subtitle

...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Day 2829: the Lesser of Two Evils? More like the Lesser of Two Eejits!

Monday:


So, Mr Evan Davies gave a good SPANKING to both Chancellor Sooty and Master Gideon on the The Today Programme on the radio this morning.



Far be it for fluffy little me to think that Sooty's MYSTERIOUS unavailability to talk about the IMPLOSION of another British Bank until after 8am was some insanely inappropriate SPOILER TACTIC for Master Gideon's big interview, but… presumably the Labour were assuming that when Sooty INEVITABLY shot himself in the foot, he might wing Gideon at the same time.

As it was, Mr Evan played the "Vince Cable" card and trumped BOTH of them.


Anyway, they're both MORONS.

For a start, Sooty has decided to split up the assets and the liabilities of the Badly and Bungling Building Society Bank.

I have to admit that Daddy Richard is being driven slightly NUTTY by all the reporting of this: in the first place, they keep taking about the bank's "savings business" and it's "mortgage business" as if these are not the front and back end of the same PANTOMIME HORSE. You wouldn't say that Tesco has a "getting food from farmers" business and a "selling food to people" business, now would you?

Sooty has clearly encouraged them in this by treating the assets and liabilities separately. Which is why HE is an eejit. He's essentially left the bank with a whole load of loans to collect, but no savings end means no new business means, in the end, no bank. It's like cutting a WORM in HALF. You do NOT get two worms, you get one half of a dead worm and ANOTHER half of a dead worm. Eejit.


But then, the reporting keeps implying that it is the GOVERNMENT that is getting the bank's LIABILITIES – saying that the taxpayer will be "responsible for £41billion worth of mortgages" – while they are handing over the bank's £20 billion of deposits to the Spanish as if these are ASSETS.

Quite obviously, the mortgages that the government is keeping are the ASSETS (i.e. the mortgages are money that is OWED to the bank and represent a future cashflow INTO the treasury coffers). And what they are handing over are the LIABILITIES (i.e. the liability to repay all the deposits that the bank owes back to its savers).

Now, you would have to ask, why would anyone "buy" the exciting right to have to repay twenty billion bucks?

The answer is because Sooty is going to pay them twenty billion bucks to do so. (This is a win for the Spanish, because most banks will have debts way larger than what they have in READY CASH; so although their debt goes up, the cash they get in exchange is a much bigger proportion of what they had on hand. This is called "improving their gearing" by smart City types who talk JARGON to stop you understanding that they don't know what they're talking about.)

So it LOOKS like Sooty has just had all of us, the Great British public, settle ALL of Badly and Bungling's debts at a stroke. Except… EXCEPT… actually, what has happened is this: the bank went BUST so the brand new bank-insurance-against-going-bust scheme ought to kick in. Except, begin brand new, it hasn't had any time to accumulate reserves and so, ironically, if it paid out then it would, er, go bust. So Sooty has "loaned" the insurance scheme the money to pay out to the Spanish. It's fiendishly complicated, this.

So what we are left with is RISK – not a bill right now, but the RISK that those £41 billion worth of mortgages are not worth £41 billion pounds.

As Mr Dr Vince "the Power" Cable pointed out, there's always a chance that they might actually turn out to be a GOOD deal for the taxpayer; those mortgage assets could be worth a lot MORE than we're going to pay for them, assuming that most of the people who borrowed the money manage to keep up with their repayments.

Nationalisation is BAD because Governments are not very good at running businesses. Although it turns out that sometimes businesses are much, much WORSE at running businesses.

Accepting that it is only a LEAST WORST option, though, a temporary Government ownership can be a safe harbour whilst the tempest passes.

As with the Northern Rock-and-a-Hard-Place Bank – to which these mortgages will probably get added – if the government just holds onto them for a while until the economy starts to swing up again, they SHOULD be able to sell them for good value. After all, people are always going to need houses.


Master Gideon, of course, is against this. It's not JUST that he is in opposition, and so against what Sooty is doing just because. No, he thinks that the Badly and Bungling should be sold privately. This is because (a) obviously people are just gagging to buy a bank that the market has valued as worthless; and (b) clearly there are just so many banks out there flush with cash at the moment anyway…

Or maybe he's an eejit too.

Take his idea to have the Bank of England "step in" whenever they think that a bank's lending is getting a bit risky. Can you, in fact, think of a clearer signal that a bank is going down than that? The minute the Bank of England says ANYTHING, the City goes into headless-chicken mode, the share price flatlines and the bank is as dead as Master Gideon's fashion sense.

Then there’s his WHEEZE to FREEZE: celebrating the Conservatories policy of returning power to local councils by, er, imposing on them a centralised, Big Government decision overriding their power to choose the level of their own Council Tax. Behold the Joined-up-Government in waiting.

But as if that wasn't bad enough, he's now going round writing articlessaying:

"We can no longer afford an economy built on debt"

"An economy built on debt is not an economy built to last"

It sounds like a good sound-bite, doesn't it?

And yet, if you take him at his word, it betrays a FUNDAMENTAL and TOTAL lack of understanding about how capitalism works.

Everything, EVERYTHING about our economy depends on the idea of DEBT.

What is MONEY itself, but a "promise to pay"? It is a note of a DEBT owed, that we use in order to swap our debts about. Does Master Gideon expect us to go back to BARTER?

You work for a living? The boss OWES you a DEBT for every minute that you work. Yes, even when Googling on FaceSpace. You LEND him (or her) your services and that debt is settled at the end of the week or the month.

And who could possibly afford a house without using DEBT to match the payments for your home over your working life?

(Although, these day, practically nobody can afford a house anyway, and for that matter the banks seem to have given up lending.)

But at a higher level, debt is what makes INVESTMENT possible.

If you want to start a business you have EXACTLY two options: (A) be very rich; (B) borrow some money.


Responsible is a word that Mr Balloon suddenly likes. RESPONSIBLE lending means advancing money to people who are able to repay the debt AND make a bit on top.

This allows people who have got good ideas and hard work but NOT Mr Balloon's inherited fortune to set up in business. This is how ALMOST ALL the businesses in Great Britain start, businesses that make and sell things, that pay taxes and even grow to employ other people.

A responsible level of debt is exactly what we need. It is the GRIT in the capitalist OYSTER. It is the OIL that lubricates the GREAT MACHINE.

It is the very HEART of the Credit Crunch Crisis that we have gone from FAR TOO MUCH debt to ABSOLUTELY NONE AT ALL.

It's like going from a hundred-and-ten miles-an-hour on the motorway to nothing (and that is a good analogy because a hundred-and-ten miles-an-hour is irresponsibly out of control, and nothing will get you nowhere): the only way you can achieve this is with a NASTY CRUNCH.


Far be it for fluffy little me to remind everyone that Mr Dr Vince was saying for quite some time that we needed a careful and cautious but above all MANAGED reduction in overall borrowing to a RESPONSIBLE level… so I'll just remind you that Mr Evan told everyone that this morning.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Day 2828: Bankrupt Again!

Sunday:


What with the financial crisis and all, Daddy Richard decided PRUDENTLY to split his savings between several banks. This, however, turns out merely to increase the chances of getting hit!

So, today we learn that a second of his banks has bitten the bullet and gone to the great Stock Exchange in the Sky.


Meanwhile, also bankrupt (morally if not financially) is that scion of Stock Market gamblers: Mr Balloon.

Every time Mr Frown has managed to convince me that he is the WORST PRIME MONSTER EVER… up pops Mr Balloon to show that he would be EVEN WORST-ER!


For starters, he was on Mr Andy Marrmite's sofa, telling him that "RESPONSIBLE" is the new "PRUDENT".

All of us, it seems, are "responsible" for the Credit Crunch for borrowing too much money. And the Labour, they are "responsible" for the Credit Crunch for not regulating enough.

"What about the banks?" Mr Andy invited, "don't they bear some responsibility too?"

"Er…" said Mr Balloon. "Well, if the bonuses, the package might have, er, been an incentive to take risks then, er, we would have to look at that too…"

So that's a DECISIVE: "no, actually, I won't be asking the banks to behave responsibly with other people's money, even though they've just gambled it all away!" from the Leader of the Conservatories. "Especially after it's just emerged that we Conservatories get a lot of wonga from those hedge funds who've been making a fortune by driving down the share price of banks."

So as usual, no accepting of his own "responsibility" at all from Mr Balloon.


And then there's his "plan" to have a special committee to tell the Chancellor when he's being NAUGHTY.

What ACTUAL power would MR Balloon's financial QUANGO have to stop the Treasury from borrowing? The power of EMBARRASSMENT, that's all. So, pretty much like the current arrangement, with Mr Frown's fiscal rules: Nothing.

But then get this.

Challenged by Mr Andy over the assertion that the Conservatories at last year's conference were in favour of LESS regulation (until Northern Rock hit the, er, northern rocks), Mr Balloon said "oh, but that was just a report; we didn't accept that."

Soooooo… when his new "Office of Budget Responsibility" – or "Office for Irresponsibly Passing the Buck" – when they give him a "report" that says Master Gideon is borrowing too much, what's to stop him just saying "Oh, well, I don't accept that report, either!"

Another toothless talking shop from the man infamous for setting up "policy" commissions that even when they do report don't REALLY become Conservatory policy, so there's nothing Mr Balloon can ever be caught out as "responsible" for.

Someone in the MEE-JA really OUGHT to skewer Mr Balloon on this one: EITHER he has got no policies at all, or he cannot just keep saying "ah, but that was only a report". As it is he squirms between one option and the other as suits him and then has the CHEEK to call other people LIARS for innocently believing that what he called a policy last year will not get turned into "just a report" this.


And while we're at it someone in the MEE-JA really needs to check up on the level of borrowing under the Conservatories last Chancellor, Fatty Clarke. (A clue: even with his maxing out of all the credit cards, Chancellor Sooty still hasn't reached the level of wild over-borrowing that the Conservatories ran up just to keep the economy working until the General Election!)


Now, we have to decide what to do about what's left of Daddy's savings. One thing is for sure, we won't be banking on anything Mr Balloon has to say!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Day 2824: The President Should Be Able to Think About More than One Thing at a Time

Wednesday:


In a DRAMATIC development in the election in Americaland, Senator Oven-Chip has announced that since he's dropped ten points in the polls he's taking his ball and going home. So nyer!


Does this indicate that Senator Oven-Chip is uncertain of his ability to WALK and CHEW GUM at the same time?

Or is he trying to distract attention from the discovery that his campaign manager was getting $15,000 a month from Freddie Big-Mac right up until the Monkey-in-Chief nationalised it, something that the Senator had specifically denied?

Or is it just another stunt like choosing "Caribou Barbie*" for Veep, in order to boost his numbers?



Last week, of course, the senator was saying that everything was fine and dandy with the American economy; this week he says that things are so bad they cannot carry on the election campaign (just like the way they DIDN'T suspend the election during the Great Depression or World War part Two… oh).

Either Mr Oven-Chip is having a bad case of the Sooty MOOD SWINGS… or he doesn't have the first clue what is going on.

Just to explain it for him: the banking system had a bit of a "dead cat-monster bounce" last week on the announcement that the Monkey-in-Chief was going to bail them out by signing over seven-hundred billion bananas to buy up all of their "mortgage back securities" (or BAD DEBTS). Or in plainer language, he was going to get them out of the mess they'd gotten into and the taxpayer was going to pick up the rather enormous tab.

This week, though, Congress realised that actually the Monkey-in-Chief needed them to agree to this, and – after looking at the complete lack of details in his "huge blank cheque to the people who wrecked the economy" plan – felt that they were empowered to say FU… Please Depart Off.

On hearing that they were NOT about to be instantly and massively rewarded for splattering the economy, the bankers plunged into panic and their shares once more plunged through the floor.

The head of the Federal Reserve then went to Congress to address the Representatives and told them to carefully consider all the alternatives and then darned well DO WHAT HE TOLD THEM TO.


Meanwhile, the Monkey-in-Chief himself went on American television to say to the people:

"Can ANYBODY fly a plane?!"


Anyway, news that there was a crisis in the housing market may have reached one of Senator Oven-Chip's eight or nine homes (he forgets how many) but he must have missed it.

Fortunately, he was handed a life-line from an unlikely source.

Senator Barry O telephoned the Oven-Chip camp to suggest that, under the current crisis circumstances, they should issue a BI-PARTISAN statement. The Oven-Chip team thought that this was a brilliant idea and then decided that they could go one better and issued a MONO-PARTISAN statement.

This is apparently Senator Oven-Chip's definition of "leadership".

Having rushed to deliver his pronouncement first, the Octogenarian Candidate was quickly wheeled off by his North Korean minders; at Barry O's later press conference, the Illinois Senator was happy to take questions from the Press.

One of these people was described as looking "Presidential"; one was described as looking "near to death".

You won't be surprised to learn that personally I agree with Barry O that the Presidential debate should go ahead. If these are the testing times, then these are when the public MOST need to hear from the two men who would lead them.

On the other fluffy foot, if Mr Oven-Chip REALLY doesn't feel up to it, then he can always ask his Vice Presidential nonimee to stand in for him. After all, that is what she's there for… isn't it?

* Sarah Pain: she's an ANTI-choice, PRO-abstinence/ignorance, Replutocratic CREATIONIST who is PROUD of hunting FLUFFY ANIMALS. What do you THINK I'm going to say about her?

PS:
Meanwhile, I appear to have received a SPAM e-mail…

Subject: Hank Paulson's 419 Letter

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship
with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Minister of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country
has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds
of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer,
it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my
replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you
may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation
movement in the 1990s. This transaction is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the
funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds
in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under
surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a
reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the
funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund
account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to
wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your
commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I
will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be
used to protect funds.

Yours Faithfully, Minister of Treasury Paulson


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Day 2825: Credit Crisis – Church Takes Action

Thursday:


The Beardy-Weirdy of Canterbury and Mr Dr John Sent-to-Moo, the Archpillock of York have joined forces to attack MERCHANT BANKERS.

Apparently the Bishops condemn people for investing faith in an INVISIBLE POWER that inexplicably acts for BENIGN reasons, and for selling a product that is of no MATERIAL benefit to anyone…

…hang on; this is a JOKE, isn't it?

Day 2823: "…and here is my husband who's going to talk about not using his family as props"*

Tuesday:


*Yes, this is the cartoon in Wednesday's Metro, but it doesn't half sum up Mr Frown's self-serving double-talk.



Mr Frown has made his speech to the Labour Conference, and people are describing it as "the speech of his life". Which just goes to show how many BAD speeches Mr Frown has made.

He starts with an apology… no, sorry, I've actually READ the speech now, rather than just heard the SPIN. He DOESN'T start with an apology: he starts by blaming everyone else for hurting his feelings over that thing where he put poor people's taxes up by 100%.

"So what happened with 10p, it stung me because it really hurt that suddenly people felt I wasn't on the side of people on middle and modest incomes"

So just let me get this right: the 10p tax rate rise was bad because it stung… Mr Frown?

Suddenly people "FELT" that he wasn't on their side?

This is the Portillo-language of "people THOUGHT the Conservatories were arrogant".

People THOUGHT the Conservatories were arrogant because the Conservatories WERE arrogant, Mr Frown and – sting you though it might – people FELT you weren't on their side because YOU WERE NOT ON THEIR SIDE.

YOU took money from the lowest earners to give a tax cut to the better off – those on middle AND top incomes – because you thought you were being jolly clever and because you thought it would help you win an election.

And the Liberal Democrats TOLD you what you had done. The time to APOLOGISE was immediately after Sir Mr the Merciless's reply to your 2007 budget; the time to fix this was then, eighteen months ago.

So you're still not sorry, you are still arrogant and you still refuse to listen to what people tell you. Believe me, Mr Frown, this sort of story NEVER ENDS WELL for the lead… particularly when you’re a rubbish leader.



Continuing his speech, Mr Frown then takes some time to address the APPALLING CATACLYSM that has engulfed the economy but which is absolutely in no way his fault in spite of his being in charge of regulation of the banking industry for the last eleven years.


He starts by putting things in perspective:

"In truth, we haven't seen anything happening like this since the industrial revolution"

Er, sort of in perspective. In the sense of "lost all". But no, be fair, apart from the World War, the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression, the collapse of the Gold Standard, the OTHER World War, the Oil Shock, the Three Day Week, The Winter of Discontent, The Eighties, the Collapse of Communism, the Stagflation that almost destroyed the Japanese, Black Wednesday and the Dot.com Crash… no, we've never seen ANYTHING like this before.

So with that in mind, he tells us what the Government is going to do:


"Let us be clear the modern role of government is not to provide everything, but it must be to enable everyone."

…which is why the Labour are legislating to BAN EVERYTHING!

No, sorry, what he ACTUALLY says is that he has a five point plan to solve the Credit Crunch Crisis. Hilariously, it's been written by Ms Do As I Say Not Do as I Do.

Here's his plan:

"First, transparency - all transactions need to be transparent and not hidden"

Because wouldn't it be NICE if the Government DIDN'T keep resisting Freedom of Information requests, and what about some proper inquiries into the Al Yamama arms deal, and that small Adventure in the Middle East.


"Second, sound banking, a requirement to demonstrate that risks can be managed and priced for bad times as well as good"

Oooh, so do let's see your risk assessments for, I don’t know, all of those ATOMIC REACTORS you have decided to build. And what are the risks of selling them all off to the French? Or the environmental impact assessment of a Third Heathrow Runway.


"Thirdly, responsibility - no member of a bank's board should be able to say they did not understand the risks they were running and walk away from them"

That would be like Mr Frown actually taking responsibility for the War in Iraq and taking ACTUAL actual responsibility for the 10p Tax Rise. You known, as opposed to saying how people had HURT HIS POOR FEELINGS by their reaction to BEING ROBBED.


"Fourth, integrity - removing conflicts of interest so that bonuses should not be based on short term speculative deals but should be a reward for hard work, effort and enterprise"

So that would be the equivalent of, oh say, the Prime Monster giving up his arbitrary power to call a general election based on the short term speculation about the opinion polls.


"And fifth, global standards and supervision because the flows of capital are global, then supervision can no longer just be national it has to be global too."

'Cos our standing is SOOOO high in the World at the moment, we could really DO with setting the global standards. Presumably they would involve things like everyone agreeing to play by the United Nations rules and then maybe actually STICKING to the United Nations rules rather than going it solo when we didn't like what everyone else said?

I could sit here and do this all day. The simple fact of the matter is this: DON'T, just DO NOT start laying down the law when you are not willing to stick to the same rules yourself. Put your own house in order first, Mr Frown.



Having put the world to rights – with a wave of his magic wand – he then goes into a bit of a SELF-JUSTIFYING reverie:

"You know some people say that there's an inevitable political cycle in this country - as sure as night follows day.

"I don't agree."

…and that's why I'm abolishing elections… oops, did I say that aloud?

And his raison d'être. FAIRNESS. (Translation: I wanted to be Prime Monster all these years and it's turned out to be too hard. IT'S NOT FAIR!!!!!)


"And why do we always strive for fairness?"

Is it because no one in the right minds would admit to striving for UNFAIRNESS, Mr Frown?


Quite seriously, the idea that Conservatories' aim is deliberate UNFAIRNESS is both stupid and a lie. Obviously the Conservatories' IDEA of what fairness MEANS is DIFFERENT to the Labour and different again to the Liberal Democrat one.

The Conservatories, it seems to me, believe that it is FAIR to let people KEEP what they have – even if that means that people with a lot keep a lot and people with nothing get zippo.

The Liberal Democrats believe that it is FAIR to give people the very best chance in life and to let them make what they can of that, even if it means that some people succeed and some do not, and we accept that your definition of success is different for each individual.

But the Labour, and only the Labour, believe that it is FAIR for THEM to decide what each person deserves based only on the WHIM of who the Prime Monster thinks is good (hard-working families and little tiny babies, at the moment, apparently) and who is bad (people who are single, or differently familied or believe that life is too short to waste every waking moment slaving for the minimum wage, and/or everyone else).

Mr Frown might call that "fairness" but I call it FEUDALISM.


Oh, no, hang on, I am wrong, apparently it's because Mr Frown has "fairness DNA". I'd be FASCINATED to hear what Mr Professor Richard thinks of THAT!


"For me fairness is treating others how we would be treated ourselves"

Oh, so THAT's why the tax and benefit system seems so curiously well tailored for a married couple with young children living in central London on around a hundred grand a year. It's just Mr Frown treating all the rest of us the way he would treat himself. As indeed he does.



"For too long we've developed only some of the talents of some people – but the modern route to social mobility is developing all the talents of all the people…"

Which clearly explain why the Prime Monster has spent a DECADE making it so FRIGHTENINGLY EXPENSIVE to go to University that no one without wealthy parents DARES to run up the debt gambling their entire future on it. The Labour far from developing the talents of all the people has killed social mobility STONE DEAD.


"...helping those who are working their way up from very little and lifting up those in the middle who want to get on. It means supporting what really matters – hard work and effort and enterprise"

Where by "rewarding" the Prime Monster actually means CRUSHING them with a student loan, CRIPPLING them with some of the longest working hours in Europe in the name of so-called productivity, and ENSLAVING them in a hire 'em and fire 'em economy… which then goes bankrupt thanks to the unregulated GREED of those at the top who you have been actively encouraging for the last ten years in order to big up the City of London.


"And fairness is why Harriet Harpic is introducing the first ever equalities bill."

…about ten years late…

"Fairness is why Ed Miliband is ensuring that community and third sector organisations can play their proper part in every neighbourhood."

…so that we can dump our responsibilities on the voluntary sector…

"Fairness is why John Denham is extending university access,"

…if not ability to take up the so generous offer of a lifetime of indentured servitude…

"why Ruth Kelly has introduced for the first time free bus travel for pensioners,"

Would that be in any way similar to the Freedom Pass scheme that gives free travel to Londoners over sixty? The Freedom Pass that was introduced in 1974?

And then I find that the Government announced this policy not in 2008 or 2007 but in 2006… and that a scheme of this kind existed in Wales before then.

Daddy Alex asks if this is me suggesting that Mr Ruth Kelly is HISTORY? The answer, it is YES!

"and why John Hutton and our Labour Members of the European Parliament but are fighting to free agency workers from the scourge of exploitation."

…by any means that avoids granting them human rights like proper citizens.


But MOST egregious of all:

"And it is why our whole party is leading the fight against the British National Party."

Cough, splutter, choke.

You want to "lead" the fight, you do not and I mean this, you DO NOT issue leaflets that suggest that Liberal Democrat policies are "pro-immigrant" as though this is a bad thing; you do not make false claims that inflate the British Nasty Party's prospects which ironically then see them get elected; and absolutely above all you STOP treating people as bad ONLY because they are from ABROAD. You can make the case for managing immigration responsibly but there is no excuse, none whatsoever for automatically treating people, human beings, as criminals. Your refusal, for example, to grant citizenship to women who have been trafficked for prostitution is nothing short of shameful and by policies like that and others, and by the language you use in description of refugees you make the British Nasty Party's case for them.

"the other side of welcoming newcomers who can help Britain is being tough about excluding those adults who won't and can't"

Those are the words of the Prime Monster. In this very speech. As he promises to keep out the immigrants just the way Australia does.

Mr Frown, the Labour is leading the fight FOR the BNP. And again I say, put your house in order.



And then we get to the barfworthy bit. Little tiny babies, I'm telling you.

"For me, the fairer future starts with putting children first…"

See?


"…and so I pledge here today in Manchester starting in over 30 communities, and then over 60, we will, stage by stage, extend free nursery places for two year olds for every parent who…"

…can only make ends meet by going back out to work before they've even had time to get to know their child. The real TRAGEDY here is that Mr Frown cannot even see how MONSTROUS he is being. He thinks he is doing GOOD – just like the paternalistic Victorian moralisers who threw children into the workhouse. But it is NOT good, is it? It cannot be good to EXPECT parents to leave their children in the hands of others.

When did we GIVE UP on hard-working families actually BEING families?

"That's the fairness parents want"

You know, I really don't think that it is, Mr Frown. And if you came out of your BUNKER more than once a year for a set-piece speech, if you actually TALKED to people the way Mr Clogg talks to people week in, week out, I think you would know that too.

"And so today I announce my intention to introduce ground-breaking legislation to enshrine in the law of the land Labour's pledge to end child poverty."

So, er, the Labour are going to make child poverty… illegal? What, people are going to be ARRESTED for letting their children be poor? That bit I said about workhouses, I didn't mean it LITERALLY! And yet, Mr Frown, it seems, does…


Anyway, never mind the economy, never mind being hard up, Mr Frown promises to spend money like water to make things good for the children (won't somebody think of the children). It's not that they aren't good things – catch-up tuition in reading, wireless internet access – or at least not bad things – arbitrary pledges of rights to have your school overhauled if it's failing – but money has to come from somewhere and not just J K Rowling.

That's not ME saying that, that's MR Frown in this very speech. And yet how QUICKLY the Prime Monster does forget:

"But you know, when it comes to public spending you can't just wave a magic wand to conjure up the money - not even with help from Harry Potter"

Oh, Jo… sighs.

Anyway, for the rest of us he's also going to find a cure for cancer, abolish prescription charges and phase in immortality on the NHS.



In the final part of his speech, Mr Frown turns on those people who are to BLAME for all the BAD THINGS. It's not a spoiler to tell you that it's POOR PEOPLE and THE TORIES.

(Yes, I know that’s OBVIOUSLY a contradiction; don't blame me, I'm not the terminally confused sulk-meister who thinks he's Lord Blairimort!)


"Our aim is a something for something, nothing for nothing Britain"

"the dole is only for those looking for work or actively preparing for it"

"Fairness demands that we both punish and prevent"

"Nobody in Britain should get to take more out of the system than they are willing to put in"

This is Mr Frown in VENGEFUL OLD-TESTAMENT PROPHET mood. Obviously, the Labour crowd LOVED this bit.

It is OF COURSE the WICKEDEST form of selfishness: it's the assertion that the poor deserve to be poor; they shouldn't get help if they won’t help themselves. Even at the height of Queen Maggie's power, the Conservatories would have shied away from saying THAT sort of thing. At least in public. How vile and low to hear it from a Labour Prime Monster

If I might go all Senator Joe Bidet on you for a moment:

You start with far-fetched faith in big city bankers. Your policies are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, misplaced, IRRELEVANT to the real needs, and you end in the GROTESQUE PARODY of a Labour Prime Monster – a LABOUR Prime Monster – scuttling round telling poor people facing an economic meltdown OF HIS OWN MAKING that it's all their fault!

And Mr Neil Knock-Knock APPLAUDED Mr Frown's speech.



And of course, there was the ROUSING attack on the Conservatories – not us, Liberal Democrats, of course. Easier to pick on Master Gideon, whose ineptitude on the economy is fast becoming legendary. I believe the phrase addressed to most BULLIES is "why don't you pick on someone your own size, Mr Frown. His name is VINCE."

Then there was the most famousest line of the speech, the sound-bite that really hit the MEE-JA's spot.

"I'm all in favour of apprenticeships, but let me tell you this is no time for a novice."

What an enormously SELF-SATISFIED GRIN plasters itself across Mr Frown's face at that moment. He is unable to contain it, a genuine emotion at last: SMUGNESS – smugness at just how clever he thinks he is, how cleverly he thinks he can diss both Mr Balloon and Mr Millipede in one sentence. What a piece of work. And don't think that Mr Millipede – applauding at the end of the speech for all of five whole seconds – didn't notice.

One final little rally:

"The Conservatives say our country is broken - but this country has never been broken by anyone or anything."

This IS a great line, great for attacking the Conservatories, anyway. Imagine, attacking them from the RIGHT… on Patriotism.

Of course, resorting to Patriotism is also the last refuge of a scoundrel. But I think we all know Mr Frown is WAY past that point by now.



This wasn't a good speech. This was an evil speech.

Mr Frown will stay on as Prime Monster because the Labour are blind to that. And he will destroy them all.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Day 2821: Big Bang Damp Squib

Sunday:


Oh dear, they've gone and fritzed the Large Hat Collider!


You're not fooling ME! It is a COVER UP! K-9 is down there, saving the world from BLACK HOLES!

(No, it is NOT Captain Jack and Toychwud – they turned up on Big Bang Day all SAD because Tosh and Weevil-Boy Owen were DEADED, forgetting that Toychwud continuity is a year in the future so that hasn't happened yet! Clearly they are caught in the TIME WARP. AGAIN!)

Day 2820: Merlin – Could it Be Magic?

Saturday:


Hmmm, well, this was a quite… tentative opening to the BBC's latest Saturday night "family entertainment" show. Will it be another "Doctor Who" or will it be another "Robbing Hoodie"? It seemed that it hadn't quite made up its own mind yet either!

For every classy special effect by Doctor Who's team from the Mill or prosthetics by Mr Neil Gorton, there was a moment of crassly anachronistic dialogue that could have tripped off Robin's tongue innit.

And with no fewer than four names under the "created by" credit, you can't help worrying that this is magic by committee.


More obvious even than the Doctor Who / Robbing Hoodie connection, though, is the lifting from the series that is, in some ways, at the root of both of those: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Except it's a really weird INVERSION of Buffy.

Where Saint Joss of Wheadon took an ordinary teen-drama and injected fantasy elements (in the form of honking great metaphors for the horrors of teenagedom), here the Beeb have taken a fantasy story and turned it into Camelot 90210.

This inversion even seems to extend to undoing the Buffyverse's gender-reversal, with the heroes definitely being the boys again (which doesn't half miss the point, though I suppose mythology left them a bit stuck with the genders of their leads).

Merlin is Buffy – the newly arrived one, with the mysterious powers – while Arthur is obviously Cordellia – the local Queen Bee whose vanity and selfishness disguise a heart of gold. Hopefully. In some bizarre twist, this means that Xander (i.e. the "normal" one) is going to be Guinevere aka Gwen the maid. Yes maid! Never mind your strict feudal caste system, this lady is going to be social climbing. Probably up one of those Alps you can see out of the Disneyland Camelot windows.

This means that where Buffy took clichéd horror tropes (like the little blonde cheerleader in peril) and merrily inverted them (she kicks fluffy bottom!), Merlin appears in danger of turning them BACK into cliché.

Xander's role was often to scream and get saved. That means that Gwen's is… what? Oh, and like it's not bad enough she's destined to marry Art and fall for Sir Loungeabout, here she's already giving off "I fancy you" conflicted messages to magical Merlin.

And just to complete the Buffy axis, the show has Buffy's Mr Anthony Head in the role of… actually, Principle Snyder while Merlin has Mr Victor Meldrew playing the Mr Anthony Head part.


The acting and writing (at least for character) is much better than Robbing Hoodie, though, (nothing as embarrassing as poor Sam Troughton's Much) even if the terribly pretty Disney castle is very clean and everyone has very nice clothes and hair for the Dark Ages. My Daddies were pleased that young Mr Colin Morgan as Merlin was obviously happier to get his top off than Mr Jonas Armstrong. Oh, and he was actually quite personable in the title role.

Mr Bradley James as the bratling prince (yes, I know Mr T H White says that Arthur is supposed be brought up ignorant of his royal heritage; clearly the committee are just as ignorant of THEIR heritage) managed to make him a right royal pain without being totally unlikeable. It's a difficult thing to do, but he's off to a good start, there were just one or two hints that he might be able to grow into the wise and strong leader of legend (with, of course, the right magical nudges from Merlin).

And if the UST between wizard-boy and princeling gets any hotter something is going to catch fire! (Daddy will not tell me what "HOMOEROTIC" means!) And Merlin is so totally in the closet about his magic. Mind you, Buffy did have the "have you tried NOT being a wizard Slayer" line first as well.


It sort of goes without saying that Mr Head was rather good, but he was and made Uther Pendragon (he's the king, you know) slightly more shaded and interesting than was necessarily on the page. There's some opportunity for exploring and expanding his story here – just why does he have this vendetta against magic, and how did he get to be in a position to routinely execute wizards who you would expect to be able to defeat him and his knights by, well, magic. And why, given all that, does he keep a CGI dragon in his (extraordinarily capacious) cellar?

It was quite a GOOD CGI Dragon, as these things go, nicely lip-synching. Though I suspect (from the Doctor Who-esque next time trailer) that some of this CG is going to get used a bit repetitively.

I could do without the thirty-tonne lizard going all YODA with the ZEN KOANS like "there is no right and wrong, only what is and what is not". Yes, there fluffy well IS a "right and wrong" – the ENTIRE point of Camelot is about standing up for a better way, that might should not equal right and that there had to be justice and chivalry. Otherwise it's just all about who has the biggest Lancelot.

Meanwhile, Mr Richard Wilson as Gaius the court physic who, GASP, turns out to have a magical background of his own, was warmly enjoyable, with a nice streak of devilment in his enjoying Merlin's time in the (considerably less nasty then they might have been) stocks.

And Torchwood hooting heroine, Ms Eve "SAYYYY YOOFA GIVEME!" Miles, was really rather groovy as the slyly dastardly witch. She should be given villainous roles more often! We did love the way the mirrors kept revealing her true face; that's a nicely believable bit of fairy-tale magic. Oh and the full Sleeping Beauty treatment of her singing the court to sleep was also a brilliant effect, even if "crushed by chandelier" is veering back into land of corny.



As plot goes, however, it was rather flimsy. Buffy kept the "witch who steels a younger lady's body" episode for their first regular (or mundane) episode AFTER the big opening. This all felt a bit "episode two" as well, and for its season premiere Merlin really needed something bigger too.

That Dragon should have been a THREAT not a PRISONER – in fact, there would have been drama and irony to be mined in a story about Uther taking an army to fight the Dragon but, when it learns of Merlin, it just wants to talk to him and this results in it getting captured. Then you've got a Dragon in the cellar that you've ESTABLISHED as very, very dangerous, but whom Merlin is still talking to and learning from. It would add EDGE. And you can develop the idea that the Dragon might not be ENTIRELY GOOD, and could be trying to escape and probably incinerate Disneyland Camelot.

It's called having a BIG BAD.

Of course, if you know your Arthur myths then PROBABLY the big bad is ACTUALLY going to turn out to be Princess Morgana. Even if it's Merlin who's a bit Fey.


In some ways it has taken important lessons from Doctor Who's opening episode "Rose", in that we follow the title character (Rose or Merlin) through the story and learn what's going on AS she (or he) learns what's going on. It's not QUITE a match, though, because it doesn't have the EXPLOSIVE Harrod's Henrick's destroying opening – the first big spike on what is called the "Dramatic W", meaning open on a high, build to a (anti-)climax in the middle then build to another climax at the end – so that instead you have a first half that is a bit limp even if the finish is, literally, magic.


But Daddy Alex points out the KEY problem: in Doctor Who's "Rose", she is an ORDINARY person walking into an EXTRAORDINARY world and she takes us with her. Dr Who is central to this world, but he's NOT our point of identification; he remains a MYSTERY – the CLUE is in the series title – and that makes him MORE powerful.

In contrast, in "Merlin", we have an extraordinary world in which Merlin is an EVEN-MORE-EXTRAORDINARY person.

(Harry Potter – yes, I give up, I'll mention the OTHER boy-wizard – Harry Potter is in many ways the LEAST extraordinary person at Hogwarts, having neither Hermione's brains nor Ron's background. He is, however, good at sports.)

Put more simply, we should have been following GWEN. Make her a minor noble sent as lady-in-waiting (not servant) to Princess Morgana and have her discover this boy working in the castle apothecary… (you could even keep the reveal that Gwen is short for Guinevere as a surprise).


It was fun but I'm not blown away, and I'm wary that it's going to be just like this week after week devolving into teen-soap-a-la-Sherwood with added magical-moment of the week. Or maybe I'm not giving it the same benefit of the doubt that I gave to Robbing Hoodie's "Will You Tollerate This"

But it COULD get better. With the creators claiming to already have a five-year-plan, it's possible that this is going to give them a structure on which to hang proper plot and character development. In which case, this is merely a beginning.

Let's hope so.

Day 2819: It’s Just a Luntz to the Left…

Friday:


The Newsnight Show's resident Replutocrat finds favour with Mr Clogg?


Could my old fluffy sparing-partner Mr Frank “I invented the phrase DEATH-TAX” Luntz have completely lost his marbles this week or has he been replaced by a genuinely fair-and-balanced POD PERSON?

The answer is NO.

If a stage magician kept convincing you to pick the Knave of Diamonds (that’s Mr Balloon in this analogy, obviously) then pretty soon his act would get OLD!

Likewise, if Fluffy Frank (NOT a stage magician) wants to keep being IN the news, he has to generate SURPRISING new news from time to time. Then he can look IMPARTIAL. That way when he goes onto his REAL agenda and say that the Labour should keep Mr Frown, everyone will nod at how WISE he is.

Has he actually told us anything new?

We Liberal Democrats all knew already that if people actually LISTENED to what Liberal Democrats say – as opposed to the MEE-JA version (e.g. Mr Nick “mate of Dave” Robinson: "…and today the Lib Dems voted to lift the ban on SPOONS*") – then people actually like us. The evidence is there in the way our poll ratings get a boost every time there's an election on and the Representation of the People Act MAKES the news channels give us coverage.

*made-up example

Has he given up on his old (I keep telling you, Mr Luntz is NOT a stage magician) tricks, either?

Well, obviously Mr Luntz is ALWAYS as surprised by the outcome as the viewers are, but someone on his research team certainly did Mr Millipede no favours (in the "who should lead the Labour" piece shown on Friday) by choosing clips of all the OTHER possible candidates (plus Mr James Purnell) that had them sat down being interviewed by Mr Andy Marrmite but had Mr Millipede stood at a GILDED podium delivering a diplomatic address. Oddly enough, the focus groupies thought Mr Millipede was "out of touch" – how could THAT have happened?

Mr Purnell, incidentally, Junior Minister for Photoshop, what was HE doing on the list of choices, when the likes of Sooty and Ms Jacqui Spliff were not? You would have thought he could have benefited from being in "poll position" at the top right (remember, I said that that might have helped people think positively about Mr Balloon?). But of course, Mr Frank (no doubt quite ACCIDENTALLY) totally undermined that by opening with the question "Does anyone know who this is?" Not only does this EXPECT the answer no, the natural tendency to avoid putting your fluffy foot up to the first question subtly and OBVIOUSLY quite by chance reinforced this. Having got silence as a first response, then asking "Does no one know who is?" is only going to get more silence – who wants to look a NANA and admit that they DID know at this stage? So that's him shot down.

Ms Harriet Harpic was next, of course, and having made everyone feel dumb for not knowing the first person, all Mr Frank's subjects were keen to show that they weren't total thickoes… but what a stroke of luck that someone was SO keen that they shouted out her name so that EVERYONE knew who she was. Ms Harriet survived the Big Brother-stylee evictions until the final three, in spite of some strong negative reactions too her.

But in the end, Mr Frank had convinced his panel to whittle it down to a choice between keeping Mr Frown or replacing him with either Mr Alan Johnson or Mr Jack Man O'Straw. So that's the Prime Monster or a choice of Postman Pat or the Sinister Minister.

If this were a three card trick, you could have a choice between keeping the King or swapping for a Knave or a Deuce. Well what card are YOU going to pick?




Does it actually HURT the Conservatories, for Mr Frank to say that people who HEAR Mr Clogg PREFER Mr Clogg?

Well with Mr Balloon's drinking buddies SO FAR ahead of us and the Labour in polling numbers then no, not directly; and with it depending on that CONDITIONAL “IF people get to hear us” then since Mr Luntz can anticipate that the MEE-JA will NOT suddenly start giving Mr Clogg a decent hearing then actually that won’t make a difference either.


Or perhaps I am just being a CYNICAL old SOCK.

One thing that we CAN take away from this, is that we have a good answer the next time some interviewer is only interested in asking Mr Clogg "aren't you just Mr Balloon?"

That's not what Newsnight found when they asked real voters to choose between us, Mr Clogg can say.

Day 2818: Ban My Shorts

Thursday:


So we return home from Conference. Has anything been happening in the World? Oh crumbs…


The current scores on the (repossessed) doors appear to be as follows:

Of the "Big Five" American Investment Banks, Bear Sterns went under last March; Merrill Lynch was quietly bought out by Bank of America; Lehman Brothers went spectacularly bust*; and Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are busily turning themselves into ordinary banks to try and get some depositors to shore up their remaining assets. That leaves NONE.

Meanwhile, Great Britain has lost another bank and competition law was chucked out of the window to let Halifax Bank of Scotland get gobbled up by Lloyds TSB.


(*Hilariously, the Financial Times was reporting the collapse of Lehman Brothers as the biggest banking failure since, er, the LAST time Lehman Brothers went bust back in the 1980s)


All of this is being blamed on City Traders who have had the fluffy foot pointed at them as Scapegoat du Jour, for their habit of making money off of shares that are plummeting in value – so called SHORT SELLING.

The problem is that they aren't really the problem. They are just the buzzy insects come to swarm over the bleeding wounds of the broken animal that is the financial industry. Not very nice, it is true, but just taking advantage of bigger problems, and swatting a few flies is not going to get the banks back on their fluffy feet.

Equally, there seems to be developing a TREND to identify KEY players – like Mr Dick Fuld, chairperson of fallen Lehman Bros. – and blame them INDIVIDUALLY. The word HUBRIS has been flying about a lot. Clearly, the idea is to say that "no, no, we bankers are good and true, and it is only these few madpersons who have ruined it all for all of us, please give us some more money…"


It just won't do.

The root of the problem remains the fact that the banks got too big and too greedy. They loaned out more money than they should to people who couldn't pay it back. When the price of houses fell, the security for those loans got smaller, making the loans more RISKY and therefore worth less. Or in all too many cases worthless. That was the Halifax's problem – suddenly and uncontrollably they had fewer assets to balance against their borrowings.

(It didn't help that their attempt to raise more capital was a flop, meaning that underwriters AIG – yes, them – ended up with a huge bill for unwanted HBoS shares.)

The investment banks thought that they could do something terribly clever to make bad debts less bad by mixing them with good debts. Instead they have made the good debts just as bad as the bad ones.

That is why the American government's offer to buy ALL of the mortgage debts cuts the Gordian Knot – take all the mixed up good and bad debt out of the system and start again. Fair enough, if you are a bank, but jolly free with other people's money of you are a taxpayer who didn't gain squillions during the banking boom.


Because this is NOT the fault of one or two too-clever-by-five-and-three-quarters individuals. Nor is it down to City Sharks picking off the weakest swimmers. It is endemic in a system that allows banks to get bigger and bigger, making bigger and bigger loans and calling it a "profit" because they borrower MIGHT one day pay back the silly-money interest.

This isn't even ORIGINAL. The Midland Bank, once the biggest in the World, blew itself to pieces by loaning titanic sums to Latin America and then hitting the iceberg of them all defaulting. Natwest almost went the same way.

And allowing Lloyds and HBoS to merge into a Super-Bank is about as far from a solution as we are going to get. It just puts us all at even MORE risk that there will have to be a VAST Government bailout if this far-too-big-to-let-fail bank does something unspeakably silly. Because bankers, it would appear, have NO track record of NOT doing something unspeakably silly, if the opportunity for a fast buck arises.

What we want is SMALLER banks, banks that are less likely to overextend themselves precisely because they have a smaller asset base, banks that are easier to regulate because they are not vast sprawling empires with tentacles in pies all over the globe, banks where there are fewer depositors so the government can afford to rescue the depositors in the event that the bank does go bust.

If political power should be devolved to local levels, then so should FINANCIAL power.

Break up the banks!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Day 2813 (again, again): IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME, 2008!

Saturday:


Victory for Fluffy Justice!


Soft Protest Success!
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OH YES! I am guaranteed to be the one-hundred-and-seventy-seventh* Blogger of the Year!

Meanwhile, this year was ALWAYS going to be Citizen Alix's night. And QUITE RIGHT TOO.

And we were VERY pleased to see that she had managed a DARING escape from abroad, rescued by a Republic of Mortimer AIRSHIP.

Well done to all the winners, several of whom were Citizen Alix, but also Mr Black Peter Prince of Wales for the Tim Garden Award for Best Blog-by-an Elected-Liberal-Democrat, and Ms Baroness Ros for Best Use of Social-Networking.


Well Deserved Win (fresh from DARING Parachute escape!)
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Special thank yous to Ms Jennie and her many fluffy friends for all of your cheers last night. Citizen Alix THOROUGHLY deserved to win… but it didn't half make a soft toy feel better!


NEXT year's judge will be better...
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*Based on Mr Ryan's count of Lib Dem Blogs on the Blogregator yesterday. Mr Dr Pax has promised: each year the winner of the Blogger of the Year will be added to the judging panel so that in end EVERYONE will end up being a winner.

Day 2813 (again): Where's Lembit? He's right HERE!

Saturday:


What a magnificent sight it was to see as the Liberal Democrat Shadow Housing Minister glided down the hill towards us atop his electric broomstick on wheels.

What a slightly-less-magnificent sight it was as he went on rolling down the hill straight past us, to the accompanying cries of "Good on yer!" and "Wa-hey!"


Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'
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Eventually we were able to hunt him down and disable his Segway, after which we found him to be both a top interviewee and totally on top of his stuff in the face of our toughest grilling to date.

The charming but not-entirely-unbiased Lady Mark Valladares provided much of the most challenging questioning, while the lovely Lady Mayor Mary made a very welcome return to our Blogging panel with some detailed interrogation about housing policy. I was more interested in his thoughts on the Bare-Bones Commission, while Daddy Alex brought out some interesting answers to which Lib Dem policy would he go to the wall for and which does he think is wrong. Rounding out our panel, Ms Helen provided a taxing round of the "Yes/No" game at which Mr Lembit proved MOST ADEPT, though he then said that he found it anathema to his sensibilities as he finds politicians never answering the question MOST FRUSTRATING.

What emerged is that Mr Lembit is – perhaps in spite of himself – a serious individual who really knows his stuff, who for some reason appears to cover this up with appearing to be a bit of a buffoon.

"Life's too short to be serious all the time," he says, but on a more serious point he also feels that appearing on "Have I Got News For You" or being interviewed by Mr Piers Moron for GQ or even appearing in the tabloids… "I'm on first name terms with the nation" was the positive he was able to draw out …these things help him to connect to people BEYOND the usual circle of politics.

Lots of interesting things there, then, but first I have to rush off and interview Lady Lynne!

More – as they say on Dead Ringers – on this story later!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Day 2813: Millennium Elephant Discovers that THAT PINK DOG has crashed his interview with Mr Clogg (oh, and some other people)

Saturday:


In what I HOPE will become a tradition, I have arranged for the nonimees for the Liberal Democrat Blogger of the Year (and, apparently, THAT PINK DOG) to join me for an interview with the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Mr Nick Clogg.

We have had incredibly super support from the Party Leader, last year from Sir Mr the Merciless and this year Mr Clogg, who has generously found fifty minutes in what is a PACKED week for him to talk to Top Lib Dem Bloggers. And that Pink Dog.


Who Let the (Pink) Dogs Out?
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So I was joined by nonimees Ms Steph Ashley and Mr Neil Stockley and My Daddy Alex, along with Ms Helen as assistant to a certain crimson canine. Unfortunately Mr Jonathan Bonkers and Citizen Alix were unable to join us, but Ms Steph WAS able to ask a question that we hope Ms Alix would approve of.


Before that, though, we opened with me offering MR Clogg our FLUFFY CONGRATULATIONS, and asking: "are you very happy?"

He says yes! Of course it's not actually happened yet and he just hopes, like any prospective parent, that the pregnancy goes well.

It is, he says, very very exciting. Of course it's madness, he confesses, they are going to be just utterly exhausted, both working and with three young children. But it will be wonderful.


That is a situation lots of young families can sympathise with, which lead into my first question: now that the Labour have so OBVIOUSLY and PAINFULLY abrogated the role, how do WE convince people that we are the party to stick up for, well, everyone but let us say the common person?

"I think," Mr Clogg began, "we do that by first identifying what it is that is harming people, bothering people, holding people back, listen to those concerns, develop the policies that provide answers and then go out and campaigning on them.

"What I like to think is that by the end of this conference and certainly in my speech on Wednesday though I haven't finished writing it yet, is a sort of "gritty" feel and tone to this week.

"And I think that's right because a looming recession changes everything, it changes the political mood utterly and it makes the public – quite rightly – more demanding of politicians and more unforgiving of politicians who don't answer straight and don't provide clear solutions."

Liberal Democrats, says Mr Clogg, ARE the party with those straight answers and clear, practical solutions, and he listed out the key areas where we are doing all the work in being ready to face recession.

Housing: we're the only party with a clear plan to allow local councils to borrow against assets, to buy up unsold properties to provide more social housing to vulnerable families

Fuel poverty: it something he's probably spoken out about more than any other subject since becoming leader; it was the first thing he talked about at my first Prime Monster's questions, it was the last thing he asked about before they broke up for summer recess, saying that the energy companies should recycle their multi-billion pound subsidy

Education and Health: the work that Mr Norman Lamb and Mr David Laws are doing about targeting resources much more effectively towards those people who need it most, the Pupil Premium targeting resources to the most hard-to-teach vulnerable children; the Patient Premium that he talked about in a speech earlier this week; changing the incentives for GPs so that doctors have an incentive to work in the most deprived areas.

And, crucially, tax and spend: we say loud and clear firstly that we ALREADY have the fairest, most redistributive tax policies of any Party in Britain, pound-for-pound twice as redistributive as our 2005 manifesto, closing huge loopholes worth billions of pounds that only the wealthy benefit from, handing that back to the vast majority of lower and middle-income taxpayers. But then now going further and saying that at a time in which millions of British families are having to tighten their belts, a bloated centralised government should have to tighten its belt too. The money that we can identify in that exercise – we're aiming at around twenty billion – obviously should first go on our spending priorities – care for the elderly, pupil premium, housing and so on – but if there's money to spare we're not simply going to give it to Mr Frown. We're going to say that people on low and middle incomes should have a claim on that money. It's their money.

To put it in very human terms: if you are a young couple, both working, on low incomes, you're worried about finding the money for school uniforms for the new year, worried about the cost of food, worried about whether you'll be able to take your family on holiday this year. I think if you're given a choice between having a bit of your own money back in these very difficult times to look after yourself and your family OR that money should just go back into the black hole of the Treasury… it's a no-brainer!

We've always, as a Liberal Party, got to be on the side of PEOPLE. The mood is really, really turning. We have always been trenchant critics of over-centralised, unaccountable, inefficient centralised government, and that is a VALUE that is very much in line with what a lot of people think as they head into a recession, as they see this extraordinary doubling of public expenditure over the last ten years under the Labour.

Now there is LOTS more to follow… but just for now I must rush off to interview Mr Lembit!

Back soon!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Day 2812: All At Sea

Friday:

Here we are in Bournesmouth*.


Clement... for the time of year...


Still, our SYMPATHIES are with Citizen Alix who is trapped out of the country without holiday flight or channel tunnel. Good luck in getting here!


*Twinned with Innsmouth. That's what Cuddly Cthulhu says.
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Friday, September 05, 2008

Day 2803: Bull in China Shop

Wednesday:

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Oh I'm sorry; I appear to have the wrong caption.


In an article for the New Statesperkin
former SAFETY ELEPHANT, Mr Charles Clarke, seeks to address the central problem of "Waiting for Gordo", the play where the Cabinet sit around hoping that the Re-launch to save their careers will arrive.

"There IS no PLOT!" he wails.

It's just a bit IRONIC that he starts by saying that the Labour need to stop OBSESSING about the past… and then spends the rest of his article saying "What Would Jesus Lord Blairimort do?".


The answer incidentally is:

a) Invade anywhere that the Monkey-in-Chief wants to whether he is right or wrong;
b) Use terrorist atrocities in New York or London as an excuse to abolish another bit of Civil Liberties protection;
c) Keep down taxes – by which he means keep down taxes for rich people – no matter how much money you are spending;

and

d) Manage the public sector by spending millions on management consultants and part-privatisation scams.

There is, as Mr Clarke puts it, "no coherent Blairite ideology".

Day 2802: Sooty's Stamp Collection

Tuesday:


The announcement from the Treasury is pretty bald about it:
"The Chancellor of the Exchequer has today announced that stamp duty land tax will not apply to purchases of residential property of £175,000 or less."
Quite what the outcome will be is more difficult to tell.

For houses priced just a little bit OVER the new limit, it may actually push their price down further; on the other fluffy foot, for anything priced LESS than a-hundred-and-seventy-THREE thousand you might see the price ease a little up as SELLERS absorb the Chancellor's largesse. Or possibly NOT as GAZUNDERING overtakes GAZUMPING as the sharp practice du jour in a buyer's market.


What we DO know is that it probably won't work to re-inflate the housing market.

We know this because

a) Mr Norma "yoghurt-pot" Lamont tried it to no effect in the last housing crash;

b) Mr Gideon "empty yoghurt-pot" Oboe says we should try it this time.

More seriously, who would take Sooty's tax break when you could just WAIT A MONTH and the falling house prices would save you the same, if not more?


What we do know is that the UNDERLYING problem is LACK of CREDIT.

Remember that the whole "Credit Crunch" came about because banks were used to handing out cheap credit because they were loaning each other great pots of money in return for "mortgage-backed securities" that were made up of home loans parcelled up and sold on. The "parcels" contained some solid, dependable, sound mortgages from people who never missed a payment mixed in with some rather dodgy ones who might be able to repay you if they have a good day at the dog track mixed in with some that you were never going to see again and may as well have tossed the money down a wishing well. When the banks realised that the worthless sub-prime loans they were holding were – rather than transformed into some credit-worthy asset by the miraculous alchemy of the market – STILL actually worthless, they all stopped loaning each other money because they didn't know, and more importantly didn't BELIEVE, what any of the other banks' assets were supposed to be worth.

That would be why I would hope everyone will back slowly and carefully away from the unexploded proposals from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors that the Bank of England kick start the credit boom all over again by issuing, er, "new mortgage-backed securities - home loans which are parcelled up and sold on to other investors". Sound familiar at all?


Anyway, lack of credit is where some people are getting into difficulty because of having to RE-mortgage, perhaps because they've come to the end of a fixed term deal. The fall in house prices could mean that the value of their home is less now so the bank won't offer them as much of a loan as the amount they already owe. So suddenly they have to find a chunk of capital that they don't have.

Higher monthly repayments for the family home, just as people are facing higher energy bills and higher costs for the weekly shop, are what push people into REPOSSESSION.


So I have a CAUTIOUS welcome for Sooty's package of measures to try and tide people over.

It's a bit of a hotch-potch and the numbers of people to whom a helping fluffy foot might be offered seem quite small, but broadly its heart is in the right place.

It just makes it seem very off that at the same time Sooty is trying to encourage people to get into MORE debt buying into a falling market – what Mr Clogg calls a "bribe to rescue the housing market".


Falling house prices are NOT in-and-of-themselves necessarily a crisis. If you've lived in your present house for a long time, or even not THAT long a time, you will have seen quite a step up in price so you'll just be making a bit less of a profit – and you'll still need another house so the price of the place you are buying will be lower too.

But if you bought RECENTLY, in the last year say, or if you took advantage when the banks were tempting you with seductive offers to increase your mortgage along with the rising value of your home then you COULD end up with a debt that's more than your house is worth.

But even negative equity doesn't HAVE to be a disaster. In the LONG TERM house prices are certain to rise again. No really, they absolutely are. There are quite simply more people who want houses than there are houses for them to have. And that's the very BASICS of a market-forces-led price increase.

So you should just – if you can – sit it out for a while.

Problems arise only if you need to sell your house NOW, perhaps because of a change of circumstances, illness or unemployment, so you can't keep up the repayments. You could end up left without a house but still having some mortgage left over.

Don't let Sooty bribe you into jumping in early; make sure you have a decent deposit saved up and buy only when you are good and ready.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Day 2801: Senator Oven Chip Reaps the Whirlwind

Monday:


Senator Oven Chip's big party this week had a near miss with Hurricane Gustave… but now an entirely more TABLOID kind of storm looks like washing out his week.

In fact, the Hurricane looked like being – in a sick and twisted sort of way – a WIN-WIN for the Replutocrats. On the one fluffy foot they get to AVOID Senator Oven Chip sharing a stage with the Monkey-in-Chief; on the other fluffy foot, they get their superannuated candidate to look all statesmanlike and non-partisan without him having to deliver a speech that gets compared to Barry O's Big Night Out.

Bad luck then that the man INFAMOUS for his SHORT FUSE decided that he only need to spend A COUPLE OF HOURS before making the most important decision of the campaign – namely who gets the BIG JOB should Mr Death should accidentally surprise the Senator coming out of the shower one morning.

I think that the comparison is OBVIOUS.

While Barry O was first the basis for the character of HEROIC Dumbocratic candidate Mr Matt Santos in the West Wing (and now the people who wrote Santos based on Obama are writing speeches for Obama based on Santos…)

Clearly the Replutocrats want some of this "TV Story Coming TRUE" magic, and have picked the OTHER White House drama, the one where the crinkly old candidate picks a Veep in heels to pretty up his campaign with the important independents intending that she should be ornamental and never near ANY levers, let alon levers of power, only to croak from an unexpected brain-storm leaving an inexperienced chief executive in the Oval Office.

Did no one TELL THEM that "Commander in Chief" was CANCELLED after just eighteen weeks?

Day 2794: From Bletchley With Love

Monday:


We spent our Bank Holiday at Station X. I COULD tell you that this was Bletchley Park near Milton Keynes but then I would have to SHOOT you.


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Oops.




Anyway, we learned some stuff:

001.
Mr Ian Fleming writer of JAMES BOND was SECRETLY the navy intelligence liaison officer for Station X;


The Truth is in Here
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002.
He was totally not allowed to tell anyone what he got up to there during the war, and yet the plot of "From Russia With Love" turns out to be almost entirely TRUE;


How Enigmatic... or is it?
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003.
The James Bond film "Goldeneye" is named after Mr Ian's house in the Caribbean which is called "Goldeneye" which IN TURN is named after the secret operation which Mr Ian was a part of during World War Part Two to see what the evil Nazi spies were up to in Spain;


Goldeneye Duck... no, that's not right...
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004.
There are more Aston Martins in the Aston Martin Owners Club club than there are parking spaces at Station X. I almost fainted with excitement!


Astons
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More Astons
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Even More Astons (and Q has dropped in in a jump-jet)
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I'll have this one
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No… THIS one
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Hang on… what's this?
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The Most Famous Car in the World™
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THIS ONE THIS ONE THIS ONE!
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…although this might be handy for a quick getaway!
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005.
The World's first computer (second if you count the Ultima Machine in Doctor Who!) was called Colossus and was built by an engineer from the post office called Mr Tommy Flowers. Since this is Daddy Richard's Daddy's name, Daddy Richard almost fainted with surprise!


Mr Tommy H Flowers
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006.
The Colossus computer was able to work out the settings on an Engima machine so that the lady intelligence officers working at Station X could break the Germans' codes and translate what they were saying. But to prevent the Nazis from ever discovering that we could do this, the information was DISGUISED as a part of an ordinary intelligence report, rather than being sent out as a transcript;


Super Computer
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007.
These ordinary seeming intelligence reports were code-named "Ultra" (for Ultra-top-secret). Each Ultra file was given a reference number and all Ultra reference numbers began with the prefix double-oh… and that's where we came in!


Look Up...
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Look Down…
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Look Out!
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Bletchley Park is a TERRIBLY important site of historical interest, not just because of its role in probably winning World War Part Two (at least two years earlier than without it), but also as the birthplace of all modern computers (unless you count the Clockwork Ouroboros from Mr Larry's "Book of the War"). But Station X does not receive any support from the Government or the National Lottery Balls. They rely on admissions and donations from members of the public.

So we should like to heartily recommend that you go along.