Sunday, December 29, 2002

My mistake! Peter Hitchen's anti-war article is online.

NORMAL SERVICE WILL RESUME AFTER THIS POST.

What a conundrum! One tends to think of the arguments in favour of the forthcoming war on Iraq as 'feeble'. One tends to laugh at the right-wingers who say that Saddam is the new Hitler because 'Saddam Hussein is not remotely comparable to Hitler'. But now Peter Hitchens has started saying these things! Oh why Peter have you done this too me? Not once in your career have I agreed with ANYTHING you have written, and now I agree with much of it. Sadly his article 'So what will you do if we step out of line, Mr Bush' was in the Mail on Sunday, and so not available on the internet, but I'd imagine it'll appear on his website at some point.

To summarise The Great Man's argument it basically is that a) Iraq isn't a threat or even more nasty than many other countries we ally ourselves to, b) by agreeing to Bush's war we are agreeing that the US has the right to interfere in any country at will, and c) this will come back to haunt us. I don't agree with all of it, but it's a refreshing change to here someone on the Right realise that the US's interests are not identical to the UK's, and that the UK's interests are given little thought in Washington if they do clash. Furthermore I like his point (which I have made) that to compare Saddam to Hitler, to argue that the West must act here because it did in World War II (trust me many right-wing arguments get no more complex than this) is an insult to the troops and civilians who fought in that war -- a war in which there was a real chance of losing.

Friday, December 27, 2002

Peter Cuthbertson links to my piece below about The Economists' article on the differences between the Conservative and Republican party and notes that the story is available without a subscription. My apologies -- I have a subscription and so just assume all the good stories require it.

I would disagree with Peter on his statement that the Democrats provided 'two complete failed terms of immoral, vapid Clintonism'. Complete failed? These were the glory years of US economic success, led by an Administration which, as Brad De Long notes, at least had an economic policy unlike the current shambles which purely has a series of public relations stunts aimed at appeasing certain interest groups.

Finally, I can't link to it but check out the Daily Mail's headline today -- it's something like 'Tony Blair ruins millions of holidaymakers holidays around the world by taxing for 20 minutes at Cairo airport'. As our old friend Richard Littlejohn says, 'You couldn't make it up'.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Trent Lott has resigned.

Very good article on the differing fortunes of Britain's Conservative Party and the US Republican party in this week's Christmas Special Economist. I can't be bothered to link to it as its subscriber only, but the Christmas issue is always good fun so you should go and buy it.

Among other things it contains a table of US and UK attitutes to certain things, e.g. Do you believe in the Devil? US - 45%, UK 13%, or do you believe in unlimited abortion rights, 46% to 17%, support a ban on handguns 32%/83%. Also some facts and figures -- % of people earning less than 40% of median income, US 14%, UK 5%, defence spending per head, $1059, $576, govt spending as a % of gdp, 30% to 39%. Obviously the Economist has chosen these questions and figures because they are arresting, but nonetheless they are.

In the comment to my article below begining 'Will the Conservatives...', Peter Cuthbertson takes me to task for saying that to win a majority the Tories need to lead Labour in the opinion polls by 11%, and even to be the largest party 7%. He suggests I mean a swing. Sadly for Peter and the Conservatives, I don't. I mean a LEAD. That is how biased the electoral system is. In fact if you look at the table (sorry about the formatting -- it reads from left to right Cons share of vote, lab share of vote, cons majority, lab majority)I actually underestimated the problem -- it's a 12% lead for a majoirty of 1. If the parties are level-pegging, and remember that has only happened in the opinon polls once since 1992, Labour romp home with a 79-seat majority (obviously factors such as the Lib Dems and turnout can alter these forecasts, but probably not by much).

The question is -- why aren't the Tories making a song and dance about this and demanding electoral reform? I think there are two reasons -- 1) They just don't realise. Every Labour activist I have met tells me that they are told this in briefings about their Gen Election strategy. This doesn't seem the case with the Tories. 2) It's been years (about 12) since the Tories dared to propose anything new, and certainly when it comes to constitutional issues they are almost always fighting to retain the status quo despite its imperfections. Nowhere has their conservatism been so conservative as with respect to our electoral system, despite the clear need for some change. I think their fear of seeing radical overhaul prevents them even demanding necessary reform.

Either way - they ain't going to win the next election. Or they might win it in votes, but they sure won't win it in seats.

Cons Lab Cons Maj Lab Maj
30.7 41.7 -339 175
31.7 40.7 -327 167
32.7 39.7 -305 153
33.7 38.7 -291 141
34.7 37.7 -263 117
35.7 36.7 -243 99
36.2 36.2 -221 79
36.7 35.7 -195 55
37.7 34.7 -161 23
38.2 34.2 -133 -3
38.7 33.7 -111 -25
39.7 32.7 -85 -47
40.7 31.7 -59 -73
41.7 30.7 -29 -101
42.2 30.2 1 -123
42.7 29.7 15 -135
43.7 28.7 45 -165


Thursday, December 19, 2002

It's Thursday and rather quiet, so let's remind ourselves that the leader of the governing political party in America is nostalgic about the days of racial segregation. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, he's not alone. Such immorality is the driving force of many in the Republican party .

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Pensions

Stay awake!

Does no-one in this country understand pensons? There seems to be a general view, held by government, journalists, City analysts and so on that you can have 'pre-funded' pensions. This is usually contrasted with 'pay as you go' pensions which are not 'pre-funded'.

Of course no pension can be pre-funded unless it is taken purely in the form of what you want to consume once retired, i.e. it may be possible in some ways with tinned- food and in a larger way with housing. Otherwise all you can do is accumulate claims on others' production in the future, and hope when you get to retirement that those claims are worth something.

From this follows another fact that no-one seems to understand -- if there is a demographic timebomb in the sense of a huge rise in the ratio of retired people to working people, then it is a demographic timebomb regardless of whether you fund pensions privately, publically, fully-funded, pay-as-you-go etc etc. All that matters is that a country has a national output, which you are sharing between the productive population (i.e workers) and the non-productive population (i.e. the retired).

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Will the Conservatives ever win a General Election again? I'm beginning to doubt it.

Today's
Guardian/ICM opinion poll suggests that the Cherie Blair Affair has helped them not one bit. Labour are on 41%, the Tories 27% and the Lib Dems 23%. ICM are usually the polling organization most favourable to the Conservatives so this is bad news. As I have said many times to win an election the Tories will probably need a 7% lead in the poll and to get a majority an 11% lead. Intrestingly if this opinion poll was what happened at a Gen Election (across all seats) David Davies and Oliver Letwin would lose their seats (to the Lib Dems).

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Natalie Solent criticizes The Guardian's headline 'The National Crisis' (referring to the Cherie Blair story) clearly oblivious to the fact The Guardian in using it is making the same point as she does, namely it is not a national crisis.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

So Henry Kissinger's gone. First the vice-chairman and now the chairman of the 9-11 commission have resigned. Doesn't really give you much confidence that Jnr actually wants to find the truth out, does it? The BBC has the story.

Friday, December 13, 2002

An excellent article in The Economist (and FREE!) on the right-wing media's hounding of Cherie Blair. The important bit is the following paragraph, a lesson I think the Tories are still to learn:

"But the more troubling effects are on the nature and quality of opposition. Serious, effective opposition requires a sustained critique of government built around a plausible and coherent set of principles. This is not something that newspapers tend to be much good at. However seriously they like to take themselves intellectually, they are inherently reactive and opportunistic. The Daily Mail is brilliantly successful at setting a news agenda; less so at setting the political agenda. That was illustrated at the last election, when the then Conservative Party leader, William Hague, based his programme largely on the preoccupations and prejudices of the Daily Mail's brilliant but rather weird editor, Paul Dacre, and suffered a humiliating defeat. Mr Hague's mistake was to think he could conduct opposition politics as if he was editing a tabloid newspaper."

One can go further. William Hague's campaign was based on Paul Dacre's world view, which is a world view suitable to fighting an East End seat in the 1920s. In fact the Daily Mail's political views are essentially based on a view of the public as being in some 1920s East End. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) it's making the paper dull, as The Economist notes:

"The Daily Mail, a paper which was once remarkable for its flair, has become startlingly boring, with page after page devoted to mad Cherie and her evil entourage. That sort of thing may help explain why Britain's most successful newspaper of the past two decades is now losing readers."

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Polly Toybee today blames the Tory press for hounding Cherie Blair over this flats story because it can't lay a finger on Tony. The reason the Labour-supporting Mirror joins in is because;

"It too wants to bring down the Blairs because it is Brownite....that explains the inexplicable behaviour of a left-of-centre paper"

But what, Polly, explains this venomous attack on Cherie Blair by Catherine Bennett on the same day as Polly's defence. Oh...and in the same newspaper.

An amazinly informative site about Victorian London .

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Excellent article in the FT today by Phillippe Legrain rebutting the hysterical claims of Europhobes that the European economy is close to collapse and that therein lies a good reason for the UK not to join. I won't link to it because you need a subscription, but here's a flavour. Legrain also makes the very important point that there are clear signs that the European economy is being restructured along an efficient and productive Continental-sized scale. The UK is in clear danger of missing out.

"Not so fast. The euro economy is not a basket case. The denizens of Westminster and Fleet Street who are so quick to write it off should venture out and see. German trains run on time. The French can pop in to casualty to see a doctor after work - and still be home in time for dinner. New penthouses overlook the BMWs that fill Dublin's streets. Most Britons would love to live in such a disaster zone. Statistics confirm this favourable impression. Eight of the 12 eurozone countries are richer than Britain. Five have faster economic growth. Living standards have risen faster in the eurozone (2.2 per cent a year) than in Britain (2.1 per cent) and the US (0.9 per cent) since the euro was launched.

...Even after averaging the much richer west of the country with the ex-communist east, Germany's gross domestic product per person is 6 per cent higher than Britain's. German workers are 29 per cent more productive than their British counterparts. And the gap is widening. Whereas labour productivity in Britain has risen by 19.8 per cent since 1992, it has soared by 29.2 per cent in Germany.

"The bigger picture is that monetary union is helping to drive a restructuring of the eurozone economy, making it more competitive. Germany's trade with other European Union countries has shot up from 27.2 per cent of GDP in 1998 to 32 per cent last year - boosting economic growth. France's has risen from 28 to 31.4 per cent. But Britain's has fallen. By remaining isolated from the euro, we are also losing out on the inward investment that has done so much to create jobs and spread productivity-enhancing technology in the past 20 years. In 2002, our share of foreign direct investment in the EU is set to slump to a mere 5 per cent, according to the UN, compared with Germany's 18 per cent."

On issues of morality nothing surprises me these days about either the Bush Administration or the Saudis. However even I found their refusal to help in prosecuting a suspected terrorist somewhat amazing. At least it shows when it comes to the War on Terror which countries are actually trying to fight it and which are merely posturing.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Well well, the leader of the House Republicans, Trent Lott, wishes the US still had racial segregation.

Well now Hezzas gone and done it! He's called for IDS to be replaced by Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo, and without the bother of a leadership election. Is this possible? I would guess so -- the Queen will recognise as Prime Minister the person who can command a majority of MPs in the House, not the person who commands a majority of the Old Dears and Retired Colonels in the country.

Was it right? Disloyalty is never an attractive trait, and Heseltine has shown it more than many. However, as I have noted before, IDS can demand no loyalty off anyone after his disgraceful behaviour during the Major years.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Christopher Hitchens on why Henry Kissinger is perhaps not the best choice to lead a review in September 11th. This crazy decision seems to have received little coverage from W's usual cheerleaders -- probably because it is indefensible.

An interesting-ish article in the FT today about the perceived (and actual) anti-American bias (and more generally a left-wing bias) of the BBC. Baker points out that it has always been there but it is only with the rise of the internet and digital TV that Americans are now watching the BBC's news output in any quantities. This in a way is similar to the extraordinary coverage The Guardian now receives in US blogs.

Baker also points out that the US news media is no better, presenting over the summer a 'surge in European anti-semtism' despite the fact that it, well, wasn't surging.

On the subject of BBC bias, I believe it is more an instituational thing than any deliberate attempt to malign the US, yet of course that doesn't mean it doesn't exist and shouldn't be challenged (Of course if you are on the left of politics you would also find the BBC biased --it has essentially a very 'New Labour' view of the politics).

Sadly the opposition to the BBC and its ridiculously large licence fee (Surely even its supporters must acknowledge that it could fulfill its public service remit on a 50 licence fee?) is rather disparate. There's the ludicrous attempt by Jonathan Miller (at the behest, no doubt, of Rupert Murdoch) to get away with paying the licence fee in the ECHR, despite the fact that the BBC was very careful to get an exemption. Also I must say that once-good Biased BBC has rather lost its way with far too many posts describing bias which I don't think exists.

Today for example one poster links to a BBC story about the 100th birthday of Strom Thurmond, the US Senator. The story is perfectly accurate and is as without bias as a story can be without making it deadly dull (e.g 'Strom Thurmon is 100 today. The US Senator first stood for the Senate in blah blah blah). The poster even admits she knows little about the man, so why try to say the story was biased? I know rather a lot about the man and I doubt many profiles of him will say anything other that what the BBC's did.

The next post criticises the BBC for not linking to euro-sceptics in an article about the EU Commission (the story we are told is 'fine'). Now come on -- it's a story about the Commission, that's why there is a link to the European Union's website. Stories about euroscepticsants links to euro-sceptics to balance it? Which particular euro-sceptic group?

And so it goes on. A BBC drama about freedom fighting an oppressive government (in the guise of a chocolate ban) is clearly biased because...er... oh not that one must have 'slipped under the BBC radar'.

A site like this is needed to point out real examples of BBC bias. Unfortunately this scattergun approach (what next...one expects something like 'there are 17 links to pro-euro sites and only 15 to anti-euro sites') doesn't work. Some quality control please!

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Fascinating story on the replusive American Renaissance website (via Nathan Newman) which shows how the National Review was once 'a voice for whites' back in the 1950s.

For example, from an editorial in 1957;

"“The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes–the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists.”"

Interesting the article says the propieter, a Mr Buckley, and the likely author of the above comments, remains the propieter today. One has to wonder how much the American Right has really changed?

I would only have one caveat, which is whether the American Renaissance being fast with its facts (its general world view can be summed up by an article trying to justify slavery by saying the slaves actually quite enjoyed it)?

Another view of the US Right can be seen from the comments on Brink Lindsey's blog wishing a Happy Birthday to Mr Churchill. Of course many on the Right in both the US and the UK have never liked Winston Churchill -- for them the best course of action would have been to sue for peace with Hitler in order to protect the British Empire (see John Charmley's 'The End of Glory'). Still to see it so openly expressed is quite staggering.


Iain Murray links to an article in The Scotsman commenting on a recent Mori opinion poll asking about Britisih attitudes to America and Americans. The actual poll is available here.

On the whole the British are (as you would expect) enthusiatic about Americans, with 81% saying they like them as people and only 11% saying they don't. This margin is the largest since at least 1986.



When asked which is most important to Britain of the US, Europea and the Commonwealth, a different story emerges. 50% say Europe, 29% say the US and 19% say the Commonwealth. On Iain's site I said I thought this was important, given the prevailing view that the British public are vehmently anti-European and want to join Nafta at the first drop of a hat. I still think this is the case, although to be fair if you look at the past data the US's share has remained relatively flat, while it's the Commonwealth that has lost ground to Europe. Those who support the concept of an 'Anglosphere' (a term I think is rather meaningless) would undoubtedly say that most of the Commonwealth share means Australia and Canada and could therefore be added to the US share, which would bring the proportions to about 50:50.



Indeed such a split (I am of course assuming Commonwealth does not allow for any view on India, or Pakistan or many other countries which probably it does) certainly chimes with my experience of the British. There are obvious cultural and economic similarities between the UK and other English-speaking nations, particularly the US. Yet if you read many weblogs you would think the two countries are identical in outlook, and that Britain had nothing in common with other European countries. Clearly that is not true -- as I said on Iain's site there are many facets of British political, economic and social life that are much more similar to those in other countries in Europe than they are with those in the US US. Furthermore such a view (and to be fair it is usually held by Americans who know little of this country and Europe, so we shouldn't be too hard) tends to see the countries of 'Yurp' as a lumpen-block, all identical in their socialist and pacifist outlook, while Britain stands alone. I have said many times, but its worth repeating, that's not how it is. The UK has much more in common with (say) The Netherlands than The Netherlands does with Spain. Germany has more in common with Sweden than either do with Italy. And so on and so on.