Saturday, 30 January 2010

On course for a Hung Parliament (victory, actually)

The much-respected UK Polling Report website is now predicting that the next General Election will result in a Hung Parliament with the Tories short by 3 seats.

The polls are clearly narrowing. If the Tories drop just a few points, which is what usually happens to an opposition as the election date nears, then we are in Hung Parliament territory.

Added to this is the fairly incompetent and duplicitous manner in which the Tories have kicked off their campaign since the New Year. We were promised an initiative, a policy even, every day, so that they would seize the initiative and the electoral high ground. But what we got was a limp and contradictory announcement on tax allowances for married couples, resulting in much muddle as David Cameron tried to triangulate the various constituencies he's trying to placate. Then we had the wonderful sight of their first campaign poster backfiring quicker and louder than an Austin Maxi. So wonderful to see that the first thing the voters will remember (if anything) about Cameron's campaign is that he plumped for style above substance by focussing on an image of himself. Then he showed that he was more interested in image than reality, by air-brushing the image. He even forgot to mention on the poster the name of his party. It was like the front page of an instruction manual fronted by Star Trek's "Data" android. Bland and anodyne. And pointless.

Imagine if Labour circa 1996 had messed their first election poster up so magnificently. They would have been lampooned in the press. Of course our media has its own narrative that it will be very reluctant to budge from: Tory resurgence, Labour decline, useless and unpopular Prime Minister, Tory victory, Labour split, etc, etc. The truth is that David Cameron's party hasn't changed. They are the same party they always were. They're policy-lite and even their PR is malfunctioning at the first sight of danger.

For this, and many other reasons, Labour will win an outright majority in May (or sooner).

Thursday, 21 January 2010

An excellent Early Day Motion on the banking crisis

Jeremy Corbyn et al have hit the nail on the head. As I have been arguing for some time, it is completely unfair that ordinary people, businesses and public services are expected make the sacrifices required to clear up the mess caused by elements of the financial sector, while they themselves are not only bailed out but use the benign environment caused by the rescue package to reap huge profits and pay huge bonuses. That is why a tax on bonuses is justified and a windfall tax on financial services and a 'Tobin' tax are necessary. As ever, President Obama leads the way and we fumble in his slipstream for fear of offending the true power-brokers of British politics - the City.

George Osborne is therefore being disingenuous when he trumpets on about the fact that "we are all in this together". This is his way of spreading the cost of cleaning up the mess as far as possible away from the City, while simultaneously appearing to sound communitarian.

681 PUBLIC EXPENDITURE AND THE DEFICIT

John McDonnell
Mr David Drew
Ms Katy Clark
Jeremy Corbyn

That this House notes that in his interview in the Financial Times of 19 January 2010 the Chancellor of the Exchequer has admitted to a planned policy of 17 per cent. cuts in expenditure across Government departments other than schools, health and the police force, the early withdrawal of the 50 pence tax rate and an end to the tax on bonuses; and therefore judges that this will mean that the ordinary people of the UK will be the ones who are to pay for the economic crisis, not of their making, and that many of those who, through their reckless greed caused the crisis, will walk away unscathed, receiving new bonuses and playing once again in the casino economy.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

It takes Obama to expose the audacity of hypocrisy of the banks

Once again President Obama has given the left a much-needed master-class on leadership with his dramatic announcement today that it is pay-back time for the banks. His bold statement that his administration will "recover every single dime the American people are owed" contrasts with the words we hear from our British politicians. Obama is in a different league on both style and substance. On substance, he is stating very clearly that taxpayer-funded support given to the financial sector was not given in the form of a blank cheque. On style, Obama goes much further than other Western leaders in the language he uses to criticise the banks. Many would argue that in Britain style has triumphed over substance, despite the Prime Minister's protestations to the contrary. But Obama shows that style and substance are two sides of the same coin.

In saying: "My determination to achieve this goal is only heightened when I see reports of massive profits and obscene bonuses at the very firms who owe their continued existence to the American people", he is speaking for all of us on the left who remain astounded at the audacity of hypocrisy of elements of the banking sector. He criticises the "massive profits and obscene bonuses" of the banks who owe their existence to taxpayer support. While our Labour Government has become increasingly emboldened in its approach to the City, it remains unthinkable that Alistair Darling would ever use this kind of robust language. But powerful, even angry sounding rhetoric is what happens when a political leader truly feels and articulates the justified anger and craving for fairness of the ordinary person. With Obama, we see that rhetoric can become reality. The two are synonymous. This is the antithesis of politics in Britain, where deference to vested interests still reigns supreme and tough sounding rhetoric is deployed through gritted teeth on the advice of pollsters carrying their focus group flip-charts.

Obama's statement today shows us that the confident bluster and chutzpah of the banking sector can, and more importantly, should be challenged. Not for its own sake, but because it important that the audacity of hypocrisy showed by many banks does not go unchecked. Were any other sector of an economy to so imperil the whole, retribution would be swift. Yet banks have played their hand very well. They are even more untouchable than they were pre-2007. Or so they thought. President Obama is re-engineering the moral hazard that vanished as quickly as the bailout materialised. He is delivering a huge jolt to the body-corporate that the unthinkable is not only thinkable, but doable. The primary defence of banks against governments seeking recompense for their taxpayers has always been that such efforts must happen at a global level to be effective. Bankers threatened us that they'd flee London in droves. But with one speech, Obama shows that unilateral government action can have effect.

The audacity of hypocrisy - that banks which caused damage of monumental scale to the broader economy should be bailed out by ordinary taxpayers and proceed to take extraordinary profits and pay huge bonuses on the back of such state largesse. The funny thing about audacity - recklessness, boldness, fearlessness and impudence - is that it can be defeated if people and their political leaders dare stand up and challenge it.