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10:10’s imploding campaign

By Andy Mayer
October 2nd, 2010 at 1:34 am | 10 Comments | Posted in Opinion

I’m not a huge fan of the 10:10 campaign at the best of times, a green movement to get individuals and organisations to commit to cutting their carbon emissions by 10% by the end of 2010, smacking as it does of a sort of naive optimism about the power of targets, coupled with an undertone of collectivised bullying. Their latest, now withdrawn, campaign “No Pressure“, written by Richard Curtis, however goes beyond parody:

The content involves four mini-skits of authority figures discussing their commitment, or lack of, to the goals of the campaign, concluding with those not participating, including children, being graphically blown up by pressing a red button, thereby reducing carbon emissions the hard way… geddit? All the humour of Hamas mixed with the advertising genius of Strand cigarettes.

It’s as though the creative team got together and tried to work out the most extreme parody possibly of the environmental movement, and make it into a clever joke. In doing so though they appear to have made a video for 10:10’s opponents rather than the movement itself.

The main problem is that in extremis the anti-carbon movement does across as a rather unnerving cult. There is an Armageddon narrative, a sense of futility that it is already too late, baffling measurement systems that tend to rule all human activity sinful, required rituals, shared acts of adherence, the trading of indulgences, a hierarchy of saints and priests promoting it all, and an attitude to non-believers that ranges from pity to hatred. Further with depopulation as a perfectly logical way to reduce emissions, associating the 10:10 campaign by implication with highly coercive population control ideologies, or rare acts of eco-terrorism is surely unwise?

Green liberalism I like to feel is more pragmatic and market-based. The balance of evidence appears to suggest global warming is a real if hard to quantify risk, and even if the Day After Tomorrow is nothing more than bad movie, a world of clean air seems generally desirable for a host of other reasons as well. Of all the things fossil fuels can be used for burning them is perhaps the least interesting.

Further, and crucially, the solution to carbon emissions will eventually be technological not ideological. Most personal efforts to show willing will in the long-run make no meaningful difference. What will drive change is invention, which in turn will be driven by economic growth and the price of carbon. Similarly population growth is best limited through prosperity, when children are expensive, people have fewer children.

Other efforts to speed up the process of change through regulation, targets, prohibition, incentives, nudges and so on  are not ineffective, if they were there would be no debate, but of questionable efficiency, and don’t tend to buck the market in the long-run.

Spanish and German solar incentives for example did stimulate domestic industry, but did not prevent most manufacturing migrating to China, or in the Spanish case an ugly boom and bust with a terrible bang for their carbon buck. Prohibition of incandescent light-bulbs though clearly stops people buying these bulbs and has encouraged alternatives. It is less clear there that waiting for a global carbon price to incentivise such change would have been effective.

And there are a huge number of other debates from energy efficiency to methods of generation and transport. 10:10 though is a footnote in this. It is largely a gathering point for the already committed and their lobbying activities encourage empty promises rather than sustainable change. If they used their network and goodwill to raise money for scientific research, and seed capital for green entrepreneurs rather than dodgy videos and hectoring they might do more good.

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Ok we’ve noticed…now stop it….

By Angela Harbutt
September 30th, 2010 at 2:21 am | 3 Comments | Posted in Opinion

It’s late and I find myself having trouble sleeping , so I catch up on some crap cable TV. Nothing too heavy, re-runs of Silent Witness and a glass of wine,   …. but wait! What’s this? A government informercial telling me that “reading will improve my life”  (maybe an advert telling me sleep will make me more productive might have been more appropriate!). And I am sure, or did I dream it? No I am sure. Another one (this one a cartoon no less) telling me that it is dangerous to play with matches… OMG.

What is going on here Nick? Dave? I understand that stopping these ads running on crap cable TV channels might not go very far towards resolving the nation’s debt,  but I thought there was more to this government than just digging us out of the financial hole Labour left us with….. I thought there was some stuff said about stopping the nanny state, cutting the red tape, restoring people’s rights, treating us like grown ups, and definitely an end to all that patronising guff that the previous regime were so happy to feed into our homes at all hours (oh don’t tell me you have forgotten  the booklet on “how to be a good grandparent” already?).

So why are these adverts still on air some 5 months later pray tell? There are number of possibilities that occur to me….

1) It could just be a few renegade civil servants who are ‘aving a larf sending this stuff out under the wire and sniggering into their coffee cups when no one notices (can’t imagine Dave or Nick with a glass of wine at 2am watching crime drama re-runs)…

2) Maybe it’s like some cult sci fi film where everyone left the building and forgot to switch it off  (or in this case terminate the contract) – and so they run and run. Until?…….  

3) May be this new coalition aren’t quite as keen on “letting go” as they protest… Maybe they have been advised by the men-in-suits that undesirables (like me, presumably), watching crap TV late at night, are highly likely to play with matches, and the closest they get to reading is the sports section of the Sun – so best not to stop the indoctrination or all hell could break loose.

If they persist with their ads on the fringes, targeted at the undesirables, (that will go unnoticed by the middle class liberal voters – who just don’t stay up that late on a school night) there is a statistical chance that they may just “save one child”…..or some such. That’s got to be worth it surely?

4) F*ck up.

I am hoping its 4. Whatever the reason Nick, Dave. Can they stop now please?  I can just about tolerate singing insurance salesmen and women dying their hair ludicrous colours “because they are worth it”….. but being told not to play with matches is just downright annoying and telling me I might burn myself won’t stop me – it’ll just make me want to move on to lighters.

The Central Question

By Andy Mayer
September 12th, 2010 at 11:05 am | 17 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy, Opinion

There is some pressure on Nick Clegg to deliver a speech in Liverpool next week that sets out what it is that defines the Liberal Democrats as an independent force in British Politics. Co-incident with that there is a party-led ‘strategic-review’ that attempts to either help him do that or remind him that some Liberal Democrats find the idea of their Leader actually leading somewhat troubling.

Within that debate there will be a raft of suggestions about philosophy, policy, and tactics ranging from what community politics means, to our view of the EU, and electoral pacts.

I have one small contribution I’d like to add. Nick should make an overt, aggressive and comprehensive pitch for the centre-ground. Specifically he should crush attempts by his left-wing to reinforce an idea we are a narrow party of the centre-left only interested in competing to replace Labour.

The party currently has a positioning problem. Nick typically describes us as liberal, avoiding the left-right labels. Previous leaders and opponents have suggested it is a non-socialist alternative to Labour, equidistant, orange Tories, and so on… most commentators use centre-left without any correction from the party.

This is a mistake.

The first point to make is in the main, most of our supporters (around 55% according to YouGov poll in the middle of the last decade) self-define as centrist, as do most voters. the next largest LD group around 30% as very slightly left-of centre, with a small tail to the left and a few slightly right-of-centre. We are more credible as a centrist party than a centre-left faction.

The Labour party is unambiguously the strongest force on the left, the Conservatives on the right. It should then be to the Liberal Democrat’s electoral advantage to reinforce what is already broadly true, that Labour are left, the Conservatives are right and we are the natural party of the centre-ground. That can be conditioned for different audiences or aspects of our movement… the liberal centre-ground, the radical-centre, anti-authoritarian moderates etc… but it should be clear and repeatedly expressed that the Liberal Democrats are interested in attracting support from across mainstream opinion.

Avoiding the left-right issue in most contexts is perfectly sensible politics. The labels tend to put-off those who do not share the identity more than they attract. They do not entirely describe what it is you are about.

But organisations also do not control their reputations, they can only influence them. If you are believed to be something you are not, you do need to remind people, from time to time, what you prefer to be, through consistent language, positioning and correcting misrepresentation.

Being sold as centre-left is not an advantage. It sends two messages, one is the moderate centre-right are the enemy and should support the Cameron project, the second is that we are a faction in the same space as Labour, not distinct movement in our own right.

The underlying goal of those who bang on about the centre-left and progressive alliances against the Tories is either replacing Labour by becoming Labour or we must believe they have no grasp of the electoral reality that split votes favour opponents. Either way the UK doesn’t need two mass-movements on the left, any more than it needs two conservative parties. The gap is a clear and credible force in the middle.

The centre-ground is attractive  in that it is distinctive and does not alienate. To be considered centrist in British politics is a mark of high esteem. It says you are pragmatic, considerate of the diversity of opinion, one-nation, able to work with others, a broad church that can adapt the best thinking of your opponents… or in other words tolerant and… liberal.

If this party has a future as a mass movement it must then decide, are we a faction of the left, or the liberal bulwark against extremism with ambitions to dominate the centre-ground we define and our opponents only borrow. Nick’s answer to this central question and vision of the future needs to be: yes.

Toothless media gum to death a blogger?

By Angela Harbutt
September 9th, 2010 at 4:26 pm | 7 Comments | Posted in Opinion

Why is it, I wonder, that the apparently toothless media – which has largely been pathetic at holding the government to account in recent years  (with the obvious exception of the expenses scandal which was sold to them)  – and has always been happy to hitch a ride on the back of the blogosphere whenever it can – has turned so violently on one Guido Fawkes?  (Well turned on him – not sure about the “violently“).

Across the last week or so a story has emerged of a cabinet minister sharing a bedroom with a junior aide, then appointing that aide to the position of Special Adviser (breaking his own PM’s rules on the number of advisers into the bargain) without any shred of evidence that this aide has any qualifications or experience that would make him a “must have” in the department. At a time of austerity and declared self-restraint from the Government this is surely a strange appointment?

To any journalist worth their salt this would raise certain questions…why did the Minister break the rule of only two advisers (when swingeing cuts are promised across Whitehall surely this is hypocrisy?)…why was a millionaire sharing a room with a junior aide ( this is unusual behaviour at the very least?)…why was someone with so few qualifications appointed to the post of Special Adviser –  one of the most influential jobs in the land?(this is our money being spent folks and we should expect our politicians to appoint the best qualified – not give “jobs to the boys” like some old- fashioned favour system).

When the Special Adviser then resigns -and the minister in question issues one of the most bizarre press statements witnessed in a very long time – totally unforced and widely considered ill-advised…one has to conclude that something is not right. And this is potentially very serious indeed. One of the most important portfolios in the country –Defence Foreign Office – is acting oddly. Should not the journalists smelt a whiff off something? Should they at least consider the possibility that this is a matter of serious concern? Should we not all be concerned?  Has the minister behaved inappropriately?  Has there been blackmail? Has the office been infiltrated by a terrorist network?…OK I grant you that this is probably not likely given the checks that people have to go through to get appointments approved. But then who would have thought that a Government would sex up a document , lie to us and then take us into an illegal war? A weapons inspector may have been murdered and the incident covered up by Government officials. Let’s be right “unlikely” stuff can happen.

So given the importance/sensitivity/security issues surrounding the department in question, the curious circumstances of the appointment and then resignation of the adviser and the frankly odd behaviour of the minister in question you would have thought that the national media would be all over this story like a rash?

Yet what we have witnessed from the established news media, is almost incomprehensible. First they ignore the story. Then they seem to have  put  the man, who placed the information in the public domain, on public trial …reporting the story, with a sort of shrugged embarrassment, that “this” blogger is asserting “that”. Well sorry…but the BBC alone employs scores of political journalists, has vast resources at its beck and call, spends hundreds of thousands on so-called “political-reporting” and yet the best it can do is invite the blogger in question onto a radio talk show for HIM to explain to the BBC why HE thinks it’s a story… What on earth has happened to the BBC that it cant see a story when it slaps them round the chops , let alone be the ones uncovering it in the first place?

For the record I do not know Guido Fawkes that well. I have no personal axe to grind here. But I do read his website. This man shows no signs of being homophobic as has been suggested elsewhere.  He shows every sign of being one of the last men standing in the country who has an ounce of journalistic instinct – and the courage of his convictions.

It is inconceivable that the Government has “lent” on the whole of the national media to put a stop on this story gaining traction. So what can explain the reluctance of the national media to treat this with the seriousness it deserves?

 Is Guido Fawkes so far off the mark on this one that they are only reluctantly reporting at the fringes because they “know” that he is just plain wrong on this? If so why not say it?

 Have the national media truly got too cosy to those that they are supposed to be reporting on that they can’t see beyond getting the next “exclusive interview” with some important bigwig in Government? 

Have they been shown up one too many times by Mr Fawkes (this is not the first time that the blogger has been the one to break the story) and are down on their knees praying he his wrong. Because to conceive that  he has been first (and right) again would be simply too shameful for words?

Is it, afterall,  a sign of  the inevitable growth of the blogger and the inevitable decline of “traditional” political reporting?

Well time will tell … the truth will out eventually. In the mean time I hope that the so-called established media get their act together. Because whether Guido is right or wrong on this (and I do really hope he is wrong)  his instincts to ask the questions must surely be correct?

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Niall Ferguson on fiscal stimulus

By Tom Papworth
July 20th, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Comments Off on Niall Ferguson on fiscal stimulus | Posted in Economics, Opinion

In yesterday’s Financial Times, the historian Niall Ferguson writes:

[W]hat we are witnessing today has less to do with the 1930s than with the 1940s: it is world war finance without the war.

But the differences are immense. First, the US financed its huge wartime deficits from domestic savings, via the sale of war bonds. Second, wartime economies were essentially closed, so there was no leakage of fiscal stimulus. Third, war economies worked at maximum capacity; all kinds of controls had to be imposed on the private sector to prevent inflation.

Today’s war-like deficits are being run at a time when the US is heavily reliant on foreign lenders, not least its rising strategic rival China (which holds 11 per cent of US Treasuries in public hands); at a time when economies are open, so American stimulus can end up benefiting Chinese exporters; and at a time when there is much under-utilised capacity, so that deflation is a bigger threat than inflation.

Are there precedents for such a combination? Certainly. Long before Keynes was even born, weak governments in countries from Argentina to Venezuela used to experiment with large peace-time deficits to see if there were ways of avoiding hard choices. The experiments invariably ended in one of two ways. Either the foreign lenders got fleeced through default, or the domestic lenders got fleeced through inflation. When economies were growing sluggishly, that could be slow in coming. But there invariably came a point when money creation by the central bank triggered an upsurge in inflationary expectations…

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Also in the article, he notes (almost in passing) that:

In an influential paper published earlier this year, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff warned that debt burdens of more than 90 per cent of GDP tend to result in lower growth and higher inflation.

If memory serves, the Labour budget earlier this year referred to a then-current national debt of c.£800 billion, rising to £1,400 billion by 2014. That is likely to be roughly equal to GDP even if we recover and grow quite well over the next few years.

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