Thursday, September 12, 2013

We know that the BBC is one of the best things about Britain - ignore The Spectator's ignorant rant.

Sadly there is a type of journalism that perhaps sees itself as iconoclastic - but is in reality ignorant, blinkered and foolish. There is an example in "The Spectator" today  where in an unsigned leader the BBC gets a bashing. in this piece there is no  attempt at balance. Just a splenetic rant driven by the sort of simplistic black/white, good/bad gut ideology that gives the journalistic profession a bad name. 

There is a curious British inclination for some to want to hurt the thing we love. I would place the BBC close to the top of the things that make me proud to be British. And having lived abroad for long periods and travelled widely I can say without hesitation that the Corporation is the one thing I missed most when away and most looked forward to enjoying again when I got home. 

The writer of this illiterate polemic uses preposterous and frankly unworthy statements to attempt to prove his/her point that the BBC should be privatised. Let me take just one. "Sky produces some of the best Arts coverage in Britain". Having recently watched a concert on Sky Arts during which their were advertisements between the movements of. Symphony (!) I can only say that Sky Arts does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the BBC. I would happily pay my 40p per day Licence Fee for Radio Three alone. Indeed I would pay it just for the Proms!

When we hold the value of the BBC up against that of any other medium it is an astonishing bargain. 40 pence per day per household! That's cheaper than "The Spectator"  - and surely even the most fanatical supporter of that excellent magazine would not claim that the Speccy offers anything of the breadth and the diversity of our great National broadcaster? The cost of the BBC Licence Fee is chicken feed and the Corporation does all it can to make it painless to pay this very modest amount. 

But ideologues will always winge and rant I suppose. As ever they will use selective data and slanted opinions to make their fanatical points. In a democracy we tolerate the fact that there will be those who seek to criticise if the basis of something does not conform to their prejudice. Here it is the old chestnut of, as Orwell might have put it, "Public ownership bad, Private Enterprise good". So Sky for which I pay £720 per year so that I can watch top sport, is better than the BBC, for which I pay £145.50! Only the utterly foolish or the unreformably blinkered would call Sky the better deal of the two!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lobbying is only one of the many threats to our Democracy

We pride ourselves, often in an overly self-congratulatory way, about our Democrcay. The truth is, however, than even in the most important areas, that major decisions are taken by people who nobody elected. By "taken" I include "Strongly influenced". Nominally a choice may be made by a Minister of the Crown. But in reality he or she is all too often a rubber stamp machine.

Cast your minds back to Tony Blair's first administration. That Government had introduced a perfectly credible policy on road fuel tax and duty. Then a group of unelected and repugnant commercial transport operators decided to try and change this. They blockaded roads and oil depots and took the law into their own hands. The country was paralysed . The Government caved in. This was the antithesis of Democracy and an elected government was powerless to combat it. Roll forward to 2003 and millions took to the streets to protest against the upcoming Iraq war. On this occasion public order was not threatened (as it had been with the Fuel Tax protests). So Blair and Co ploughed on regardless - as countless bereaved Military families can remind you today as they watch Iraq still burning ten years on.

So lets get extra-political protest and lobbying in context. Politicians have always ignored the public when they choose to. They have always bowed to the Establishment, or the imperatives of unelected civil servants if these people are powerful enough. Or rich enough. Blair bowed to Ecclestone. Cameron to the parasites of Wonga. Callaghan to the Trades Unions.Thatcher to Reagan. Choose your PM - but  they always bend to somebody's bidding. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The more you attack UKIP the more successful they will be

Some in the Conservative Party want to set the attack dogs on UKIP. But the more you attack UKIP the more successful they will be. The oxygen of publicity is essential to a Party which has no roots and no policies other than populist ones. Farage, in my view, was 100% right on Syria. But I don't think that his position was based on anything other than responding to the public mood. The fact that his Party actually wants an increase in Defence expenditure is the same. The people that he thinks will vote for him are nostalgic for the days of Empire when the atlas was pink and true Brits carried the white man's burden! 

The Conservatives need a credible, consistent and honourable set of policy proposals and leaders who can convince. In David Davis they have a John Major type who would not I think be persuaded of anything just because it would marginalise UKIP. He would have created a Manifesto the content of which would be there because he believes it, The Tories rejected him for slightly different reasons that Labour rejected the similarly decent and electable Alan Johnson. They were both wrong. 

UKIP has popularity because it is led neither by a Toff nor a Geek. Nor by a slimy hypocrite either. But the Farage appeal is shallow and vulnerable. He cannot make progress if he is ignored. That's what the Tories should do. It's what Labour is doing, and they are right! 

Back to the future with Adam Smith ?

"Cheap labour has become a substitute for investment". says Jeremy Warner in the Daily Telegraph.  This takes us back to Adam Smith where the entrepreneur notionally balanced the four factors of production Land, Labour, Capital and Enterprise. Decisions were made as to whether accumulated savings (or borrowings) should be spent on Labour or invested in fixed Assets such as Land or Plant and Machinery. It never was anything but a useful shorthand and the idea that in 2013 businessmen sit down and say "Shall we buy an Asset or just hire a few more cheap Poles" is ludicrous!

(1) Immigrants aren't cheap. The same minimum wage and other employment conditions apply to a Pole as to a Brit (illegals aside).

(2) Investment IS cheap. Interest rates remain at an all time low and if buying an Asset is required then it costs little to do so.

In business there is certainly some debate as to whether revenue expenditure (eg on Staff) is preferable to capital expenditure on assets. But to suggest that this is anything but a minor issue on the margins of business decision-making is not true. 

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Obama following Cameron's lead? Are you having a Larf?

The United States is the only undisputed SuperPower these days. The idea that they need to take their lead from an ill-governed, broke and marginalised Britain is absurd. The idea that the President when grappling with a major decision says "What would David Cameron do" is preposterous. The best the Prome Minister can hope for  is that Obama actually remembers his name correctly! So far so good on that one.

The Anglo-American alliance exists in NATO , but that's about it. It is not a bilateral agreement at all but a nostalgic memory of a time when it existed and a time when it needed to. Beyond NATO Obama has been explicit that he wants the UK to remain a member of the EU and become more active as such. This is, of course, because the military precedent of NATO (European powers working with the US) is a good one for the same approach on mainly economic matters. In years to come the trend towards the US dealing with Europe collectively rather than individual states bilaterally will accelerate.

The idea of the "Anglosphere" touted again by the likes of Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell is laughable. Like the anachronistic "Commonwealth" it harps back to a distant age when English speakers could carve up the world and trounce Johnny Foreigner. The Queen may be Head of the Commonwealth and I'm sure its members enjoy the occasional pseudo-Imperial pantomimes it brings. But they don't take it seriously as having any true significance - and the ill-defined "Anglosphere" is the same.