Monday, October 31, 2011

Two Clerics, No Bankers - Well Done the Protestors!

Whether or not two clerics from St. Paul's Cathedral really needed to resign is an open question, but few can doubt that they have done so with the most honourable of motives. One of them - Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser - was committed on principle to opposing any use of violence, and had aligned himself with the protestors. A perfectly consistent Christian attitude. Today's resignee, Dean Graham Knowles, is less clear on his reasoning but there is no doubt that he has felt overwhelmed at having to hold the balance between maintaining St. Paul's as an open place of worship, and wanting to support the aims of the protestors. These well meaning Anglican gentlemen have shown that the snake-pit of political action is probably not the best arena for the modern clergyman.

But what about the protestors? They cut a wretchedly useless, disparate, ill-begotten group of would-be radicals. Whatever the merits of their case - and who wouldn't argue that the arch satans of the banking world should be brought to book - they have projected such an inarticulate stance that they deserve the opprobrium increasingly being heaped upon them. Most damning of all for these part time protestors must be the fact that a group aiming its ire at the financial world have settled all to happily for the soft target of St Paul's Cathedral. While the London Stock Exchange remains blissfully free of any interference from the brave souls of, er, "Occupy the London Stock Exchange", so too do the upper echelons of all the UK's banks. The protestors have secured the scalps of two well-meaning, broadly supportive clergymen. They have failed in their main objective, and seem perfectly happy in their status as radical eunuchs. Such personifications of palpable uselessness should pack up and leave in sheer shame, regardless of the aesthetic and hygienic reasons for getting rid of them.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


We have a year of this - great for genuine aficionados of the drama of American politics, potentially wearing for the less committed. Nevertheless, the US Presidential election is well under way, as the Republican candidates seek to position themselves for the right to challenge Barack Obama. The Republican field has been subject to more shifts than the San Andreas fault as each would-be saviour of the right flies high then falls to earth, to be replaced by the next political meteorite.

Michelle Bachman was once the Tea Party darling who would carry all before her. A couple of poor debate showings later, she was supplanted by the glamorous Democrat convert who governs Texas, Rick Perry. Now he too is struggling to re-gain momentum as pizza millionaire Herman Cain seizes the day, and the light. Through all of this the plodding, well funded campaign of Mitt Romney continues to keep its head above water, and while Sarah Palin may have decided not to enter the race, there remains a host of other Republican candidates still waiting their moment. Even Newt Gingrich is keeping up his poll numbers in Iowa, the first state to hold a caucus at the end of the year.

Cain is an extraordinary candidate. A rare black Republican (no mixed race parentage here either) and an anti-politician, he has sent his campaign adsa viral on the internet. the most controversial is the one below, where campaign manager Mark Block takes a lazy draft of his cigarette just as the picture morphs into a gradually grinning Cain, top the upbeat strains of Krista Branch's evangelical, Tea Party supporting song "I Am America".

With over a year to go, we can rest assured that the drama of American presidential politics will be far more extraordinary, gripping, and even weird, than anything thrown up by X-Factor.

I remain an enthusiastic Obama-ite. Nonetheless, it is the Republicans who are currently trying to define the message, as TRG's Nik Darlington acknowledges in this post on the Egremont blog.

Now - here's that Cain ad:

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Mis-Appointment of Philip Hammond

Two interesting views on the appointment of Philip Hammond to succeed resigned Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

The Guardian blog notes that Chancellor George Osborne has used the reshuffle surrounding Hammond's move very effectively to his own advantage, and suggests it's a further play in an undecalred leadership campaign against Boris Johnson.

The Tory Reform Group's Egremont blog, meanwhile, slams the appointment of a man professedly uninterested in defence matters as a grave error.

China's Opaque Views

I'm not sure how successful the Occupy Wall Street protests have really been. They've raised the profile - again - of the many opponents of corporate greed (well - we all oppose that don't we? It's our attitude to corporate existence that's more ambiguous) without achieving anything like the world-shattering results of their protestor mentors of the Arab Spring movement. But for all their relative modesty, the protests have managed to draw the attention of the world's second most significant economic power, China. All eyes increasingly focus on China, waiting for the merest hint or nuance of where they stand on - well, anything. But the Chinese are nothing if not opaque, and the comments of one of their foreign ministry spokesmen are a classic of the genre.

"We feel that there are issues here that are worth pondering", said Liu Weimin in one of his more illuminating comments, going on to add that "We have also noticed that in the media there has been a lot of commentary, discussion and reflection. But we think that all of these reflections should be conducive to maintaining the sound and steady development of the world economy."

Little wonder that sino-spotting remains a seriously demanding interpretive occupation.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Daily Mail's Thoughtful Analysis

The Daily Mail have put their finest hack onto the Liam Fox case. Peter McKay, the journalist regularly lampooned by Private Eye, has given us his the benefit of his profound insight, and it's good to see that he's maintained the Mail's reputation for rigorous, thorough, innuendo-free analysis as he writes:

There is a final, delicate reason why Cameron and Co might have shied away from dealing with Fox’s private and public association with Werritty.
Although Fox has denied rumours that he is gay, his friendship with Werritty seems to go beyond what many might consider is normal in male friendships. But the more-inclusive-than-thou Cameron would instinctively steer clear of querying it.

Even better, McKay then has a go at Labour's Jim Murphy for 'smear and slander':

Labour’s shadow defence spokesman, Jim Murphy, justifying his own probe, says: ‘No one has any interest in smear or slander, only in ensuring the office of the Defence Secretary is respected and that Government business is conducted honestly and openly.’
Permit yourself a hollow laugh over Fr Jim’s self-serving sermon.

The Daily Mail - you couldn't make it up (er...).

Unconnected in a Connected World

One thing this great inter-connected world of ours does is lend itself to vast doses of paranoia. It is more than conceivable that an absence of texts, emails and BBM's simply means no-one actually wants to contact me. Not even the direct mail companies, or the relentless communications from people and places I thought I'd successfully 'unsubscribed' from ages ago. But we now judge our self-worth by the number of times we're wanted in the connected world. Our facebook friends, and the number of followers on twitter - is it really possible to over-rate the monumental importance of these frivolous things?

Well, after a day of communications silence, I did sneak a look onto twitter (via an alternative, working source naturally - an old fashioned computer) and discovered that thousands of users around the world have been suffering the same high levels of inconvenience, unable to access the latest junk mail, or read the most recent banal meanderings of their BBM friends. Yes, the Blackberry server in Slough (?!!) has been down for much of the day. And don't mock now, but the Slough server is responsible for not just the UK, but the Middle East and Africa as well. I hadn't realised how much the freedom fighters of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya really owe to Slough. But at least I could breathe an artificial sigh of relief as I realised that no communications hadn't quite spelt social death. Writing about it on the other hand......

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Lilliputian Politicians Dwarfed by Techno Geeks

Andrew Rawnlsey bemoans the conference season as a gathering of lilliputians, in his Observer column today. While he reserved his greatest ire for a George Osborne speech so low-key it would drive insomniacs to sleep, he was little kinder about the leaders, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. To say nothing of the gathering of other, distinctly minor, ministers.

He may have a point. The three weeks of conference gatherings, which should be showcasing all that is most exciting, radical and controversial about the parties and their policies - which should indeed be shaking up the British polity after its summer, ready for a reinvigorated political term - has been so underwhelming that most of us have been able to sleepwalk through it, unsullied by the thoughts of our elected representatives and their adoring supporters. The barely memorable bits are memorable for the wrong reasons - Sarah Teather's truly lamentable attempt at stage humour, for example, or Ed Miliband's arguably self-evident declaration that he was not Tony Blair. Whatever came out of the conferences has, in any case, been quickly over-shadowed by a good old fashioned political corruption saga.

It is notable that the individual who has reminded us of how genuinely great people can change our lives, has been not a politician but a techno-geek. The obituaries of the giant of Apple, Steve Jobs, have dominated news and magazine covers, and generated lengthy articles about the changes he has wrought. Most politicians can only dream of having even a tenth of the impact that Steve Jobs has had on most of our lives. Alongside the late creator of all things 'i', Amazon's Jeff Bezo has also been making headlines as he presages the launch of the Kindle Fire. The Sunday times today (in a pay to view article) heralds him as the inheritor of Jobs' crown, but in reality he has been making changes to our lives for years already.

The techno-geeks clearly dwarf the politicians. But in a world of globalised relationships and unpredictable enmities, to say nothing of economic volatility, it would be nice to think that one or two politicos could try and hit the mark just slightly above the merely mediocre.

Clegg-Clarke Axis?

A fascinating line in the Independent on Sunday's taking apart of David Cameron. Commenting on the "cat-flap" nonsense, which saw Clarke robustly attack Home Secretary Theresa May, to the fury of many on the right of his party, the IoS journos comment -

Nick Clegg, say cabinet sources, would not let Mr Clarke, a hero of the Tory left, be sacked.

It adds a new dimension to coalition politics to see a big Tory beast of the left surviving as a result of Lib Dem pressure. But then, Clegg did describe Clarke as the fifth Lib Dem member of the Cabinet in his conference speech.

Defending the Defence Secretary

Liam Fox's friends are beginning to rally round, none more so than the determinedly right-wing Conservative Home website part owned by Lord Ashcroft. Conservative Home remains broadly suspicious of the modernising agenda of the Cameroons, and have pre-empted his possible desire to remove Dr. Fox - a perennial political opponent - with a detailed defence of the accusations swirling around the beleaguered Defence Secretary. The piece is un-named, the author being merely identified by the handle "The Lurcher", but it contains the key points of any useful Case for the Defence.

Meanwhile, Conservative Home also links us to an article from the Independent on Sunday pointing out "the flaws of David Cameron" (it is, actually, a very interesting piece). You can almost hear hands rubbing with glee over at CH headquarters.

The Independent on Sunday's Odd Reference

The Independent on Sunday carries an account of the friendship between Liam Fox and Adam Werrity, as part of its coverage of the corruption allegations being levelled against them. Tucked away towards the end of the story, 5 paragraphs from the bottom, comes this intriguing paragraph:

During the general election campaign last year, Fox's home was burgled. His laptop, mobile phone and car were taken, although no sensitive documents were stolen and there was no sign of forced entry.

Intriguing not because it is new information - the incident was well reported at the time - but because it bears no possible relation to the rest of the article. Between two paragraphs continuing the story of the Fox-Werrity relationship comes this wholly disconnected paragraph. It doesn't fit, doesn't continue the story, and sits very oddly indeed. Now why, I wonder, would the IoS see it as important to remind us all of this incident?

The Case For the Low Profile MP

So in Liam Fox, another high flying minister seems to be scorched by the sun as tales of abuse of power abound. Makes you yearn for the more forgettable, conscientious, hard working MP/minister who just gets on with his job in an attitude of probity. Take heart then from this article by former SGS big shot and current Sheffield luminary Joe Austin, who profiles Liberal Democrat MP and health minister Paul Burstow, citing him as just such an example.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Fox's Failings

The other week Liam Fox celebrated his 50th. birthday, and entertained the icon of the right, Margaret Thatcher, as his star guest. As if it needed further endorsement, Lady Thatcher's presence - when she has been largely hidden from public view as a result of illness - will have unerlined Fox's position as the pre-eminent spokesman of the right. It all looks so much more fragile now.

Dr. Fox is under investigation for his relationship with Adam Werrity. That they are close friends is not in doubt. That Mr. Werrity has been using business cards calling himself an "official adviser" to the Defence Secretary when he is nothing of the sort is also not in doubt. Mr. Werrity was the sole employee of Atlantic Bridge, a neo-con organisation set up by Dr. Fox to promote the Atlantic alliance with American Republicans of similar outlook. Atlantic Bridge has just been wound up, following a Charity Commission report that stated it had not achieved any of its 'charitable' aims.

The FT today also reports on Mr. Werrity's presence at sensitive meetings regarding Libya. David Cameron has requested that the report being conducted into the propriety of Dr. Fox's relations with Mr. Werrity be on his desk by Monday morning. Clearly Mr. Cameron is in firefighting mode.

The current outlook looks grim for Dr. Fox. If the report clears him of any wrongdoing he will, of course, survive, albeit maimed by the Werrity affair. He and Mr. Cameron have no history of good relations. Both challengers for the Tory leadership in 2005 Mr. Cameron has been suspicious of some of the leaks and reports that have come out of the Ministry of Defence on Dr. Fox's watch.

As he awaits Mr. Cameron's reaction to the civil service report, Dr. Fox may just be wishing he had invested a little more time in cultivating a friendship with the Prime Minister, rather than setting himself up as a standard bearer for his opponents.