Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Robinson, you are a biased fraud

Nick Robinson's fitness as a supposedly unbiased political editor of the BBC has come into question many times, not least here. His latest blog entry, on the subject of McGovern's resignation statement is, to me, his most cynical and calculated piece of piece of diversionary propaganda to date.

McGovern, quoted in the guardian, on the reason for his resignation:

In a statement, McGovern, the MP for Dundee West and a former union activist, said that he could not support "what looks to me like partial privatisation of the Royal Mail" and that he was particularly unhappy about the revelation that Mandelson had welcomed an expression of interest from the Dutch firm TNT.
And, under the title "What really beggars belief", here is Nick Robinson's comment:

What really does beggar belief is the idea that Jim McGovern could sit in the department for business as bag carrier for the minister responsible for the Royal Mail, Pat McFadden, and not have known for many weeks that this was precisely what was being planned.

Could his resignation have more to do with the fact that the SNP are targeting his Dundee West constituency? The nationalists already control the council, both Holyrood seats and the neighbouring Westminster seat?

The man resigned on a specific issue, made public in Mandelson's statement yesterday - and Nick Robinson imputes that this is not the case, that he acted for political reasons. On what evidence?. What did Nick Robinson expect him to do? Resign before the decision was announced? Robinson and Peston may be privy to Government decisions before they are made public - but the rest of us aren't so we would hardly have understood the background - or perhaps this is just what Robinson would have wished.

Instead of reporting objectively and incisively on the Political event of the day Robinson has published a story specifically to discredit the man who resigned, almost without comment on the point of principle involved. For a Political editor this shows either an extremely limited understanding of the news agenda or a shameless degree of bias. He did this before on the Daily Politics during the Baby P affair, and I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. No more.

Robinson - in the way that you discharge your duties as an unbiased and competent Political editor you are a total fraud. Sue me - I would love to put your reputation and the history of your reporting at issue in a court and so would many people who are forced on pain of criminal charges to pay for the biased rubbish you and some others produce in the name of news.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Minister lets new election date slip?

When Cassius watched the UK news last night upon his return from a particularly good dinner party he was unsurprised to hear a female Labour minister smearing the conservatives over the latest twist in the Greengate affair.

What he was surprised to hear - among the endless charges laid at the door of Dominic Grieve was that this was inappropriate behaviour for a man who intended to be Home Secretary:-

"In a year or so"

Somewhere on the curve from deflation to hyper-inflation, with the money presses rolling at full pelt, there is a moment when the figures all look as though they are on target. 5% inflation becomes 2% inflation, but the public can't see that the money is all freshly printed because (as Guido rightly points out) they have slipped a clause into the banking bill to hide it. Unemployment is bad, but not as bad as it will become.

Are Labour going to sell us a 2009 Green shoots election?

Sunday, 7 December 2008

The 2008 Parliamentary Honour Roll

Anybody who believes that the Green affair is a "fuss about nothing" has a short memory or little reading. Throughout history great men in Parliament have been prepared to rise above party lines and stand up for their beliefs and for our freedoms. Both Gladstone and Churchill crossed the house - Churchill twice! For men and women of honour - Parliament and the democracy it protects have always stood above the narrow and temporary interests of the parties which occupy it.

One unintended consequence of the Green affair is that individual Parliamentarians, and the essence of their relationship with us is once more at issue. In the last few days, and over the coming weeks we will have the opportunity to mark out those men and women of honour on all sides who will command our respect - whatever the outcome of the vitriolic election which looms ahead. Some who, in my opinion, have already done so - appear below. I hope that tomorrow's debate in the House and your suggestions in the comments will produce many more.


Tony Benn - a man who made personal sacrifices for Parliament, being true to form
John Reid - been in Jacqui Smith's position - but not prepared to be a hypocrite
Harriett Harman - hardly above politicking, but not prepared to follow a line blindly
Bob Marshall-Andrews - unlikely to be forgotten as the first to stand up for Parliament

Liberal Democrat:

The Lib Dem Front bench
Chris Huhne - for his transparent and sincere anger


Doug Carswell - for being prepared to speak out in advance of the party line

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Greengate - lest we forget

Remember this headline?

Terror leaks: both Home Office and police implicated

Guardian told that Reid aide and senior officer involved

A year or two back, the details of an anti-terrorist operation to arrest a number of Muslim extremists planning to kidnap a solider, were leaked to the press. There were, allegedly, three separate briefings and they resulted - among other things - in a number of journalists turning up in Birmingham to broadcast the story even before the raids had taken place.

Understandably enough, Peter Clarke the head of anti-terrorist operations at Scotland Yard condemned this behaviour in a speech. He said "such disclosures, both in advance of operations and while they were ongoing, could be illegal and highly dangerous". Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were both, rightly outraged, and demanded an enquiry extending to a Police investigation.

And what did the Labour Government say?

As the Westminster rumour mill cranked up, several officials were said to be in the frame for leaks of the operation. Most suspicion centred on the Home Office, but that was flatly rejected.

A spokesman said Mr Reid was "entirely in agreement" with Mr Clarke.

"National security is one of our highest priorities and anything that threatens effective operations, judicial process or counter-terrorism activity is to be condemned. That is why the Home Office has a policy of never commenting on operational matters," the spokesman said.

So there we have it, a real example of leaks from the Home Office with real implications for National security. Where were the 20 anti-terrorism officers that time around?

Friday, 5 December 2008

Bank shares stolen in round robin by Gordon?

The next major economic news comes from the newly effective FSA.

This would be the same FSA which, with Alistair Darling, suddenly forced UK banks to increase their reserves in October without notice, news which - published by Robert Peston - destroyed the share price of the banks and allowed the Government to pose as a white Knight and buy major stakes at a knockdown price with our money.

So far so good. But it wasn't our money, of course - it was Government debt, bonds. And the concern ever since (causing sterling to tumble) has been who will buy the debt?

Well - the FT this morning tells us - it will be the banks themselves, using their newly increased reserves which Gordon made them have:-

Britain’s banks face being forced to buy hundreds of billions of pounds in government bonds under proposed rules designed to make them less vulnerable to market shocks.

In an effort to boost banks’ liquidity reserves, the Financial Services Authority on Thursday recommended a proportion of their assets should be in the form of highly liquid government bonds.

This Government is forcing the banks to sell shares and increase their reserves, and buying the shares with money borrowed back from - bank reserves.

There used to be a type of share fraud known as a round robin - where a fraudster ends up with a big stake in a company by swapping shares and loan notes while increasing the share capital. In the end creditors, existing shareholders and customers lose out.

Let's hope that when the regulators say they learned lessons from Enron they don't mean it too literally!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

There is a kingmaker in Westminster tonight

Amidst the bluster - something is amiss. Consider for a moment just a dozen of the things we are asked to believe about Greengate.

  • A number of Home office leak enquiries failed to identify the culprit in their midst (despite him being a previous Tory candidate).
  • Despite not knowing the source, the Home Office were able to qualify the leaking as especially systematic, and provide a "full list of relevant leaks, including those involving highly classified material". Since only four were published how did they list the leaks without identifying the source themselves?
  • The Home Office / Cabinet Office did not intimate to police that national security was at risk (if they had, they would surely have had to apologise by now)
  • The Home Office / Cabinet Office did tell police that National security could be at risk in the future (presumably if the leak wasn't stopped).
  • Police agreed to take on the enquiry, without agreeing a protocol for communication. What would they have done if something affecting National Security had been found? Left it until February?
  • At no point before or during the enquiry did the Home Secretary or another minister make any arrangements which would result in them not being updated for political reasons.
  • That, despite there being no special arms length arrangements - at the point when the leaks were identified and their colleague arrested, the Home Office received no further updates from the police? Not even confirmation of the documents identified?
  • At this point no discussion took place in the Home Office as to how the enquiry might proceed? Even with their leaker on bail?
  • The Police were able to guess that they would get consent from SAA (despite having had no Government or Westminster contact in the enquiry) - and were so sure of their guess that it legally prevented them asking a magistrate for a warrant in one out of four of the search locations.
  • The SAA pretended to the police that she had legal and other advice - relieving them of the burden of warning her before she gave consent - but, in the event, failed to take that advice.
Despite the carefully crafted statements - the Government is now stretched out tight and thin like a rubber band over the whole Damian Green affair. In order to make it go away, both the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have been forced - metaphorically - to put their necks on the block in the statements they have made. So has the Speaker. They know that, should it go wrong for them, it would be enough to bring down the Government.

One suspects that if there wasn't a competition going on for the top job the Met would have blown the story and run a mile by now as well.

Somewhere in Westminster tonight there are a number of people - many suggest a minister among them - who know enough to bring this whole House of Cards down.

++ Pound makes new low, against dollar and Euro ++

Sterling has broken it's November lows against both dollar and euro. On top of widely expected interest rate cuts, the market has an eye on Gordon Brown's rushed plan to add - on average - eighteen thousand pounds of long term debt to anybody who can prove that they have no equity in their home and a reduced ability to repay.

In a climate of global money printing, commodities prices will increase fast once supply and demand are in equilibrium (we may have already reached that point). With sterling falling faster and harder than other currencies imported inflation is going to far outweigh any benefits felt by our shrinking export base. Interest rates will have to rise - and the extra debt being lumbered on already bankrupt homeowners by the Government may become a very heavy millstone indeed.

Gordon's Noble Lie

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Yesterday was an historic day for British politics, and a black one. In the matter of the raid upon Parliament we are to believe that the police were insidious, the Serjeant incompetent, and the Speaker indifferent.

Having stated that the highest court in the land is not above the Law, and confirmed that the Law is to be implemented according to the whims of the police, neither Speaker nor Government have been able to explain who it is the police answer to? Is it the Home Secretary who is at present mulling over their job applications? Is it the Queen? The Prime Minister? We are not told. The man in the robes did not fulfill the function that many of us thought he was there for, and he didn't apologise or resign either. Instead he blamed his underlings and whined to Members that "others had the advantage of the media" and he did not. No Lenthall he.

So who will guard the guards? - who will protect us from our protectors?

This ancient problem - posed to Socrates - came with a two part solution. Firstly, as we saw yesterday, for all the pomp and ceremony - there is little in reality to stop a Government or it's police using the powers they have at hand. Like Plato, we must trust the protectors to protect us from themselves.

And there we turn to the real substance of Plato's republic. For society to function we must all believe a noble lie (the
gennaion pseudos) - that our ruling classes are special people with a special sense of their own responsibility to those they rule. In Plato's assessment, the ruling elite must genuinely believe that they are something different to the ordinary mortal.

Does Gordon Brown believe that he is better than those around him? That, "made of a different metal", as Plato had it - he has a special purpose to do what he knows is right for the good of society? That much is easy - of course he does. He is our Moses - he and his allies demand that we trust them even to decide whether an opposition MP should be deprived of his freedom after embarrassing the government. Like his newly enriched predecessor, he is only doing the "right thing".

But Plato's definition of a ruling class had a second part - whilst the rulers would protect those lesser than themselves, they would be chosen because of their humility and their distaste for power and privilege. No ruler in Plato's world deliberately sought the heavy responsibility which he undertook. It was a glorious imposition.

Is Mandelson such a leader? Is Gordon? Do they display humility? a distaste for power?

Parliament told us yesterday that we must place our trust in these good men because we are now guarded by no other - and so these fundamental questions of character and motivation must now join the economic questions at the heart of the next election.

Let's hope there is one before it's too late.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Hasn't speaker Martin already made his statement?

On Monday, Harriett Harman was caught out in an attempt to call a meeting between the Government and the Speaker. The Speaker's statement this afternoon over the Green arrest was central to the agenda, and attached to the invitation was the Government four point "line to take" as distributed at the Lobby briefing. Inexplicably (if it was to be a logistics meeting) the Cabinet Office and Home Secretary - the two departments responsible for Green's arrest - were to be present along with the Chief Whip.

The BBC poured scorn last night on the Governments excuse (offered after the leaking of the email) that the meeting was about logistics and timing. No reasonable person, let alone politician, would accept that ridiculous assertion in the face of the facts.

Nobody - politicians, press, or people - believes that the meeting was non-partisan, and by allowing it to happen - and sparing Government blushes once more - speaker Martin gave the clearest possible signal to Parliamentarians and to the country that he either doesn't understand, or does not respect, the burden of independence which he took on when he was symbolically dragged, by Members from all sides, to his chair.

The Speaker enjoys the trust and unqualified support of all Members (which is why he is never opposed at a constituency election). In return he rises above party politics and evolves from MP to protector of our democracy. No more, no less, no qualifications, no cover-up, no party line, no opinion, no excuses, no agenda except that the House should always be free and able to hold the Government to account - before, during, and after the rubber stamping of legislation by the Labour majority. This much is not opinion - to be read in the context of the facts and innuendo of the Green case as it unfolds - it is fact, it IS our constitution. If Green had been selling secrets Iceland, it would still be fact. The speaker is Parliament and Parliament is independent of Government.

Speaker Martin may yet be able to justify his conduct last week - but he will never be able to assuage the insult he gave to our Democracy by allowing yesterdays meeting. Today, we celebrate the supremacy of Parliament when the doors are slammed shut in the face of the Queen and her Government. Speaker Martin has already shown us on which side of those doors his heart lies.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Gordons budget based on 1% growth THIS QUARTER!

Hat-tip to Guido and his contributor for noticing this amazing statement in the detail of the PBR. Highlighted in red below is the key forecast, that GDP will grow by 0.75% in 2008 despite the fact that all other figures indicate that year to date, GDP has shrunk.

The 2008 Pre-Budget Report forecast has been based on a number of key forecasting judgements, in particular relating to the path of credit conditions back to a new norm and the structural and cyclical implications of the global financial crisis. Against this backdrop of significant policy stimulus and support for real incomes, but exceptional uncertainty, the Pre-Budget Report forecast is for:

UK GDP growth of ¾ per cent in 2008 with the economy contracting in the second half of the
year. The recession is forecast to continue into the first half of 2009, with GDP contracting
by –1¼ to –¾ per cent in the year as a whole. Thereafter growth is forecast to recover to
1½ to 2 per cent in 2010 and 2¾ to 3¼ per cent in 2011

It goes on to say

The UK forecast is consistent with National Accounts and balance of payments statistics to the second quarter of 2008 released by the Office for National Statistics on 30 September 2008, and the preliminary estimate of GDP growth in the third quarter released on 24 October.

Elsewhere in the document, it is clear that GDP 2008 has been +0.3, 0.0, -0.5% in the three quarters already declared. On the face of it this requires growth of almost 1% this quarter alone to get the Chancellor even to the correct jumping off point for the terrible years ahead. To most in the real world that is a total fantasy.

I suspect that this may be more complicated than it looks - The Treasury seem to swap between their own definition of "trend growth" and other figures as and when it suits them, but equally I wonder how many people have looked hard at these figures and the methodology which supports them. One thing is for certain, if they haven't already they will now!

Government mistake broadsheets for pack of ignorant fools

Government statement:

"The content of the Speaker's statement is entirely a matter for the speaker," he said.

"The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the parliamentary business and handling of issues that arise from the fact that the Speaker's statement and the Queen's Speech will be happening on the same day."

Since when have Jacqui Smith (Home Office), Jack Straw (Justice) alongside the Chief Whip and the Cabinet Office been required to decide Parliament's running order? And why did they include a copy of the "line to take" over Greengate (as given to the Lobby earlier in the day)?

This Government must think our press are stupid as well as our electorate.