Category Archives: poverty

Another place with “too much history”

Yesterday to Durham and The Big Meeting (133rd iteration).

The Lady in my Life and myself are there, dead in front of the microphones, and about four rows back. The last time I went was mid-1960s, and the main speaker was Harold Wilson. There were still coal-mines working then. Durham’s very last was Monkwearmouth, where the last shift was worked on 10th December 1993. The site, today, is the Stadium of Light, Sunderland’s home ground.

In 1937 George Orwell was factually stating the importance of coal:

Practically everything we do, from eating an ice to crossing the Atlantic, and from baking a loaf to writing a novel, involves the use of coal, directly or indirectly. For all the arts of peace coal is needed; if war breaks out it is needed all the more. In time of revolution the miner must go on working or the revolution must stop, for revolution as much as reaction needs coal. Whatever may be happening on the surface, the hacking and shovelling have got to continue without a pause, or at any rate without pausing for more than a few weeks at the most. In order that Hitler may march the goose-step, that the Pope may denounce Bolshevism, that the cricket crowds may assemble at Lords, that the poets may scratch one another’s backs, coal has got to be forthcoming. But on the whole we are not aware of it; we all know that we ‘must have coal’, but we seldom or never remember what coal-getting involves. Here am I sitting writing in front of my comfortable coal fire. It is April but I still need a fire. Once a fortnight the coal cart drives up to the door and men in leather jerkins carry the coal indoors in stout sacks smelling of tar and shoot it clanking into the coal-hole under the stairs. It is only very rarely, when I make a definite mental-effort, that I connect this coal with that far-off labour in the mines. It is just ‘coal’ — something that I have got to have; black stuff that arrives mysteriously from nowhere in particular, like manna except that you have to pay for it. You could quite easily drive a car right across the north of England and never once remember that hundreds of feet below the road you are on the miners are hacking at the coal. Yet in a sense it is the miners who are driving your car forward. Their lamp-lit world down there is as necessary to the daylight world above as the root is to the flower.

It is not long since conditions in the mines were worse than they are now. There are still living a few very old women who in their youth have worked underground, with the harness round their waists, and a chain that passed between their legs, crawling on all fours and dragging tubs of coal. They used to go on doing this even when they were pregnant. And even now, if coal could not be produced without pregnant women dragging it to and fro, I fancy we should let them do it rather than deprive ourselves of coal.

Eighty years on, 21st April 2017, Britain went a day without coal, while the lights stayed on.

There have been no active coal-mines, and no coal-miners in the County Palatine this quarter-century. But the Durham Miners’ Gala, the Big Meetin’, goes on, and this year was bigger and brassier than ever.

Durham has too much history for its own good. That’s an expression I have seen applied to Ireland, to the island of Cyprus and to Naples in recent times. It has degrees of truth in every case. In Durham, though, the history is close enough to touch:

… the miners who died in the many pit disasters of the Durham coalfields.

They number thousands, including 164 at Seaham in 1880 and 168 at Stanley in 1909, and are commemorated by a memorial in Durham Cathedral, a spectacular Romanesque landmark that this autumn celebrates the 25th anniversary of its designation as a Unesco World Heritage Site, along with the rest of the historic city. Next to the memorial to the victims of pit disasters is a book of remembrance that the Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, was at pains to point out to me. “Here’s one 15 years of age,” he said. “J E Scott. Died at Shotton [in 1953]. This is a really poignant place.”

The Dean talked of “the big meeting”, the annual miners’ gala in July when the former mining communities pour through the city behind their colliery banners and wind their way up to the cathedral for the miners’ service. “It’s a kind of echo of the Middle Ages when people would flock into this place and believe they were part of something bigger than they were,” said the Dean.

Any rail journey takes one past acres of rough scrub that not too long ago were coal-tips. Railway yards and sidings stretch far, far further than any conceivable modern need. Few villages lack what once was (and may still be marked as) the Miners’ Welfare hall. In the streets and pubs one brushes past ageing faces and limbs, marked with the blue of coal-dust tattooed under the skin.

Scott and Scot

Yesterday, then, to Durham’s Racecourse. The site stretches past the Wear river-bank, and to its other side the massive ridge (as above):

Well yet I love thy mix’d and massive piles,
Half church of God, half castle ’gainst the Scot …

For sixty-odd years that tag has come to my mind, and mouth, every time I have seen an image or the reality of Durham’s great, looming cathedral. I somehow knew it was Walter Scott. That may be because anything so romantic had to derive from the same source that gave us swash-and-buckle, the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood and even Tony Curtis’s fictional “Yonda lies the castle of my fodder“. Precisely locating the reference isn’t quite that easy. To save others the sweat, it is found in Canto Third of Harold the Dauntless of 1817.

For contemporary tastes, Scott’s romantic world contains too much “hied me home” or

Wrinkled his brows grew, and hoary his hair

That’s unfair in this case, because the 1817 poem is prefaced by a more-cynical Scott. He deplores O tempora! O mores, as Cicero did Against Catiline: —

Ennui! — or, as our mothers call’d thee, Spleen!
To thee we owe full many a rare device;
Thine is the sheaf of painted cards, I ween,
The rolling billiard-ball, the rattling dice,
The turning-lathe for framing gimcrack nice;
The amateur’s blotch’d pallet thou mayst claim,
Retort, and air-pump, threatening frogs and mice,
(Murders disguised by philosophic name,)
And much of trifling grave, and much of buxom game.

At the moment, the imposing central tower of the Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham has scaffolding all round, and wears a square white cook’s bonnet.

The proceedings

When we finally came to the speechifying, even that have to be after a brass-band rendering of “The Miner’s Hymn”, Gresford:

The story behind that is told here:

Written by a former miner, Robert Saint, to commemorate the Gresford pit disaster in 1934 it has been played at mining events ever since; most notably at the famous Durham Miners’ Gala.

What is too easily forgotten is that, in the days of working pits, the attendees at the Gala would have held silence to that every year and recalled the death-toll.

My first teaching job was in a boys’ grammar school in the County Durham. Male teachers in an all-male (with one brave exception) staff-room constitute a cynical lot. So, morning break, 21st October 1966, was eerily quiet. The news was coming through of the Aberfan disaster and the immolation of Pantglas Primary school. By no coincidence, Alan Plater’s Close the Coalhouse Door (originally intended as a BBC radio play) went on stage in April 1968:

A few years back I was at the packed Richmond Theatre for Sam West’s revival (lightly trimmed by Lee Hall). The same evocative, eye-pricking power was there. All the way from Thomas Hepburn and Peter Lee.

It’s the same tradition as Abide With Me before the Cup Final. It’s very much the mood of “those no longer with us”. But for industrial workers, especially in the heaviest industries, it’s also “those taken from us because of managerial mistakes and incompetence”.

This year the Miner’s Hymn had added plangency:

Not just an Elf

There is a message here; and it’s the box that most of the speakers at the Big Meeting ticked.

Disasters like Gresford in 1934, Aberfan in 1966 and the Grenfell Tower this year are “accidents-waiting-to-happen”. They derive from decisions taken, or studiously ignored, by bureaucratic processes beyond the control of us ordinary folk. What we have to protect us, to some extent, are Health and Safety Regulations. That is, of course, if they are policed and enforced.

Even then there are arrogant twazzles who mock them:

“We could, if we wanted, accept emissions standards from India, America, and Europe. There’d be no contradiction with that,” Mr Rees-Mogg said.

“We could say, if it’s good enough in India, it’s good enough for here. There’s nothing to stop that.

“We could take it a very long way. American emission standards are fine – probably in some cases higher. 

“I accept that we’re not going to allow dangerous toys to come in from China, we don’t want to see those kind of risks. But there’s a very long way you can go.”

The MP’s comments came in the context of a discussion about trade deals with other countries following Brexit.

Said twazzle now fancies himself to chair the highly-important Treasury select committee, and stamp Asian labour practices, and US water standards on post-Brexit Britain.

Too much history? Or not enough yet?

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Give a shit

This one deserves to be hung in the smallest room. [Any ambiguities intended.]

From Andy McSmith’s Diary in the Independent:

“Torridge and West Devon are two of the lowest wage areas in the country,” the local Tory MP Geoffrey Cox told the North Devon Journal last week. His resolution for 2014 was to make sure that those on low wages “are not left behind”…

Over the Christmas break, he updated his entry in Parliament’s Register of Members’ Interests, in which he declared a princely £368,322 worth of payments he had received for legal work between June 2012 and August 2013.

That is on top of £313,543 he had already declared for work done over a slightly longer period. In all, that is more than £680,000 he has earned as a lawyer in less than two years. In between all this legal work, he found time to speak in five debates in the House of Commons during 2013, almost one every 10 weeks. Recently, Mr Cox claimed £3 on MP’s expenses for keeping his constituency office supplied with toilet tissue.

Here’s a helpful hint:

Bog-roll

 

And here’s another:

Geoffrey Cox has a majority of fewer than 3,000.

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Maledicat Etona!

Let’s see: dicere, subjunctive, third person singular. Hmmm … seems right. Maledicere: “to speak ill of”, “to curse”, “to rail against”. OK: let’s go with it.

At its best, Latin has some fine curse words: futete! (yes, you got that one, no problem.). Irrumator! (look it up!). Sterculus! (what comes out of cows backwards is not the Isle of Wight ferry: it is stercus. We made it a diminutive — so, “you little ….”).

Such is the dubious benefit of what remains from an expensive classical education.

Which brings us to the Mayor of London’s question time, and an exchange with Andrew Dinsmore. Sadly we do not have the verbatim transcript, so we have to rely on third-party accounts:

Boris Johnson today told an Assembly Member to “get stuffed” after he accused the mayor of lying about the impact of cuts to the fire service.

In an increasingly bitter exchange during Mayor’s Question Time, Boris lost his temper in a bitter debate with Andrew Dismore.

The mayor of London is pushing ahead with plans to close 10 fire stations and axe over 500 jobs in London’s fire service.

“How can cutting fire stations, cutting fire engines, cutting fire fighters posts not be a reduction in fire cover?” Dismore angrily demanded.

A visibly annoyed Boris glowered over the table and insisted he was in fact improving services.

“Because we’re improving cover – As I’ve said several times,” he retorted, as members of the crowd groaned and called out “how?”

Interrupting the mayor, Dismore said he had “lied to the people of London.”

“Oh get stuffed,” the Mayor grumpily muttered …

BBC News, Sky, and many other less reputable sources have similar renderings.

Is this much different to the contempt that David Cameron shows to the House of Commons, whenever he deigns to turn up for PMQs?

This from yesterday:

Edward Miliband: Once again we see from the Prime Minister, as we did from the Chancellor, total complacency. We are in the midst of the slowest recovery in 100 years. Let us talk about the Prime Minister’s record. Can he tell us in how many of the 39 months that he has been Prime Minister have prices been rising faster than wages and living standards falling?

The Prime Minister: I said we face a challenge to help people with living standards, but because this Government have taken 2 million people out of tax and have cut income tax for 25 million working people, household disposable income went up last year—that is what is happening. As I said right at the beginning, we have to build on this; we have got to keep going with dealing with the deficit and helping business to employ people.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about policy. Let me just remind him what the former Chancellor said:
“I’m waiting to hear what we’ve got to say on the economy”.

That is the verdict of the former Chancellor. I have to say that we are all waiting to hear a single, constructive suggestion from the Labour party.

Edward Miliband: The whole House and the country will have heard the Prime Minister unable to answer the question about what is happening to living standards. Let me give him the answer: for 38 out of the 39 months he has been Prime Minister, living standards for working people have gone down, not up. Will he confirm that the only month when wages rose faster than prices was when he handed out the millionaires’ tax cut and City bonuses went up—

The Prime Minister rose

Edward Miliband: Calm down; hang on a second. And when City bonuses went up 82%?

The Prime Minister: His speeches are so poor, as we saw yesterday, that it is difficult to know when he is finished .[Interruption.]

There was a valid question in there, perhaps even two:

  1. What is this government doing about ever-declining living standards? The UK is the fourth-worst among the EU nations. Greece (Greece!) is naturally the worst.
  2. Why does a small group of privileged city slickers — just the types who funded Cameron in his leadership campaign, and then again flooded cash into the Tory General Election coffers — prosper, while the rest of us grind along?

Cameron, of course, reached for the personal insult as an alternative to addressing a serious issue. Serious, that is, for the 99.99% of the [population who did not have Cameron’s and Johnson’s Etonian education.

Both got away with contempt for their questioner, and therefore contempt for the general underprivileged public.

It didn’t receive the publicity it deserved, but the best question at PMQs came here, leaving the PM thoroughly irrumated and stuffed:

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): The parents of the 1 million young unemployed people will think the Prime Minister is totally out of touch. This year, the number of young people with jobs has dropped by 77,000, and the Government’s Youth Contract has reached fewer than one tenth of the young people it was supposed to help. Does the Prime Minister not understand that not everybody lands their first job with help from a royal equerry?

Of course, in that wonderful Old Etonian parallel world, everything is going swimmingly. All criticism is mere carping.

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Trusted truths

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.

Psalm 146, a chorister’s favourite (it has just ten verses — and that could be one of few verifiable truths in this post).

And so, by a natural progression, to Anthony Wells at ukpollingreport.co.uk.

Wells had spotted an oddity in the ICM/Guardian poll:

More unexpectedly the ICM poll also found a jump in support for the BNP, up to 4%, the highest any poll has had then at for years. This is strange. The BNP have certainly not had any great publicity boost, at the local elections they seemed essentially moribund. It may just be an odd sample, or perhaps as Tom Clark suggests it is just a case of confusion amongst respondents, with some people getting the names of the BNP and UKIP mixed up.

ICM also asked about voting intention in an EU referendum, finding voting intention fairly evenly balanced – 40% would vote to stay in (22% definitely, 18% probably), 43% would vote to leave (32% definitely, 11% probably).

UPDATE: ICM tabs are up here. Topline figures without reallocation of don’t knows would have been CON 27%, LAB 35%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 19%, BNP 5%.

That strange boost of support for the BNP is almost wholly amongst women, almost wholly amongst C2s, almost wholly amongst over 65s and almost wholly in Wales. The unweighted number of 2010 BNP voters in the sample was 1, increased to 18 by weighting. What that strongly suggests to me is that there was one little old C2 BNP-voting Welsh lady who got a very high weighting factor, and probably makes up almost all of that 4%! Such things happen sometimes, but it means the BNP blip is probably just a data artifact that can be ignored.

A euphemism newly minted

Now, there’s a nice one: “just a data artifact”. Try typing that, and most spell-check utilities flag up an error. That’s because the preferred version is subtly different, another form of “truth”.

It’s also a prime example of word-drift. Once upon a  time there was:

artefact: An object made or modified by human workmanship, as opposed to one formed by natural processes.

At some point the alternative spelling seemed to be the norm for an alternative signification:

artifact: Science. A spurious result, effect, or finding in a scientific experiment or investigation, esp. one created by the experimental technique or procedure itself. Also as a mass noun: such effects collectively.

As a point of fact, Mr Chairman, the entire public opinion polling business is based on such “data artifacts”. Notice, even in what Wells says there, how an eight-point Labour lead (35-27) is manipulated down to just six points (34-28) for a headline figure.

Today there are two types of truth …

That’s the start of page 40 of the current Private Eye (#1340, 17th-30th May, so verifiable, if not a “truth”). It becomes an exposé of a criminal Yorkshire property developer who is running the usual rings around the Serious Fraud Office, but begins with a telling generalisation:

Today there are two types of truth. Electronic truth — provided via the ever expanding knowledge universes of the internet. And historic truth — provided by those facts not yet or no longer recorded on easily searchable internet databases.

An American truth

There is a poem by the American romantic, Professor John Russell Lowell, which Malcolm has always assumed to be essentially anti-slavery and pro-“freedom”. Its best-known snippet is the eighth stanza:

Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness ‘twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

A bit too theist for Malcolm, but he appreciates the sense and sensibility.

[For the record, Lowell was President Chester Arthur’s appointee as US Ambassador in London. Here he was a literary lion, running Henry James around the Bloomsbury salons, and becoming Virginia Woolf’s god-father.]

Trussed truths

Electronic “truth” contains too many “data artifacts” for comfort. Pseudo-statistics (those perpetrated by serial-offending politicians as much as by their natural allies, the opinion-pollsters) are just one source of this creeping corruption.

Psalm 146, of course, prefers the eternal (and unprovable, and frequently controvertible) truths:

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:
Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever:
Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. The LORD looseth the prisoners:
The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind: the LORD raiseth them that are bowed down: the LORD loveth the righteous:
The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.

Therein you may find your “truth”. If so, it is where you find all you need to know about:

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Figuring it out

The classic Thomist angels-on-a-pin-head is updated by the constant debate on UK unemployment numbers. Today (despite the Thatcher-fest) should inspire a new outbreak:

UK unemployment rose by 70,000 to 2.56 million between December and February, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has said.

It meant the unemployment rate for the quarter was 7.9%.

The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance last month fell by 7,000 to 1.53 million.

Also, the ONS said average regular pay, excluding bonuses, rose 1%, the lowest since records began more than a decade ago.

The number of people in work fell by 2,000 in the latest quarter to February, to just under 30 million, the first time the figure has dipped since autumn 2011.

The ONS data also revealed that 900,000 people have been out of work for more than a year, an 8,000 increase on the three months to November, while the number of unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds rose by 20,000 to 979,000.

Despite the increase in unemployment, the total is 71,000 lower than a year ago. There has been a 62,000 fall in the number of people in part-time jobs, to just over eight million, with a 60,000 increase in full-time employment, to 21.6 million.

As day follows night, the ConDem understrappers have to see all that as “good news”:

Employment Minister Mark Hoban welcomed the fall in the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA), and especially the drop among young people.

Only in a parallel universe is the ministry for unemployment named so perversely. Hoban seems to hail two glad tidings:

1. That the numbers failing to claim “JobSeeker’s Allowance” (it used to be unemployment benefit, and was seen as a right which was paid for by deductions from paid salaries while in work) are down. What that amounts to is many are being dissuaded from claiming their due benefits because of the “skiving” hysteria generated by government propaganda.

2. “… especially the drop among young people.” What drop? In the number of claimants, presumably — see (1) immediately above. The Office of National Statistics are reporting an increase! 18-24 year olds up 20,000 in the quarter, and up 1.5% over twelve months. This is the actuality:

youthunemployment

A coolie economy

Beyond these numbers lies a harsher truth. The British are being educated into a low-wage, low-productivity economy. Cheap labour is making investment and industrial improvement unnecessary. Last month the Financial Times‘s Brian Groom was getting closer to the real problem:

Output per hour worked fell 2.3 per cent in the final quarter of 2012 compared with a year earlier, fuelling concern about the UK’s poor productivity since the recession of 2008-09.

The figure was down 0.5 per cent compared with the previous quarter and was the sixth successive quarterly fall, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

John Philpott, director of the Jobs Economist consultancy, said: “The figures for manufacturing productivity are very worrying. Output per hour in the manufacturing sector has now fallen for five successive quarters and in Q4 2012 was 5.2 per cent lower than a year earlier.”

He added: “Such a sharp and prolonged fall is in marked contrast to much of the period since the start of the recession in 2008, during which time manufacturing productivity has generally increased.”

Weak productivity has resulted in an overall rise in unit labour costs despite a squeeze on wages, although this has slowed since the past two quarters.

Other figures show that earnings are growing at just 0.8% over the year, while consumer prices are running at 2.8% (and predicted to rise further to 3.5% by the middle of 2013). Lest we forget, the great ConDem economic miracle (founded 2010) was going to be founded on:

  •  a shift from public- to private-sector employment (going nicely, thank you: public sector redundancies continue apace); and
  • Britain’s economy would power ahead on consumer spending.

At this point, let us bear in mind a painful fundamental:

Productivity is a key economic indicator used to measure the efficiency and competitiveness of an economy. It is a key factor determining the underlying ‘trend’ or ‘potential’ rate of growth of an economy over the medium-term.

BoE Labour productivity

Excuses! Excuses!

Ah, but it’s been the bad weather! Snow! Sun! Drought! Flood! €-crisis! Royal wedding! Locusts in Belgravia! Olympics! Jubilee! Earthquakes in Dorset! (Take your pick, as Gids Osborne does at each reiteration).

Except reality peeps through this dense fog of dissimulation, as Abigail Hughes and Jumana Saleheen ever-so-polititely explained in their study for the second quarter bulletin of 2012. This, without fanfares, gave us the quite shocking comparison of Labour productivity across countries (see right).

It doesn’t need any great expertise in graphicity to spot that, in the years of the Labour government, British productivity was consistently improving and outstripping the competitive economies. Since the crisis, all that has gone into reverse.

Meeow!

The usual explanation of why production and productivity are falling, while employment hasn’t yet plummeted, is “labour hoarding”. Employers, not necessarily out of loyalty to their employees, keep a larger work-force than they currently require. That has a logic: no business, in straits, is without a Micawber belief that Something will turn up; and reliable employees are not a commodity to be dispensed with lightly. Others place weight on a woolly notion of “intangible investment” (that amounts to improved R&D and ‘software’) — something with all the odour of a ‘thought experiment’, an economist’s version of Schrödinger’s cat.

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MRD still A

Here's to Mandy!Malcolm hopes nobody has forgotten MRDA. There’s a memory nudge on the right of this screen.

The delicious, delightful and definitely dangerous Mandy came instantly to mind after this, from the LibDem MP, John Leech (majority 1,894):

The government has published its mid-term report, and as expected Media coverage is naturally focusing on parts of the agreement that are not on track. However our own party analysis shows about 95% of the Coalition Agreement is on course.

The MTR also shows the huge extent of Liberal Democrat influence in Government. We have taken policies directly from the front page of our Manifesto and we are now delivering on them in Government.

Mr Leech then helpfully lists his Top 10 Liberal Democrat Achievements!

No: he doesn’t mention the double- or possibly treble-dip recession.

He doesn’t find space to mention £9,000 fees.

Minor stuff like that must be the delinquent 5%.

The LibDems are:

Delivering an extra £2.5 billion into schools!

That is despite:

the largest cut in education spending over a four-year period since the 1950s [Channel 4 News]

and

Funding for struggling schools has been slashed to cover a £1bn overspend in the academies programme [The Independent].

On Planet Leech the Lib Dems are:

Creating 1 million jobs and 1 million apprenticeships. 84% more apprenticeships in Manchester

and

Youth unemployment is lower than when we took office, thanks to our £1 billion Youth Contract, which gets young people off the dole and into work through apprenticeships, work placement or training.

Which runs the face of the reason of the Daily Telegraph:

The “bleak” outlook for young people is predicted within a new study by the Institute of Public Policy Research, which also expects long-term unemployment to near the 1m mark. Both figures would put hundreds of thousands of people at risk of permanent “scarring” in the labour market, the IPPR said…

The headline unemployment rate shows there are 2.56m unemployed people in Britain. But the consultancy report shows a further 3.05m are “under-employed” – desparate to find more work or longer hours but cannot – and a further 2.58m people are “economically inactive” but want a paid job.

The overall work shortage rate compared to the working age population is 23.8pc; three times higher than the official unemployment rate.

That, to some extent, trumps Stephanie Flanders’ wondering about the statistic that Britain’s finest economic brains simply cannot explain. Contrary to Leech’s cooking the books on youth unemployment:

Figures released today (16/11/11) show that the overall number of jobseekers allowance claimants has risen by 9,770 (13.5%) in Greater Manchester over the past year.

With national youth unemployment now past the 1 million mark, Greater Manchester saw a slight monthly rise in the number of claimants aged 16-24 of 180 (0.7%) to 27,080 – the highest level since youth unemployment peaked in the wake of the recession, and a level not seen since March 2010.

Memo to Mr Leech: the ConDems took over in May 2010.

Let’s not omit here Leech trumpeting that the LibDems:

 Secured the biggest ever cash rise in the full state pension, worth an extra £650 every year.

“Worth”, Mr Leech? Michael Meacher’s and the Kushners’ letter in today’s Guardian give chapter-and-verse of how ConDem policies are hurting. Or, specific to pensioners, there’s this:

For the whole population, inflation – measured by the retail prices index – has jumped by 14.4 per cent since September 2007.

For those aged 50 to 64, it has been 18.5 per cent, rising to 20.1 per cent for those aged 65 to 74. 

But it jumped 20.3 per cent for people aged 75 and above. Dr Ros Altmann, director general of Saga, said the ‘horrifying’ figures highlight the problems facing older people battling inflation on a fixed income.

Added to which:

the charity Age UK said the cost of living has added £1,173 to bills  for those aged 55 and above in  a year.

Does that qualify as an achievement, Mr Leech?

Malcolm really cannot be arsed to demolish the rest of this friable, tendentious nonse, but number 10 of Mr Leech’s achievements deserves a lunge for the sick-bag:

 Scrapped ID cards and removed innocent people’s DNA from the police database

Aw, sweet! Fair enough: but you and your colleagues are complicit in the:

Draft Communications Data Bill [which] wants to force ISPs to store the who, when and where of all online activity, including email, instant messaging, social media activity, web browsing and VoIP calls for a year.

So it’s back to Miss Rice-Davies for the last word:

Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations (J. M. & M. J. Cohen, 1971) 190:69

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Nicely put 2

This could become a habit …

The real joy of Mitt Romney rollicking in the merde over Libya, 47% and now Palestine is how commentators have risen to the occasion.

Pride of place has to go to go, as always, to Maureen Dowd, originally in the NY Times, though Malcolm encountered it reposted on Real Clear Politics. Does this Washington re-tread of Dorothy Parker generate her own headlines, or does she have a tame viper of a super-sub-editor in her cupboard? Either way, this one — over a piece taking lumps out of Romney — is a winner:

Let Them Eat Crab Cake

Once Dowd awards an individual a nickname — “W”, “Spock” (it’s the ears!) — that person is both celebrated and nailed. here comes a meme:

The candidate, who pays so little in taxes relative to his income that he has to hide tax returns and money in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, then added, condescendingly: “These are people who pay no income tax.” …

He seemed to have bought into the warped canard that some conservatives inside and outside of Congress have pushed: that the president and Nancy Pelosi were nefariously hooking people on unemployment benefits so they’d get addicted and vote Democratic to keep the unemployment bucks flowing like crack.

It’s literally rich: Willard, born on third base and acting self-made, whining to the rich about what a great deal in life the poor have.

 Ah! “Willard”! And, of course, she’s right. Willard Mitt Romney did himself a Gideon George Osborne. Well-skewered, too:

After months of doggedly trying to seem more likable, sharing his guilty pleasures like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Snooki, Romney came across as a mean geek, a Cranbrook kid at the country club smugly swaddled in class disdain. He thinks being president is his manifest destiny. His father didn’t make it, so he will — no matter what far-out conservative positions he must graft on to in order to do it.

We’re in search of the real Romney. But, disturbingly, so is he.

One thing we have to give Mitt, though: He is, as advertised, a brilliant manager. He’s managed to ensure that President Obama has a much better chance of re-election.

Roger Simon, for Politico, had his turn:

The wheels are not coming off the Mitt Romney campaign. They came off some time ago. The press is just beginning to notice.

The Romney campaign is skidding along on its axles and scraping its muffler. Soon it will be down to the dog on the roof.

I hate to say I told you so. No, scratch that. I love to say I told you so. I just don’t get to do it very often.

But as I have been saying for a while now, Mitt Romney is a deeply flawed candidate who got the Republican nomination by beating a ludicrously weak field. Don’t believe me?

You know who came in second? Rick Santorum. Newt Gingrich was third, and Ron Paul was fourth. That’s not a field; that’s a therapy group.

Unlike the US, where David Letterman gave it a nightly outing,

Seamus, the Irish setter who got sick while riding 12 hours on the roof of Mitt Romney’s faux-wood-paneled station wagon …

hasn’t acquired, in the UK, the fame he deserves:

The Seamus story first surfaced in the Boston Globe in a chapter of a biographical series the newspaper published in 2007, when Romney first ran for president.

One summer day in 1983, as the Globe reported, the overpacked Romney wagon — suitcases, supplies and five sons, ages 13 and under — set off from Boston for the 12-hour trek to his parents’ cottage in Ontario on the Canadian shores of Lake Huron. Romney, then a 36-year-old management consultant, had planned a single stop to refill the tank, get food and go to the bathroom.

Until the evidence of Seamus’s sickness started dripping down the back window.

“Dad!” Tagg, the eldest son, yelled from the back of the wagon. “Gross!”

Romney pulled off the highway, washed down Seamus and the car at a service station, then got back on the highway.

Credit where it’s due: that’s Philip Rucker for the WaPo. Malcolm’s total amazement is reserved for any candidate who could survive that story. Stronger stomachs may recall that Seamus’s looseness may have involved a different part of his canine anatomy. It is a tail tale that grows in the telling.

And, but natch, Jon Stewart took it all apart (sadly, that doesn’t embed)

Off with the motley

Once we are past the bitter mockery, there’s still the even more bitter anger. It is most corrosive when it comes from natural allies. There’s a fine example from Peggy Noonan in the WSJ. Having demolished Romney’s nonsense about the 47%, she hits home:

So: Romney’s theory of the case is all wrong. His understanding of the political topography is wrong.

And his tone is fatalistic. I can’t win these guys who will only vote their economic interests, but I can win these guys who will vote their economic interests, plus some guys in the middle, whoever they are.

That’s too small and pinched and narrow. That’s not how Republicans emerge victorious—”I can’t win these guys.” You have to have more respect than that, and more affection, you don’t write anyone off, you invite everyone in. Reagan in 1984 used to put out his hand: “Come too, come walk with me.” Come join, come help, whatever is happening in your life.

You know what Romney sounded like? Like a kid new to politics who thinks he got the inside lowdown on how it works from some operative. But those old operatives, they never know how it works. They knew how it worked for one cycle back in the day.

They’re jockeys who rode Seabiscuit and thought they won a race.

 In passing, Noonan’s recipe for the Romney campaign is essentially defensive:

Time for the party to step up. Romney should go out there every day surrounded with the most persuasive, interesting and articulate members of his party, the old ones, and I say this with pain as they’re my age, like Mitch Daniels and Jeb Bush, and the young ones, like Susana Martinez and Chris Christie and Marco Rubio—and even Paul Ryan. I don’t mean one of them should travel with him next Thursday, I mean he should be surrounded by a posse of them every day.

Malcolm reckons that boils down to an essential truth. Romney, once upon  a time, was a decent liberal Republican, convincing enough to make a mark on the bluest State in the Union. Now he has suffered a political sea-change, and is doing little beyond parroting the nostrums of the neo-Con Right and the Tea Partiers. The worst that can be said of him — apart from naivety — is he is an opportunist: not an unusual character flaw among ambitious politicians.

Now Noonan states the obvious: he is not to be trusted off-script, without a bodyguard of more-finely honed lies and more expert liars.

Aw, shucks! Let’s just finish with Jim Morin:

And, for old times’ sake:

— I wish I’d said that!

— You will, Malcolm. You will.

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