Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Reaction to John Denham

John Denham has written an article in the Guardian about how Labour needs to concentrate on more than swing voters. What's really interesting is the reaction to the article, in the comments.

Even when they disagree with his thesis, the comments open in a friendly and respectful manner. Here's some examples:

CharlieMcMenamin: John Denham is a man I admire for his integrity and honesty, even if I don't always - or even usually - agree with him. & I'm not just talking about the War - it is characteristic of his general approach to politics

MikeMorris2: John is one of the few good souls left.

Msay: Very good article from John Denham, who ought to return to high ministerial office come the changeover.

porsupuesto: John Denham MP, You are an honourable man who put your country ahead of immediate career when you resigned from the cabinet. Your instincts about Iraq have proved correct and your analysis of the type of government the country needs appears reasonable to me.

It's clear that there is a well of deep respect for him and because of this, people pause to give his opinions a fair hearing. I think it also indicates a deep yearning on the part of many for "good" Labour to return to the fore. Given the choice between Good Labour and the Tories, people will opt for the former.

I hope Mr Brown puts Mr Denham into a very senior position in the Home Office. The public trust in John Denham's integrity will go a long way towards restoring faith in that department.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Uk Economy

The Office of National Statistics reported today that fourth quarter growth came in at 0.8%, beating expectations, with the growth from a year ago being 3% (see graph).

Unemployment also started falling in the fourth quarter dropping to 5.5% from 5.6%, with the claimant count also dropping.

The above could explain the Bank of England's surprise rate rise in January. However minutes out today show that the decision to raise rates was narrow - just 5-4, in favour.

As bloomberg noted, the naysayers were mainly bank officials - Deputy Governor Rachel Lomax, Chief Economist Charles Bean, Executive Director of Markets Paul Tucker, were joined by David Blanchflower, one of the external members, in voting for no change. The last time this many bank officials voted against the governor was in September 2000. What's worrying the naysayers is the state of the global economy. The jury is still out on what is happening in the American economy. Imports into the American economy did not rise in the fourth quarter, always a signal that consumers are cutting back.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Celebrity Big Brother

It's eviction night in the Celebrity Big Brother house, and I hope Jade Goody is thrown out.

But I'm glad the program was aired, because it shines a spotlight in particular on bullying, that not only goes on in the real world but the online world too.

The abusive rants of Jade Goody are very common in the comments sections of Tory sites like Guido's blog and Ian Dale's Diary, though I've not come across it on any Labour or Lib Dem blogs. There is clearly an abusive ranting sub-culture emerging on the right of Britain.

Jade Goody is one of Thatcher's children. Born in 1981, left school at 16 having learnt so little that she was under the impression that East Anglia was "abroad". And she typifies this cohort of people, hence her popularity among her peers.

Her rants against Shilpa Shetty are clearly motivated by jealousy and insecurity. Shilpa is everything that Jade is not - beautiful, talented, richer, more intelligent, better educated and with a stable family behind her.

It's possible that the Tory online ranting subculture is based on similar insecurities - how else to explain the intensity of the abuse directed at Labour? Some of it is surely bitterness at being on the losing side of the last three general elections and bitterness at the Labour economic record. Some of it though may be just plain crassness, learnt at home in Tory families.

I hope "Blair's children" - the ones born and raised during his administration - will be different from Thatcher's children. The regime of frequent testing in schools will at least expose lack of basic knowledge very early, which means teachers will be forced to correct it before the child leaves school, unlike in Jade Goody's day when they just pretended not to notice that a child was falling behind.

Teaching the children manners will be a more difficult. Manners are mainly learnt at home, and the government needs to press ahead with the Respect agenda and parenting classes. But we'll probably always have a rump of people who enjoy being abusive and take pride in it. Until it becomes unacceptable to abuse and rant at people, Thatcher's children and their values are with us for some time.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tony Blair

I've been reading Blair by Anthony Seldon, and the account of Blair's roots and early life have been a revelation (at least to me, as I didn't know much about it).

Conservatives like to claim that Blair is a "Tory", and they also like to gloss over Cameron's privileged background by claiming that it is "similar to Blair's".

In actuality there's a world of difference. While Cameron is descended from Henry VII and had a large number of influential helping hands to get him started, Blair's roots are more humble.

Leo Blair, Tony Blair's father, was born the illegitimate son of two travelling variety actors, Celia Rideway and Charles Parsons (stage name Jimmy Lynton). Celia was married to another man at the time, and the couple asked Mary and James Blair, a Glasgow couple, to foster the child till they could get sorted. James was a shipyard rigger and during the 20's and 30's depression, employment was scarce and Leo Blair was brought up in a crowded tenemenet with five or six families sharing a toilet. James Blair died young, and Leo Blair went to work at age fifteen for The Daily Worker a communist paper. Mary Blair was a lifelong communist, and under her influence, Leo Blair harboured thoughts too of becoming a Communist MP.

What of his real parents? They married three years after he was born, and tried desperately to get him back. When Leo was thirteen, there was a massive battle, with Mary Blair, deeply attached by now to Leo, and with miscarriages and no children of her own, barricading herself into her home and threatening suicide if Leo was taken from her. Leo's real parents smuggled letters to him, which he stashed in a tin under his bed - but when he went to war in 1942, Mary Blair destroyed the letters, and told Leo's parents that he had died in combat. The letters stopped coming, they went to their graves thinking their son was dead, and Leo thought that his parents had abandoned him. It's at this point that he changes his surname by deed poll to Blair. But he does remember his real parents - his second son Anthony Blair is given the middle names Charles and Lynton, his grandfather's real and stage names.

War changes the young Leo - he sees the world outside Glasgow, develops a taste for aspiration and moves to the right. He works by day at the tax office, starts studying law at night school, gets his degree and then a doctorate, becomes a tutor and goes to Australia to teach. He comes back to a double career teaching at Durham university as well as maintaining a full-time law practice, and starts networking to become a Tory MP, and all this striving results in a stroke at the age of forty. He loses the income from the law practice, but his wife's brother, who owned a butchers shop, steps in to help with the children's school fees, as Leo Blair is determined to make sure they get a good start at the best schools.

And what of Tony Blair? He seems to have decided age fifteen at Fettes, that he was an anti-establishment figure, and makes the lives of his tutors miserable, with his constant challenges against discipline. They thought he was a trouble-maker and a ringleader for the bad apples and were glad to see the back of him. At Oxford in his second year, under the influence of Geoff Gallop, an Australian student, and Peter Thomson, an Australian lecturer, he decides he's a centre-left voter (another instance of his anti-establishment self, rebelling against the father?). But he never actually bothers to join any political party, nor debate politics beyond his immediate friends (Mandelson was at Oxford at the same time, but never met him, as Blair never bothered with official politics).

He joins Labour, just after he leaves Oxford, and before he meets Cherie and Irvine. The reason for joining seems to be simply that he missed the cameraderie of centre-left people - the impetus was emotional/social rather than ambition/ideology. He joins the law on his own merits (his father simply hasn't any connections in London to help him), but he gets bored (he's only become a lawyer to please his father). It's Cherie who persuades Blair to stand for office, and he agrees because he's bored with law - another instance of rebelling against what's expected of him? He has no roots or family connections in Labour - again he is making his way on his own merits. And though anti-Benn from the beginning, it never occurs to him to defect to the SDP - that's what was "expected" of people on the right of Labour at the time, so of course he does the opposite and he sticks it out and reforms Labour from within. And the rest is history.

From where I'm sat, the thread that seems to run all the way through is this instinct to be anti-establishment. It's what makes him rebel at school. It's what makes him decide he's of the left. And once within Labour, he decides of course to rebel again - this time against the Labour establishment. There is nothing "conservative" about the need to rebel. It's a progressive instinct.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Comment Moderation Enabled

I've enabled comment moderation, due to some eejit posting porn-links in my comments. To the culprit: please buzz off.

My site meter shows that they are going through my blog-roll - hope other people haven't also been affected!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Crude Oil Futures continue to drop

Crude oil futures dropped for the third day running. According to the FT:

ICE Brent for February delivery slipped $1.21 to $53.97 a barrel in late afternoon London trade, but off its intra-day low of $53.50, its lowest level since June 2005.

The pundits have been advancing all sorts of arguments why this is happening - the mild weather which has meant that less fuel is used, which has increased inventories; that business and individuals have become more fuel efficient, and are using less, etc etc. All of which are true as far as they go.

However, the fall in recent days happened even while the Russian-Belarus pipeline was shut. That indicates that the price drop is signalling something fundamental. Whenever you get a global slowdown, demand for oil drops (as less economic activity takes place) which always drags down the oil price. This drop in the price of crude is probably an early indicator that the world economy is slowing, even though a host of pundits are saying otherwise. We shall know for sure in a few months, when the data comes out.

OPEC can't be pleased - they want to keep oil at $55-$65 dollars and will cut output on Feb 1st. Not sure it will do them any good. If the global economy really is slowing, demand will fall faster than OPEC can cut supply.

Cameron still struggling to make Friends in Germany

From the FT:

David Cameron made a fresh attempt to forge close relations with a prominent European centre-right party yesterday when he travelled to Bavaria for a meeting with Edmund Stoiber, leader of Germany's Christian Social Union (CSU).

However, Mr Cameron continues to be dogged by an apparent refusal by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and leader of the more prominent centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU), to meet him.

........Ms Merkel is believed to be shunning Mr Cameron out of irritation over Tory plans eventually to quit the European People's party, the mainstream centre-right grouping in the European parliament. Ms Merkel, whose government now holds the presidency of the European Union, has not met Mr Cameron since late 2005 when she became German chancellor and he won the Conservative leadership.

.........Mr Stoiber, by contrast, holds no formal office in the national German government and is under pressure to stand down as CSU leader ahead of state elections next year in Bavaria where the party has governed virtually without interruption for nearly 60 years.

Many in the German centre-right continue to regard membership of the EPP as an essential hallmark of a party's commitment to the political mainstream. The Tories have pledged to quit the EPP by 2009 because they do not share its commitment to further European integration.

This could go on for years. What's the betting Cameron caves?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

China Changes Tax Treatment of Foreign Owned Firms

From the Asia Times:

As of January 1, Sino-foreign joint ventures and wholly foreign-owned firms are no longer exempt from paying land-use tax. Also, later this year a new corporate income tax structure is expected to be passed and implemented that will see foreign and domestic firms taxed at the same rate, ending years of special corporate tax breaks for overseas firms.

The land-use or property-tax rate will now apply equally to both local and foreign developers and will triple the old rate set in 1988.

In large cities the annual property tax rate will range from 1.5 yuan to 30 yuan (19 US cents to $3.85) per square meter depending on its location and type of use. In medium-sized cities the rate will range from 1.2 yuan to 24 yuan per square meter, in small cities the rate will vary from 0.9 to 18 yuan and counties, townships and mining areas property will be taxed at a rate of between 0.6 yuan to 12 yuan per square meter per year.

This first revision of land-use tax regulations since 1988 is aimed at bringing better control and better planning to the development and redevelopment of land, according to sources with the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council, China's cabinet.

........... The new regulations will also bring to an end the unfair treatment of domestic companies, which have had to pay taxes and fees from which overseas firms have been exempted for nearly two decades, they said.

............Low land-use costs and tax exemptions have been the major tools China has used to open its economy to foreign investment since the late 1970s.

Late last month, China's top legislature began discussing a new law on corporate income tax that is likely to result in a unified tax rate of 25% for both domestic and foreign companies. If the law is approved, foreign firms are likely to lose a major tax advantage.

Despite a stated corporate tax rate of 33%, foreign firms often benefit from tax waivers, credits and incentives that bring their tax rate down to an average of 15%. Domestic companies on average are taxed at a rate of 24%.

Domestic Chinese firms are delighted at this development as it means they compete with foreign-owned firms on a level playing field for the first time. This also benefits the Chinese government which will gain extra tax revenue which they can re-direct to China's impovershished interior.

However, foreign firms (which are mainly American, though Britain, France and Germany have a presence in China) will feel the pinch. Most will have sunk too much money into their Chinese operations to simply up and go elsewhere (and in any case the Chinese move allows other similar low-cost countries to also increase their taxes in line). Firms like Wal-Mart, which have substantial interests in China will be tempted to pass their costs on to the American consumer, making things even more difficult for the Fed, which is contending with inflation combined with a slowing US economy.

The big question of 2007 is how the US economy will fare: will they have a soft landing or go into recession? And how will their slow-down affect the rest of the world? Will the world economy decouple from America's for the first time since WW1, or will the world economy do the usual thing and slow as America slows.

Monday, January 01, 2007

American Death toll in Iraq reaches 3000

According to today's Washington Post, the American death toll in Iraq has reached 3000.

Bush really is Le Président du Mort.

2752 dead in 9/11. 3000 Americans dead in Iraq. 356 Americans dead in Afghanistan. The Katrina death toll revised up to 1836, as bodies continue to be found. Countless Iraqis and Afghans dead. Poor, poor Americans. They don't deserve this, even if they brought it on themselves by re-electing Bush. And poor, poor Iraq and Afghanistan. They don't deserve this either.

In ancient times they would have concluded that the Gods looked on Bush with displeasure and would have hastily removed the Man with the Bad Karma from office. But we live in modern times, and there are still two years more to go before Bush steps down. Let's hope there is no earthquake or hurricane or international crisis this year to expose his incompetance again.

The newly-elected Democrats get sworn in this January and finally take power in Congress. I hope they have the courage to check Bush, force him to confront reality and to make a withdrawal from Iraq. We will have a new Prime Minister in Britain too this year. Let's hope he backs his natural allies in the Democratic Congress in their efforts to extricate America and us from this nightmare. If they succeed, 2007 will be a more successful year than 2006.