Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Comment Is Free: eating the Guardian

Once upon a time, there was a left-wing newspaper. Its founder, C.P. Scott, clearly saw it as less of a paper and more of a social mission. My grandfather, a true Socialist all his life, religiously took the Guardian every day, and I would leaf through it as a teenager, mulling over its worthy appraisals of Neil Kinnock’s latest speech or Billy Bragg’s new album. Compared with other papers, it always seemed a bit more in tune with “yoof”, which I then was, and the good guys, which were Labour.
Last week a controversial new columnist, Josh Treviño, joined that newspaper. As a former advisor to the Bush administration, he was not necessarily a natural choice for the paper, but outside observers might have been pleasantly surprised to see, for once, a little compensating political balance at the newspaper.
Within days, he and the newspaper had agreed to part, officially on the pretext that he had slipped a reference into an article which had broken editorial guidelines – eighteen months previously.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Thank you Julian Assange: you have shown your true colours and got George Galloway to show his

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks currently claiming asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy, is only the last in the long line of distinguished anti-Western campaigners, so adored by the liberal left.

Assange may or may not be guilty of rape, and you may or may not agree with the motivation of Wikileaks as a liberating force for the masses. That said, we might start to smell a rat if we scratch the surface, to find that Wikileaks also includes the rather unpleasant Israel Shamir, whose overt racism and sexism, not to mention connections to the odious regime of Belarus, the great Bob from Brockley exposes here.

But, leaving that on one side, the case is very simple: Assange is on the run from prosecution for a serious alleged crime, in Sweden a country which is hardly well-known either for its unfair legal system, or for its propensity to do what the US tells it to (as one wag commented on Twitter, if it were any less minded to do American bidding, it’d be China).

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Britain outside the EU - an Andorran aside

The lovely town of Encamp, Andorra
This last weekend, the Centre Left took time out on a team-building weekend in Andorra (it was quite a wrench moving all the editorial staff and the IT infrastructure, but all for you, dear reader, all for you…)

Tucked away between France and Spain in the Pyrenees, it’s a little mountain retreat with cheap shopping and no VAT. And I really rather enjoyed it. It’s beautiful, well-kept and has a fascinating, idiosyncratic history. Politically, it is a slightly bonkers, constitutional diarchy (you heard correctly), with two official heads of state, the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell in Catalonia.

And it got me to thinking.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Corby is a not just a by-election Labour ought to win: it is one it cannot afford to lose

The average reaction of most Labourites to last Monday’s news from Corby must surely have been: we never really took to you as an MP, but hey, thank you so much, Louise Mensch. To have pulled out of her marginal seat after only two years in the job, forcing an unwanted by-election in the middle of Cameron’s worst political period since becoming Prime Minister is to present Labour with a golden opportunity. This is not a statement of complacency: it is unarguable.

First, Labour is up in the polls and the Coalition has been in a terrible mess for months. And Cameron, in his current position, is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t: if he bows to the current resurgence of the right in his party and fights Corby as a traditional Tory, he could lose those centrist voters he needs. If he fights as a Coalition centrist, he could get hammered by a UKIP protest vote, providing soul food for his critics on the right.

Second, whilst not sharing the visceral dislike of Mensch of some of my colleagues – in a non-partisan sense, perhaps MPs with an “interesting” CV are no bad thing for Parliament – one can see the electors of Corby are unlikely to thank someone for pulling out after such a short time in the job. And, admirable though her desire is to spend more time with her young family – heaven alone knows why anyone with a young family would want to do the job in the first place – it’s not like she didn’t know that when she signed up.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Standard Chartered: these are the real ills of modern banking

Banks, eh? On the British left, we’re often so busy disliking them in general that we don’t always take the time to differentiate between their misdemeanours.

While we’ve been exercising ourselves greatly about irresponsible bankers who have largely been operating within the rules – and where arguably we ought to be looking first to governments, for not having done their jobs in regulating them properly – we miss something else.

And so, much less attention has gone, until recently, on a much more serious problem: those who actively flout the rules. In particular, the illegal transfer and laundering of money.

On Monday the stock of Standard Chartered Bank (SCB), one of Britain’s oldest banking institutions, dive-bombed as it was accused of sanctions-busting with Iran. Accused, because the bank currently denies this. We shall see. If true, it is a sad and ironic tale, which I can perhaps help explain, because I used to work there.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Don't look to François Hollande for inspiration, Ed

My fifth post for the New Statesman, essentially about why I think François Hollande's maths is fundamentally flawed, is here.

UPDATE: I should point out, that the excellent Chris Dillow, who understands these things (he is a professional economist, as well as a very good blogger) agrees with me on the pensions question.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The new Cold War warms up in Iran

One thing I sometimes forget is that people born before, say, 1980, didn’t really grow up, like I did, being aware of the constant background noise of the Cold War. That is, even for people in their early thirties, it’s as distant a memory as the Second World War was for my parents’ generation.

For my own, who came of age in the Eighties, there was always a certain paranoia that, at any moment, we might all be shuffled into hastily-built shelters, our bodies covered in radiation burns. Leaving our fate to politicians seemed doubtful: as Sting put it at the time, “what might save us, me and you, is if the Russians love their children too”. Four years later, President Gorbachev seemed to prove him right, by ending the Cold War. Perhaps, we thought, the Russians were not really that different from us, after all.

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