 17th baronet of Ballintaylor and Ballylemon, would as easily recognise any dirty work when acquiring his £17,000 work-station.

Still digging

If the young Master of Ballintaylor and Ballylemon is in need of excavation guidance, so — it would seem — is Willard Romney, another of those tortured souls with forename problems. As Gideon was forsaken for George, so Willard prefers to be called a glove.

List to the authoritative Nate Silver at FivethirtyEight:

When a prudent candidate like Mitt Romney picks someone like Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate, it suggests that he felt he held a losing position against President Obama. The theme that Mr. Romney’s campaign has emphasized for months and months — that the president has failed as an economic leader — may have persuaded 47 or 48 or 49 percent of voters to back him, he seems to have concluded. But not 50.1 percent of them, and not enough for Mr. Romney to secure 270 electoral votes.

Further to the Right, but also under the NY Times Big Tent, we find an equally unconvinced Ross Douthat. Doubthat, we should recall, was the co-author of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream. That, though, was 2008, and before the rise and rise of the Tea Partyers. Now Douthat is plaintively wondering Why Paul Ryan?  [That headline has to be a direct rebuttal of the WSJ’s endorsement last Thursday, entitled Why Not Paul Ryan?]

Malcolm feels Doubthat’s pain:

Romney has been running a cautious, content-free campaign, and picking Ryan will effectively force him to become much more substantive on policy, while giving the country the clearest possible choice heading into November. But setting up a clash of worldviews doesn’t address Romney’s most glaring policy weakness, which is the (understandable) fear among hard-strapped voters that Republican policies will benefit the rich more than the middle class. Ryan’s association with entitlement reform is at best orthogonal to that weakness, and at worst it exacerbates it substantially. What’s more, by picking him Romney may have passed up a golden opportunity to take advantage of the Obama campaign’s leftward tack over the last year: Instead of making a sustained play for the center of the country, he’s chosen to raise the ideological stakes.

If there is a bigger hole to be dug in US politics, it’s anything that involves “ideology”. In the case of Ryan, a policy wonk of high orders, the ideology involves shrinking US public debt (a good thing!) over forty long years (i.e. kicking it as far as possible into the longest grass) by killing off healthcare spending. Critics note that means increasing public debt (from $10 trillion to $16 trillion) over the next ten years. Any comparison with the economics of the Bush years are, naturally, profoundly unwelcome.

In the latest conservative.org ratings Ryan scored 80%, down from a 96% a year earlier. Considering Michelle Bachmann rated 95% (but still doesn’t qualify for the ACU “Defender of Liberty” rosette), we into serious weirdo bat-shit here.

Observer of a train-wreck

In the absence of Andrew Rawnsley, normally Malcolm’s first port-of-call on a Sunday, but “away”., “Michael Cohen in America” gets the Observer‘s main political comment spot, right under Chris Riddell’s, as usual, smart, tart cartoon.

Cohn bemoans:

The defining characteristic of modern American politics is the growing conservatism, even radicalisation, of the Republican party. Beginning in 2009 with the birth of the Tea Party movement, a party that was already fairly conservative began moving to an even more isolated spot on the American political spectrum. The result was, and is, an unprecedented period of legislative obstructionism, pronounced political polarisation and a party that is more ideologically conservative than perhaps at any point in history.

He checks off the newest notches on the extremists’ gun:

  • Texas where, in a Republican primary, Tea Party darling Ted Cruz defeated the state’s Republican lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst.
  • Kansas, where in Tuesday’s Republican primaries for the state Senate, conservative candidates, pushed by the state’s Republican governor, Sam Brownback, and backed by dollars from the infamous Koch brothers, trounced all but one of the body’s remaining moderate Republicans.
  • Missouri, where congressman Todd Akin, another conservative darling, won a Republican Senate primary versus two more moderate contenders.

All of which, and more. is pushing Romney further and further rightwards:

Romney has followed the crowd, adopting increasingly strident political positions. This was true throughout the Republican primary season as Romney, facing off against a motley collection of Tea Party-approved also-rans, was forced to take stances on immigration, government spending, taxes, abortion and a host of other issues favoured by the party’s most conservative members but that left him vulnerable to Democratic counterattack.

Illegal immigration is perhaps the best example. It’s an issue that is a veritable cri de coeur for the Tea Party and Romney embraced their views to the point where he attacked unpopular Texan governor Rick Perry for insufficient rigour in cutting social services for illegal immigrants in the state. It gave Romney a boost in the Republican primaries but also provides a hint as to why he is losing Hispanic voters to Obama by a 2-1 margin.

If that doesn’t amount to digging a hole, the selection of Ryan seems like excavating a slit-trench:

With confirmation that Romney has selected a conservative favourite, Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, to be his running mate the capturing of Romney by the far right is complete. While Ryan is popular on the right, he is the author of the so-called Ryan budget, a House of Representatives-passed bill that would eviscerate the social safety net and end the federal senior health programme, Medicare. His selection allows the Obama campaign to attack Romney even more directly over the most unpopular elements of the Ryan budget (which the candidate has already foolishly endorsed). It is a disastrous pick, but is emblematic of the extent to which Romney’s hands have been tied by the Tea Party. Pacifying them is as important as reaching out to less conservative voters. Rather than leading the GOP, Romney is simply following the herd.

Not just a conservative favourite, but — we now hear — the one anointed by Rupert Murdoch (and therefore, by osmosis, Fox news), no less:

Thank God! Now we might have a real election on the great issues of the day. Paul Ryan almost perfect choice.

God? almost perfect? This is getting a little too teleological for Malcolm.

Malcolm feels we should have sympathy for moderate Republicans — now an endangered species — in their hour of need. Steve Morris, one of the sacrificial victims in the hecatomb that was the Kansas primaries, was affronted:

Morris, the president of the National Conference of State Legislatures which is holding its annual summit meeting in Chicago this week, said conservative groups including Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Kansas Right to Life spent between $3 and 8 million.

Morris noted that the Koch brothers also helped fund the campaign, using Kansas as a testing ground for their ideas. “They said it will be an ultraconservative utopia,” Morris said of the Kochs. “It depends on your definition of a utopia.”

A new definition of “digging for victory”?

Between the present and when the reaction comes, as it surely will, there will be many more political graves. And decent men and women in them.

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Filed under Britain, broken society, Conservative family values, Daily Telegraph, democracy, George Osborne, Observer, Quotations, Republicanism, Sunday Times, Tories., US Elections, US politics

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