Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

April 10, 2013

Evidence-based politics: the case of the incredible shrinking Tory Party

PA-N0132841290046602231AHere is something those who rely on political commentators will not have expected to see. The latest poll from TNS BMRB has the Tories down to just a quarter of the vote: CON 25% (-2), LAB 40% (+3), LD 10% (nc), UKIP 14% (-3). The Opinium/Observer online poll had LAB 38, CON 28, UKIP 17, LD 8% at the weekend. YouGov for the Sunday Times on the same day had CON 30, LAB 40, LD 11, UKIP 13. (The Tories were just 1% above their low point with firm.)

How can this be? All these polls were taken during the raging welfare debate. Commentator after commentator wrote articles assuring us that Labour was on the wrong side of public opinion, and the Tories had at last found an issue that would move the voters their way.

Read the whole thing

April 8, 2013

Bankers carry on unabashed, unscathed and unashamed

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The right’s folly lies in its inability to understand that bankers have not been bashed. Indeed, they have barely been slapped. The courts have jailed no one responsible for the crash. Instead of “a never-ending trial for financial war crimes”, there have been no trials whatsoever. No one has sought to compensate the taxpayer by confiscating the bonuses taken in the bubble. The Financial Services Authority has barred only a handful of bankers from working in the UK financial sector. This palpable injustice allows me to summarise the coalition’s failure to convince the public that “we are all in this together” in a paragraph.

The taxpayer injected about £65bn into RBS and HBOS in share capital. Those shares are currently showing a loss of £20bn. The overall cost to taxpayers is incalculably higher because we must now manage in a zombie economy with a crippled banking system that can’t send credit to where it’s needed. Yet rather than punish those responsible, the coalition has cut their taxes.

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March 25, 2013

Boris. Brilliant on the outside. Nothing on the inside

Boris Johnson will tell you what you want to hear

To say that a populist is not like other politicians is therefore to say next to nothing. What matters are the policies.

Is Johnson in favour of keeping Britain in the EU or taking it out? Does he want to let immigration rip and spend more on housing benefits, or cut both? It all depends on who he is talking to, and what they want to hear. Johnson is far closer to the stand-up comedian, who advances his career by tailoring his material to suit his audience, than the leader with a programme for national renewal Britain needs.

I am sure he can act the part as he can act so many other parts. But for how long would he be able to maintain the pretence?


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February 17, 2013

The Leather case

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So far, Leather looked like an ordinary huckster in the style of Jayson Blair, the plagiarist and fantasist, who conned the New York Times. He was trying to make a quick buck, and he was not too choosy about how he did it. His unselfconscious bragging aside, the most bizarre aspect of the affair appeared to be that Leather was not a desperate unknown struggling to attract attention. He was the second bestselling British author on Kindle worldwide in 2011 and had no need to play low tricks.

But, as so often with British frauds, the story did not end there.


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February 2, 2013

Scandinavians teach the British how to write

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For Sweden’s Axess magazine.

Scandinavian culture is all the rage in Britain. The crime novels of Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson have been popular for years, and their success has not disconcerted the London cultural establishment. But the success of Scandinavian television is another matter. It raises hard questions for British programme makers. Beginning with Swedish television’s adaptation of Mankel’s novels, the realisation grew that the best Scandinavian television drama was as good as the best British television drama. After The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen, we began to realise that it was better.

For the self-congratulatory world of British broadcasting, that knowledge was a shock. British television likes to say that it is “the best in the world”. And in the 1970s and 1980s, the boasting seemed justified . Britain once exported quality drama and classic serials, and imported downmarket game shows, mainly from America. There has been a huge decline since then. Britain is now the world’s largest exporter and “format television” on the lines of Pop Idol and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? As for quality drama, I made the argument a few years ago that Britain and America have swapped roles. Now we import the Wire, Homeland and other high-class dramas from America, while sending light and lowbrow game shows abroad.

When the competition only came from the United States, British television’s pride could remain intact. American channels, after all, had resources that the British could not match. Now Denmark and Sweden are producing serials that excite British viewers that old argument no longer holds.

What has gone wrong?

January 15, 2013

Explaining the hacking scandal to the Swedes

From Stockholm’s Axess magazine

Swedish version here

Foreigners whose knowledge of Britain comes from the BBC or the Financial Times can believe that the English journalist is like the English gentleman: polite, meticulous and fair. Only when visitors pick up the popular press do they see a different, raucous and frankly bewildering country: obsessed with celebrities sport and sex. The British tabloids are aggressive, politically biased – usually towards right wing populist causes – opposed to the European Union, prurient, sanctimonious, bullying and, as we now know, criminal.

London’s Metropolitan Police has arrested almost 100 journalists, editors and newspaper contacts (and I am sure that more arrests will follow). Some are reporters I know, charged with hacking phones – that is of finding a way round the often primitive security of mobile phone companies and listening to voice mail messages. To the disgust of just about everyone, the targets did not just include celebrities, but a kidnapped girl and the victims of Islamist terror attacks on London. Other targets for detectives have been the police and prison officers journalists allegedly bribed for information. For all their alleged crimes, both the reporters and their contacts are minor figures. The scandal is politically explosive because Labour and Conservative governments concluded that they could not govern Britain without the support of Rupert Murdoch. They flattered him and his senior managers, who presided over the loose morals of the old newspaper industry. So alongside the tabloid reporters and the lowly police officers, detectives have arrested Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch’s former editor of the Sun, and Andy Coulson, who moved from editing a Murdoch paper to become David Cameron’s spin doctor. Politicians once grovelled before Brooks and Coulson, asked their advice on policy and invited them to their parties. Now they regret it. David Cameron in particular is as caught up in the scandal as journalists and editors.

November 20, 2012

Are legal curbs the answer for Britain’s errant newspapers?

Lord Justice Leveson is set to deliver his verdict on phone hacking. As politicians and journalists prepare for a battle over possible state regulation of the press, Jacqui Hames, the former Crimewatch presenter and hacking victim, debates the issues with Observer writer Nick Cohen

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October 16, 2012

Why we shouldn’t stay silent

The past year will be remembered as a time when authority became more unaccountable; when potential sources learned that they could be fired and sent to court; and the journalists who talked to them learned the same.

The police, prison service and armed forces are the coercive arm of the British state. We should want them to be leaky. We should want those in charge to fear that the public can find out what they are doing. Now they are more secretive than ever. The people who are cheering on the round-up of the despised tabloid hacks are the same people who want to scrutinise the state. They are about to learn that censorious power does not only target those the respectable despise. Once unleashed, it oozes across boundaries and suffocates stories that right-thinking people rightly believe the media must publish.

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September 17, 2012

“Offence” and murder. Interview on Rushdie and the riots.

With Canadian television here

September 6, 2012

A Meeting with the English Defence League

For Axess Magasin
Swedish version here

In 2009 I stood with a marvellous group called British Muslims for Secular Democracy at a demonstration in central London. We were protesting against a march by Islam4UK, a clerical fascist outfit that straddled the line between extremist politics and terrorism. I loved the young men and women for their courage in standing up for liberal values. “Laugh at the enemies of Islam,” they chanted. “Freedom of speech will rule the world.”

At that time the European left was in a terrible mess about how to oppose the religious right, a mess that continues to this day. In theory good liberals were against sexism, racism and homophobia. In practice, they failed to condemn radical Islamists, who were also sexists, racists and homophobes, because they feared becoming the targets of violence themselves or because they feared accusations of “Islamophobia” or some other form of political incorrectness.

The band of 20 young Muslims were on their own. No one would support them, apart from strange men carrying British flags, standing a few metres away. I recognised one as a former football hooligan I had met before. I went over to ask him what was going on, and learned that he and his friends were members of an organisation called the English Defence League. They were not neo-Nazis, they assured me. They supported women’s rights and gay rights. They just wanted to protest against radical Islamists whose supporters bombed London, and attacked the funeral processions of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fair enough, I thought, I’ve been expecting something like this for a while. If the European liberal mainstream abandons its principles and seeks to “engage” with theocrats, it must expect a reaction. For about an hour, I believed that English Defence League was better than the Islamists it opposed. But not for longer.

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