Riots: The result of thirteen years of Labour misrule

One of the things that struck me while listening to a reporter on the radio conducting interviews after the latest night of rioting was how eloquent the people were who had been trying to protect their communities and their property. The Turkish shopkeepers spoke perfect English and had no trouble expressing themselves, as did the Bengali Moslems who had been in their mosque that evening after the end of their Ramadan fast. Then the reporter interviewed a couple of the rioters and they had the greatest difficulty stringing a sentence together. Words and part sentences were repeated while the speaker was evidently struggling to finish the thought, and often failing. They spoke a kind of “gangsta” language but not very well, even they had trouble with it. Clearly there’s a whole sub-culture here that is completely isolated from mainstream society.

However, the photos of the looting show another aspect. Along with the young disaffected people just out to make mischief are a surprising number of other people out for some astonishingly petty thievery. A young woman with a scarf across her mouth that barely conceals her identity is seen chatting to a friend while holding two bottles of wine, one red one white, a bottle of sauce and a small packet of something. Obviously she’s expecting guests for dinner later. As well as the more obvious targets such as mobile phone shops (where everything on display is a non-working replica) the rioters are also looting charity shops (where donated items are sold cheaply to raise funds for charity) and Poundland stores (where everything is on sale for a pound or less). You can almost imagine the cry going up, “They’re looting Tesco!” and someone thinking, “Great, I’ve just run out of washing up liquid”.

Meanwhile, what are our leaders doing about it? They’re planning to talk about it. But not until tomorrow – five days after the riots broke out. Labour are meanwhile starting to put their argument together, which is that while properly condemning the violence in no uncertain terms, they put the blame squarely on the government’s cuts. For that argument to work we have to believe that on the day the Labour government left office there was no underclass, there were no disaffected youth, there was no economic crisis. We have to believe all that sprang up in the last year or so. We have to believe that a generation that left school educated and articulate suddenly became the mindless rabble we’ve seen rampaging in our city centres. No, the problem we’re seeing isn’t caused by this government, it was caused by thirteen years of a lying, deceitful, morally corrupt government that practically bankrupted this country.

This government, the coalition, has to pick up the pieces. The first thing they have to do is reverse the police cuts and re-employ all those experienced officers who have already been sacked. The second thing they have to do is issue new guidelines to the police for more aggressive action – it is okay to hit a rioter with your baton, that’s what it’s for. The third thing they have to do is get emergency legislation rushed through to protect the police from malicious prosecution as a result of doing their job. The fourth thing they have to do, and this will bring maximum squealing from Labour, is to reintroduce corporal punishment in schools. We’re not going to re-educate or discipline the current underclass but we can at least try to ensure they are the last of their generation because we can be pretty sure they will not raise their own kids to be decent and respectable members of society.

All this is necessary because over thirteen years the last Labour government abdicated all responsibility for governing. They passed ridiculous laws that favoured the criminal over the victim, even foreign murderers cannot be deported back to their own countries; they conspired to allow city high-flyers and bankers to legally loot their companies with unearned and undeserved bonuses; they presided over a culture of rewarding failure where in some high-profile cases senior council officials walk away with massive pay-offs after spectacular failures. The list is long. What example does any of this give to the rioters on the streets over the last few nights? What is amazing is how many decent people there are out there, such as those Turkish shopkeepers or the Bengali Moslems, and everyone else who is standing up for their communities and for law and order.

Labour haven’t completely ruined us after all.

No, I’ll not move on, thank you Mr Clegg

It may seem to Nick Clegg the correct thing to do after Gordon Brown has apologised for his “bigot” remark is to be the proper gentleman and suggest we put it behind us. But Brown’s unguarded remark reveals how much contempt he has for ordinary people and reminds us why we want and need change. It is the breathtaking arrogance of so many of our masters in Parliament, exemplified by the expenses scandal, that has us so riled. This government has signed-over our rights to Europe and denied us the right to have a referendum, they won’t even have a debate on whether to have a referendum. They sign into Law new legislation by Order in Council, evading even the minimal scrutiny this lame-duck Parliament gives to anything these days. They even told us flat-out lies in order to get support for a war that all the evidence suggests was illegal. No, Mr Clegg, you are wrong. That gaffe goes to the very heart of the problem; we want to be listened to, we want our opinions heard, we are not bigots. If you don’t know that, then you don’t really understand us.

Going Gordo on a Scale of One to Ten

As my contribution to the debate about the Prime Minister’s temper, I would like to offer this scale to assist those who may be risking life and limb in approaching him, so they may be aware of the level of danger they face, or warn others accordingly.

Force One: Is calm and placid
Force Two: Becomes agitated
Force Three: Throws a dark look
Force Four: Throws a small item of stationery
Force Five: Throws an insult
Force Six: Throws a mobile phone
Force Seven: Throws a tantrum
Force Eight: Throws a large item of office equipment
Force Nine: Throws a punch
Force Ten: Kicks the furniture over

Hat tip to Iain Dale for the details.

Fantasy Government and Fantasy Finance

We have elected an incompetent government that has presided over an ever growing culture of lies and greed. They have allowed lobbyists and special interests to influence policies for the price of an agreeable lunch and a few favourable headlines. Spin and deceit have replaced honesty and open government. And without giving it any serious thought, people are saying capitalism has failed. This has nothing to do with capitalism. It has no more to do with capitalism than the USSR had anything to do with socialism. The same people also say these financial institutions are the wealth creating sector of the economy. No they aren’t. The real wealth creators are the factories and the people who make things, and those who distribute and supply them.

By what twisted logic does it make economic sense to close profitable factories which give gainful employment to thousands, send those jobs overseas, knock down the factories and build houses in their place to sell at inflated prices to the now unemployed workers? If ever there was a formula for creating a sub-prime mortgage crisis, that has to be it. And that, in essence, and on a colossal scale, is what has been going on for years with the complicity of the government and all its regulators. Now, the institutions responsible for this merry-go-round of economic madness are clamouring for taxpayer aid from the government and blaming everyone but themselves for the mess. We have for too long rewarded failure, now we will pay the price.

More than two decades ago ICL, Britain’s last major computer manufacturer, had trucks ferrying unsold computers from one depot to another in a desperate attempt to give the impression of activity and mask how close they were to collapse. It didn’t work, but it’s uncannily similar to how some financial institutions have behaved in recent years. Smoke and mirrors; sleight of hand; cryptically-named financial products. Banks everywhere competed with each other to build the biggest market share in worthless investments, often having no idea what they were buying. Why did they do it? Because they paid themselves huge bonuses for doing so. Lehman Brothers, for example, paid out a staggering $9.5 billion in “bonuses” only nine months ago.

It’s hard to accept the term “bonus” as a fair description of the money they have looted, especially as in the case of Lehman Brothers it must have been crystal clear to those at the top the payments were entirely unwarranted and potentially fatal to the business. But such was their greed, they went ahead anyway. This is nothing to do with capitalism, or free market economics, it is the inevitable consequence of a corrupted financial system, plain and simple. President Nixon once famously declared, “I am not a crook.” I would like to see the leaders of the remaining great financial institutions say the same thing. And I want them to prove it because frankly I have no confidence in the regulators to investigate and prosecute wrong doing.

Who set the framework in which the institutions and the regulators operate? Step forward Gordon Brown, he was at the helm at the Treasury for a decade, making all the rules. Of course, he didn’t do it alone, thanks to “revolving doors” he had City people come and work at the Treasury where they shaped government policy before returning to the City to exploit the newly relaxed standards they helped bring about. Now as Prime Minister it is evident for all to see how completely incapable Brown is of leadership. Yet to listen to the government, their track record would seem to be above reproach. But the fact is, this government lives by deceit. It spins, it lies, and it has no shame because it lives in a fantasy world where it makes its own reality.

We need to go back before the second Gulf War for a measure of how venal this government is. Britain and America went to the court of world opinion and lied on oath. There were no weapons of mass destruction, there was no connection between Saddam and al Q’aeda. The phials of biological weapons, the drawings of mobile chemical labs, the intelligence documents reporting shipments of Yellow Cake from north Africa, they were all fake and Bush and Blair knew it. So instead of confronting the real terrorists, we have spent billions of dollars and pounds and laid down thousands of lives fighting the wrong war in the wrong place. However, it has been to the personal enrichment of many of those best connected with both governments.

Simply put, democracy has failed. This is not the failure of capitalism or of free market economics. It is our collective failure as voters to hold to account governments that lie and deceive, that allow lobbyists and special interests to overrule our interests. What goes on in Washington and Downing Street is a travesty for government. What goes on in Wall Street or the City of London is a travesty for an economy. Both should be working for the common good, not self-preservation and self-enrichment. We need change. We cannot be apathetic the next time we have an opportunity to vote, we must seize that opportunity and put an end to the politics of spin and the economics of greed. We must have honesty and open government.

It’s not Gordon’s fault

All the attention lately seems to be on Gordon Brown, when will he step down or when he will be ousted if he doesn’t go voluntarily. Everyone is blaming him for Labour’s current difficulties. If “difficulties” is the right word, it seems to be a weasel-word used by those who lack the moral fibre to say it like it is. “He is a difficult child,” someone might say of a seriously dysfunctional, out of control brat. Or, “It was a difficult crossing,” someone else might say about the maiden voyage of the Titanic. And that’s about it, really, they’re sunk, so get rid of Gordon. But it’s not his fault.

While Gordon is indeed the Prime Minister, he isn’t the only one in the cabinet. The “iceberg in the corner of the room,” if I may mix my metaphors, is the incompetence of the entire cabinet. Everyone surely knows it, but nobody will talk about it. If a camera was allowed into a cabinet meeting and it panned around the table showing each minister in turn, you could categorise them, one after the other, “Useless, useless, useless.” Every man jack of them. The only exception would be those who are “dangerously incompetent” instead, like Alistair Darling or Jacqui Smith. Labour is in it’s current difficulties not because of one man, but because of a couple of dozen men and women. They should all go.

That still wouldn’t solve Labour’s problem, though. The Labour back-benches are full of has-beens that never should have been in the first place. There are very few exceptions because the Blair legacy is one of filling the Parliamentary Labour Party with apparatchiks and researchers, clueless about the real world, but well skilled in manoeuvring within the party and therefore contemptuous of the democratic process. That is how we can have a Labour government that increases taxation on the lower paid while falling over itself to appease the super-rich. That passes Draconian laws to suppress peaceful protests while swindling the police over their pay. That promises to listen to us while denying us a vote on the European Constitution. The list is just too long to detail, the ruination of the NHS, the underfunding of the armed forces, the chaos of immigration, those few gripes only scratch at the surface of the problems. Difficult times indeed.

There is nothing we can do about it. The Labour Party was elected with a five year mandate, and Gordon Brown still has two years of it to play with. The House of Lords has been emasculated, it can no longer provide a check or counterbalance to the House of Commons. There is no mechanism, as there is in the United States, for a “Recall” vote to cause an election to be re-run if the winner fails to live up to his or her election promises. There is no prospect of the Queen dismissing Brown and causing a general election. Constitutionally we are in unchartered waters. A party in power with a huge majority in parliament, and a country with no confidence in it whatsoever. Did we celebrate the downfall of the Soviet Union too soon?

An economy run by Arts graduates?

Sam Leith writes an excellent piece in the Telegraph today essentially saying that Arts Graduates know nothing about how the economy works because it is unknowable. That’s a good point. On that basis, the present sorry government must be Arts Graduates of the highest calibre because the Prime Minister and his Chancellor demonstrate how much they don’t know about the economy on a daily basis. Leith gives credit to those who work in the City and assumes they must be great experts in the economy. There I must disagree. The mistake, which I think a lot of people make, is to confuse what drives the City with what drives the economy. There couldn’t be a greater gulf between the two even though the City has a great impact on the economy as a whole.

Those who succeed in the City, and many do in spectacular style, do so not because they know how the economy works, but because they know how the City works. That should not be a subtle distinction. The reputation of the City has taken a pounding recently, and probably deservedly so, because everything to do with the economy is causing great concern to ordinary people whose daily lives are blighted by miscalculations, misjudgment, or just plain mischief.

That concern was enough to give the Labour government its worst electoral defeat in living memory. The Crewe bye-election will be another opportunity to give them another black-eye. Over in America, things are hardly any better. They have a presidential election taking place right now which provides an insight into some of their concerns. One such is the NAFTA trade agreement which came under fire recently as the cause of American jobs being ‘exported’ to Mexico. We have a similar problem here, but does anyone seriously believe that jobs are going to India or China because wage rates in the third world are so much lower than they are here? Only an Arts Graduate could believe that. The reason jobs are being exported is because City bosses earn huge bonuses from exporting them. If they didn’t earn such bonuses, those jobs would not be exported. Of course I use the word ‘earn’ in the loosest possible sense, in the sense of an athlete who ‘earns’ a gold medal by taking steroids or a mugger who ‘earns’ money by waving a knife in someone’s face. They are merely working the system.

And that’s the root of the problem. It is a system. A system of rules and regulations, of treaties and trade agreements that provide endless opportunities for smart operators to work it to their personal advantage. In what possible way, for example, can it be good for the American economy that an investor can buy into Yahoo! after it had turned down a takeover bid from Microsoft, and then sue the board for rejecting it? He had no involvement in the business beforehand, no concern for the nature of the business, or the interests of its customers or suppliers, but now he can hope to have the bid reopened and see his share-holding soar in value as a consequence. All perfectly legal and proper so far as Wall Street is concerned, of course, but absurd that a market can be manipulated in this way. Plainly Wall Street, and the City, do not facilitate the economy, they distort it. Likewise NAFTA and all the myriad of similar treaties do not create free trade, they interfere with it.

Someone who did know about the economy, and knew it very well, was Adam Smith. When he extolled the virtues of a ‘free market’ he wasn’t writing about a market that was closely regulated to somehow make it ‘free’, he wasn’t writing about states that had treaties to ensure ‘free’ trade between them. ‘Free’ to him meant free from all such interferences in the first place. It would be the invisible hand of self-interest that would drive free trade and ensure it stayed free. He would be astounded by an economy that barred imports that competed with local produce, intervened to buy up surplus stocks to maintain an artificially high price, dumped that surplus stock on third world countries, and in consequence ruined those markets for their local farmers and producers. Such is the EU vision of an economy. He would be equally astounded by an economy that enabled exotic fruit and vegetables to be flown half way around the world, at significant cost to the environment, to be sold at rock-bottom prices, while at the same time fuel prices are soaring and motorists are penalised to reduce their so-called carbon foot-print. This is not an economy that is capable of being understood.

We need reform. In Arts Graduate terms, economics has become like the Turner Prize, devoid of all social worth and intellectual merit. It is ripe for those with no understanding of the real world to exploit and manipulate to their own ends, the people who should matter are shut out. So we need reform across the board, from the City to farming as well as manufacturing, but most of all, we need reform of our government. Capitalism, for that is what is at stake, is as unworkable now as communism was, and look what became of that.

Incitatus honoured

Another day, another new metaphor to describe the shamelessness of this government. Today the metaphor is Caligula who wanted to make his favourite horse a Consul just to annoy the Senate. He didn’t actually do it, apparently, but Gordon Brown is not as shy as that well-loved Roman and he will miss no opportunity to annoy us. Step forward three donkeys of public service, Tom Kelly, Debby Reynolds and Richard Summerskill.

Those with long memories will recall that we are in this mess in Iraq because we were lied to by the government over Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. One man tried to speak out, and well qualified he was to do so too. But his credibility and reputation were publicly shredded, leading him to commit suicide. For his services to the country Tom Kelly, the government spokesman at the time, is given the Order of the Bath. The same honour goes to the Government’s former chief vet Debby Reynolds, who was in charge when foot and mouth and avian flu struck these shores. Thank heavens her efforts fell short of meriting a peerage. But spare a thought for Richard Summerkill who must feel short-changed after his department lost the personal and banking details of every family in the country and yet he only walks away with a CBE. Bad luck, Dick, try harder next time.

There you go, Caligula, for a master lesson in how to abuse the people you govern, look and learn from Emperor Gordon.

Is democracy viable?

I was thinking in the aftermath of the Bhutto assassination that we hadn’t really succeeded in leaving a legacy of democracy behind as we pulled out of former colonies and left them to rule themselves. Then I wondered, “What does it take for democracy to work in the Third World?” Then like a thunderbolt it hit me – we don’t even have democracy in this country, so who am I kidding? Describing Benazir Bhutto’s murder as a “sad day for democracy,” as Gordon Brown has done is risible. It is a monumental disaster for Pakistan and a huge setback for world peace. A “sad day for democracy” was when Gordon Brown took over as Prime Minister without an election.

So while we wait helplessly for the bloodbath to ensue in Pakistan, let’s consider the miserable state we’re in. We watch the news and we read the papers and we lament. A lying, incompetent government signs away our freedom to Europe without so much as a by-your-leave. Their hypocrisy knows no bounds. They are quite literally shameless. But what can we do about it? The Conservatives only promise incremental change, a little less tax here, a little less legislation there, but our future has already been signed away to the EU. The daily diet of cock-up and corruption distracts us from the more serious problem; democracy in this country has broken down. The question is, can we fix it or should we replace it?