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Friday, 28 October 2011


Economic confidence is at the heart of growth, and we just don't have it. New construction orders are lagging, not for want of opportunities, as Scobs has commented, but for want of investor and lender confidence. Yet build a new shopping mall or launch a new heavyweight food chain and people will come - they want to share the confidence, the brashness, the exuberance and actually will success. Someone with confidence that their career is going somewhere other than redundancy will sign a new car loan, buy a new sofa or build a loft extension. Manufacturers will invest in that new CNC milling machine, transport firms in a new tracking system. 

The one change that will boost domestic confidence beyond measure is certainty over our future in the EU. We will rediscover the Commonwealth - never mentioned by Cameron or Osborne, yet the most noble and steadfast achievement of our sainted Monarch has been to keep the Commonwealth alive through decades of government indifference. The UK has a unique role in bridging continental Europe with the Anglophone Commonwealth, the hub of a free-trade system that serves to enrich all. But we must shed the shackles of an EU system utterly antipathetic to our national character; the Statism, the beetling bureaucrats, the Napoleonic laws, the police spies and brigades of gendarmes. Those things are Europe's unfortunate legacy and must stop at the Channel. Our waters must be free and serve our nation first, and we must deter like the Hornet - we may be too small to kill you, but can inflict a sting of such pain you won't risk conflict with us. In short, casting off the shackles of the EU will bring a surge of hope, confidence and economic growth to the UK like nothing else.

All we have to do is persuade the boy David and his permatan chums to do the bidding of the British people. 

Thursday, 27 October 2011

A mixed lot

There are a couple of pubs we usually adjourn to after a meeting in EC1. One is London's most hidden pub that until relatively recently was actually in Cambridgeshire. It was sited in what was a 'peculiar' of the Bishop of Ely, and was licensed by Ely magistrates rather than City ones. The other is an old 18th century corner-house on Watling Street, a pub since the 1500s, that survived both the Blitz and the 1960s. It was outside the latter yesterday evening that we came face to face with a trio of 'occupy' folk from St Paul's doing a bit of an explore. Three girls in stained anoraks with unwashed hair and bangles who may even have looked attractive after a hot bath, a decent dinner and a day with the hairdresser stared in quiet fascination at a row of loud men in suits quaffing £4 a pint lager. The suits stared back, equally fascinated. They looked as though they were on the point of soliciting drinks, or money, but couldn't quite do it and moved on. 

In one of those peculiar flashes of insight I imagined a similar scene in that same place some half millennium earlier. The English Reformation may have been many things, but it wasn't a benefit to the common people. Overnight, they lost hospitals, schools, the dole, charity, shelter and social care, none of which would be re-provided by the wealthiest in the land who enjoyed the plunder. Least of all was the Reformation of benefit to women. The nunneries offered a real alternative to life as a chattel, where women could live together and govern themselves, protected by stout walls and piety, owned by themselves and not by men. When Henry's agents pulled down the walls and ejected the sisters onto the street just such a group as our occupy protesters must have wandered the City, gazing in fascination at doublets straining over the fat bellies of London's new middle class.   

Simon Jenkins writes this morning in the Guardian
There are serious gaps in the transparency of modern democracy. Between elections, the traditional mediators between electors and those in power have withered. The "customary associations and little platoons" have dwindled. Power over policy has been removed from parties in parliament and at the grassroots, from trade unions, from the professions, from local government, from intellectuals, even from the formal civil service. These conduits have been replaced by thinktanks and lobbyists working in private collusion with ministerial staffs. When David Cameron in opposition said that lobbyists were "the next big scandal waiting to happen," he was right. But that was before he came to power. ..... (the 'Occupy') protest is more a dull ache of frustration at power being dispensed in corridors rather than streets, a power that is ever further from their grasp.
1979 was a watershed in British politics. Before, we berated the grasp of something called 'the Establishment' on power, and the reaction against it in the 1980s gave us a rainbow alliance of greens, anarchists, wimmins, Trots, oddballs and wierdos in the Town Halls, all antipathetic to Mrs Thatcher. That, too, was billed as a 'reformation' of politics. Unfortunately it was. It led to the most ruthless centralising of power the nation had seen since the Second War; the Conservative Party alone lost a million members between 1979 and 1997, me amongst them, as local associations were disempowered. Like that other Reformation, it succeeded only in making things worse for the majority and created a powerful closed-shop metropolitan political class.

As the Chinese are said to say, beware of what you wish for. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

It's the little things

First toad-in-the-hole of the year last night; I learned how to make this as a student, more than thirty years ago, and it still hits the spot. And I've got the other half for tonight. And yes, the middle did fall a bit out of the oven, but hey .. 

Remember, Cameron ditched Sir Patrick

The redoubtable Sir Patrick Cormack would no doubt still be going strong in Parliament now, writing his letters longhand with a fountain pen, had Cameron's metropolitan and Statist party evinced the slightest understanding of what he stood for. Sir Patrick told the Guardian in 2007
I've had masses of letters from people who say they vote for me not because I'm Conservative but because they think I'm an independent-minded local parliamentarian. I've always taken the line it's country-constituency-party, in that order.
As Cameron's tame Parliamentary sheep bleat "Leader. Party. Europe" they're a million miles from Sir Patrick's old-fashioned sense of priority, from his sense of service owed, of public duty, of responsibility. Maybe it is time for a new Conservative Party, one that provides a comfortable home for all the Sir Patricks still extant. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Party funding reform and Europe

The Conservative Party is in the uncomfortable position of having a grass roots membership in the constituency associations unequivocally opposed to the EU and an isolated Metropolitan party HQ unequivocally in favour. Tory MPs are caught in the middle, unsure whether to annoy the party bosses who hand out junior ministerial jobs or local voters who still retain a minor role in candidate selection. UKIP hovers in the background, ready to repeat its undertaking not to stand in constituencies where the Tory candidate is anti-EU and yesterday's Tory rebels will no doubt have had an eye on 2015. 

Yet the resolution to this impasse in the Party may come not from some cosmetic compromise, not from Cameron's banal and mendacious assurances over his Euro-sceptic credentials, but from changes in party funding. Sir Christopher Kelly's committee is about to publish its report on political funding. The three main parties are moribund, with a combined membership of fewer than 1% of the electorate. They're also broke. If Kelly's report throws them back on voter donations and caps large donations they will be far less able to ignore the voices from the backwoods, but this is the long-shot outcome. Far more likely that Kelly will recommend throwing in tens of millions of public money to allow the State parties to suckle at the teat of the taxpayer and maintain policies unsupported by their electors. However, what actually happens will be extremely sensitive to public opinion; the best chance now for all on the right apposed to the EU is to mount a campaign against State party funding, for only by depriving the pro-EU central State HQs of this oxygen will the voices of the people be heard. 

Monday, 24 October 2011

Corporatism is the enemy of Capitalism

H/T Greg Tingey
Greg has pointed us to the New Scientist, which reports the findings of a team of Swiss scientists who have turned their analytic skills to the ownership of business enterprises. The full piece is well worth a read, but the headline findings are that;

  • 1,318 of some 43,060 global corporates (3%) directly generate 20% of global operating revenue, and between them own firms that generate 60% of global revenue
  • 147 'super corporates' control 40% of the wealth of the network
Now of course without reading the primary research paper and finding the definitions used for 'wealth' and 'network' and so on in accounting terms we can only be fairly sure that the research shows that a small number of global corporates with complex links control a large part of the world's economy. In recent weeks I've offered arguments that support the contention that the corporates are the enemy of capitalism, of laissez-faire capitalism, because of the use of their power to restrict and control competition  I've also offered arguments that the corporates are beyond the actions of any single government, making a nonsense not just of national tax and regulatory regimes but of the G8 itself.

Importantly, I've also stated that this isn't some engineered global conspiracy by a shadowy group wanting to take over the world. That's the stuff of kids' comics, not rational debate. The economic power of the super corporates has arisen because it's what they do; mergers, acquisitions, takeovers, horizontal and vertical integration and maximising profit in a world marketplace have grown the super corporates as inevitably as soil, water and sunlight will grow green plants. The problem is, however benign their origin, they exercise tremendous power over our lives outside of any democratic control; we are all disenfranchised by their scale and reach. There's not even a formal framework for dialogue between our elected governments and the dominant corporates. I've no idea what the answer to any of this is - except that occupying St Pauls' is fairly pointless - but the picture is becoming clearer.

The top ten super-corporates named in the study are:- 

1. Barclays plc
2. Capital Group Companies Inc
3. FMR Corporation
4. AXA
5. State Street Corporation
6. JP Morgan Chase & Co
7. Legal & General Group plc
8. Vanguard Group Inc
10. Merrill Lynch & Co Inc