Category Archives: Financial Times

Lies, damn lies, and an extra layer

Mallett: extra layer

The University of York’s Department of Mathematics suggests the quotation wasn’t Disraeli, but may have been Sir Charles Dilke in 1891 — though they find analogues going further back.

Even so, there are things more deceitful, more lying than statistics: graphs. We had fine examples appended to Isabel Hardman’s piece, Jobs figures: good news on employment, bad news on wages. Significantly she saw the issue entirely in terms of  “the political debate”.  If there’s anything deliberately more misleading than a statistical graph, it is a political-statistical graph.

Speccy graphs

The upper one, allegedly on job creation, is as specious as it gets. As the next line down says, we are not talking of jobs being created, we are looking at “cumulative change in employment level”. When that is decoded, it’s not the same thing.

On Tuesday of this week, we had this:

Figures from the IPPR thinktank show that the growth in self-employment in the UK has been the fastest of all western European countries over the past year, a trend that is expected to continue when official labour market figures are published on Wednesday.

The number of self-employed has grown by more than 1.5 million in the past 13 years to 4.5 million and now accounts for more than 15% of the labour force.

 When Sarah O”Connor of the Financial Times got her sharp little teeth into that, she was less than impressed:

An average 7,700 people in the UK became self-employed each week over the past year. If these trends continue, the UK will soon look more like southern and eastern European countries, which tend to have much higher rates of self-employment, the think-tank said.

About 17 per cent of the Spanish and Portuguese workforces are self-employed, while the proportions in Italy and Greece are 23 and 32 per cent respectively.

… economists disagree about why this shift has happened and whether or not it will persist after the economy fully recovers.

Some argue that many of the newly self-employed are in fact barely working at all, which would suggest there is more slack, or untapped potential, in the economy than the 6.5 per cent unemployment rate would suggest.

Put that another way: for many, self-employment is just a waiting-room, either for a delayed retirement or for a properly-paid permanent job. It is certainly not a sign of a healthy, properly-functioning, industrially-based economy.

Elsewhere, courtesy of the Resolution Foundation, the FT blows the gaff:

Where the jobs aren't

That shows the further one travels from London, the less likely one finds a permanent job; and therefore one has to turn one’s hand to other ways of staying ahead of Iain Duncan Smith’s “reforms”.

Which brings me to my second observation.

sdMy first proper teaching job was in the North-East. I was told by a colleague that the book to read was Sid Chaplin’s The Day of the Sardine. My original copy has long gone AWOL, and a re-read is well overdue.

More to the point, Alan Plater took the outline from Chaplin, added songs by Alex Glasgow, and came up with the superb Close the Coalhouse Door. Productions still tour, and still pack ’em in. Several fine songs came out of that: the one making my current ear-worm is Ours! Ours! Ours! Ours! Ours!. And, yes, I have been here before. The point of the lyric (which recites the progress to the 1947 nationalisation of the pits) is that the miners, like the rest of us cogs in the machine, are doomed to perpetual disappointment:

— When its ours, Geordie lad, when its ours:
There’ll changes bonny lad, when its ours!”

— Are you sure we’ll be all right? Is the future really bright?”

— (Oh, for God’s sake, man) We’ve won this bloody fight!
An’ its ours, all ours!

By the time I was in the North-East all those nationalised pits were being closed. The Wilson government was thrashing round to provide alternative employments — the running jokes in the back end of Coalhouse involve the Great Teesside Conurbation and par-foom factories.

What goes around, comes around.

Where that second graph above is so corrupt, so weaselly, so misleading is the sure-fire assumption that we are now at the bottom of any wages cutting. From here on, it’s all onwards and upwards.

As if.

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Filed under Britain, economy, Financial Times, folk music, Guardian, History, Isabel Hardman, The Spectator, Tories.

That took time to sink in …

We now have the (quite exciting) Tory proposals for additional powers to a not-quite-independent Scottish parliament. As Benedict Brogan’s Morning Briefing recognises:

The implications of the Strathclyde recommendations for giving Scotland control of its income tax and reviewing the workings of the Union are only just beginning to be understood. Indeed, the coverage in the London editions, with the honourable exception of the FT, is fairly patchy. Yet the proposals published yesterday by Lord Strathclyde are revolutionary. They certainly are for the Tories. You don’t have to read Alan Cochrane’s “Doubting Thomas” analysis to see the dangers. Follow them through to their logical conclusion and it is hard not to conclude that this puts the Conservatives on the road to championing a new, federal model for the United Kingdom.

That’s perceptive; but the punch-line is a straight borrow from the Financial Times leader:

The Conservatives’ move has implications beyond Scotland. Ideally, it should point the way to a new constitutional settlement for the UK, shifting the country from an over-centralised state into a quasi-federal system. A new settlement would not only devolve fiscal power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It would also see a greater status for the city-regions of England and a more explicit role for English MPs at Westminster in approving legislation that only affects England.

The Conservatives’ offer of a new deal for Scotland deserves wide political support. Ideally, it should be the foundation of a broad constitutional settlement covering all the United Kingdom. That idea will be in tatters if Scottish separatism wins the day.

Déjà vu, all over again

If this all sounds a trifle familiar, so it should. It is a replay from the last Home Rule crisis of 1912-14. Consider the speech Winston Churchill made at Dundee on 12th September 1912:

I am not in the least disturbed by the prospect of seeing erected in this country 10 or 12 separate legislative bodies for discharging the functions entrusted to them by the Imperial Parliament. The United States conducts its business through a great number of Parliaments and Germany has not merely Parliaments and States gathered and grouped together within the German Empire but has separate kingdoms and principalities and armies woven together in a strong federation of the whole. In the colonies, Canada, South Africa and Australia have found this federal system the only way in which you can reconcile the general interest of an organized State with the special and particular development of each part and portion of it.

[I don’t have the “authorised” text of that speech. That quotation is from The Times report, published 13 September 1912. In those days The Times was still a “paper of record”, not the Murdoch scandal sheet it has become.]

On the other hand …

I can already hear the snorts and harrumphs of those who will be repeating what A.V.Dicey wrote for the Contemporary Review, July 1882 (pages 66-86):

Federalism revolutionises the whole constitution of the United Kingdom; by undermining the parliamentary sovereignty, it deprives English institutions of their elasticity, their strength, and their life; it weakens the Executive at home, and lessens the power of the country to resist foreign attack. The revolution which works these changes holds out no hope for conciliation with Ireland. An attempt, in short, to impose on England and Scotland a constitution which they do not want, and which is quite unsuited to historical traditions and to the genius of Great Britain, offers to Ireland a constitution which Ireland is certain to dislike, which has none of the real or imaginary charms of independence, and ensures none of the solid benefits to be hoped for from a genuine union with England.

More to the point, without Churchill’s federalised England, the imbalance of the four Home Nations makes any settlement unequal. That was the case made by the Kilbrandon Commission (paragraph 531) back in 1973:

A federation consisting of four units – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – would be so unbalanced as to be unworkable. It would be dominated by the overwhelming political importance and wealth of England. The English Parliament would rival the United Kingdom federal Parliament; and in the federal Parliament itself the representation of England could hardly be scaled down in such a way as to enable it to be outvoted by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, together representing less than one-fifth of the population. A United Kingdom federation of four countries, with a federal Parliament and provincial Parliaments in the four national capitals, is therefore not a realistic proposition.

A new beginning, not an end

I’m assuming that the #indyref will result in a “No” vote. That, though, will not be any kind of satisfactory conclusion. The Scottish Nationalists will be able to bank their (say) 35-40% “Yes” vote; and — after a period of reflection and consolidation — come back for more.

The likelihood is that, after the next cycle of elections in 2016, the Scottish Parliament will return to the state it was designed to have — an absolute majority for any single party. The present majority is based upon a 45% popular vote, and the collapse of the Tory and LibDem vote across the country. Ironically, in losing seven seats and finishing a full 17.7% behind the SNP, Labour mislaid just half of one percent of its vote, and this in the aftermath of the 2010 UK parliamentary debacle, and the odium of the economic crisis. For all the froth, in the recent EU parliamentary elections, the SNP lead over Labour was sliced down to just 3%.

So, go to the FT again, for the conclusion to Kiran Stacey’s commentary:

Even if the nationalists lose the referendum, they will have changed Scotland’s place in the union for good. And, if they want to return to the question of independence in 10 or 20 years, opponents of devolution believe they will have the perfect starting point.

They will also have affected the way Aberystwyth, Derry, Newcastle, Falmouth and Lowestoft view their relations with the Great Wen. Which is more telling than any notion of a functioning “United Kingdom” (for many of its alienated citizens, it isn’t united, and it doesn’t function). And which might, just might also instruct us on the phenomenon that has been UKIP out in the sticks.

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Sing when you’re winning …

… spin like hell when you’re not.

cities_in_flightThe Dillon-Wagoner Graviton Polarity Generator under Downing Street must be at full stretch:

The spindizzy field was up. It was invisible in itself, but it was no longer admitting the air of the Earth.

The myth…

Everything in the Tory garden is lovely. And is under strict instruction to remain so for the next fourteen months.

Anticipating All Fools’ Day, yesterday we had Gids Osborne anticipating “full employment”. We can expect to hear more, much more of such twaddle over the next year.

Dress it up and it looks like this:

Budget-employment

Note the little ConHome symbol in the bottom left corner. Consider what that graph would look like were it framed less narrowly.

However even ConHome are not wholly convinced:

it’s worth noting that “full employment” doesn’t actually mean having everyone who can work in work. In truth, it kinda means whatever you want it to mean. Some take “full employment” to mean an unemployment rate of around 5 per cent. Some prefer to see it as an employment rate of 80 per cent. Some think it’s got something to do with phases of the moon and ley lines.

51pnFR8xNcL._SY300_Should anyone think “full employment” means what it used to mean — the Beveridge’s 1944 notion of 3% natural churn — forget it. Even Osborne (and we’re still with ConHome here) doesn’t quite mean “full employment” when that is what he says :

So what is Osborne’s definition? He spelt it out pretty plainly in his speech. “To have more people working than any of the other countries in the G7 group,” he said, “That’s my ambition.” Which means, in effect, overtaking the employment rates of Germany (73.5 per cent), Canada (72.4 per cent), Japan (72.2 per cent). We’re currently languishing in fourth place, on 71 per cent.

The zero sum game

What we don’t know is more telling that what we are told in the hum of the Spindizzies: how many of these jobs are full-time? How many are zero-hours contracts?

Well, perhaps we have some sort of idea for that:

Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, attacked the government after the figures released by the Office for National Statistics found that 582,935 workers were on the contracts in 2013.

The big increase in the figures, which is three times higher than the number given for the year the coalition was formed in 2010, follows a change in the way that the ONS assesses zero-hours contracts last summer. This meant that it increased its estimate for the number of workers on the contracts in 2012 from 200,000 to 250,000. The new methodology helped to produce the high figure for 2013.

Even that may not be the full accounting:

There is suggestion that the ONS might still be underestimating the figure. Britain’s largest trade union, Unite, has cited research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) which has said that 1 million workers are on the contracts. Dilnot instructed the ONS to examine the CIPD work in its new assessment. The union said: “Unite believes that, in general, zero-hours contracts are unfair, creating insecurity and exploitation for many ordinary people struggling to get by.”

If getting real numbers for zero-hours is difficult, having the ConDem government to recognise realities is far more so. Yesterday’s Hansard:

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Esther McVey): Thanks to the Government’s long-term economic plan, youth unemployment is falling. I am particularly pleased that long-term youth unemployment has fallen by 38,000 over the last year…
Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Of the young people the Minister just mentioned who have a job, how many have gone on to work on zero-hours contracts?
Esther McVey: As the hon. Lady will know, the number of zero-hours contracts has remained fairly stable since 2000. They are called zero hours or casual hours, and they are used by Liverpool city council and Wirral council, which are Labour run. The worst council for using them is Doncaster.
We are having a full review of zero-hours contracts, and if they are exploitative we will bring about changes. Our report is due in July—something that Labour did not do for 13 years.

Pants on fire

article-2455471-18ACD5CC00000578-288_634x672-1On the contrary, Miss McVey (as left), the number of zero-hours contracts has increased disproportionately.

A report by Matthew Pennycook and others, for the Resolution Foundation, argued:

Establishing a precise estimate of the scale of zero-hours contract use is extremely difficult. Statistics relating to zero-hours contracts are not only likely to suffer from a significant degree of reporting error (many of those working under such contracts fail to accurately self-identify themselves as such) but there is also widespread ignorance among those on such contracts about their precise contractual situation.

There are two main sources of statistics on zero-hours contracts: the Office of National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS). According to LFS estimates from the three-month period October to December 2012, 208,000 people reported that they were on a zero-hours contract (0.7 per cent of the workforce). This was up from just over 134,000 (0.5 per cent of the workforce) in 2006. Given the data limitations detailed above and strong evidence to suggest extensive use of zero-hours contracts in particular occupations and sectors (the National Minimum Dataset for Social Care, for example, estimates that 150,000 domiciliary care-workers alone are employed on zero-hours contracts7) it is clear that these headline figures are likely to be an extremely conservative estimate. Yet even on the basis of conservative estimates a clear upward trend, as shown in Figure 1 below, is apparent. 

So let’s have Figure 1:

Zero-hours growth

The Pennycook Report erred by deriving the available “official” statistics. As we saw above, the latest ONS figure is 2¾ times that again: 582,935.

Truth or Consequences

 Once known as Hot Springs, Truth or Consequences New Mexico is a small resort town with a year-round population of slightly more than 6,000.

Nearer home, the consequences of the banking Crash and the subsequent Slump it induced is:

Nearly half the jobs in parts of Britain pay less than the living wage, theTUC has said, as it steps up its campaign on Tuesday for workers to earn enough to cover the basic costs of living.

The TUC said a breakdown of official figures showed that on average around 20% of workers are earning less than the living wage – an informal and unenforceable benchmark – but that this rose to almost 50% in some parliamentary constituencies.

Designed to top up the legally-binding national minimum wage, the living wage is set at £8.80 an hour in London and £7.65 for the rest of the country. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, says he wants to include the idea as part of Labour’s 2015 manifesto, while David Cameron says he supports a living wage in principle.

The TUC said that in total around 5 million people were being paid less than the living wage, with some of the areas with the greatest concentration of the low paid seen in parts of outer London.

What Osborne doesn’t say

There may have been good reasons, back in 2008-9, to spread the jobs around. Half-a-decade on, what we have is a low-wage, low-productivity economy.

The Financial Times‘s post-budget analysis was scathing:

… by far the biggest cloud hanging over the UK economy remains the productivity crisis.

While output per hour worked used to grow annually by about 2 per cent, it has not expanded at all since 2007. Without this productivity growth, there is no means of raising living standards except in the short term if people spend more than they earn.

The puzzle of why productivity appears to have stopped growing is no closer to being solved and it casts a shadow over Mr Osborne’s Budget. Even in the Autumn Statement last December, which included the economic revival in its forecasts, the picture of the longer-term outlook for the public finances was worse than last March. The deficit would certainly be lower with faster growth, but without productivity improvements, the OBR could not honestly predict the economy would keep expanding at its current pace for the next five years.

So, what exactly does Osborne’s “full employment” amount to?

If it is more of the same — low-paid, low-quality, labour-intensive, poor-productivity jobs — that is promised continued misery for millions. There will also be a short-fall in tax take, which means a squeeze on welfare and services.

It means, too, a weaker Britain, because Britain is no longer making it any more. Our marker of failure is that a quarter of all the containers going out of British ports came in full of goods, and are going out full of air.

Take a bit of historical perspective, from Larry Elliott in The Observer:

Forget Harold Wilson and the jumbo jets that allegedly cost Labour the 1970 election. Forget Nigel Lawson and the import binge of the 1980s. Britain has never seen bigger current account deficits than those it is notching up right now.

Back in the 1960s, a deficit of 1% of national output would have been seen as dangerously high. A 3% deficit would have had investors heading for the exits, prompting a run on sterlingThe shortfalls in the third and fourth quarters of 2013 averaged 5.5% of GDP, we learned last week, and yet the pound is seen as a safe-haven currency.

Which all might explain why I’m looking for hidden meanings in Blish’s Cities in Flight:

There was money aboard the city, but no ordinary citizen ever saw it … It was there to be used exclusively for foreign trade — that is, to bargain for grazing rights, or other privileges and, supplies which the city did not and could not carry within the little universe bounded by its spindizzy field.

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Dodgy numbers, revisited

We just heard David Cameron get away, yet again, with the usual financial film-flam.

As I noticed previously, the claims of extra ConDem spending on flood defences were exploded by John McDermott’s Off Message blog for the FT. That is based on counting in the expenditure provided in the last year of the previous Labour administration.

 

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Five feet high, revisited.

It looks as if that previous post was bang on the button: the Flood Defence Grant in Aid has been cut progressively and in successive years by the ConDem government.

John McDermott, doing the Off Message blog for the FT, has analysed the same figures, and gone further.

He starts from the ConDem claim that it is spending £3.1 billion on flood defences over the period of the Comprehensive Spending Review, thus significantly more than the £2.37 billion under the previous review period, 2007/8 to 2010-11.

McDermott’s opening shot is simple:

It takes a heroic act of number crunching to make the coalition’s case.

He then goes back to the actual numbers in Annex A of the Committee on Climate Change for “a more detailed breakdown of flood defence spending”. “Breakdown” seems a particularly ambiguous usage at this moment.

He then proceeds to showing [i]t Takes five steps to make the government’s spending argument. They involve:

  • quoting cash rather than (revalued) real terms numbers;
  • double counting money spent in the year 2010/11 before the spending review;
  • adding in £129 million of DEFRA grants to local flood authorities, more than half of which is not being spent on local flood risk management;
  • bringing forward money from 2014/15 which is still, effectively, notional;
  • including “external contributions” (which I assume to be, in the main, those monies extracted from developers to persuade local authorities to grant planning permission for marginal sites, particularly those on vulnerable flood plains).

McDermott wraps it all up by including the Environment Agency’s estimates of what needs to be spent, compared with current forecasts. The difference is around double.

Good news!

Speaking on LBC 97.3 radio, Cameron firmly rejected that suggestion as the government will “make available the money that’s needed here in Britain”.

“Whatever it takes, money will not be the object,” he said. “We are a wealthy country, we have a growing economy. If money is needed for clean-up, money will be made available. If money is needed to help households get back on their feet, that money will be made available.

“Money is not an object. There’s no ‘either/or’ here. It’s not either protecting our overseas aid budget or spending the money here at home. What we need at home will be spent here at home.

“As prime minister, I will absolutely guarantee that that will be done. I’ve spoken to the chancellor about this.

“Yes of course there are financial constraints, yes of course we still have a big budget deficit but we are a wealthy country, we have a growing economy, we’ve looked after our nation’s finances carefully. This is an emergency for our country and we will spend the money where the money is needed.”

Obviously, another Cameron “cast-iron guarantee

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Distraction therapy

General opinion has it that British utilities are a conspiracy against the public. Across all the monopolies, the market — how we pay for our essentials — is broken. With each revelation, we appreciate there is a whole slew of exploitation, tax-evasion, price-fixing, ramping of prices, exporting profits and fiddling costings and — yes — plain old-fashioned corruption.

Ed Miliband came, late, to the party but his simplistic price-freeze has set the political agenda for over a month: four successive weekly sessions of PMQs have shown David Cameron struggling, losing his rag, thrashing around for a half-adequate response. And, even with a kludge, Cameron hasn’t addressed the other, more serious, half of the Miliband ploy

“That’s why it’s so important that we implement Labour’s price freeze, which is what we’ll do, and reform a broken market so there’s proper competition, proper transparency and a regulator who can cut prices for consumers.”

And now we read:

Plans to curb hikes in water bills are being drawn up by the Government in a bid to halt above-inflation rises.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said “action on water bills” will be announced next week and said the Government wants regulators to assess whether the market was “delivering for consumers”.

It is the latest industry to be targeted as part of David Cameron’s efforts to see “household bills coming down” and follows comments by Ed Miliband that water companies needed to be properly “scrutinised”.

A Malcolmian metaphorical aside

It’s a well-known factoid that success and victory have many fathers, while failure and defeat remain a bereft orphan. John Kennedy said so, of the Bay of Pigs episode. Admittedly, Mussolini’s son-in-law, Count Ciano got there in his diary, 9th September 1942:

La victoria trova cento padri, a nessuno vuole riconoscere l’insuccesso.

He was, in turn, glozing Tacitus from around AD98:

Inquissima haec bellorum condicio est: prospera omnes sibi indicant, aduersa uni imputantur.

Sure enough, among the political ever-open-mouths, there will be a whole cohort of wise-acres who saw this one coming, and claim ownership of the magic bullet.

The Fulham foghorn

Why, then, should one be surprised to spot eponymous Hands put to the pumps:

Hands

 

Disclosure of previous convictions

What is remarkable here is that Ofwat splashed in three weeks back:

Industry regulator Ofwat has rejected proposals from Thames Water to impose an 8 per cent rise on customer bills, saying the utility was not doing enough to control costs and pursue delinquent customers.

The UK’s biggest supplier of water and sewerage services by customer numbers put itself on a collision course with the watchdog in August, when it asked permission to add a further £29 to an average household bill that now stands at £354. Those bills are already planned to rise 1.4 per cent above inflation next April as part of the existing five-year pricing settlement.

 gaugeThere is a bottom line here.

This gives us a gauge of how successful Cameron’s intervention might be. If it’s an average of just £29, then he has gained nothing beyond what Ofwat has already committed.

Anyone reading the Financial Times earlier this week will know where this is going. There would seem to be two main approaches:

First, the Treasury has finally woken up to the water companies’ evasion of corporation tax. Thames Water (as the largest, plumpest and most egregious of the exploiters) paid no corporation tax on half-a-billion quids worth of operating profits. Moreover, those profits are based on a stupendous inflating and shuffling of debt:

Thames Water, which primarily raises its debt through a company based in the Cayman Islands, said it did not engage in any tax planning activities “that would be considered as artificial or aggressive tax avoidance”. The company is owned by Kemble Water Holdings, which is ultimately controlled by the Australia-basedMacquarie Group.

Net debt rose from £7.8bn to £8.4bn over the year. The cost of financing the debt weighed on pre-tax profits, which fell from £222m to £145m. However, a fall in the rate of corporation tax from 24 to 23 per cent from April allowed Thames Water to book a £5m tax credit towards post-tax profits. Revenues rose from £1.7bn to £1.8bn.

 Even case-hardened Tories are taken aback by such depredations of private and public purses. Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow (majority 4,925, Con gain in 2010) was calling for a windfall tax back in July:

“When I started looking into the sector I was genuinely shocked by what I discovered. We need tougher penalties on leakage, an immediate inquiry and we need to consider a water windfall tax, with the money handed back to consumers.”

Mr Halfon, of course, is quite flexible in his views. While he regards his own interventions on water as positive, he is more negative when similar proposals apply to energy:

Ed Miliband’s proposed energy price freeze is seductive for two reasons. First, it shows a real attempt to alleviate financial pain because of high utility bills, and second, it taps into a deep unease about the actions of big corporations. The public instinctively know that many large multinationals are behaving unfairly, charging more than they need for essential services, while their directors give themselves huge pay rises or bonuses.

However, seduction is not the same as a long­-term solution. The price freeze is flawed because it will push up prices in the short-­term and long-­term. It is not clear how the freeze would work in the event of large increases in the world­wide energy markets. It could also put badly-needed investment in infrastructure at risk, threatening our long-term energy security.

Odd, that.

Second, the government still has it in for the lower orders. Iain Duncan Smith’s assault on the undeserving poor can now be extended to their water supplies, to the greater public benefit:

Ministers will use the water legislation to allow companies to take more aggressive action against customers who fall behind on their bills. The government wants to force landlords to give companies access to details of their tenants so they can be taken to court if necessary. Ministers estimate that this could shave £15 from other customers’ bills.

So, we can expect Cameron sporting the breastplate of righteousness at next week’s PMQs. For, by no coincidence, Owen Patterson, the Environment secretary, will be making a statement immediately thereafter. If Patterson cannot go beyond a pledge of fifty quid off (based on Ofwat’s £29 and this £15), it’s all a paint job.  Be assured, too, the popular press will be counting the money, rather than any airy pies-in-skies.

Whether it distracts the nation’s attention from Miliband’s more valuable offer is another matter.

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Filed under broken society, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Financial Times, Greg Hands, politics, Tories., utilities

Historical and other parallels

History repeats itself, said Marx (approximately) paraphrasing Hegel, first as tragedy then as farce.

So let Malcolm repeat himself:

  • Prime Minister David Cameron is the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of King William IV.
  • William IV was third son of George III, whose elder brothers were the future George IV and … Frederick, Duke of York and Albany.

Taraaah!

Said Prince Fred is generally accounted to have been the Grand Old Duke of York, who:

… had ten thousand men.
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up.
And when they were down, they were down.
And when they were only halfway up,
They were neither up nor down.

Fred, who now is dead, earned that reputation because of the futile Flanders campaign of 1799.

Cameron’s  hill-climbing and descents are as well-established as Fred’s; but he doesn’t have ten thousand men. He has just 304 MPs, and 48 of them are definitely not men. Though many of those women have more balls than their male colleagues.

Further back

Malcolm can’t be bothered to work out what the precise relationship is; but Cameron must be related somehow to the Stuarts. Which brings us to James II and VII.

After the near-rout at the Boyne, James sweatily arrived back in Dublin where Lady Tyrconnell enquired how the battle had gone. He replied, “My cowardly Irish have run away.”

She responded with a hint of acid: “Then I see your majesty has won the race.” Again, a speedy characteristic to be observed in Cameron’s hereditary nature.

The gift of leadership

This is an art or a talent in which Cameron has rarely excelled. Particularly so on matters European.

Which is why he is in his present predicament.

And which brings us to the ridiculous “Referendum Bill”; and Isabel Hardman in the Spectator channeling Lady Tyrconnell:

David Cameron was trying to work out how on earth to deal with the latest Europe row in his party. He heard them demanding legislation in this parliament for a referendum in the next, and this evening, after nearly a year of letter-writing and speeches, he announced that the Tory party will publish a draft bill doing just that. They still can’t get it through Parliament through the government channels, so they’ll be putting it up for any willing backbencher (of which there are many) to adopt in the Private Member’s Bill ballot.

Figures close to the Prime Minister were hinting to Tory MPs this evening there would be a move for legislation, but they were taken by surprise when, just a few hours later, the announcement was made that the draft bill will be published tomorrow.

So is this it? Is the Conservative party falling on its knees with gratitude? Unsurprisingly, MPs are not doing anything of the sort.

Wherein Malcolm found an echo from Li’l Abner, Al Capp, Johnny Mercer and Stubby Kaye:

Stonewall Jackson got his name by standing firm in the fray.
Who was known to all his men as good ol’ “Paper Maché?”
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone; 
Jubilation T. Cornpone, he really saved the day!

Isabel was being as polite as the circumstances permit. For sheer vitriol — and a longer view — there’s  Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times, subtitled in near Marxist terms — and with a flourish from Mao for added relish:

Drama is giving way to farce. The eurosceptic demands are now plain odd

Touchingly, they really believed it would work. When David Cameron pledged a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU four months ago, his team were certain it would pacify eurosceptic Conservatives, disarm the UK Independence party and ensure he would not need to talk again about this electorally esoteric issue for the rest of this parliament.

That speech, his most important deed as UK prime minister after his austere fiscal policy, has failed on all counts. Tories now hound him to go further, Ukip romp on, and he is condemned to revisit the subject periodically on behalf of his party.

Downing Street is mystified by the collapse of the January truce, and commentators also scribble their surprise. But it is not surprising at all. It was predictable, and predicted. We are now a quarter of a century into the Tories’ rancorous fixation with Europe, a single-issue neuralgia that knows no equivalent in any major party in the west, and the pattern is familiar: no concession satisfies those who ultimately want to leave the EU, even if they say it will before receiving it. Mr Cameron, remember, has withdrawn his party from the centre-right caucus in the European Parliament, vetoed a fiscal treaty and cleared a path to exit. On each occasion, Tories have summoned a practised glee before returning to their core view of him as the craven running dog of a europhile establishment.

Even that lacks the sheer horror that Ben Brogan, for the Torygraph, evinces:

It may be, as some Tories tried to explain yesterday, that a cunning new strategy is evolving before our eyes, one that Mr Gove and his friend Mr Cameron are developing as part of their wider campaign to shove Labour – and the Lib Dems – on to the wrong side of popular causes. By this theory, Europe is no longer a divisive, dangerous issue for the Tories to be caught arguing about, but is in fact a vote-winner. Look at us, the Conservatives are now shouting, we are so crazy about Europe that we are desperate to give you a vote on it and – nudge nudge, wink wink – we might just join you in voting to get out. By allowing his colleagues to say it all in public, and say it loudly, Mr Cameron is giving himself free advertising for his Euro-robustness two years early. The tease of a referendum, the catwalk of Tory beauties sashaying in their see-through ideological out-fits, the Cabinet loyalists talking naughty – it’s all part of a great plan. By allowing his colleagues to talk up the possibility of a British exit, the Prime Minister’s hand is strengthened in the EU negotiations to come. First welfare, then immigration, now Europe: everything is lining up in Mr Cameron’s favour.

Except it isn’t, of course. No 10 has lost control of this one. Even those involved admit it’s a Euroshambles. After all, can any of this truly be said to advance the cause of a Conservative victory in 2015? Surely the first part of Mr Cameron’s negotiating strategy requires winning the general election? Does an inward-looking spat about Europe really fit alongside the message about a global economic race and the importance of the EU/US trade deal that Mr Cameron found himself promoting in Washington yesterday?

Surely soon we must be reaching the end-game? That can involve just one (or both) of two possibilities: the defenestration of Cameron, and/or the collapse of the ConDem coalition. Either way the lunatics have taken over the Tory asylum.

Which brings Malcolm back to:

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