Saturday, 27 February 2010

RBS Bonuses

I made the mistake last night of watching Question Time. I'd stopped watching it some time last year when I became disenfranchised with it completely at the point that they were asking Trisha Goddard of daytime-TV-wife-cheating-DNA-test-revealing fame her opinion on the helicopter shortage in Afghanistan and its effects on the troops. Frankly, the list of people in the whole world that are reasonably qualified to answer that question is pretty small, and something tells me that Trisha isn't one of them.

But I relapsed, and last night I watched the episode first aired this gone thursday, the 25th February. As was to be expected (since it's always a sure-fire crowd pleaser), there was a question regarding the fact that the Royal Bank of Scotland have recently paid their bank staff £1.6bn in bonuses despite making a £3.6bn loss. The entire panel, with the exception of Nigel Farage, were in agreement that the bankers were greedy, out-of-touch monsters.

Except in the year before this, they lost over £24bn. Given the state of the economy, and the fact they still had (and, I daresay, still have albeit in ever-dwindling amounts) bad debts to basically sack off, I think making such a "small" loss is pretty amazing. This isn't rewarding failure, because they didn't fail. They haven't started making profit overnight, but given the depths of the problem, what's to be expected? It's like I mentioned in the Robin Hood post - it's short termism. The idea that the best way to get our money back is to "squeeze them til the pips squeak" is as economically irresponsible as it is demonstrable of a deplorable lack of understanding of the sector.

Once again I'm faced with the analogy of the African debts. The best way to get our money back is to get them back into making profit, and we won't do that in the current climate by forcing all the best paid staff to leave. The fact we own them makes this all the more the case. I just wish the public would stop validating the politicians anti-banker rhetoric by applauding whenever Peter Hain says "hey, bonuses are bad, but at least they're getting smaller bonuses now!"

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Harris Poll in Today's Metro

Page 16 if anyone has access, though it may be on their website. I'll update this post later if I find it online.
It's a jolly interesting poll! They don't have any details on the methodology, but assuming its Halal, there are a few interesting things to note.
- Firstly, they seem to think that a 9 point lead would result in a Hung parliament. It's well established that the Tories need more votes than Labour to win an election (and the Lib Dems need even more still), but common estimates put the Hung Parliament territory at between 5-7 points - I've never seen it at high as 9 before. But if their local polling is legit, it could be.
- Large Tory gains in London, or more specifically the west. They have a nunber of councils around that area where - for councils - they're doing some pretty radical things. This could be a vindication of their actions there, or at the very least a sign that the people there don't hate their local policies.
- SNP losses in Scotland. Good. Nationalists of all kind are absolute dogmatic attrocities. This is tapered somewhat by Plaid Cymru gains in Wales, but there's basically no chance of them exiting the union. Incidentally, this. goes to prove how poor a barometer of national election results the Scotish parliament elections are.  (Also, this will sound mad, but I'm going on the assumption that the bit at the top of the diagram IS Scotland. In their haste at getting a funky looking map they've made it a bit confusing, but I think they just tried to keep the Scottish seats the same size as the rest, thus Scotland looms tiny on the map. Plus, you have the Orkney Islands on there, so...)
- Labours domination of the North, whilst far from disappeared, has certainly dimished, with large bands of Blue spreading through the counties.
Interesting stuff!

Edit: Now including the image!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


I think it's ridiculous that anyone should have to apologise for something they didn't do. This is as much the case for Prime Ministers as anyone else. Brown has nothing to do with the Child Migrant programme of the 20's-60's, during most of which he wasn't alive. Why is he apologising? Or, perhaps more pertinently, why are people asking him to?

It's mad.


Wow, the Brown Is A Wanker story keeps running and running, fueled today by the Chancellor, Alistair Darling's, accusation of being briefed against by the PM's office (this basically means that Browns aides - reportedly - spread ill news about him via another official and non-official ('a senior Downing Street official claimed...')  channels).

This seemingly baffling display of disunity would really only surprise those who - understandably, it must be said - don't keep too tight-a tabs on the minutae of British politics, as this has been going on for a long time,  significantly accelerated by Brown's crowning as Labour leader. Let it be said that I don't necessarily think it's because Brown is an arse or anything, but mostly because there's a war a foot in the Labour party and Brown has far more resources at his disposal than the 'Blairites'.

One only needs to look at James Purnell's de facto sacking from front-line political as an example. He was one of the brightest stars of Labours younger members, and now he's even resigned from running at the next election. Rumours of a defection are way off the mark, but It's indicative of the sort of ostracisation that those who end up being briefed against by Downing Street face. Under Blair, there could be no war. Even those (now termed Brownites but at the time just called 'the old left wing nutters') who doubted his socialist credentials couldn't doubt his ability to bring Labour greater electoral gold than any other Labour leader ever. But as soon as he left, the question of the direction became relevant, with no charismatic, election-winning candidate being available. The Millibands too young and inexperienced, ditto Purnell, and Ed Balls, whilst still quite young in terms of politics, is hated by such a large proportion of his own party, its only his mutual symbiotic dialysis of Brown that's keeping him in politics. All the women in the party are useless, and the most talented members are either unknown or Lords, which isnt really a viable option.

Which is why the curious case of Alistair Darling is so interesting. Wanting to avoid the sense that he was transforming the party back to its pre-Clause-4 (the article of the Labour pledge suggesting they try to nationalise basically everything all the time), he installed the inoffensive Alistair as Chancellor instead of Balls, presumably with the hope to change them over later in a reshuffle once the heat died off.

Obviously this never happened. As Alistair has been quoted saying, 'Im still here.' He is, and he's battling Brown quite aggressively in the economy (something for which I think he'll be remembered for when Brown's policy of increasing debt and public spending yet more, not to mention building such high budget deficits even during the high growth years, is historically destroyed as folly).

And now he's basically untouchable. There is no way Brown could ever change such a highly important member of the cabinet this close to the election, especially to one as unpopular as Balls. So, thank god, we have at least one member of the cabinet left who isn't just rubbing Browns shoulders and telling him it'll all be OK whilst trying to avoid having a Coke can or phone thrown at him.

It'll be interesting to see how the Tories face this problem. They have all but united around Cameron, but its an all too familiar story. He's a media savvy, young family man whose moved his party to the centre for the sake of electoral success. If Labour follow the Brownite route after the election, they'll be out I'm the wilderness almost as long as they were last time. So when Cameron either jumps or is pushed, what corner of the Tory party will thrust themselves upon it, a la Brown?

Your thoughts, please!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Bad publicity for Brown?

Yet more bad press today as it is revealed that the 'most senior whitehall official', Sir Gus o'Donnel, the cabinet secretary, had to have words with Brown regarding his bullying of his staff. Whether or not its true we may never know, unless one of them comes out to confirm it. But this is merely the latest in an enormous string of stories (throwing things at people, calling peoples 'cunts', shoving people etc) suggesting that Brown isn't fit for office.

These stories don't always get the front pages of the newspapers (though the first one mentioned above can be found on a few front pages today), and they often seem to do little to harm his reputation. Certainly, the polls always seem unaffected by the revelations (though of course, one always has to be careful when looking at polls - just this weekend we have two different polls, one suggesting a Tory voteshare of just a 6 point lead, the other giving them a ten point lead - the difference between a Hung parliament and a healthy majority).

That said, one thing is for sure is that the regularity of Tory margins in the double digits has come down in recent months. Its not that their votes are going down - they arent - but rather that Labours are going up. The economy really isn't doing too well - a tiny bit of growth at below-inflation levels during a time when the government pumped hundreds of billions into the economy means the chances of a double dip are far from unlikely, especially with terrible budget deficits for January (unheard of). Also, JSA claiments are going up (whilst officially unemployment figures are going down - this usually means more people are working less hours, as you can claim JSA if you work less than 17 hours a week, but then are technically not unemployed. it means no more work is being done, and no more money is being pumped into the economy (in fact, the JSA stats suggest the opposite) yet unemployment figures improve).

So it can't be the economy. Given about four people watched the Piers Morgan interview, it can't be that either - plus its too short term. They've cut funding for universities, so its unlikely to be students.

Where are these extra voters coming from? Or is it just a fluke of the polls? Comments with suggestions actively welcomed!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


This is something that's been brewing in my head for a long-ol' time, actually. I don't know what made me think of this the other day, but I did nontheless.

Months and months ago I watched an episode of Celebrity Wife-Swap (for the uninitiated, this is a show whereby couples swap partners for a week - not sexually, just to experience each others home lifes. Typically, they put together chalk and cheese - the rural country bumpkins with the crack-addicted city council house mafia, that kind of thing) and the episode in question involved comedienne Rhona Cameron (lesbian) was matched with old-school stand-up Stan Boardman (homophobe) and his downtrodden, tough-as-boots wife.

The episode took on a predicable route, whereby both couples learnt something. Actually, that's not true. Usually there is a designated "bad" couple, and they learn something. This couple usually involves some combination of sexism, homophobia, loutishness, drunkenness, misogyny or all of the above. This episode proving no different, a disappointingly liberal Stan Boardman took to Rhona quite well, his main point of contention being nothing to do with her lesbianism (but, rather,  the fact she wouldn't pick him up from the pub).

The same was true of Stan's wife, who went to live with Rhona's partner. She went on more of a journey, beginning the week with, actually, significantly greater levels of homophobia than her husband, but ending it understanding homosexuality much better. So why have I written this dull synopsis to a dull programme? Because one element stuck out to me.

Stan's wife went to play football with Rhona's girlfriend at a five-a-side evening. They then all wandered off for a meal and a bottle of wine or two. All very cosy. Some were lesbians, some not. Some mothers, some not. Some single, some not. Stan's wife (now known as Vivienne, as I've now bothered to look up her name) mentioned that she enjoyed the female company and girly night, used as she was to courting to her husbands whim. She was eulogising on her new understanding on homosexuality to the girls, and said something along the lines of "It's sort of like paedophilia", to which the girls around the table all erupted in chaotic protestation.

Why? They are no different. Nor, in fact, are they any different to hetereosexuality. Vivienne's point was that no one chooses to be a homosexual, and so they shouldn't be judged for it, in the same way no one chooses to be black, or ginger, or short, or disabled, or... a paedophile. And she's correct. No one would choose to be a paedophile. What some paedophiles do choose is to rape a child, and that's obviously pretty despicable and terrible. But actually being a paedophile? Being sexually attracted to children? No one chooses that, in the same way Rhona didn't choose to be attracted to woman, and Vivienne didn't choose to be attracted to men.

It seems slightly odd that a homosexual would exhibit these kinds of views. Perhaps it's a good thing, though; An example that homosexuality has come a long enough way that, having never lived through the "hey day" of homophobia (she was in her late 20s), she actually sees them as different things. It does, however, to me seem a bit like a female in a law firm refusing a black person a job on the basis that they're black - that would have been you being refused 50 years ago for something equally beyond your control.

It seems to succumb to the say dismissal of others' beliefs that fuels homophobia. a bunch of people around a table exclaiming about how disgusted they are with someone elses sexual-orientation? That sounds familiar...

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The Robin Hood Tax

Edit: To anyone unawares of what I'm blathering on about here, take a quick peek at the video on this website.

Just in case anyone was left wondering when the next time we were going to be patronised by multi-millionaire movie stars about how rich bankers are, the Robin Hood Tax campaign comes along and lets us known that the time is now.

The sheer volume of bizarre misinformation regarding the campaign is as intimidating as it is mind-boggling. I'll try and offer my opinions in as orderly fashion as possible, but it is a rather confusing mess.

1 - A tax that costs a single industry up to £250bn (that's enough to pay for our military for over 8 years, by the way) isn't "tiny". You could tax my salary at 20%, or you could tax it a "tiny" 1% twenty times - it's still not tiny, because of the massive accumulation. If the suggestion that they can afford it (since it's only a tiny proportion of their turnover) is somewhat at odds with the much-referenced fact that a lot of them have just taken a massive amount of... well, not "our" money, but fake money the government's invented that we'll eventually have to pay off. If they had £250bn to just piss up the wall on an inconsequential tax, they probably wouldn't have needed a bailout. And that's sort of the point, right - this isn't a tax on their profit, it's a tax on their turnover. So a bank (even without ever having received any taxpayers money, such as HSBC) could fail to make a profit in a year and STILL pay billions of pounds in a "Robin Hood" tax. That's really a good system?

2 - People seem totally disconnected with where this money comes from, goes to, or what it does. People seem of the opinion that it's made up of charging them for going over their over-drafts and credit card interest. It's not. The vast majority of it goes into people's mortgages (thus the whole crisis in the first place, as the sub-prime market crashed) and in business investment. A lot was said about banks being "less willing" to lend following the crisis. It was because their supple of credit dried up. Supply dwindled, demand remained the same or increased, thus it's more expensive. They weren't "unwilling" to lend anymore than BP are "unwilling to sell petrol" when prices go up. They need to sell petrol to make money, and banks need to lend money to people and businesses to make money.

You take away yet more of their supply of credit, and their ability to offer loans at affordable rates goes down yet more. It's not the "fat cats" with their Bentley's that get hurt, it's people trying to get mortgages and loans for their businesses. This means businesses find it a lot harder to expand (or stop themselves collapsing altogether), which means less jobs, which in turn means less tax and more unemployed bums on the seats of jobcenters picking up their JSA. I don't know how many times history has to teach us that when you target a specific industry for taxes, it's not the business that get hurt, it's the consumers, before we start listening. Businesses only exist because of their customers. If you make it more expensive for businesses, the customers end up paying more, because that's where the money comes from.

3 - There are a lot of banks out there who weren't run into the ground and are still making profit. They neither wanted, nor received any government bailout. So why should they be forced to pay an extra tax? The idea that "they can afford it" is an incredibly dangerous road to go down. It's important to remember that the government can't "grow" the economy. They can attempt to sustain it temporarily, or even suggest bouyancy, but it's a totally circular design - The government doles out money, people spend it, the government taxes it and they get it back. Except, obviously, they lose money every time. Resources get used up. The private sector is the only one that can "create" wealth. The idea that if you take more and more money from the private sector to dole out - however good the intention - and it not affect the performance of the economy is blasphemously short-termist and economically just incorrect. You can't just take more and more of their money and expect them to simply stop buying Bentleys ceteris paribus. When oil prices go up, BP don't lose money, car drivers do.

4 - The banks who didn't take our money have nothing to answer for. Those who did took our money. It's ours - why are we taxing it? It's like the absurdity of taxing doctors and nurses on the NHS. What's the point? Their money comes from the treasury, then the tax goes straight back. But that's not a big deal, it just seems like a waste of paper, nothing more. In this instance, though, demanding yet more money from the banks that required our help is like issuing punishing interest rates on loans to third world countries. There's no point demanding £250bn a year if they can't even turn a profit, in the same way that there's no point demanding loan repayments from Ghana when it needs the money to build infrastructure so that they can actually make profit in the future. It's better in the long term to let them use the money, build an industry and then get the money back when they actually can afford it, because that way you get it all back (plus the interest). If we keep hammering HBOS for money when they're already on their knees, that doesn't benefit us because we own their debt. It's our debt. If they crash, it's STILL our debt. How about we let them actually make a profit, then we can sell it on when it's actually profitable. That way we get the money back. We should stop cutting off our nose to spite our ridiculously indebted face.

The answer to all these points is painfully obvious, though. It's about short-term populism. It always is. In a political world where you know you're only safe for four years, who would take the tough decisions that will reap rewards in the long run at the expense of short term popularity? This tax is undoubtedly popular, and any politician that supports it will get a (temporary, perhaps) bump in the polls. With an election 3 months away, it's not hard to see why it's gaining so much ground. There are few politicians who do what they think is right even if it means being unpopular. Perhaps looking to Greece is a perfect example of why no one does it - suggest cutting a bloated public sector and a day later the infrastructure of the country falls apart by self-interested people on the "non-productive" wing of the economy (not that the Greek government suggested cutting the public sector, merely not giving them a pay rise - something I daresay a lot of private sector workers will have to suffer through during these times, too).

But it's a shame that those who do make the tough decisions are rarely acknowledged as doing so, even in hindsight. How many other politicians that have laid the necessary groundwork for transforming an economy from one that has power cuts and mass national strikes to one that sees unprecedented levels of growth have people actively looking forward to their funeral so they can dance on their grave? And how many people even acknowledge the massive degree of self-sacrifice it took for Gorbachev to willingly give up so much power for the greater good of his country?

I think that will be the final legacy of the Labour party, actually. They were one of the few examples of a government who really knew they were going to be in government for at least 8 years, and yet managed to squander the rarest of opportunities where they could have done something unpopular in the short term but necessary in the long term without having to sacrifice power. They could have done so much.

I'm looking forward to the comments on this one!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

CRU Inquiry

It's quite interesting to see that the CRU inquiry (being paid for by UEA - this surprised me, for some reason) is addressing both how the hacking took place, and the issue of the contents. This is odd because they're two entirely different issues. Both deserve investigations, no doubt, it just seems odd they're done together.

That said, the panel seems absolutely Kosher. They have a professor of Geo-Science next to BP's top UK Science guy, as well as the vice president for the Chartered Institute for IT and the rest seem to be politicians/civil servants, so it seems like the truth might actually be the intended outcome, rather than one side or the other. I await their hearing with baited breath...

Facebook Prisoners

No, it's not a post about those addicted to Facebook. Rather, it's about the recent announcement regarding some prisoners having their facebook profiles removed. It's mostly a non-story, but one bit stuck out at me like a sore thumb. Quoting Jack Straw:

"He also said he was "reassured by the co-operation which we're receiving from Facebook" and said it was agreed a better system for policing websites was needed."

It seems like those two sentences are somewhat at odds. Surely this is a perfect example of the free market and private enterprise acting in such a way that a law isn't neccessary? The government says "We think you should remove these profiles." Facebook looks at them, agrees, and removes them. The problem, of course, occurs if Facebook don't agree.

In that case, though, why should they remove it? Facebook is not the governments property to make the rules for. It's not even the users. It's Facebook's. Jack Straw acknowledges that these websites are accessed using smuggled mobile phones. The problem here - if it is indeed a problem - isn't that we need a better way to "police" websites; That's just passing the buck. The problem is that Jack Straw can't stop prisoners smuggling in phones to access it. If he wants to stop them using Facebook, it's up to him - not Facebook - to stop them.

To suggest they need new laws about policing websites is like a farmer walking into a china shop shortly after one of his cows has smashed it to buggery and suggest to the shop owner that they need to make some crockery that can withstand being stood on by a bull. Most, though, would offer that you shouldn't let your bull in a china shop.


Firstly, I think its worth noting that the Alternative Vote system proposed by Brown isn't really PR at all. It basically boils down to the winner being he or she who is disliked the least. This may help Labour, but not by much if at all. I think the real reason - and given recent poll data showing the Tory lead falling into single digits, its not too much of a stretch - is to court the Lib Dems in the event of a Hung parliament (where no one party has a majority - but, perhaps, Labour + Lib Dem is greater than the Tory numbers).
The lib dems don't really want this system either. No one does, because it encourages mediocrity and unknowns. In a political landscape dominated by tribalism, I don't think its much of a stretch to assume that most would rank either Labour or Tory top, and the other at the bottom. This means its entirely possible that the Lib Dems pick up a number of seats where no one actually wants them, they just dislike them less than the rest.
The floodgates may have been opened, though. Once we flirt with electoral reform (especially if we change to one as bad as AV), it'll be a lot easier for the Lib Dems to get support behind another system they actually want - some form of PR.
I won't go into the theoretical pros and cons of such a system. I will instead point just to Lebanon - a beautiful example of the destructive power of power sharing. I'm fact, its not dissimilar to Northern Ireland. In Lebanon its Power Sharing rather than specifically the result of PR, but the result is the same. You have the liberal (said in the context of the middle east) West-leaning government forced to share power with Hezbollah. This way, no one really gets what they want. Hezbollah can't openly attack Israel nor enact the kind of medieval legal reforms (read: regressions) that they want to, and the western PM, Saad Hariri, can't perform any useful reforms because he's got his hands tied by the Hezbollah elements of the government. That's the link it has to AV - no ones happy, because no one can actually govern.
P. S. Since I mentioned Israel, I'll say this. Everytime I hear someone say Israel is enacting a genocide against, or wants to kill, or hates Arabs and Muslims, I have to punch myself to make sure I'm still awake. Quite aside from the fact that if they wanted to destroy Palestine, they could do so in about three weeks without ever firing a bullet, there's also the much more significant fact that Arabs in Israel enjoy far, far greater rights and quality of life than they do in just about every Arab country in the world. And they do it all whilst surrounded by countries that hate them in the only corner of the Middle East with no oil! If you want to be angry at the treatment of Arabs in the middle east, try looking at the Arab countries first.
P. P. S. Apologies for any typos or random full stops. This has been written on an unusually bumpy train.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Today's PMQs

Does anyone else get the impression that perhaps the Tory "gaffe" regarding the "Death Tax" posters wasn't a gaffe at all, but rather a deliberate attempt to draw out the debate? The worst case scenario for them was that Labour would be able to say "What the hell are you talking about? We never even considered that." Granted, Cameron and co would look like absolute lemons, but the chances of that happening were slim. What was far more likely - and, indeed, is exactly what happened today - is that they'd point out they hadn't made up their mind, but also not deny is was on the cards. And bam, Cameron has exactly what he wants, even if the subject of the poster isn't totally true. He's started a debate on the subject, and he thinks he has public support. I'd be inclined to agree with him, and I think the poster is relatively effective in conveying their message. It's hardly marketing genius, but in a campaign (from both sides) where we've seen some of the worst posters to ever grace a billboard, I don't think it's terrible.

It's a classic way to get something tabled for debate - force the opposition to address is by spreading some form of misinformation.


Hello everyone. This is going to be the new home for my vitriolic, pained and occasionally insightful comments and theories that previously found their home on my facebook status. I reserve the right to occasionally pimp this place via my status anyway, but I won't actually post anything boring in it any more.

And if you're wondering about the title of the blog, it'll all become clear after reading for a while...