Weblog: Brown vs The Recession – how is he faring?

Dear reader,

I was all ready to write this on Monday evening, I’d sorted my links and aggregated a good selection of articles for your perusal. I skimmed the newspapers online last thing last night and … I knew I’d have to wait a day.

This happened. The Office of National Statistics, the body that reports the state of the UK economy to Parliament, reported that the economy had tanked (the BBC are more tactful, reporting a ‘sharp contraction’). Regardless of the language, the figures show that people are spending less, that more people are out of work and that the country (note: not the government) is losing money (GDP, or Gross Domestic Product measures how much the economy is worth and that has reduced by 2.4%).

Worse luck, this is set to continue. The OECD, an international advisory group of which Britain is a member country, predict that output (measured by GDP) will fall this year by 4.3% and the economy will be stagnant in 2010.

Lord Mandelsons back at Browns side advising on economic strategy

Lord Mandelson's back at Brown's side advising on economic strategy

The Treasury predicted that the recession wouldn’t be so pronounced in the UK. If these figures are right (and theirs are therefore wrong), it would mean they may have spent too much money compared with what they expected to earn back. This has massive political implications, and the fall out has already started (I’ll discuss this a bit more below).

But beware the folly of following statistics too closely. Because of this large fall now, the economy may look statistically better in a few months. The BBC’s Stephanie Flanders says ‘we may yet get a positive surprise when the first estimate for the second quarter comes out on 24 July. Indeed, the sheer scale of this decline in the first three months must make a sharp improvement more likely.’ The Guardian’s Larry Elliot believes that there may be ‘a cloud around an economic silver lining.‘ He’s not particularly specific though.

Regardless, things aren’t great in the UK and it doesn’t look like they’re getting better any time soon. So what does this mean? Read the rest of this entry »

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Hey Josh, why haven’t you written ’bout Bercow?

Good question, the election of John Bercow as Speaker of the House of Commons is important news for Parliament.

But is it at all important for the rest of us? Here at JCPR towers the news was greeted just as Michael Jackson’s death was a few days later – an important event that has no effect on anyone apart from those with tickets to the shows.

One of the most baffling recent events in British politics was the removal of the previous speaker, Michael Martin. It was a desperate attempt to deflect attention from the real issue of the time: profligacy and moral corruption uncovered in the Telegraph’s MP’s Expenses scoop.

Michael Martin, like John Bercow, was never a big personality. It’s the job of the speaker not to be. When Martin became known, he had to go. No speaker gains mass recognition purely for adjudicating the house well, recognition is only gained for error or unpopularity. Martin was well known because of both.

The job, not the name, is important but how it is carried out is an issue for MP’s – it regulates their contributions in the House. Voters are concerned only with MP’s contributions, not the technicality of how they came about.

Bercow is a personality, and perhaps that’s why he’s unpopular with many MPs. His political transformation from member of the right-wing Monday Club to Thatcherite to an advisor in Gordon Brown’s government indicates a political conscience not dictated by party whips. He won by appealing to the largest faction within the House – the Labour Party. Essentially, he won by campaigning as a politician, not as a celebrity like Widdicome or a stalking horse like Beckett.

Frankly, no-one particularly cared about Bercow’s election and no-one should have. It was always a matter for MPs alone, if Martin had to go then fine but don’t brand his replacement as a reform. It isn’t, nothing has changed. Voters aren’t concerned by the House but by MP’s second homes, a new speaker doesn’t change that.

PS. Here’s Bercow showing his personality too much, a word of warning Mr Speaker : don’t, no-one wants you to be anything but a drab bureaucrat.

So what if I want to wear the Turin Shroud?

Mme Sarkozy is a supermodel: sometimes she is photographed wearing fashionable clothes and sometimes she wears barely anything. President Sarkozy is photographed in neither but professes to be an expert on what not to wear: secular clothing is so in this season but sectarian clothing is out. Problem is, in France it’s out for good and the fashion police are more than figurative.

The burka is a “sign of subservience, a sign of debasement”, according to the French President in a speech to both houses of parliament. But would its abolition prevent subservience to a predetermined dress code or create a new one at the whim of the French Government?

An important peril?

Sarkozy’s speech was no attack on one set of values but worse, the shaping of another set – “our values” – which he did not define. He does not need to, using rhetoric alone he has created the idea of an ideal French citizen. As a result, thousands of veiled French citizens who earned legal protection have now earned the legislator’s scorn. President Sarkozy did not merely attack oppression, he encouraged it.

The issue of religious dress is not like the “Anglo-Saxon economic model”, which Sarkozy delights in deriding. The burka is not American unilateralism, which France opposes. “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Fashion” was never the cry of those at the Bastille and for good reason. Uncovered faces are a right but they should always be a choice – legislation would restrict choice not encourage it. All the while, as the world’s oldest problem – religion – rattles legislators, the world’s oldest trade continues unabashed: I speak of prostitution.

And yet I know of no Sarkozy speech about prostitution, the widespread secular subjugation of women for profit. The turning of a human into a commodity. Which is worse, masking a body or stripping away a person’s humanity until they represent a sexual service alone? Often, dress is a choice but according to The Poppy Project 9 out of 10 prostitutes do not want to be so (if you click on one link on this blog, click on that one).

Or a lesser challenge?

Or a lesser challenge?

Perhaps popular opinion explains why we focus on the burkha: prostitution is an often demanded service and for many an unknown problem. The burka is an immediate and obvious sign of difference and an unpopular divider of society. Yet it represents someone’s beliefs, their choices and their self-image.

So I end with some questions I am unqualified to answer. Is it government’s place to dictate personal choice, image, identity, beliefs and dress sense? Surely sexual subjugation is far more obvious yet so obviously ignored? Why does prostitution continue unabashed and Islam cause such concern? One is a religion, the other is revolting. Secular governments only have a role in the regulation of one.

PS. President Obama answered my question about the role of government before I even thought to ask it.  “It is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practising religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.” Merci beaucoup, monsieur.

This comment was made in Obama’s speech to Cairo last week. The BBC analysis is excellent but you can judge for yourself if you’ve got a spare 50 minutes or so:

Parliamentary Sketch

n7713161471_2114234_1820762 Here’s my latest parliamentary sketch, published on The Yorker. The hyperlinks are in grey so you may  struggle to see them at first but trust me, they’re there. Here’s a taster:


“Gordon Brown is King Kong, the big beast of British politics, the architect of New Labour success and his unpopularity the harbinger of its demise. Once the ultimate spectacle, Kong has simply lost his lustre.”


Angela Watkinson MP’s Tax Accountant

I’ve been trawling through the expenses of my MP, Angela Watkinson. MPs had the option to go through expenses and edit them before publication. Here, it would appear the Hon. Member for Upminster claimed for a “tax accountant” but this has been crossed through. Has it been paid back again? Update: This means it was blocked by the fees office.

Alistair Darling got into trouble for claiming for an accountant but notably, Watkinson’s  £250.00 claim is smaller than his claim of £1,400. Read the rest of this entry »

When tasers go … right?

I’m not aware of all the details surrounding the police use of a taser of a man being arrested for suspected grievous bodily harm in Nottingham this week. Neither is Henry Porter.

Yet Henry Porter has written a piece for the Guardian calling for the banning of tasers. He says that the majority of officers on the street are “hot-headed thugs”. He calls for the ban of tasers in the UK.

This is on the back of a YouTube video which Porter says “speaks for itself”. It shows a snippet of a broader incident – it may be a useful handle to hang outrage upon but it is not conclusive proof of anything. Nothing at all. It is not a national news story, it is an incident that needs investigating.

I don’t know who the victim/“drunken reveller”/ aggressor on bail is, he has chosen to remain anonymous. This may be because, as he admits, he doesn’t know the full extent of his actions that night nor their consequences. And why is it that a man accused of greivous bodily harm remains anonymous, yet an officer who wrote an Orwell prize winning blog giving an insight into the work of the police was outed by The Times?

So what does this snippet show? A man, suspected of greivous bodily harm was apparently aggressively resisting arrest, was being forcefully detained. He was tasered. He was punched by an officer in the shoulder. Then more backup arrived.

It doesn’t show the man being tortured by the Metropolitan Police, nor does it show the role of the Met in the G20 protests, in particular the death of Ian Tomlinson. Yet seemingly, a far smaller incident has been bound in with those others, as in The Independent’s coverage. This detracts from their significance and is clumsy at best, mendacious at worse. I don’t know what happened that night. Neither does Mr Porter, nor indeed, Shami Chakrabarti (who has given a cautious statement pending an investigation). Thus, I am not outraged and will not be until I know a little more about it. We should all sit tight and wait for an answer. Of course, the questions should continue – without them conclusions cannot be reached – but this shouldn’t be in the form of pontification on 24 hour news. How does that provide any answer at all?

Questions I would ask:

  1. The man taking the video states “I can’t wait to put this on YouTube”, and a large group of the general public try to see what’s happening – some express concern. Does this video show more about the public’s respect for the police force than the actions of Nottinghamshire police?
  2. Four officers were trying to arrest the suspect. More backup arrives to help restrain him. The police do not rush to every minor crime scene in large numbers, it would appear they had information pertaining the suspect that warranted the use of the taser. The Spectator’s Alex Masie thinks that “no such force was required”.  Was the use of the taser indiscriminate?
  3. YouTube allows videos to spread quickly, it does not provide follow up information nor official statements. It just provides a snippet of this event. It’s great that Trent FM are getting some publicity at a difficult time for local stations. But how should national news media cover this story? Does this bear any relation to the death of a man at the G20 summit or the torture of suspects? What use is showing a video from YouTube and noting that there is little information available? Sky News’s summary was that the police would have to release a statement on the incident. Did this warrant the clip being shown, or is 24 hour news struggling to keep up with the internet?

What do you think? I’m happy to be proven wrong because I don’t know the facts.

Weblog: Iranian elections

Iranian elections: what to say? One of the problems of blogging is uninformed writing – it’s something I think far more misleading than it’s use for slander, sensationalism and silliness.

From the New York Times

This links to the New York Times

One of the strengths of blogging is the ability to aggregate other posts and other people’s writings. Here’s the result of my morning’s trawl through the internet for writings about Iran, from newspaper reports, blogs, facebook and even twitter:

  • Of course, the best way to aggregate twitter is to let someone else do it for you. IranTwazzup is an excellent, live stream of tweets and a ranking of the most popular links, photos (amateur and professional) and videos (h/t:comment central). I’d recommend a glance at this, but probably best we gain some broader info first.
  • The Times think the results were falsified, Ahmadinejad won by an “absurd and falsified two-thirds of the vote” and that “the attempt to impart a veneer of democratic legitimacy to a regime widely hated for its authoritarian intolerance, economic incompetence and corruption backfired.” In particular, they cite “the heavy defeat of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main challenger, in his own village.” Laura Secor of the New Yorker agrees:

“There can be no question that the June 12, 2009 Iranian presidential election was stolen. Dissident employees of the Interior Ministry, which is under the control of President Ahmadinejad and is responsible for the mechanics of the polling and counting of votes, have reportedly issued an open letter saying as much.”

  • Yet a piece in the Washington Post completely disagrees and thinks that opinion polls showed that President Ahmadinejad was always going to win a second term, and by an even greater majority than he eventually won. They’ve used a polling firm with a hefty reputation and posted the results for all to see, and disagree with.
  • But judging from the events in Iran, Foreign Policy magazine’s Passport blog think that “these are not the actions of a winner”, and they’ve got a point.
  • The ever readable Robert Fisk thinks it’s too simplistic to paint Ahmadinejad as a vengeful loser, he’s seen two different sides to the embattled President. He’s also written about the violence on the streets of Iran, which President Ahmadinejad has dismissed as “not important”.
  • The latest news updates from Iran come courtesy from the New York Times’ The Lede, who are giving all the latest that they see, hear, and read. Of course, the BBC are providing an incredibly comprehensive report, as ever. But you didn’t come here for me to tell you that.
  • What power does the President have, anyhow? An article in Foreign Affairs notes that “The Iranian constitution endows the supreme leader with tremendous authority over all major state institutions, and Khamenei, who has held the post since 1989, has found many other ways to further increase his influence”. You’ll need a subscription to read the full article, not everything on the internet is free but the abstract gives a flavour (I haven’t finished the full article yet).
  • Vocal opinions come in two forms. First, heeeere’s Hitchens, who writes:

“The obvious evidence of fixing, fraud, and force to one side, there is another reason to doubt that an illiterate fundamentalist like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could have increased even a state-sponsored plebiscite-type majority. Everywhere else in the Muslim world, in every election in the last two years, the tendency has been the other way.”

He thinks the correct term for the regime is Fascist.

  • John Bolton wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week that, regardless of the result, Iran was a threat to the United States that shouldn’t be negotiated with. He resolutely refuses to stop banging that drum, doesn’t he?

If you don’t like my far from comprehensive aggregation of interesting articles, why not try RealClearWorld’s, check the Daily Dish for regular webscrapes and for a decent liveblog, see The Guardian.