...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Day 4442: B'Eastleigh By-Election – The Fox and the Newshounds


We're told repeatedly – usually by the MEEJA – that ordinary people LOATHE "professional" politicians.

And yet, the Liberal Democrats are condemned – by the SAME meeja – for our poor handling of the Lord Rennard allegations as "amateur hour".

Well HOORAY for amateur hour, I say, if it means that these allegations are uncovered and investigated.

I've been SHOCKED and NAUSEATED by people (Hard Labour AND Conservatory and EVEN Lib Dem) trying to make POLITICAL CAPITAL out of this.

'Cos I suspect that the Conservatories and Hard Labour are NOT better at taking harassment seriously, but ARE better at COVERING IT UP!

I've heard Hard Labour's John Mann on the The Today show showing off that he'd reported the Liberals (sic) to the police, an interview all about blaming Captain Clegg where Mr Mann failed to mention the VICTIMS even once.

I've read typical passive-aggressive hand-wringing from the likes of Hopi Sen who confesses to having heard "rumours" from within Hard Labour – and by his silence admits done NOTHING about them – but still opportunistically condemns Captain Clegg (or rather the Lib Dem "leader" – I guess he cannot quite bring himself to finger the current leader given that the allegations appear to date back five to ten years).

I've seen Nick "mate of Dave" Robinson rolling his eyed and blowharding about Cap'n Clegg "changing his story" when it is REALLY the MEEJA who have changed what they reported. The Cap'n was still in Spain on Friday when the meeja were coming out with one story; he made a statement, when he got back, that didn't match their line so obviously they blame him for not keeping to what they'd written.

And of course the Daily Hate Mail and the Tell-lies-o-graph have been having a ball, giving no-good Conservatory Chair Grant "Ms" Happs all the covering fire and plausible deniability he could wish for.

(I should add here that Chanel Four News – and the BBC radio World at One – do appear to have reported responsibly, and it is good – and surprising! – to see the Grauniad's Michael White and Pollyanna Toytown raising questions about the timing and ferocity of the attack from the other print meeja.)

Did Cap'n Clegg take action? We DON'T KNOW – that's for the inquiry to find out. Although there's every appearance that the Cap'n DID do SOMETHING, sending Danny Alexander to "have a quiet word" and removing Lord R "on health grounds". Similarly, Ms Jo Swinson has made a statement about what she did and – reading between the lines – it appears that she too did what she could, constrained though she was by the need to respect the complainants' requests for anonymity.

Inadequate? Perhaps. But in the absence of concrete allegations, natural justice – innocent until proved guilty – says we should not just fire people on the basis of rumour. A more serious question would surely be WHY concrete allegations either were not made publicly or did not reach the appropriate office. Nor should we bite the head off the Party Leader on the say-so of people who themselves say they knew of the rumours but self-evidently did less about them than the Cap'n and Danny. We've ALL got to ask ourselves some serious questions and we've got to change the culture of the Party so that it matches what a lot of us believed it already was!

It seems to me that there is a problem with WHISTLE-BLOWING processes generally, and not JUST limited to the Liberal Democrats.

Anyone blowing the whistle faces two problems:

The first is the obvious fear of being labelled a "trouble-maker" (and there are worse names too, as we all know!). The evidence certainly seems to point to whistle-makers not prospering, down to a great deal of victim-blaming or just old fashioned revenge. Who's going to volunteer for that? All the more kudos to the women who HAVE now had the courage to come forward.

The second is that, unlike in real life, once you report something it seems like there are no shades of grey. As we've seen from the way that some in the meeja have happily blurred the distinction between the Lord Rennard allegations and the appalling facts of the Jimmy Savile case, you can go from "everything's fine" to "you're a MONSTER" with NO intervening steps.

(And the flip side of this is that the offender, if called upon their behaviour, is forced into massive and hurtful denial. Instead of "I'd rather you didn't stand so close" / "I'm sorry, I will try to do better and to learn from this mistake" we jump straight to "SEXUAL IMPROPRIETY!" / "I NEVER RAPED YOU!")

That makes whistle-blowing a REALLY BIG THING and, perversely, a MUCH HARDER thing to contemplate doing. If, for example, you know that you've been hassled inappropriately, but you handled it and you're not distressed are you going to be happy raising the issue knowing that your only option is the NUCLEAR option? Or are you forced to suffer in silence and maybe allow him (or her) to get away with it until the next time when they do something worse?

One possible solution to this might be to set up an INDEPENDENT organisation that will do the whistle-blowing for you – a kind of CHILD-LINE for GROWN UPS, if you like. Not just for the Lib Dems, but for any Party, or indeed companies or other groups like trades unions or the scouts or the WI; it might be especially useful for smaller companies without HR departments.

The person with the problem might find it easier to talk to an independent organisation that hasn't got power over them. This organisation could have staff trained to make sure that all complaints are listened to with sympathy and advice can be offered with compassion. And then they would be able to approach the right people at a senior level and talk frankly to them because they have no need to fear reprisals. It would allow people to – in a first instance – blow the whistle anonymously so that a problem could be addressed at a much earlier stage and without it having to be a full melodrama. If the problem DIDN'T get resolved, THEN you could move to full accusation and investigation.

But there's a more important issue.

Institutional changes might help correct one flaw – the instinct to protect an important figure, or at least to ignore it and hope it goes away – but not the societal reason beneath it: that people are AWKWARD and UNCOMFORTABLE talking about SEX and don't know how to deal with it.

Frankly, I'm afraid that there is a "NEW PURITANISM" abroad, seeking to supress ANY expression of sex or sexuality in the name of protecting people.

If we cannot talk about this – and CLEARLY we CAN'T – then the problem IS going to get ignored and it IS going to get WORSE!

This comes from the same culture where it is (bizarrely) HUMILIATING rather than LIBERATING to ask a political leader how many people he has slept with.

It's clear from the way that – salacious headlines aside – the meeja have concentrated on the alleged cover-up as though THAT is more important in and of itself. It is important but only in as far as it encourages and perpetuates a culture that says sexual harassment is "okay", that turns a blind eye to assault and rape. Sex is NAUGHTY! Sex is BAD! Sex, above all, is NOT TO BE SPOKEN OF!

The Liberal Democrats are supposed to be the Party that says the sex is ok! (And then blushes furiously!)

Conservatories think ALL sex is bad; Hard Labour think it should only be allowed when practised in the prescribed fashion (probably on the orders of Harriet Harman).

But WE'RE supposed to be the ones who say it's fine to fancy, to flirt, to snog, to (deep breath) shag.

This is about how grown-ups, adults, deal with sex Рno, not even that, but sexual suggestiveness. Obviously this is about INFORMED CONSENT. That's why we have an AGE of CONSENT, so that there's a clear dividing line between children who don't understand and grown-ups who do. But where to draw the line between grown-ups is much more difficult. You can't just BAN everyone from making risqu̩ remarks.

If you treat adults like children all the time, pretty soon you won't HAVE any more children!

Power relationships make it more complicated still.

The popular media image would certainly be the "stranger in a dark alley" is "worse" than an "unwanted grope". But is it? As a wise Auntie points out to me: consider the situation where, if you want to keep your job (to which by its very nature there are limited alternatives), you are forced to spend the next ten years working with the knowledge that that "unwanted grope" could happen again at any moment. Or worse.

We need to be more about EDUCATING people on where those lines are, and how to not get the signals wrong, and empowering people to explain when the line IS stepped over and to be accepting of being told that, and to be forgiving when people make a first mistake so that we can stop it becoming a "pattern" of mistakes, to becoming actual evil.

Today is by-election day.

Hundreds and hundreds of people have spent their time and their money supporting Mike Thornton, explaining why he would make a good and hard-working local MP... just as Mr Huhney-Monster (for all his other, more egregious faults) was a good and hard-working local MP... and with justification pointing out the shortcomings of his Conservatory rival the hardly-to-be-found Ms Hutchings. And it is terribly sad for all those people that the coverage in this last week has totally ignored the issues and the candidates.

It is to be hoped that the people of Eastleigh WILL decide on the issues and the candidates and will NOT be swayed by the meeja storm that the press have whipped up – flagrantly against the spirit of Leveson – because that would be a victory for the WORST kind of DIRTY TRICKS!

Along with every single Liberal Democrat that I've talked to or heard from, I'm appalled by what, if the allegations are proved, would be (yet another) failing by my Party. After covering up Charles Kennedy's battles with alcoholism, this looks all too like another conspiracy of "don't rock the boat"-ism.

But I'm also reassured that the Party is NOT putting electoral convenience ahead of moral necessity. Whatever may or may not have been swept under the carpet in the past, there is a clear determination now to lift that carpet now and clean our house properly.

Winning the B'Eastleigh By-Election is DESPERATELY IMPORTANT... but NOT as important as building a Party that DESERVES to WIN.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Day 4437: AAA-rrrgh!


The Chancer of the Exchequer – known to you and me as Master Gideon – is in a UNIQUE position in Government: he's the ONLY person who DOESN'T resign when things go disastrously wrong, on the grounds that his resignation would panic the markets and make things go even WRONGER!

So even though Great Britain has, like America and France before, lost our Triple-A credit rating, and although this is obviously a total HUMILIATING FAILURE for Chancer Gideon who has based our entire economic policy on maintaining CREDIBILITY with the markets, he won't be going.

Which is a pity.

The papers of course are full of this story giving pages and pages of coverage to...oh, a sex-scandal instead. OBVIOUSLY the sex sells.

In spite of talk (by ministers trying to make excuses) of the markets having "priced in" the "expected" loss of the triple-A, the immediate consequences of being downgraded were a weakening of sterling. Now that's been somewhat masked by the Euro taking another dive after the Italian elections produced a less than clear outcome.

(PHEW! No one will notice we've fallen flat on our face because they're all watching Europe fall off a cliff!)

There's a fairly simple relationship between the value of the pound and the level of interest rates. If borrowing gets more expensive (which it does if the lender thinks it's more risky to lend to you – which is exactly what downgrading from AAA to AA1 means) then you have to put up interest rates OR your currency goes down in value.

(Look – boring maths bit – suppose your interest rates are 2% and 100 rouble-dollars will buy you a £100 government bond that will return £2. If you get downgraded, and people now want 2½%, either you have to start giving bonds that return £2.50 OR people are only going to be willing to pay you 80 rouble-dollars for your £2 return (2/80 = 1/40 = 5/200 = 2½/100 = 2½%). Okay, non-mathmos can wake up again now!)


But a weaker pound means more expensive IMPORTS, specifically ENERGY and FOOD, which means HIGHER INFLATION.

In THEORY devaluing the currency should also provide a boost to exports... which is why (among other things) Hard Labour's Alistair Darling crashed the currency following the 2008 banking meltdown.

That of course contributed to the high INFLATION that we had for the first couple of years of this government.

(World events – drought affecting rice and wheat crops, declines in energy production, China taking more resources – all contributed, of course, BUT weakening our currency meant that those world events had an EXAGGERATED effect on the UK. Just as Labour's over-borrowing and reliance on the financial sector to grow the economy meant the financial meltdown had an EXAGGERATED effect on us too.)

However, it appears that our industrial base is so worn away by the Thatcher and New Labour years that devaluing did NOT have the boost to growth effect that was hoped for.

So all round this is BAD, and that is WHY Chancer Gideon was trying to avoid it happening, and why now it has happened it's going to be harder still to meet our targets of getting down the deficit.

(That is, remember, just slowing down how fast we spiral into yet more debt.)

So where was the GROWTH supposed to come FROM? There are THREE theories:

The CLASSICAL theory that says that you grow the economy by increasing the number of workers. (e.g. you increase immigration in order to farm more fields)

The INDUSTRIAL theory that says you grow the economy by increasing the CAPITAL available (e.g. you borrow more capital in order to buy machinery that allows your workers to produce twice as much)

And Mr Frown's favourite, the POST NEO-CLASSICAL ENDOGENOUS (i.e. from within) theory that says you grow the economy by training your workers and trading up to more productive jobs. (e.g. you teach your widget factory workers how to design computer chips and gain a more lucrative export.)

As a footnote, Hard Labour did not really DO the endogenous thing. Education, education, education turned out to mean requiring people to get degrees for the jobs that already existed rather than creating new and better jobs. Most of the "growth" of the Hard Labour years was in fact fuelled by BORROWED money – like the Victorian INDUSTRIALISTS – except we didn't use the money to buy machinery to power up our economy but instead frittered it away on consumables.

On the other fluffy foot, the Coalition appears to have set its face against ALL THREE methods of growth:

The Conservatories' irrational xenophobia means that we cannot import cheap labour for growth.

The nature of the bubble and crash mean that the public and government are both massively averse to borrowing, and indeed the stated aim of the Coalition is to reduce and ultimately reverse the deficit and thus slow the growth of and eventually start to reduce the national debt.

And, although the Liberal Democrats have fought for and won a Pupil Premium and more Apprenticeships, the Conservatories have forced upon us the Tuition Fee debacle and the slashing of Educational Maintenance Allowance, while Mr Michael the Borogrove's "reforms" seem keener to return the education system to the Victorian classroom than to adapting it to the needs of fast changing modern industry.

(The advantage of apprenticeships here is that they do an end run about this sort of silliness and, to borrow from "Yes Minister" (back when it was GOOD) give young people a comprehensive education to make up for their Comprehensive Education.)

Okay, but the Government's policy is not ENTIRELY as DUMB as it looks when spelled out like that.

The Government THOUGHT that growth could come from the PRIVATE SECTOR.

Remember: the prevailing belief of ALL governments for the last thirty years (yes, since Queen Maggie's "revolution") is that governments are NOT good at running industries. This is based on a LOT of experience during the Seventies which pretty much tested the opposite theory to destruction.

Therefore, whether you're a Keynesian devotee or a member of the Church of Thatchianity, the idea is that the government should leave PRIVATE industry to do the borrowing, investing and growing. The more LEFTY (i.e. pro-State spending) view has been that the State should spend MORE on SERVICES (health, transport, schools) to SUPPORT the private sector; the view from the more RIGHTY has been... much the same but for a percentage point or two LESS of GDP.

So the Hard Labour's government's borrowing was NOT generally going on "investments" that would return greater growth; MOST of what they were borrowing was spent to fund these SERVICES that (by definition, since we were borrowing) were MORE EXPENSIVE than we were willing to pay for even BEFORE we lost twenty-percent of the economy.

But even where they WERE spending on building useful things – new roads, schools, houses, power stations etc – it was infrastructure for SUPPORT rather than direct investment in growth.

(Of course, Prof Keynes would say that those sort of generally useful support things are exactly what you borrow money to spend on during a downturn in order to keep the workforce working and to have useful stuff to help when the recovery comes. And the Coalition HAVE pretty much admitted that they should not have cut those investments when they cut everything else!)

So, the Government THOUGHT that growth could come from the PRIVATE SECTOR, and that they could ENCOURAGE this by:

a) reducing corporate tax and regulation, enticing foreign companies to move their investment to Great Britain and home grown ones to expand. (At least until people stated getting into a flap about Corporate Tax avoidance.)

b) introducing schemes and wheezes and government guarantees to make it as easy as possible for companies to borrow from the banks. (If it were not for the fact that the public demand for tighter regulation of the banks has made those banks very, very much more reluctant to lend!)

You can see that, to a certain extent, the Government's plans FAILED because their main tools to encourage traditional capitalist growth were thwarted at least in part by external factors, while their own – and let's face it mainly Conservatory ideologies – blocked either the very old or the very modern routes to growth through anti-immigration and anti-education/anti-green development policies.

So how do we get growth? We're going to need a BETTER ANSWER.

We have to start by UNBLOCKING those ideological barriers.

We need a more sensible approach to the problems of immigration than standing at Dover with a "No Entry" sign! The REAL problems, and we've said this lots of times before, are pressure on housing and services and the downward pressure on wages caused by a large free labour pool.

We need to tackle those problems at SOURCE and the good news is that that means building lots of houses and schools and roads which means JOBS. We also need to protect low end wages from being driven down further. The Tories may not like it, but all the evidence points to the Minimum Wage being set well below the level where it would start to put companies off employing people, so progressive steps should be taken to increase the minimum wage ahead of inflation towards the LIVING WAGE.

(NB: this WILL make it harder to raise the personal allowance to the level of the minimum wage. More people will go back into paying income tax as their minimum wage rises, but they will still be better off for the rise, and the government will have more money too and/or more leeway to raise the allowance above inflation too.)

But we ALSO need a COMPREHENSIVE review of our education, and the needs of business, and the needs of universities, and of course the needs of schools themselves. We cannot continue to rely on "ideas wot Michael the Borogrove thought up"; simply IMPOSING another set of changes is just going to cause yet more strife. We need, if you like, a CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION for SCHOOLS, to bring together industry and universities with teachers, parents and pupils to try to deliver a wholly new and world-beating education.

But although these plans might sow the seeds of future sustained growth, the key to growth NOW is CONFIDENCE, that elusive SPARK that comes when something – I don't know what it will be – comes along and convinces people that there's money to be made and so they start going out to make it. That thing that, at the moment, continues to be absent from the British economy.

And sadly, the BIGGEST source of ANTI-confidence at the moment is the Chancer himself: Master Gideon is Mister Austerity the piggy-faced face of the recession. His "We fight on we fight to win" response to the downgrade shows that he's succumbed to the same BUNKER MENTALITY that claimed his predecessor-but-one, Mr Frown. Even Queen Maggie needed to exchange Exchequers before we moved from bust back to boom in the Eighties.

And that, even more than the total humiliating ruination of his plans, is why we 'd be (probably quite literally) better off if Gideon did the one thing he won't do, which is go.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Day 4436: Is the Maria Hutchings (No) Show a Taste of Tory Tactics for the 2015 Election?


Here's a cynical thought for a fluffy toy: the Prime Monster is making a lot of FUSS about the BBC "empty chair-ing" his Conservatory Candidate in the B'Eastleigh By-Election; is this a DRY RUN for the Prime Ministerial Debates?

We know he's expressed "doubts" about facing Cap'n Clegg and that Milipede bloke in 2015. Could he have decided – with this by-election slipping from his fingers – to write-off his chances here and instead test the waters, and the BBC's mettle, for a Prime Ministerial no-show in the debates?

Would they really have the BALLS to Empty Chair him?

Turns out, that they probably WOULD have the Balls.

(No, not MR Balls – they'd have HIM for the Chancellor's Debates!)

And now the PM is testing the waters with his "Blame the Beeb for our failings" posturing.

"The candidates are more important than you," he says.

Well, actually, your Balloonship, the VOTERS are the most important, and your candidate ought to be up to facing them in an open hustings.

Your excuse that Ms Hutchings was unable to attend because she was with you at the time will not wash ...because the hustings was organised first.

"Maria Hutchings regrets she is unable to attend due to a SUBSEQUENT engagement."

It also turns out that the event with you wasn't until 45 minutes later. At a location 10 minutes' walk away. As attested by the journalist who attended both.

Now you might want to DISMISS this as just the HURLY-BURLY of a by-election – I'm sure that the Conservatory Chair-person the accident-prone Ms Shapps (not his real name) will try – but we need to make sure that they DO NOT GET AWAY with this.

DEMOCRACY requires that voters are INFORMED and that representatives are ACCOUNTABLE.

And the VOTERS aren't DUMB. They can TELL. It might SEEM like the SAFE option to keep your candidate out of the FIRING LINE... especially if she's getting a reputation as a LOOSE CANNON... but it's really not.

Daddy Alex tells me of when HE was standing for election in STEVENAGE, and the Conservatory was Mr Tim Nice but Dim Wood. When HE didn't turn up for a public hustings and my Daddies always said he could not have done himself more HARM by showing up than he did by CHICKENING OUT!

Mr Balloon changed his diary to give Ms Hutchings her excuse. What if he changed it again? And again? Should all the other candidates all be held hostage to fit his convenience? And if – as seems to be the case – he doesn't think his own candidate is FIT to FACE the public, should he get to stop all the other candidates from facing the voters' questions? No, the answer is clearly not!

If he IS field-testing his responses for the General Election we HAVE got to let him know that he has FAILED!

The BBC were QUITE RIGHT to use the Empty Chair on the Missing Maria. And if it comes to the Prime Ministerial Debates and Mr Balloon is another no-show, I hope that they stick to their guns and do it again!

Monday, February 04, 2013

Day 4418: Bones in Car Park Confirmed as Chris Huhne


Today, former Energy and Climate Change Secretary and Duke of York, Mr Huhney-Monster, pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice when he got his former wife to accept points for speeding through Bosworth Field.

Maligned by Shakespeare as a twisted schemer, the Duke – famous for his war cry of "more horsepower more horsepower my kingdom for more horsepower" – also asked for two counts of Princes in the Tower to be taken into account.

His rival in the Wars of the Rosettes Mr Tudor Clegg was unavailable for comment due to an uncontrollable fit of hysterical giggling.

Senior Liberal Democrats – and St Simon of Hughes, the new archbishop of Canterbury – expect to have the Duke taken out and buried in a car park somewhere.

A Liberal elephant was quoted as saying: Bother!

Richard of York is five hundred and sixty-one.