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Friday, 16 October 2009

The new asset bubble

Simon Jenkins' polemic against the government's mismanagement and inaction as the bankers are creating a new asset bubble is well worth reading.

What did we expect? Bankers are not Mother Theresa. Over the past year taxpayers have given them half a trillion pounds in cash, loans, shares, lucre, dosh, quantitative easing, whatever, with not a string or condition attached. We knew, or at least some of us did, what they would do next.

They would not give the money back. They would certainly not lend it to collapsing manufacturers or high street retailers, whom the government had refused to help. Instead they would pay off the gambling debts they had run up from money previously entrusted to them by the public as depositors. They would spend the rest on bonuses, houses, Porsches, yachts, brothels (says the Guardian), Cotswolds farms, commodity shares, bonuses, bonuses and yet more bonuses. After a while, you just cannot get rid of the bloody stuff.

I've said we should have let Northern Crock go bust. I've said we should have separated retail banking and the transfer network from buccaneer banking and be prepared to let the gamblers go bust without a penny of State aid. This could have been done over the Summer. Now, as those gilded fools are building yet another unsustainable asset bubble that will burst in due course, there is no recourse, nothing left, with which to bail them out again. And this time they risk taking the whole of the retail banking system with them. Jenkins says;

The answer must lie in their personal circumstance. Those advising Brown and Darling in Downing Street, such as Lord Myners, Lady Vadera, Lord Turner and John Kingman, were all past or present bankers, or friends of bankers. When they leave public life they are likely to work for a bank.
You. damned.bloody.fools. It will be lamp posts and piano wire next time around.

Blair's descent into madness

Cartoonists have a better eye than the rest of us for subtle changes in our politicians; it was Steve Bell who first accurately catalogued Margaret Thatcher's one mad eye, and when Blair in office developed the same monocular trait the cartoonists were quick to incorporate it. Peter Brookes in the Times today accurately awards the now Messianic Blair the full pair of mad eyes.

Whom the Gods wish to destroy ....

What price Northcote-Trevelyan?

What price Northcote-Trevelyan, our earliest equal opportunities initiative, designed to stop patronage and nepotism in public appointments, when both parties explicitly subvert it by the appointment of either party dags or relatives to the Quango posts that have replaced those old offices?

A dag, for those of you not brought up in the country, is a crusted fly-infested faecal-bound lump of wool that hangs from a sheep's bottom. Such as Suzi Leather.

A Times leader this morning outlines Francis Maude's plans to overhaul the Civil Service. None of it will be worth a pint of phlegm whilst the outrageous system of patronage and nepotism that flourished under Labour for Quango appointments continues.

David Cameron please take note.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Away with the fairies again and interlocutory injunctions

Libertarianism is a warm, comfy blanket to wrap around one's dislike of being told what to do, and holds up intellectually just so long as you don't think about it too much. If you asked me to choose between Libertarianism and Authoritarianism, I'd pick Libertarianism every time. As long as I don't have to think about it.

DK points us towards a post by Bella Gerens in which the following definition is proposed;

The truth is that advocates of freedom are found all over the political spectrum, but the only true libertarians are the ones who advocate it at all times in all circumstances, from the bedroom to the wallet – who believe that ‘freedom from’ is the only state of being consistent with the dignity and majesty of humankind.

‘Freedom from’ is the most important part of that ideology. Freedom from coercion. Freedom from interference. Freedom from oppression.

Libertarians believe you should be free from coercion – and that you must not coerce anyone else. Libertarians believe you should be free from interference – and that you must not interfere with anyone else. Libertarians believe you should be free from oppression – and that you must not oppress anyone else. Because these are to be universal freedoms: what you do not wish done to you, you must not do to anyone else.

But when you ask to whom this 'freedom from' right should be granted, the answer is rarely 'everyone'. John Stuart Mill, the Libertarian guru, excluded children - and indeed anyone under 21 - from being free from coercion and interference. He also excluded anyone in a state that required them to be 'taken care of by others', all people who are in 'backward states of society' and anyone who is a 'nuisance' to others. Oh, and he qualifies the entire thing by writing that liberty should apply to words but not necessarily to deeds - 'no one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions'.

And Bella sensibly excludes freedom from coercion not to burgle, rob, rape or murder from Libertarianism, on the grounds that these interfere with other people's right to freedom from being burgled, robbed, raped or murdered. You see, you can't talk about freedoms without talking about rights.

And of course we should be free from the effects of the negligence of others; I should be free from your wall falling on me, free from your car knocking me over because you haven't maintained the brakes and steering, free from the oppression of your 200w stereo preventing me from sleeping. And I should be free from the material injury of your reneging on a contract. I should be free from poisoning caused by your selling adulterated foods, free from the material damage caused by your telling lies about me and free from your unwarranted intrusion into my private life without recourse.

I should also be free from being coerced into not making moral judgements about the actions and behaviour of others; my conscience and my morality are personal and an intrinsic part of who I am. I should be free from coercion, interference and oppression in making shared moral judgements with others who are of my mind. For this I need to be free from coercion or restriction in what I write or say or what I print or publish.

And of course all these 'freedoms from' are also rights.

And what has all this to do with interlocutory injunctions?

When the European Convention on Human Rights (or 'freedoms from' if you prefer) was incorporated into English law under the Human Rights ('freedoms from') Act, there was an underlying tension between Article 8 - respect for privacy and Article 10 - freedom of expression; I should be free from unwarranted intrusion but also free from coercion, interference or oppression in expressing myself. Whilst I don't challenge your right to dress up as a Nazi stormtrooper and throw cream buns at a naked rent boy in the privacy of your own bedroom, if you're a public figure I reserve my right to share my legitimate information about it (a statement from the rent boy, say) and comment adversely on your morality.

s.12 of the Human Rights Act, though, provides a sort of safeguard. You can go to court and say 'Look, I have a right to freedom from unwarranted intrusion into my privacy. If Radders publishes his information, I'll be ruined - even though I'm confident that I'd win an action for defamation against him after the event'. The court can grant an interlocutory injunction prohibiting publication on these grounds.

In evidence to the Culture Media and Sport select committee Sir Anthony Clarke, Master of the Rolls, said;

Here, the test you have to establish is that the claimant is "likely to establish that publication should not be allowed". In fact, the House of Lords in a case called Cream has considered what that means. I would recommend anybody who is interested in section 12 to read the House of Lords decision and reasoning in the case of Cream because it does set out in very considerable detail the approach which the House of Lords decided the courts should adopt. If you are thinking about this, I would recommend that you do look carefully at the reasoning in Cream because any new law would have to grapple with that. It is a somewhat nuanced approach but, essentially, the provision is as stated in this statute; namely, that you have to show that it is likely (in the sense of "more likely than not") that you will win at the trial. That is quite a tough test. As compared with other areas of our life, it does give the defendant - the media, if you like - quite a bit of protection. It always has, historically, been very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain an injunction, for example, to restrain the publication of something which is said to be defamatory. If the defendant has indicated that they may wish to justify the allegation, then the general rule is that no injunction will be granted, because it is recognised that freedom of expression is a very important right - as you say, recognised by article 10.
And here is where Libertarians may find themselves in bed with Trafigura and Max Mosley in seeking to restrict free speech and the freedom of the press where this conflicts with a 'freedom from' potential defamation.

As I say, fine as long as you don't think about it.

Benedict Brogan's sobering take on Cameron's 'Localism'

There is an irresistible veracity about Benedict Brogan's piece in the Telegraph this morning. Wellington, pitted against Napoleon for the first time at Waterloo, remarked in disappointment 'So he's nothing but a slogger after all'; the same old French tactics of attack by infantry column seen off by the same old British line. Today we have to anticipate saying of Cameron 'So he's nothing but a party hack after all'.

For every high-profile and well publicised open primary, there seem to be five seats reserved for Cameron's patronage alone. The Buggin's Turn system of highly rewarded Quango appointments looks ready to replace Labour placemen with Conservative placemen. Third rate Labour peers in the Lords can look forward to being augmented by third rate Conservative peers.

Whilst it's quite right that Labour apparatchiks such as Suzi Leather are sacked, it's clearly not right that they should be immediately replaced with Conservative apparatchiks - yet the temptation for Cameron to do so appears irresistible.

Perhaps between now and next May Mr Cameron can tell me why I, who will gain nothing from Conservative patronage, should vote to enable him to dispense it to others.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Damien, dear, you're no Francis

Back in my hard-drinking days in the Colony Room, at the time of the club's 50th anniversary in 1998, the club held an anniversary exhibition at a small gallery in Laystall St EC1. Bacon, of course, was dead by this time in reality but still very much extant in the minds of many of my fellow members; 'Francis' or more often 'dear Francis' figured in more inebriated conversations than I can recall. Damien's fame was at its zenith, and the ducks in Formaldehyde that he contributed to the exhibition set the seal on a show that included pieces from George Melly and Lisa Stansfield as well as Patrick Caulfield, Marc Quinn and Tracey Emin. In a forward to the catalogue John McEwen wrote "Damien Hirst is clearly the Colony's new Bacon. Once again the club has the most charismtic artist of the day as its most loyal and generous supporter." And then he gave up drinking.

Damien's new exhibition opens today at the Wallace Collection, the first major development in his artistic evolution since that first creative impetus from the 1990s petered out into factory manufactured spin and butterfly paintings. He's chosen paint on canvas, not made by machine but from his own brush. And critics have not so far been kind. Bacon's influence peeps out from the pieces in a sort of homage to careless hedonism, but Bacon's creative drive was the periodic intoxicated rise from his gilded gutter to expunge the debauch in a frenzy of work. Perhaps the Osborn and Little wallpapers and Farrow & Ball paint samples for a new country house don't catalyse creativity in the same way. Perhaps the lack of alcoholic remorse is at fault. In lifestyle terms at least, Damien is no Francis. Still, worth a look.

Carter-Ruck and Trafigura

The public does love a corporate villain, and the bigger they are the better. Carter-Ruck's success in turning their client from a firm unknown outside the oil-trading world to a globally recognised baddy in less than 48 hours must rank as a triumph of viral advertising.

Carter-Ruck's fees for this kind of exposure are in the region of £600 an hour. I'm sure the directors of Trafigura will now settle Carter-Ruck's no doubt substantial fee account with celerity in the knowledge of a job well done.

A bonfire of the vanities

The petulant whining emanating from a substantial part of the Commons finds no resonance with a public disgusted at the excesses of many MPs. Complaining about Legg's Limits being retrospective cuts no mustard; guilty MPs are all quite aware that their claims were excessive, and were only made because of the laxity of the system. The innocent - those who confined themselves to reasonable claims - are now being rewarded for their honesty and restraint. The guilty only drag the reputation of Parliament further into the gutter by their querulous whinging.

Pay up and shut up. The nation cares not a tittle for you, just as you care not a jot for the reputation of our Parliament. The sooner you're gone the better, and we can cleanse the stench of your corruption from our nostrils and fling open the windows of the Commons chamber to disperse the mephitic foetor of your iniquitous debauch from our Parliament.

And don't forget that Legg isn't finished yet; those of you who fraudulently claimed mortgage interest in excess of what you paid and who are now being asked to produce evidence could well face demands for reparation that will ruin you. This, too, will be your own fault - your avarice, your hubris and your dishonour have been your downfall.

We've come along way during the term of this Rotten Parliament and fought many battles against your corruption. Maclean - defeated; Brown - defeated; Martin - defeated and disgraced. Now comes the reckoning.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Trafigura's dirty dealings

With sales of $70bn a year, Trafigura is a big player - big enough to buy justice to suppress reporting of its less savoury activities. The company's Wikipedia entry details comprehensively Trafigura's involvement in a waste dumping scandal in the Cote d'Ivoire. Barclays 'encouragement' of tax-avoidance measures also makes it sensitive to media comment.

The Guardian, however, has been injuncted from reporting a forthcoming piece of business in Parliament; Guido carries the question thought to be the subject of Trafigura's or Barclays' wrath.

We must all be grateful to the foresight and perspicacity of Messrs Carter-Ruck in taking so much trouble to bring this matter to a much wider audience than it would otherwise have enjoyed.

Parliamentary troughers unrepentant

There are still far too many MPs whose only regret is that their troughing was exposed. Jacqui Smith's weasel words in the Commons yesterday expose her as a truly corrupt opportunist, unfitted ever for responsible public office. The groundswell of revolt against Legg's measures to lever payback of our tax reveals that whatever their emollient words in public, guilty MPs are grasping and avaricious troughers, wholly unrepentant for charging the taxpayer for things like cleaning and gardening which those of us outside Parliament rightly pay for ourselves.

The intake of 2005 has rightly earned itself the name the Rotten Parliament. They were rotten when they took their seats and they're rotten now as they face losing them.

Though they wriggle and squirm to escape the spotlight of public scrutiny, our determination to hold them to account brooks no escape. Nor will this fade from the public mind, and a generation of new MPs will be tainted by their rotteness.

They have served their country shamefully, and will sneak away like dirty dogs to revel in their filth. Damn them all.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Reconstruction and morality

Echoing both the OMD album of my youth and David Watkin's book that inspired it - far more important intellectually - is the idea that Cameron has re-introduced to the political agenda without any great fanfare, that of the moral reconstruction of the nation. As Janet Daley writes in this morning's Telegraph;
So Mr Cameron and his team must take heart as they come smack up against the most dangerous and pervasive official orthodoxy of our time: one that is more sinister than the command economy or the surveillance state, more destructive of the common good than easy money or consumerist selfishness. Moral relativism – the idea that no one, and certainly no one in a position of power or authority, may pass judgement on the worthiness of any individual's life choices – is the great beast that will have to be defeated.
Watkin traces the defence of modernism in architecture back to Hegelian and Marxist philosophy; to the false supremacy of Zeitgeist that condemns critics of modernistic architecture as “old-fashioned”, irrelevant, anti-social, and even immoral. Staunch in his defence of Quinlan Terry, (not in my opinion a great designer, but a good enough one) Watkin says “The modernism with which Quinlan Terry has had to battle is, like the Taliban, a puritanical religion.”

Modernism in architecture as with moral relativism in society is based not on the primacy of the 'right' of the individual to make their own rules, or set their own standards, but on the suppression of the right of society to set rules and standards against which individuals may be morally judged. I've commented before on the French bourgeois virtues; Assiduité, Economie, Mediocrité, Conjugalité, Temperance,Optomisme, Dynamisme, Modernité, and these are the building blocks of what Cameron means by Responsibility. Please note that modernism and modernity are quite different (ask me if you must) and that mediocrity means something quite different to 'poor quality'. Even rediscovering the vocabulary of morality after decades of moral relativism is clearing the brush from a lost garden.

Be in no doubt that the opposite of responsibility is irresponsibility, and the antonyms of the bourgeois virtues are the vices upon which Beveridge declared war; idleness, ignorance, squalor, disease and want, and just as Cameron is the inheritor of Beveridge's sword so Labour, whose best-intentioned Welfarism has created so much poverty and suffering amongst the British people, are the enemy of a responsible society.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Normington and O'Donnell scrambling to save careers

The culture of not resigning in the face of blatant wrongdoing is not confined to ministers; Blairite mandarins are now also steeped in a culture of dishonourable self-interest and self-preservation. David Normington, who was Jacqui Smith's Home Office permanent secretary, and Gus O'Donnell, Cabinet Secretary, are both now desperately scrambling to censor and 'redact' as much as they can of a report that is expected to damn them, in the hope that if the smoking gun remains secret they can bluff their way into holding onto their jobs.

It was perfectly obvious to anyone that Normington and O'Donnell deliberately fooled the police into believing that the Damian Green affair was a matter of national security when it was nothing of the sort. The deliberately calculated untruths, half-lies, omissions, distortions and deceptions that we know or suspect already were used by Normington and O'Donnell led directly to a police raid on an MP's office and a gross abuse of Parliamentary privilege. For Parliamentary privilege read our democratic rights against an overweaning State; Parliament's privileges are our hard-won safeguards.

For these gross offences against the interests of the British people both Normington and O'Donnell must go.