George Osborne killed my nanny

March 20, 2014

Nanny StateThe Chancellor dealt a mortal blow to the nanny state in his budget. Or did he?

In the UK, there are two evil monsters in the popular bestiary, the nanny state, and the crazed demon known as political correctness. In his budget yesterday [March 19th, 2014] George Osborne appeared to have struck hard at the nanny state monster and her grip over the pensions of hard-saving workers.

At a stroke he handed control of pension funds back to their rightful owners. And with awareness of confusions caused by that sudden liberation, the grateful pensioners will be able to receive advice from ‘independent advisors’.

Irresponsible pensioners?

Might some liberated pensioners go on a spending spree, and then end as a burden on the state? Not at all, Danny Alexander assured us, and he should know as a coalition partner of Mr Osborne. Savers are responsible people not feckless losers about to splurge their liberated cash.

Getting away from nanny

Anyway, he implied, there may be a few old reprobates who head off to Ibiza and limp home penniless (or Euroless). That is a small price to pay for shocking the country out of the domineering control of the nanny state.

And we all lived happily ever after

Or did we? Mythical monsters are not as easy to kill off as natural species like tigers or rhinos. The nanny state may retreat, wounded but not destroyed. There may be stories coming up about unscrupulous advisers charging for dodgy financial advice over dodgy financial products. I know that’s hard to believe.

The cynical BBC analyst Nick Robinson went so far as to suggest that the pension changes were targeted ‘with laser precision’ at older voters who might be tempted away from the conservatives by the seductive offers from Nigel Farage and his Ukipian vision.

Next stop political correctness gone mad

As George Osborne rests from his labours, the country awaits a champion to liberate us from the dominance of that other monster, political correctness gone mad. I am thinking of starting the anti political correctness party [APCP]. If willing, Boris Johnson would become its leader, or maybe post-Ukip, Nigel Farage.

Credit for nanny state image

Image is from the venitism blogspot


Tony Benn, ultimate class warrior [1925-2014 ]

March 14, 2014

Tony Benn was for several generations in the UK the ultimate class warrior

The news of Tony Benn’s death reached me this morning [March 14th, 2014]. I had learned earlier this month of his deteriorating health.

He attracted attention as a class traitor when he renounced his title 2nd Viscount Stansgate to remain as a Member of Parliament.  He became the bogie man of the largely right-wing media, and a charismatic figure of the left.

Possibly too idealistic and too easy to parody,  his earnest style was combined with an evident brilliance of mind and a personal fervor for working class culture into which he inevitably failed to fit.

He was a brilliant television performer and formidable political activist. He was to become a Member of Parliament (MP) for 50 years and a Cabinet Minister under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.

In office in 1964–1970 he served first as Postmaster General, and later Minister of Technology. In the Labour Government of 1974–1979 he was an energetic  Secretary of State for Industry. Arguably he was the most prominent left-wing figure of his age. The term “Bennite” was to the left what “Thatcherite”  was to become to the right.

Integrity

In his later years he became seen as a man of personal integrity. A recent example [February 12 2014]  is the utterly unexpected outpouring of respect from readers of the Daily Mail following the announcement of his deteriorating health.

A personal anecdote

A little anecdote I recall from the 1980s.  The story took place in the bar of a well-known Business School in England.  A Benn supporter and an equally vehement opponent were exchanging hostilities. “He’s a madman. He’s got mad popping eyes” said the Benn opponent. “You’ve got mad popping eyes” Benn’s supporter shouted back.

Benn was not mad

Benn was not mad. He was a gifted dedicated politician. He never played the political games necessary for him to become leader of the Labour party which has continued its journey to the right much to Tony Benn’s disappointment in his later years.


Baffling speech by David Cameron

February 7, 2014

The Prime Minister made a speech today on Scottish Independence. I was baffled by its strategic intent and execution

I watched and listened this morning [February 7th, 2014] as The Prime Minister gave a heavily trailed speech to a small audience at the London Velodrome. It was intended to urge the citizens of the United Kingdom who could not vote to use their influence on those who could to assist a NO vote in the Scottish referendum next year. [That is to say, he addressed people in Northern Ireland, Wales and England to persuade those living in Scotland to vote NO]

‘The sum is greater than the parts’

The Speech argued for the merits of The United Kingdom as a coherent political unity, so much more than the sum of its parts. It was accidentally a case that could be applied to the EU as well, although I am sure that was not the PM’s subliminal intent.

English cool and Celtic warmth?

It might have been an attempt to rebut rationally the points made by the YES campaign. In content however, the emphasis was on the more emotional point that David Cameron was ethnically [like many living in the UK] a mix of Scottish, English and perhaps a dash of Welsh genes.

The style was a restrained emotionalism if I might risk an oxymoron. Perhaps Anglo-Saxon cool and Celtic heat? The PM appeared uncomfortable about the whole performance. The careful explanation of why it took place in the Velodrome was clunky [Scottish for not terribly convincing, old boy].

Why did I find it baffling?

I just could not make much sense of his intentions or of the execution of the speech. What dilemma might he be seeking to address? Was it the need to reverse apparent gains in the YES vote, in recent polls whatever the political risk? Did his advisers appreciate the dilemma of risking infuriating Scottish voters by the intervention? Was there a concern to find a popular new initiative in difficult political times?

Comments and interpretations welcomed.


Lord McAlpine, (1942-2014) colourful politician and author of books including The New Machiavelli

January 18, 2014

Lord McAlpine was a successful businessman turned conservative Politician and political author of fiction and non-fiction including a book on The New Machiavelli. He attracted controversy for a somewhat individualistic lifestyle and successfully defended himself in 2012 against allegations in the media.

You can read more in an earlier post
:


Sex, lies and a very British scapegoat: TV review

December 23, 2013

Fifty years ago, and the British establishment is rocked by a sleazy political story …

An ITV Documentary [22nd December, 2013] presented the so-called Profumo affair of the 1960s with interviews with remaining personalities. Its thrust was that the society osteopath Stephen Ward had been scapegoated by more significant establishment figures, on largely false immorality charges.

Wards’s suicide as his court case was reaching an end served as a convenient but temporary pause before the story built up to its place as a footnote to contemporary British history.

Fifty years on

Fifty years on, and the two young women at the heart of the case remain culturally potent. Christine Keeler lives in drab obscurity in sheltered accommodation in South London. A remarkably vibrant Mandy Rice-Davies is very much alive and in the public eye, and her recollections dominated the programme. As had her court appearance half a century ago, part a Pygmalion figure, part Becky Sharpe. Her cheerful absence of remorse or guilt was one of the few upbeat aspects of the bizarre tale neatly captured in the title Sex, lies and a very British scapegoat.

Andrew Lloyd Webber

It was fitting that its anchorman was none other than Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber. His musical about Stephen Ward is running to less than rave reviews in the West End at present. His marginal involvement with some of the main players at the time has turned the affair into a serious cause for him. He has raised the matter of Ward’s innocence in The House of Lords.

A bit of a turkey

The musical seems likely to be deemed a bit of a turkey. The ITV programme may have been an attempt to rescue it. In any event it offered an interesting revisiting of the sex and security scandal of the 1960s.


Who spoke out this week against heartlessness and why was the speech reviled?

December 2, 2013

Answer: It was Boris Johnson, the charismatic mayor of London, whose other remarks in the same speech were the focus of its negative reporting

I could have begun this post by stating: “Boris Johnson spoke out about social injustice and heartlessness this week [Nov 2013]. His words in this vein were reported as follows:”

“I also hope that there is no return to that spirit of Loadsamoney heartlessness – figuratively riffling bank notes under the noses of the homeless,” he said.

”And I hope that this time the Gordon Gekkos of London are conspicuous not just for their greed – valid motivator though greed may be for economic progress – as for what they give and do for the rest of the population, many of whom have experienced real falls in their incomes over the last five years.”

The outcry

The speech was mainly however an attempt to re-invent competitive capitalism. The article offered another perspective on Boris’s political philosophy, captured in the speech, and which led to a flurry of critical comments:

Boris Johnson, the flamboyant, self-mocking and ambitious mayor of London, has put his gilded foot in his mouth once again, suggesting that the poor of Britain are victims of low IQ and that greed is good.

Mr Johnson, who many believe wants to succeed David Cameron as prime minister and Conservative Party leader, has created an image that is both bumbling and endearing, based on bluster, wit and fundamental competence.

He has survived missteps, including various affairs and a love child, that would have sunk ordinary politicians, but he is a fiercely intelligent debater and funnier than most comedians.

But his comments on Wednesday night in the Thatcher Lecture at the Centre for Policy Studies have created an uglier fuss, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg accusing Johnson of discussing humankind “as if we are a sort of breed of dogs”.

Boris and a clue to charismatic leadership

Boris Johnson is regularly described as charismatic. He illustrates the survival of a leadership style that refuses to die away to confirm the arrival of a post-charismatic era. He conveys, as the article suggests a bumbling style, but he conveys also intelligence and charm. Brand Boris is consistently inconsistent.

He defies the assumption held knowingly or not by almost every other politician, that to look foolish is career damaging. This is an almost impossible act to sustain (not looking foolish). The majority of mainstream politicians struggle with the dilemma of appearing authentic, as their mask of omniscience slips.

Will Boris achieve his political ambitions?

Not if the fate of his beloved classical tragic heroes is pertinent. Boris’s destiny is to replay the fate of those who would defy the gods.

In the meanwhile he appears to demonstrate the possibility that ‘we the people’ deserve the leaders to whom we give our unconditional admiration and good will. The leaders we deserve.

Later:

The Chancellor, George Osborne ‘distances himself’ from Boris’s remarks, [Andrew Marr show, Dec 1st 2013]


Boris Johnson, Feel-Good politician

November 10, 2013

TV Review

Unedited Notes on watching a repeat [Nov 9, 2013] of the BBC documentary of Boris Johnson

He tends to ignore ‘Network of social obligations’. Quote from His House master at Eton

The Darius Guppy affair. Friend who called to ask Boris for an address to help Guppy beat up a journalist

On challenged, sometimes presents his bumbling but endearing style in public rather than denying wrong-doing

Became editor of Spectator and broke his word not to stand for parliament in 2001.

Sacked for lying to Tory leader Michael Howard about an affair

Stood for London mayor backed by Prime Minister and school friend Cameron

Can show discipline when needed, but very chaotic otherwise.

Rivalry with Cameron intensifies after Cameron becomes PM

Another affair…”he’s our Berlusconi, only funnier” [Private Eye editor Ian Hislop]

London riots may have put his re-election as Mayor of London at risk

Said to be the only ‘feel good’ politician in land

Implies he is a serious contender for PM. Prospect offered with less than ringing endorsements

Missing: did I miss any mention of his unpopularity on Merseyside after ill-judged remarks over Hillsborough in a Spectator editorial?

What did we learn about Boris?

What did we learn about Boris? Not a lot that was not already in the public domain. Will he become Prime Minister? Probably not, but the public mood of disillusion of conventional politicians remains high.

The Boris publicity wave rolls on

In the days after posting the above, Boris continues to make media headlines. Click here for a video clip of his claim to be pro-immigation. [Warning: it may come with irritating plug ins]


Why is Rob Ford so popular? The question is relevant to politicians everywhere

November 6, 2013

Rob Ford, the Mayor of Toronto is made a figure of fun by his political enemies. Yet he remains popular, and his popularity has risen since he has accepted his use of hard and soft drugs among his other misdemeanours

Rob Ford could be written off as a one-off, an eccentric figure and a joke. His appearances in the media show a larger-than-life figure, an Archie Bunker goes to Washington character.

Another way of looking at it is evidence of the rejection of conventional values by a proportion of the electorate. One commentator suggests that at least some of his support comes from disillusioned electors who believe they have not been listened to by mainstream politicians.

Does that seem familiar?

It does to me. I remember covering the election of political ‘figures of fun’ in Brazil and Italy over the last few years. In Italy, earlier this year, the anti-politician Beppe Grillo won 25% of the vote running for President. In Brazil Tiririka, or Mr Grumpy, stood in the elections of 2010 and won election as a deputy on the slogan “things can only get worse”

The leaders we deserve

In a perverse way, these outcrops of the democratic process are a healthy reminder of the right of the people to opt for the leaders they deserve and reject the rhetoric of political orthodoxy. I find it at least as constructive as the case made by Russell Brand in a recent Newsnight interview [October 2013] to justify ‘revolution by not-voting’.

What’s going on?

I leave open the possibility that a vote for a figure of fun is actually a serious political statement.

An Archie Bunker moment

According to my urban dictionary, Archie Bunker is a slang word for crack or cocaine. Saying that you have some Archie Bunker is referring to the bigot Archie Bunker, which means your product is whiter then one of the whitest men in America.

Updated

Nov 8th. Rob Ford ‘may enter re-hab’


Rob Ford and Leaders We Deserve

November 2, 2013


Rob Ford is still mayor of Toronto as increasingly bizarre stories previously on the web escape into mainline media

Rob Ford makes an easy target for stories vilifying his lifestyle choices. They are accumulating in a way that aging commentators like myself may find reminiscent of the stories about Richard Nixon. History tells us that Nixon continued to deny his actions were illegal, as the evidence mounted that was eventually to impeach him.

The long-running background story of Rob Ford implies a leader struggling to maintain a facade of normality around incidents implying lack of control and involvement in substance abuse. Mr Ford as a target is all the easier for his numerous unflattering images which are now entering the wider public domaine.

Several accounts giving historical background of the Ford story have emerged. The Toronto Star has been a particular rich source of the breaking news.

I also like The Huffington Post story today [1st Nov 2013]

In June [2013], the day after police made the massive drug raids called Project Traveller, [Police chief] Blair said he would not comment on whether the police had seized any video of the mayor or whether he was under investigation.
But that was before an actual video of the mayor was recovered on Tuesday, taken from a hard drive seized during the Project Traveller raids on June 20.

On Thursday, [Nov 30st 2013] Blair said, “I think it’s fair to say the mayor is depicted in the video.”
He added: “I’m disappointed. As a citizen of Toronto, I’m disappointed…I know this this is a traumatic issue for the citizens of this city, for the reputation of this city and that concerns me.”

Will Ford resign?

From a distance, the Rob Ford drama appears heading for a sad conclusion. If I believed in tipping points, I would say the situation has tipped over irretrievably. Other commentators believe that this is a leader who will have to be forced from office rather than resign. This view was expressed in The Guardian a few hours after this post was published [2nd November 2013].

Update

Nov 4th 2013 In his weekly radio broadcast, The Mayor apologizes for his mistakes but avoids admission of any criminal wrongdoing, or intention of standing down.


Angela Merkel ‘s leadership success falls outside conventional leadership cases

September 23, 2013

Angela MerkelA documentary by the BBC on the eve of the German Presidential elections sensibly stuck to biographic facts without too many attempts to compare Angela Merkel to Margaret Thatcher.

Angela Merkel is increasingly described as the most powerful woman in the world. Information about her in the popular media in the UK has been restricted to scraps about her humble life style, her student days studying science in the then Democratic Republic of [East] Germany, her rise to political power in the period of reunification. From time to time she has been presented as a latter-day Margaret Thatcher, a description she easily avoids accepting or rejecting.

As the BBC’s Andrew Marr put it

Quite a lot about her biography seems to echo that of Margaret Thatcher. Merkel comes from the edges – East Germany, rather than Lincolnshire – and was brought up by an abnormally self-certain and pious father. Something of a loner, she became quite a serious scientist before choosing politics.

Inside her party, she was picked up as a useful female talent by a somewhat patronising mentor – Kohl, rather than Edward Heath – and surprised everybody by her ruthlessness in ousting him, and eventually taking power herself. Like Thatcher, Merkel is a ferociously hard worker, excellent on the detail and a wily political operator.

Yet the differences matter much more than the similarities. Coming from her East German background she believes in social solidarity and working with trade unions; in a coalition-based political system, she is a mistress of consensus and, when it suits her, delay.

Our ignorance of this, the most important female politician in the world, is little short of shocking. Angela Merkel has mattered much more to us and the full European story than perhaps we’ve realised.

In December 2011 David Cameron travelled to a The Brussels summit to fight (‘like a British Bulldog’ he assured his anti-European MPs) for British interests. The British press understandably focused on the significance of Cameron’s intervention.

The New York Times evaluated the outcome as follows:

Cameron was perceived as having made a poor gamble in opposing the push by Mrs. Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, embittering relations and possibly damaging his standing at home. Though some other countries, including Denmark and Hungary, initially shared Britain’s skepticism of the German-led agreement, only Britain ultimately rejected it.

As Cameron continued to struggle with the Anti-European wing of his party he sought to improve personal relations with Merkel. She responded by inviting him and his family into her home. According to Marr, a warm friendship has ensued.

Merkel favours winning support over defeating opponents. It is a style which has served her well.

Angela Merkel ‘s leadership mystery

There really should be no mystery. The puzzlement is mainly to those who subscribe to popular stereotypes of what a leader should appear to be. Merkel is utterly non-charismatic. She has also been criticized for the time it takes her move policy forward as she seeks to build consensus. Maybe Germany from bitter experience realizes the significance of the concept that a society ends up with the leaders it deserves. In other cultures the political question seems often to be “does he (or she) look like a leader?”


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,587 other followers