Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Obama in the UK

Barack Obama and his entourage are about to arrive in the UK. That is if the word entourage is entirely apposite when describing this vast menagerie of advisers, assistants, diplomats and of course security personnel who routinely accompany the President of the United States. Alongside Mr Obama will be 500 assorted staff and 200 security personnel. He has also brought along his helicopter and that huge and spectacularly ugly limo he travels in. This is Britain for god's sake. They'll have difficulty getting the thing down some of our streets and it may have to plough straight across the roundabouts.

Visiting presidents of the USA are of course given special dispensation for all of this disruption. His security personnel are allowed to carry firearms despite the fact that most of our police officers remain unarmed. Quite why so many security personnel are necessary is a mystery. I'm sure the Metropolitan Police and the Special Branch would have been quite capable of protecting him and would have done it in a British understated way with no dark suits, men whispering into their lapels and sunglasses in sight.

At least he hasn't been allowed to bring Heathrow to a standstill. Presumably the RAF base normally used by the more modest planes our politicians and royal family use for flights is not big enough for the president. Instead he will be flying into Stansted in Essex, or London Stansted as it is called despite its remoteness from the capital. But there will be no waiting for trains or buses or trying to negotiate that horrible limo on the M11 where it would probably take up two lanes. As the president alights from Air Force One he will quickly board the waiting Marine One which will fly him to Regent's Park in London. Maybe they'll fly him over London Zoo en route. Actually they could easily do a quick tour of London in a few minutes by chopper since he won't be able to do it in his car (it will never fit) and he will be too busy pretending to change the world with Gordon at the G20 to do much sight seeing.

Still it is all quite exciting. The last time I was this excited about the visit of an American was when Leah was here although for very different reasons.

President Obama is secretly thought to think that the G20 is pointless and I strongly suspect that he is right. Why this couldn't be accomplished over the telephone remains a mystery. But Obama will be seen in one of the glamour capitals of the world. He will also get to meet the queen which apparently plays well in America. Quite why meeting a dowdy octogenarian lady is seen as being so thrilling remains a mystery to me. But then my views on royalty are already well established. But he will meet her. He will have his picture taken against some world famous backdrops. The only downside is that he will have to meet up with and spend a good deal of time with Gordon Brown who will no doubt be in brown nosing mood again. But such is life when you are the leader of the free world. He wanted the job. Now he gets to see the downside.

Sofa So Bad

Apparently, in the wake of porngate earlier this week when her husband watched some adult material on TV and then charged it to the taxpayer, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has banished him to the sofa for the timebeing.

This raises two questions: (1) Presumably the sofa is near the TV. Will he be watching more adult material to compensate for his exclusion from the marital bed? (2) Since Ms Smith claims to spend most of her time in a bedroom in London thus enabling her to call the family home in Redditch her second home for financial reasons, how will she know that he is sleeping on the sofa and what is the point of him doing so when she is rarely there?

Labour has lost the art of spin. It was never much good at governing but it was usually pretty good at giving the appearance of good government. Now they can't even lie convincingly.

Seeing Stars

I was rushed to hospital this morning for the second time in a year. I have been feeling pretty lousy for the last few days. At first I thought it was just a hangover. Then I thought it was just a virus of some kind which was making me feel nauseous and suppressing my appetite. Then this morning I woke up and felt okay. I was also more hungry than I have ever felt in my life and so decided to go shopping to replenish my cupboards and fridge. I treated myself to a Twix bar. Half an hour later I came over all nauseous again and fainted outside the supermarket. Twice.

It's a strange and unpleasant experience to faint. It has only happened to me a couple of times before. Once when I was very young and at school and again after I hurt my back playing football. I went home, went to bed and then had to get up again because I was in such agony I needed more pain killers. En route I collapsed. I remember coming around on the kitchen floor with my dog Ben standing over me looking down curiously.

Today I came around and was surrounded by a crowd of people all reaching for their mobile phones to call for an ambulance presumably thinking that I was having a heart attack. I felt awful and was sweating profusely. In fact I looked so bad that the woman who was kindly looking after me, when asked how old I was said she thought I was in my fifties. I had just enough strength to tell her indignantly that I'm only 43.

Happily it turns out that there is nothing wrong with me other than a virus and what is clearly a low pain threshold. I felt terrible though, sweated buckets and vomited exactly on cue as we arrived at A & E. The nurse told me that I looked terrible which cheered me up no end.

But to be fair this is what the NHS does supremely well. I became ill and an ambulance arrived within 5 minutes. They checked me over, tested me and ensured that there was nothing seriously wrong with me which I had been trying to tell them until it became necessary to put an oxygen mask over my face. I knew I wasn't having a heart attack but it's better to be safe than sorry.

This is what the government and those legions of managers and bureaucrats should bear in mind. When patients are able to bypass all of the red tape and as a consequence see clinical staff straight away then the service is second to none. It's happened to me twice in a year now and on both occasions I have seen the best and worst. Last year I was waiting for months to be seen by a consultant about my back but then when it became so bad that I lost all feeling in my leg and nether regions I bypassed all of the bureaucrats was rushed to hospital as an emergency and got instant and superb treatment. Then it was back to all of the red tape again as I began my recovery program. That is what is wrong with the NHS. Get to see the doctors and nurses and other clinicians and all is fine. Have to wait in a queue while someone somewhere makes you an appointment and you could die waiting or at least, as in my case, nearly end up crippled.

Monday, 30 March 2009

The Fantasy Dies

One of the more nauseating political moments of recent weeks was in the aftermath of Gordon Brown's trip to Washington to meet Barack Obama. It wasn't that rather stultified meeting they had in the Oval Office. It wasn't the awkward press conference. It wasn't the gift of some DVDs Obama gave to Brown which came across as an afterthought especially when it was revealed that the DVDs were incompatible with British machines. It wasn't even that speech Brown gave to Congress in which he told them how wonderful they were and begged to remain their best friends in a special relationship.

No, the most nauseating moment was when Brown got back to the UK and gave a speech to a Labour conference and told them that he was sorry he couldn't bring Barack Obama with him. It was toe curling. Here was a man in his fifties, a worlds statesman who had become a groupie. He had won the battle of European leaders to be the first to get to meet the new president and seemed to think that this gave him some kind of clout, some kind of additional kudos. As so often with Brown, he ignored or apparently hadn't noticed that the Obama administration had not been particularly enthusiastic about his visit and just imagined that it had strengthened him politically. He imagined that this visit and his hosting of the G20 summit were going to be his springboard to an election win.

Imagine his dismay then as he has now learnt that Obama has requested to meet with David Cameron while he is here. This is a clear indication that the new president recognises that Brown is yesterday's man and wants to get to know his new partner in that supposedly special relationship. In some ways one would have liked to be a fly on the wall when Brown heard about this. Had I been a fly on the wall however I might not have lived to tell the tale as our prime minister almost certainly let fly with various items around his office and there would have been a real danger of being squished.

This week is going to be a watershed moment in our politics. Brown's entire strategy has been centred on the summit and grandstanding as the man who was going to save the world yet again. It is all unravelling and now the government is downplaying what will be achieved. Yet why did they ever imagine they would achieve much? It is a one day summit in which the 20 participants will get to speak for a quarter of an hour. It is an irrelevance, a photo opportunity. There was never any chance of real agreement on anything of substance and yet Brown convinced himself and was still telling everyone just last week that they were going to solve all of the world's problems, throw a trillion at it and drag us all out of recession. Unfortunately for Brown but fortunately for the rest of us, his fellow world leaders and civil servants knew he was living in a fantasy world and have said so forcibly.

Of course Brown will put a spin on all of this. He will as usual find a way to convince himself that he has achieved a great deal and will repeat it until he is blue in the face. But his party knows that the game is over. They are on a slow decline to humiliation and electoral defeat. Even then will Brown be able to admit that he has lost? I wonder who will have the nerve to tell him.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Reform

You couldn't make it up. The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has inadvertently claimed for porn on her expenses. Ms Smith's husband, that is the man who lives in her 'second' home in Redditch while she lives in her sister's spare room so as to better squeeze every last penny out of the taxpayer, was alone in the house on a couple of evenings last year and so decided to indulge in some adult entertainment. The bill for said entertainment duly appeared on the Virgin Media bill for the couple's cable television and internet use and Ms Smith duly handed it over to the Commons authorities so that she could be compensated for it.

The scandal here though is not that an adult chose to watch a bit of porn. It's a free country he can do as he wishes. The scandal is that our MPs think that they should have the right to charge any part of their phone and internet bill to the taxpayer rather than pay for it themselves. This is all accomplished by Ms Smith's ruse of pretending that the house that her husband and children live in is her second home.

This is fraud there is no other word for it. Oh, I'm sorry there is - embezzlement. The woman charged with upholding law and order in this country has told a lie that most schoolchildren would be embarrassed to come up with in order to boost her salary. Tony McNulty her fellow minister is guilty of the same.

Now it may well be the case that neither of these crooks has actually broken the rules but that is because the system is loaded in their favour. The same parliament full of MPs who are so critical of greedy bankers is at the same time using the limpest excuses for helping themselves to our money. Hiding behind the rules is not good enough for people who are supposed to be our leaders. They are supposed to be driven to do what they do because they want to do public service, to make the world a better place. How can they do so when they claim that the house they live in is not the house they live in because it's more profitable that way? This week Gordon Brown will try to persuade world leaders to crack down on tax havens which shelter the funds of the rich. Yet at the same time he has cynically started an inquiry into MPs expenses which will not report until after the election. Where's the leadership?

Nobody disputes that MPs who have constituencies outside London should be given an allowance to enable them to do so. They need to divide their time between two homes. They do not need two homes in the same city. They do not need, as Eric Pickles of the Conservatives claimed last week, a home in London to spare him a 39 mile commute. They do not need to claim every piffling expense on these second homes, from towels and garden statuary to telephone bills.

MPs do not seem to understand how furious the public is about this issue and about the cosy consensus which has for years allowed it to continue. I have long thought that we need a new party, a reform party in this country that would break up the consensus, break up those safe constituencies which give party apparatchiks a job for life and bring about some real change to a system that is crying out for it. The first thing such a party could do is bring in some real robust rules and proper penalties for breaking them. The likes of Smith and McNulty should be sacked and thrown out of Parliament. They should then either pay back their ill gotten gains or be hit with a windfall tax on the profits just as they have been threatening against bankers. We will never get any trust back until our politicians face facts and reform themselves or until someone comes along and forces them to.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Out There

In light of my recent romantic disappointments, I am going out tonight and re-entering the dating world. It's a scary moment.

Looking on the bright side I went out last night with some friends, met someone and actually asked her out. I haven't done that in years. So clearly I still have it whatever it is.

The theory is that the only way I am ever truly going to get Leah out of my system is by meeting someone else. The fact that I met someone on the very first night and she agreed to go out with me is a good sign. The fact that she lives considerably less than 3000 miles away is an even better sign.

I feel as though I've made a positive step in my life. Even if tonight turns out to be a waste of time I shall feel as though I've achieved something. I asked out a girl who is a babe it has to be said and she said yes. It's a watershed moment.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Gordon the Gambler

As Gordon prepares to come back to London for what was going to be his big grandstanding summit, he must be wondering where it all went wrong. That of course is if he is willing to admit that it has all gone wrong.

The trouble all along was that Brown thought that he would be able to repeat the trick of last year when he rode to the rescue of the banks and gained a great deal of credit for doing so. Just for once he acted decisively and without taking time to ponder how to skewer his political opponents at the same time. He acted like a statesman and briefly was hailed as being one.

Unfortunately all of this went to Gordon's head. He saw the G20 summit coming to London and started having all kinds of grandiose ideas about a new Bretton Woods, a new international deal which would arrive at his prompting to cheers and exultation from the whole world.

In the real world this was never going to happen. The recapitalisation of the banks was a sensible and pragmatic decision. It was not actually Gordon's idea at all, he merely facilitated it. I recommended it here before it was ever mooted and I wouldn't claim it to be original to me.

Once that crisis was over, Gordon imagined that his fellow statesmen would follow his lead once more and imagined some kind of consensus had been created. He boasted that everyone was going his way and told the Conservatives that they were alone and isolated. He and his minions even dreamt up that 'do nothing' slogan which they have repeated ad nauseum ever since, whatever the question.

Yet on his big ego tour Brown has consistently been told how little agreement there is with him. His fellow Europeans are resistant to the idea of further stimulus. The Governor of the Bank of England told him he cannot afford one. Today the Prime Minister of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, who was actually trying to be supportive, pointed out that Chile can afford to have a stimulus package because they saved money during the good times. Brown responded with his usual blinkered bluster about Britain being well prepared for the recession. Unfortunately for him tonight, according to The Times, George Soros the hedge fund billionaire and economic guru, has predicted that Britain is particularly vulnerable to this crisis and may well have to turn to the IMF for a bailout. That could well be a common perception and could hit the Pound and the next sale of bonds in a way that will have the government sweating.

The G20 is going to achieve almost nothing except the usual bland communique papering over the differences. It was never going to achieve much in a day despite the hopes of Gordon Brown. He is increasingly looking like a gambler who is certain that one last big bet will save the day and recover all of his losses. He will put a spin on the G20 and will tell us how much has been achieved. Will he believe it? Will he insist on a fiscal stimulus everyone is telling him is impossible. If he is denied this what will his reaction be? He is banking on this summit next week and the budget to save him. Will he finally see reality? Past form would suggest otherwise. Brown will continue to believe in his version of events. The reaction of the more realistic people around him will be fascinating to behold.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Biffo on the Bog

The Irish Taioseach, Brian Cowen, has apparently taken exception to two satirical portraits of him sitting naked on the lavatory. Entitled Biffo on the Bog, the paintings were smuggled into the Irish National Gallery where they were displayed for all to see for up to 20 minutes before security guards removed them.

You can see the pictures here. They're really rather good.

Mr Cowen however does not seem to see the funny side and the police have arrested the artist, Conor Casby, alleging indecency, incitement to hatred and criminal damage because whoever erected the paintings hammered a nail into the wall at the gallery. Some have argued that this is something of an overreaction.

Cowen has become known in Ireland as Biffo, standing for Big Ignorant Fucker from Offaly. From this we can deduce that the Irish Prime Minister is not well loved in his country which is currently suffering a catastrophic recession with GDP predicted to shrink by around 7 % this year, banks nationalised and wages being cut. Furthermore Cowen has bowed to pressure from his European 'partners' and is to hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty later this year because his electorate gave the wrong answer the first time.

It cannot be easy being a politician. But they do tend to make it harder for themselves. By making a fuss about what is essentially a cartoonish depiction he risks exposing himself to even more ridicule and ensures that it spreads around the world. Surely such things go with the territory? After all Peter Mandelson, to his credit, laughed off his recent drenching in custard. By sending in the police, Cowen has just made this minor issue into a major one and now the whole world is aware that his nickname is Biffo. He has also made Mr Casby into a celebrity and a potential martyr.

The paintings are to be auctioned off and will probably fetch a tidy sum. Indeed might I suggest that someone commissions Casby to paint something similarly unflattering and contemptuous of our own notoriously prickly prime minister. I for one would pay to see that.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Gordon's Rictus Grin

Yesterday, as part of his world ego trip, Gordon Brown visited the European Parliament where he gave another one of those searing speeches in which he lectures the world about what they should be doing and praises things he has previously been at best ambivalent about. Last week David Cameron accused him of being a phoney. I wonder where he got that idea from.

After the speech there were various replies from assembled MEPs. One reply, from Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP from the south east of England, has become a hit on YouTube. It's probably the first time that this pointless assembly has had anything like this kind of publicity. It almost makes it seem relevant.

Hannan, who is a rising star and wasted in Europe, laid into Brown who sat and listened with that peculiar smile he always wears when he is pretending to be nonchalant. You can take a look at it here. It's worth watching just to see the expression on Brown's face as he is told a few home truths. Maybe this is the first time he had heard them as in private, we are told, he is given to throwing things. In public he just adopts that smile. Sometimes it does feel as though we have a five year old leading us. Who says politics is boring?

Unfortunately for Brown things are not going too well on his G20 tour. Too many of his fellow leaders are refusing to play ball. Yesterday Mervyn King said that we can't afford to do what Brown is recommending. Today Britain has failed to sell the latest batch of bonds it needs to auction off in increasing quantities to finance this vast deficit. It's all coming undone for Brown. Hannan was just telling it like it is and for once Brown was forced to listen.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Unravelling

Oh dear, it's all going wrong for Gordon. His masterplan to save the world and then be re-elected by a grateful and indeed awed British public is unravelling just as so many predicted.

Just as Brown sets off on the latest leg of his ego trip around the world lecturing his fellow leaders about what they should be doing to save us all from economic catastrophe, more and more people back home are speaking out against his recommended course of action. Other European leaders are resisting Brown's recipe for more fiscal stimulus packages. Former Cabinet Minister, Stephen Byers, has today argued against Brown's plans for the G20 and even echoed criticisms of the VAT cut. The consensus Brown has been claiming to justify his spending spree tactics is starting to look a lot like the consensus around global warming.

Now today the government's bank manager, Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, has taken the unusual step of wading into fiscal policy and opined that, with borrowing at current levels, it would be inadvisable to borrow even more to pump into the economy. It is of course a statement of the obvious but then there are so many obvious things which seem to completely pass our prime minister by if he decides that he cannot see them.

Perhaps we should see the King intervention in this light. With any ordinary politician he would not have had to state the bleeding obvious. But Brown is no ordinary politician and I do not mean that as a compliment. King probably felt that he had to give plenty of notice in advance of the budget in a month's time lest Brown insist on a course of action which everybody else considers absurd and reckless. Perhaps the Governor should consider using some of the quantitative easing money on erecting some neon signs around Westminster just in case.

Nervous

It would seem that beneath his carefully cultivated insouciant exterior (apart from the chewing) Sir Alex Ferguson is rather more worried about his team's current form than he is letting on. After the international break, Manchester United are scheduled to play a couple of hugely important games within days of each other, first against Aston Villa and then against Porto in the Champions League. Ferguson, the same man who just a couple of weeks ago refused to speak to Sky Television because of their scheduling of the Liverpool game so close to another big European game, has now opted to play two games within around 48 hours of each other. This will enable him to spend an extra day with his shocked and depleted troops once they return from international duty and prior to the Villa game.

Sky offered to move the game to lunchtime on Saturday but Ferguson has chosen the Sunday option. Clearly he is worried. Before recent results and with that nice points cushion, he would have taken the Saturday option confident that his team would overcome Villa and even content to drop a couple of points if necessary. Now the Villa game, notwithstanding their thrashing by Liverpool, looks like another potential banana skin and United know they cannot afford any more slip-ups.

That much vaunted United squad will be looking a little thin for the Villa game thanks to self inflicted suspensions, an injury or two and players returning from long trips abroad. If you add in to the equation the fragile state of their confidence then this could be more points dropped and suddenly United won't be looking nervously over their shoulders they will be looking up at Liverpool just as they were in January.

The usual air of arrogance which usually comes out of Old Trafford has disappeared these last couple of weeks and they are looking very precarious. Whilst I hate the way these international breaks come along just when the league is getting exciting, this one may well be adding to that United nervousness which is something to relish. Once this break is out of the way the big games come thick and fast. Will they be able to cope?

Shameless Part 2

As predicted, Gordon Brown is attempting to kick the embarrassing issue of corrupt MP expenses claims into the long grass by announcing an inquiry. This time he is even calling for a formal public inquiry which will be nice and lengthy and mean that the issue is put away until well beyond the next election. Cynically he is attempting to bring in other issues for consideration such as MPs' second jobs, an issue which affects Conservatives more than Labour MPs.

Second jobs seems to be something which Labour members especially resent for reasons peculiar to them. I doubt that the average voter gives a damn really. If it means them earning extra money so that they don't feel the need to dip their hands into the public purse then so much the better. Given the number of hours MPs work and the number and duration of their holidays throughout the year it is easy to see how they would have plenty of time for the odd directorship here and there. Perhaps Labour MPs, instead of bellyaching on this subject, should get out there and snap up some extra work themselves. Given that so many of them are career politicians who have never done a proper job in their lives, it might give them a unique perspective on the real world away from the Westminster bubble and help them hold the government to account which is after all what they are supposed to do.

Quite why we need a public inquiry to deal with this issue is a mystery. What we need is some leadership for a change. Come up with some proposals for reform and accountability and put it in the manifesto. Once elected push it through and dare backbenchers to vote it down. What is needed is not difficult. It is only controversial because MPs don't like the idea. The public, in this democracy, is demanding action on this issue. Is it too much to expect that they get some and that our MPs have to justify their expenses to the people who pay for them?

Monday, 23 March 2009

Shameless

Over the last few weeks, Gordon Brown has been criticised, entirely justifiably, for his refusal to acknowledge any mistakes or misjudgements or that any part of our current economic travails are down to him. On his recent ego trip to become Barack Obama's new poodle, he apparently railed at British journalists for having the temerity to suggest that he should apologise. What for? he asked. Many journalists and bloggers, including me, obliged him by publishing a list of things for which some Brown mea culpa would be desirable and even advisable from a political point of view. Brown however continues to reject this option.

We are told that many ministers are of the opinion that Brown should 'fess up and show a little contrition and humility. The opposition have identified this as his achilles heal. This remarkably arrogant and vain man who so enjoys lecturing others about their failings, is constitutionally incapable of confronting his own. Perhaps he convinces himself that he has none. Whatever the reason, it is political manna from heaven for his opponents who can paint him as out of touch and remote however much he protests about feeling people's pain.

The trouble for Labour is that, like the Conservatives in the 90s, a similar attitude seems to be spreading through the ranks of Brown's MPs and the government as a whole. Quite apart from the fact that they seem to have completely run out of ideas for meaningful reform they also seem intent on self destruction by pushing through policies which will achieve little other than massive protest and dissent even from their own backbenchers. Issues like the 3rd runway at Heathrow, Royal Mail privatisation, ID cards and 42 day detention keep cropping up and keep being defended and spun on the most specious grounds. Coupled with Brown's denial of responsibility for the recession and 2 million unemployed it just makes the government look shifty.

Then we have the issue of MPs expenses. Last month they tried to exempt MPs from their own freedom of information legislation but backed down at the last minute. Presumably this was attempted because there will be more embarrassment and public fury once the details are revealed. This will affect not just backbenchers but ministers. After all we have had the spectacle of the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, claiming that her main home is a bedroom in her sister's house so that she can claim 20 grand off the taxpayer. This weekend we discovered that Tony McNulty, a rising star in the government and an unusually effective minister, has been claiming money for a house in which his parents live and which is only nine miles away from his real home.

McNulty has had the extraordinary cheek to claim that this is all above board and within the rules. Smith has done the same. And there is the rub. This government, this control freak government, sets prescriptive rules and makes civil servants, social workers, policemen, nurses, doctors, teachers and almost the entire nation tick boxes and fill in forms as they micromanage our lives to the minutest detail. Yet the rules on their extraordinarily generous expenses arrangements are lax to the point of elasticity.

Both Smith and McNulty know full well that what they are doing is stretching even these rules to breaking point and yet they refuse to acknowledge their wrongdoing. McNulty expects us to believe that he stays some nights there instead of going back to his home 9 miles away in Hammersmith. I know that London traffic can be bad but I doubt it necessitates having two homes within spitting distance of one another. On a clear day he could probably climb on the roof and see his second home to which we are all so generously contributing.

It is this level of cynicism which will be the undoing of this government. Even now they will be concocting another inquiry for this issue so as to kick it into the long grass after the election. The worry is of course that the opposition parties won't make too much of a fuss about it for fear that some of their own MPs are up to the same tricks.

It would be advisable and politically astute for the government or the Conservatives to come out and make a bold promise to completely reform the system and take remuneration and expenses issues out of MPs' hands as they have shown they cannot be trusted. All expenses should be in the public domain so that MPs have to defend them before their constituents. There should be clear rules for what is and isn't allowed rather than the vague catch-all terms currently employed. That is what the rest of us have to put up with when we deal with any government department.

Here is something else for which Brown and his party should apologise. If they have any sense, at a time when millions are cutting back and losing their only homes not their second homes in the same city, they will.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Liverpool Go Second

So, Man Utd lost yesterday. What could Liverpool do today?

Answer: we thrashed Aston Villa, fifth in the table, by five goals to nil. We are now just a point behind United, although they still have a game in hand. But what had been a 7 point gap has now been reduced to the thinnest margin of all. Furthermore we now have a superior goal difference to both United and Chelsea.

So much for statistics though. This was another superb performance, full of high tempo, quality football and a richly deserved Steven Gerrard hat trick. Liverpool are the form side now and United who had been on such a roll are looking nervous, ill disciplined and clueless. With only 8 games of the season left their lead has evaporated and so has their football. They have a number of players who are suspended thanks to their various on field faux pas and a number of remaining games which they will be looking at warily given recent results.

The only frustration is that we now take a break for two weeks for international football. Having hit top form the team now goes in various different directions to play for their various countries. Will the break help United regroup and come back stronger? Will Liverpool be able to pick up where they left off? Will the players come back injury free? Will this break that extraordinary momentum the players have found to score 13 goals in 3 games?

For now I shall just savour another fantastic result and hope that in two weeks time we are not left regretting the intrusion of FIFA into our season once again. Liverpool play before Man Utd once they all return. We can return to the top of the table if we can do what they could not do and win away at Fulham. That would make things very interesting and will pile on even more pressure. I find myself wishing away the next couple of weeks.

Where's the Bonus?

Amidst all the furore about the AIG bonuses and others across the worldwide financial system, something has been overlooked. These are described as 'retention bonuses'. Surely that is an oxymoron? If money is being paid out routinely purely to retain the services of supposedly key members of staff then it cannot logically be a bonus. A bonus is supposed to be something extra; a reward for work done well, a share of profits earned thanks to the skill of those being rewarded.

There has been much argument amongst politicians and regulators about the bonus culture which, it is alleged, has created the short termism and casino culture that brought our banks and other financial companies like AIG to their knees. Yet these bonuses seem to be bomb proof. They seem to be an expectation of bank employees regardless of performance and profits, a regular enhancement to their salaries in the same way that some people factor in overtime. If this is the case then these bonuses cannot be the cause of that short termism. That has become ingrained in the banks and their employees. They became addicted to the illusory profits and the adrenaline coursing through their veins as they pursued them, convincing themselves that what they were doing really was clever and innovative rather than the herd instinct chasing the market up and inflating a bubble. The bonuses became an entitlement, and adjunct to salaries. They ceased to be bonuses at all in any meaningful sense.

What has happened is simple greed and hubris. It has happened before and it will happen again. Bonuses are being defended as a means to reward success and to retain key people but they are nothing of the sort.

There is nothing wrong with incentivising people. It is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Bonuses may well have started out as doing that. They became something much more in an industry awash in cash. That cash was the product of a bubble and ended up creating other bubbles in property, luxury cars, luxury goods, fine wines and the sybaritic worlds bankers came to expect. It all happened because directors of these companies didn't do their jobs properly. It happened because too many vested interests were at play and too few people asked questions about what was really going on. Those people include regulators and yes they include our prime minister.

If we are going to design a system that will work better in the future politicians, bankers and regulators need to face these truths and design a system which truly rewards success and punishes failure. Bonuses should be a bonus.

Freak Show

It's official: The world has finally gone mad.

Earlier this week the actress Natasha Richardson died after a freak skiing accident. Her sad and tragic death was given a fair amount of publicity because of the nature of what had happened, her status as a member of the Redgrave family, her marriage to Liam Neeson and the fact that she was, by fairly common consent, a fine actress, albeit one better known for her stage exploits than those on celluloid. She had achieved much however and was well liked and now much missed.

Today the 'star' Jade Goody whose main achievement in life was notoriety has died at a tragically young age of cancer. It is being treated by the media like the death of a world statesman rather than someone who became famous because she was an ill educated, foul mouthed bigot who was being reviled 18 months ago until she was diagnosed with cancer.

Various hypocrites are today coming out with 'tributes' including one from the Prime Minister of all people, despite the fact that a couple of weeks ago he called her Jane Goody. Quite what she has done to deserve such tributes is unclear. We are told that she raised awareness of cancer as though her contracting this disease was a deliberate, selfless and heroic act.

I refuse to be a hypocrite about it. Jade Goody was a nasty, bigoted, talentless, self serving, stupid, publicity seeking dimwit. That such a fuss is now being made of her is a stark illustration of our celebrity obsessed age and the rapaciousness but ultimate banal emptiness of the 24 hour media. That politicians feel obliged to pay tributes to her shows how utterly shameless and unprincipled they are.

It is of course sad and tragic that such a young woman should die of this terrible disease especially when she had young children. Yet equally tragic deaths happen constantly and are ignored if those deaths are untouched by celebrity. That the media has turned this into such a prurient and distasteful freak show is an illustration of skewed priorities. They and those who feel compelled to make two faced tributes to this woman should be ashamed of themselves.

Killing Me Softly

I have taken to calling our environmentalist chums the green meanies of late as you may have noticed. It seems however that this may be underselling them somewhat. They may have more nefarious intent than I gave them credit for.

According to The Sunday Times, not only do our dungareed pals want us to cut CO2 emissions by a whopping and impossible 80%, they want us to cut our population by 50% which would at least have the benefit of decongesting the roads.

Quite how they mean to achieve this is unclear. Mass deportation? Mass sterilisation? Involuntary euthanasia at 65? Or do they mean to starve to death anyone who doesn't believe in anthropogenic global warming, drives a car and is fond of regular city breaks to far flung places on EasyJet?

The British population is currently around 61 million. It has been this government's policy to allow annual immigration of around 200,000. The population, thanks to net immigration and indigenous fecundity, is currently projected to increase to 71 million over the next 20 years. We'll need it to increase given this government's unfunded public sector pensions and gigantic accumulated debt. Yet their own green adviser, Jonathon Porritt, is recommending this population cut so as to build a 'sustainable' society. This is how the green meanies think. They really shouldn't need to worry about this planet because they are clearly inhabiting their own private one on which such thinking is deemed reasonable and indeed desirable. Perhaps they got there on a yellow submarine.

But perhaps it is me who is out of step. The GMs are on the march and will soon be drawing up their list for extermination. I am sure to be one near the top of the list. After all I am sceptical about AGW, I drive a car, fly at least twice a year, I eat meat which makes me emit greenhouse gases and I want to increase the population by bringing Leah to live here with me and then have babies with her when I should be looking for a more sustainable local girl and having the snip for the good of the nation.

I'd better start looking over my shoulder when I go out for my daily walk. I strongly suspect that this makes me breathe too often. Someone somewhere is probably monitoring me.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

First to Blink

So, as usual I backed down first and decided to make contact with Leah. She is much better at this than me. I can't stay mad with her however maddening she may be. She on the other hand can contrive to be mad with me even when I have done nothing wrong whatever and indeed she is the offending party. It is an unequal contest. I never stand a chance.

However my olive branch has been rejected. I have been ignored. She is clearly still angry that she didn't come and see me when she was in London and this is clearly somehow my fault.

Yesterday I was watching TV and there was an episode of Scrubs on that I had seen many times before. Television shows, particularly American ones, often have as their subtext some kind of moral for our times. In this one, as so often, the moral was that all relationships are screwed up. We're all insecure, all worried about what others think of us, all terrified to be intimate and open with others. Thus we say and do stupid things. We pretend to be people that we are not for fear that the real us will drive them away.

I've known Leah for a long time. Yet there is so much I don't know about her because she cannot or will not tell me. At the same time she has told me deep and dark secrets about herself which just made me love her even more and want to wrap her up and protect her and make her mine. I still care about her. I still love her. I would marry her tomorrow and give up my bachelor life in a second to make lots of babies and be all boring and conventional and normal.

All I have to do is get her to talk to me again and get us within decent proximity of each other once more. If I can do that I have always known that we would be fine and all of our problems would be behind us. We had that opportunity last month. I just have to convince her to try again but this time not to back out.

Loss of Bottle

Are Manchester United going to bottle it? This time last week they lost heavily and hilariously to Liverpool in a way that is sure to have affected them more than they would care to admit because Liverpool are their title rivals this year but also because Liverpool are Liverpool. It's one of those games. It's the first one each team looks for when the fixture list is published. Nobody likes to lose such games but to lose so heavily weighs on the mind, however experienced players and managers are. This was not down to dodgy decisions, fluke goals or the general randomness of sport. This was a thrashing delivered at home. Even if Alex Ferguson truly believed, as he later claimed, that United were the better side, then the better side conceded four goals having only conceded five at home all season.

But everyone just assumed that they would then bounce back. It's what Manchester United tend to do. To be fair it is what makes champions champions.

Today, however, they've have lost away to Fulham by two goals and had two players sent off. His players, for all of their huffing and puffing and undoubted ability, have failed to overcome a side they should usually sweep aside. When things started to go wrong they became petulant and lost discipline. There can be no excuses. They were asked a question and they had no answer. This week they had had no midweek game in Europe, no long trip to some distant foreign city to use as an excuse. United had a full week to recover and to retrench and yet Ferguson still rested certain players who, like last week, had to be thrown on in the second half to rescue the game and, again like last week, were unable to do so.

Perhaps it is that the season and the pressure is catching up on them. Sir Alex Ferguson has this week become embroiled in a spat with Rafa Benitez over how much money has been spent on their respective squads. An argument he has, by common consent amongst those who are impartial, lost. He has spent more, just as Rafa claimed, and he already had a top quality championship standard squad in place five years ago. Rafa had to start, if not quite from scratch (he had Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher at his disposal after all) then from slightly shaky foundations. After last week's game, Ferguson refused to talk to the TV cameras and to the press. Is the situation even getting to the redoubtable Sir Alex? Was last week's result more vexing to him than he is prepared to admit? How will he feel if his team blows it and the championship goes to Anfield this season? It's an amusing scenario to ponder. Maybe the pressure really is starting to tell.

Last week, after the result at Old Trafford, we all argued that the championship was still very much up for grabs but wondered if that was really true given United's reputation and the still wide gap at the top. This week we can really believe that that is true. Chelsea too lost today, this time at White Hart Lane. Now it is up to Liverpool to win tomorrow, go second in the table and narrow what had looked like a chasm to a very bridgeable gap, thus raising the pressure even further.

Maybe it is tiredness. Maybe it is complacency. Maybe it is pressure. Maybe it is the pressure of the possibility of that quintuple people were talking about just a couple of weeks ago. Ferguson said this week that the quintuple was impossible. Today his team seemed to have set out to prove him right in a way that he would never have imagined possible by making their progress to an 18th championship look highly precarious. That was one part of the quintuple that looked pretty much certain. It's looking like being a fascinating and exciting end to the season and one which Liverpool fans like myself could yet enjoy more than seemed possible just a fortnight ago.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Normal Service Resumed

Owing to some technical and administrative difficulties I have been unable to go online or to blog for a little over 24 hours. It felt like losing a limb. I have often said in the past now how much I would miss the internet. Until it actually happens one doesn't quite appreciate how much this is truly the case. I was lost. I was bereft.

Thursday evening I came home and attempted to log on to the internet as usual and couldn't get on. I didn't panic. I went through a series of measures that have worked in the past but nothing would work. In the end it turned out that my account had been stopped by AOL for non payment, although of course they hadn't bothered to inform me of this. My Direct Debit hadn't worked for some reason and no message had been sent to inform me of this. In the meantime I had sworn at my computer, changed settings, checked all of my router wiring, uninstalled programs, shouted at hapless technical support people in India and all to no avail.

Finally, after a night of having to watch TV without peering over a computer screen at the same time and reading all of the newspapers as they updated hour by hour, I discovered that the problem was a simple financial one. So I paid and they promised to reconnect me. Even then I was frustrated by their amazing slowness.

Here however is where this becomes a happy story. After becoming angry and frustrated and threatening to change providers, I have ended up with a new wireless router, two months free internet and a 33% reduction in the price I pay. It pays to complain.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Simple Solution

As unemployment reaches 2 million, workers accept pay cuts and more and more businesses pull up the shutters for the last time, still the government and indeed the opposition seem clueless about what to do as this vicious downward spiral continues. We are heading inexorably towards deflation and depression despite their fiscal stimulus packages, quantitative easing, bailouts and the multitude of other schemes we keep being assailed with.

Yet the one thing that has caused this crisis and which they have thrown more billions at than any other is still a problem and still no nearer to being reconciled. The banks, which created this mess in the first place, are still not keeping their side of the bargain and as a consequence things keep getting worse.

Just take a look at Lord Myners and his woeful performance yesterday before the Treasury Select Committee. Now in the big scheme of things the millions given by RBS to Fred Goodwin, though infuriating and immoral do not really matter except as a handy way for the government to create a tabloid hate figure who is not a minister or indeed the prime minister. But they are revelatory if taken as an illustration of the way the banks are being treated. The likes of RBS and HBOS were essentially bankrupt and unable to survive without government aid. This was duly provided. And yet they have since continued to do exactly as they wish, as the Fred Goodwin debacle has proven. The government could have sacked all of the directors and senior management and would have been entirely justified in doing so. Instead they handed over our cash and left them to get on with it. The banks responded by paying bonuses, paying off failed executives like Goodwin and then savagely curtailing lending to businesses and consumers across the country leading to a collapse in the housing market, failed businesses and widespread redundancies.

Why can't they see what is happening? Why don't they exercise proper control over these banks which are owned by us? Even those banks like Barclays which have managed to stay out of state control may well avail themselves of the government insurance scheme. The price for that should be spelt out very clearly and made as contractually watertight as we are told those bonuses and pensions have been.

The government can come up with its slogans about real help for hard working families, it can beef up Jobcentres, offer incentives to scrap cars and replace them with shiny new ones and offer as many new training places for the unemployed as it likes. But one thing and one thing alone will make this recession go away and that is to get banks behaving responsibly again.

They could and should have nationalised RBS months ago. It would have served as a warning to banks that unless they do as they are told then all of their contracts and pensions and bonuses will be ripped up as the state takes control. It would have shown them that a change of behaviour is required and that responsible lending, the sort that banks are supposed to provide, is the least they should be doing in return for working for organisations which cannot be allowed to go bankrupt.

Perfectly sound and viable businesses are going to the wall because banks have gone from being reckless and profligate to being recklessly conservative, demanding onerous interest rates and unreasonable levels of collateral. When businesses baulk at such demands they have no choice but to fold and throw more people out of work. That will mean more and more losses for the banks which will make them more and more cautious and deflation will assert its grip. That way lies ruin.

The government has the key to this crisis and it has had it for months and yet it cannot or will not use it and so matters continue to worsen. All of the other ideas and measures are peripheral. The solution is simple and can be enacted immediately. What are they waiting for?

A Painful Choice

Lately I've been getting these terrible stabbing pains in my foot. It keeps me awake at night. Every sixty seconds it feels as though someone is jabbing a sharp blade in and then twisting it about for added measure. I suspect that this is all part of the post operative recovery I'm still going through six months after I had a knife stuck in me for real on the operating table. My nerves are hopefully regenerating and the pain is a sign of this. I hope so anyway. Certainly I can move my foot and other affected parts much better than before. The pain is a price worth paying if this is the case.

I inwardly debated all this last night. Should I go to bed now I thought, even though I won't be able to sleep, or should I stay up and watch TV? Then I watched a new alleged sketch show on BBC Three, Horne & Corden. I wished I'd opted for the stabbing pains.

God this is awful. It's never a good sign when the trails for programmes don't make you laugh. Presumably those who make such trails, which only last about 30 seconds after all, choose some of the better material in the series in order to attract viewers. This turned out to be quite right. Sitting through this for half an hour almost made me want to create my own stabbing pains just as a distraction.

You have to wonder about the process that this show went through in order to get made. Of course Corden and Horne are current television hot properties thanks to Gavin and Stacey. Horne was also a regular in the very funny Catherine Tate Show, another sketch series. But, though Corden is responsible for co writing a hit sitcom, it's a bit of a leap to just give him and his new pal a whole sketch series they wrote themselves and trust that they know what they are doing. This was done, we are told, on the strength of the friendship and chemistry between the two on the G and S set. This is apparently enough for television commissioners to hand over a shed load of cash in the hope of another hit. We all knew or at least suspected that television is not a science but never suspected it was quite this casual. Did anyone actually read what they wrote before they committed it to tape and before an audience? Did they think it funny?

Corden is fat, really very fat indeed for someone who is only in his 30s. Indeed he has been this way for all of his life as far as I can tell. I remember him in a number of different projects and he was always a similar size. He seems entirely at ease with this. Indeed a large percentage of the sketches are about or in some way feature his fatness. It's not a pretty picture. Neither is it funny.

If BBC Three was hoping for another monster hit they will be sadly disappointed. This is dire, dreadful and embarrassing. Fortunately Corden can go back and write another series of Gavin and Stacey with his other collaborator, Ruth Jones. As for me, I shall either have to find something else to watch or go to bed and read a book and wait to be stabbed in the foot.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Too Keen to be Green

I like this. Here's a neat illustration of the fantasy world of climate change politics and the various 'deals' being done.

According to Associated Press, the Chinese claim that they should not be responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions they produce when manufacturing goods for export. Li Gao, their chief negotiator, claims that China should not have to reduce emissions created for goods manufactured to meet demand elsewhere.

That's hilarious. It's as if the Chinese are making things for the good of the world, dispensing their largesse as a sign of their goodwill and beneficence. Those of us who use these products should have to pay the carbon price so that the Chinese can keep churning out more of the same to a grateful world.

It's bad enough that our politicians seem to believe in the absurd one sided 'science' of global warming (even the Chinese who don't actually have to stand for office and so don't have to spout claptrap to gain favour with the Guardian reading classes). But their solutions make even less sense than the specious grandstanding of the environmentalists. Even if CO2 is causing warming (warming which has stopped for the last ten years despite all of those nasty gases in the air) then even the most drastic cuts will not make any difference according to their own calculations. By their own arguments we should be spending money to adapt to change rather than try to prevent it which is impossible. We should also be penalising those nations, like China, with huge populations they cannot feed, populations which necessitate double digit economic growth year on year to keep them all in jobs. I wonder if the enviromentalists will be picketing Beijing anytime soon.

Politicians the world over keep making all of these ridiculous gestures and talking big but have they really thought any of this through? Here in Britain our government, thanks to its green rhetoric, has built a few wind farms to light the odd light bulb here and there but is putting off giving permission to build new coal fired power stations for fear of the green meanies who tend to call people very nasty names if they don't toe the line. The likely corollary of this will be that we will have power cuts in a few years time as demand outstrips supply. This winter, as temperatures plunged, at odds with Met Office predictions, we came dangerously close to running out of gas because they haven't built enough storage facilities.

There is zero evidence that CO2 is causing global warming. That is no exaggeration. There is nothing, nil, zilch. The fact that the climate has changed is not in dispute. But that doesn't mean that we are causing it. It isn't as if this is the first time it has happened. But, since those that matter have concluded that the debate is over (I must have been asleep or in hospital when the big debate took place as I seem to have missed it) we are now pricing people out of jobs, failing to build or replace vital infrastucture and committing ourselves to policies that will cost us dearly at a time when we can ill afford it just so that politicians can look caring and green and so that self appointed experts like George Monbiot and Prince Charles can lecture us about how little time we have left to save the planet.

Meanwhile the Chinese are famously building a coal fired power station every week and have now overtaken the Americans as the biggest emitters of CO2. Except of course they are now going to move the goalposts. It isn't their fault that they have had to build all of those power stations, it is our fault for buying their goods. Given the fantasy world our leaders are living in they will probably think that is a reasonable argument. If someone tells them the debate is over they'll probably accept that too.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Phone Flirting

I am, as you will no doubt have noticed, a man who is not backward in coming forward with my opinions. As such, in addition to this blog I write for other forums such as newspapers and magazines, I take part in radio shows and have appeared on TV once or twice too. Only a few weeks ago someone got in touch with me from Australia asking if I would be willing to appear on his radio show. I haven't heard a word from him since however.

I also like doing surveys. I have no idea what this says about me. I just find them strangely entertaining and fulfilling.

So tonight, when someone called me from the Netherlands asking me to take part in another survey I readily agreed. It was lots of questions about my reading habits moving on to my opinions about various international corporations.

Then she started flirting with me. Apparently I am really interesting and easy to talk to. Clever too of course and well educated (there were questions about that) and she seemed to like the fact that when she got a bit mixed up with the questions I noticed and pointed it out. At the end she said how disappointed she was that she was going to have to hang up and how she had enjoyed talking to me. And this was a woman who didn't even have the benefit of my devastating good looks and winning smile to win her over. She should probably think herself lucky. If she'd actually been able to see me she might have been smitten by now.

Now on the one hand this has clearly been a bit of a boost to my ego. It's been a long time since I've even tried chatting up women because of Leah. Tonight though I didn't even have to try. It's good to know I still have it.

On the other hand of course I don't want to try still because of Leah. I still feel that way. It's ridiculous but true. Who knows what Leah is thinking though because she won't tell me.

And why is it that I keep attracting women in foreign countries? Over the last five years there have been two in America, two in Norway and now someone on the end of a telephone line in the Netherlands. I have gone out with two British girls in that time and one of them was my ex. Is it any wonder that my love life is a mess given that they are always at least 500 miles away?

I still want to make things work with Leah if possible. But the more I think about her the less likely I am to try and move on. It's either that of course or wait until I meet someone who calls me to try and sell me double glazing and hope that she is local.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Not Me Gov(ernment)

If you want a neat illustration of the level of denial currently afflicting our dear leader, take a look at Gordon Brown's article in the Telegraph today in which he sets out his case for international reform of the regulatory system.

"I have learned," says Brown, "from this financial crisis that the disciplines we expect of markets cannot be guaranteed without strengthened supervision".

Now if someone has learned something in the light of events, the implication would seem to be that his former mindset was mistaken would it not? Yet not according to Brown. We are "faced with new realities" he tells us, as though the current crisis came out of the blue, an overnight event like a freak storm. Clearly Brown has convinced himself that he is blameless in all of this, a victim of other peoples' excesses who must now wearily but heroically sweep in and intone gravely about how foolish the world has been.

Brown of course set up the regulatory system which has so egregiously failed. Yet according to him that system "was right for the circumstances we faced then". How so Gordon? When you became Chancellor in 97, British banks, not global banks but British banks, were moderately sized and conservatively run. The regulatory system you set up allowed them to grow so that they dwarfed the British economy, the same economy that you are now bankrupting to prop them up. This happened because you allowed it to happen so that you could boast vaingloriously in parliament and elsewhere about your new paradigm.

Brown is doing his usual trick of repeating the same lines in the hope that people will buy them . He is like a slick advertiser trying some kind of subliminal message. His line has remained consistent throughout and yet it has consistently ignored the inconvenient facts of what has really happened.

That this recession has a global element is of course true. But British policy has exacerbated the effects here. Brown refuses to apologise because he would have to admit that his own systems were at least partially at fault. He says: "it is now clear that the detailed regulation of financial markets across the world did not keep up with the pace of change in the global economy". By so doing he is attempting a conjuring trick. There is no supra national authority to supervise financial markets. There are national authorities. They failed it is true. But he was in charge and indeed actually designed and set up one of the most important ones here in Britain.

Not only does Brown try to absolve himself of blame, he even claims that the system he set up is the right and proper one for the world to copy. This is clearly his agenda for the fabled G20 meeting in which he will once again pose as world saviour. The system he set up is 'right' he tells us. It just needs a bit of tweaking.

Our Prime Minister then set up a new regulator which was 'right' for 1997 but failed to keep up with the changing economic world and financial markets. This is somehow not his fault. At the same time this system is one which should be adopted by the whole world which must enthusiastically take Gordon's advice and allow him to save them from themselves. The FSA was the right kind of regulator even though it now needs reform. He even tells us that banks need to put money aside during the good times, this coming from the man who ran a persistent deficit during those good times and claimed to have abolished bad times.

The Prime Minister, we are often told, is a great intellectual and a brilliant man. Yet the circular arguments and sophistry he deploys to get out of apologising speak of a man who either cannot see he has made mistakes or does not have the maturity to admit to them. Yet the whole world made them. We all got caught up in the euphoria. I was uneasy about government borrowing but it never entered my head that our banks could have been so reckless and stupid. My excuse is that it was not my job to see this. Brown, his former banking buddies and his regulators have no such excuse.

Mistakes were made by many and now we are all paying the price. But we cannot efficiently clean up the mess and prevent it from happening again unless we can see them and stop making excuses for them. Brown's pride and vanity are preventing him from doing his job. Instead of posing on the world stage and blaming everyone but himself he should do some serious introspection and come clean. Until he does we can have no confidence that he has any idea how to steer a way out of this crisis.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Peril in the East

In a week when China has attempted to force American ships out of the South China Sea, Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday tried to exert economic pressure in addition. China is now America's biggest creditor and, as President Obama borrows even larger sums for his various schemes to end the recession and shore up banks, that borrowing is set to grow even more.

China is becoming ever more assertive, ever more willing to use its growing economic muscle to elbow its way on to the world stage. It is set to use that muscle to protect its position, a position which will lead it into direct conflict with western governments.

The new Obama administration has already signalled that it wants China to do something about its currency manipulation which keeps the Yuan artifically low against the Dollar giving their already cheap exports another boost. American politicians have cried foul. But, thanks to their own indebtedness, they may not be in a position to do anything about it. Politicians have quite correctly identified the prospect of protectionism as being the greatest danger for us all during this recession. Yet they are powerless to prevent the greatest protectionists from doing what they want because they are also our biggest creditors.

How did we arrive at this position? How did we allow ourselves to be suckered into a position which allows a totalitarian state to be a huge global exporter and buyer of trillions of our government bonds, which frustrates our attempts to control rogue states and even props them up, which represses its own people and the people of Tibet who want and deserve independence and can now threaten us with economic calamity if we try to level the playing field? We even gave them the Olympic Games on the strength of promises about openness which they had no intention of honouring.

The West's policy towards China has been naive in the extreme. Once again it's the triumph of hope over expectation. It's a modern form of appeasement. What is happening now is the 21st century equivalent of the Nazis marching into the demilitarised zone in the 1930s. We are allowing the Chinese to turn themselves into a superpower at our expense and without any proper checks and balances and all because we liked having cheap and nasty consumer goods at ever shrinking prices.

Politicians have convinced themselves that by welcoming China into the international club they will come around to our way of thinking and doing things. In fact what is happening is that our money and the prosperity it brings means that there is no challenge to the one party model. It is seen to be working and dissent can be stamped out. They have no need to reform or change because the system is working well on their terms.

I am no fan of protectionism but we should protect ourselves against states that refuse to play by the rules and threaten us if we try to impose them. It is not too late however. The Chinese need their export markets. We should put a price on them instead of allowing them free rein. America is quite right to resent the fact that jobs are being lost to unfair competition from China. They should put a stop to it. At present the Chinese need us more than we need them. If they were foolish enough to dump all of those treasury bonds they would be damaging their own finances as well as ours. But we ought to act now before it is too late. This recession is an opportunity to rewrite the rules and make China play fair. It is imperative that we take it.

Laughable

Earlier this week a bunch of extremist morons purporting to be Muslims incurred the wrath of the nation by chanting offensive slogans at returning soldiers marching through the streets of Luton. The soldiers were being applauded and cheered by the vast majority of the large crowd there to greet them. The jihadist cretins however turned up and, like silly school children, set out to offend and rile the crowd. They succeeded.

The media and public have reacted with predictable fury to this when an altogether more sensible response would be to either treat them with the contempt they deserve and simply ignore them or laugh at them. They aren't even worthy of contempt. They are ridiculous, juvenile and delusional. Their version of their religion is farcical. They claim to want sharia law in this country and yet they make very good use of our own hated laws including freedom of speech when it suits them. They are hypocrites and sophists. Every time we get angry they succeed in the same way that a child succeeds if we react to playground taunts. Instead we should point at them and laugh. They would hate that. They want to be taken seriously. If we just regard them as ridiculous it would shut them up much more effectively than anger and threats will ever do.

It should also be noted that most of these feckless fanatics are apparently claiming benefits. I was under the impression that, in order to claim Jobseekers Allowance, claimants have to prove that they are actively seeking work. Are they? Perhaps they should be investigated and forced to do something more productive with their lives or have their benefits withdrawn. It would prove once and for all that there are responsibilities along with rights in this country.

The right to protest is something that is sacrosanct in this country, however offensive the views they use our freedoms to express may be. But that does not mean we should give them a free ride any more than we should be giving a free ride to the chav classes who have multiple children by multiple fathers and never do a days work. There are rules already in existence to crack down on such people. Why don't we enforce them?

LI - VER - POOL

Manchester United 1 Liverpool 4. Let me say that again. Manchester United 1 Liverpool 4.

I'm so happy. There's nothing like a victory in a football match on a Saturday lunchtime to start the weekend well. But going to your most hated rivals and giving the smug bastards a real thrashing in the week that you did the same to Real Madrid is enough to make for a good month.

Man Utd remain the favourites for the championship because they still have a points cushion. But the games are catching up on them. People have been talking about them winning a quintuple this season. It's still possible. But it could all go horribly wrong for them yet. This result, which they will have hated, will put a few doubts in their minds.

This was another terrific performance from Liverpool after initially going a goal down. It showed character and real tenacity, things you need when going to Old Trafford where teams can be bullied into submission unless they stand up and make sure that they are counted. Torres and Gerrard made a defence that went for a record time without conceding a goal just a couple of weeks ago look ragged. Liverpool did what they do best, soaking up pressure and then dealing the sucker punch. This time they dealt 4 sucker punches. It's a stunning result. At the end Manchester United and one of those formerly peerless defenders, Rio Ferdinand, looked punch drunk.

It's been a great season for Liverpool. Could it have been better? Of course it could. We were top of the table at Christmas and in pole position. It isn't as if we have lost many games, just two Premier League games all season. We have just drawn too many. There are reasons for this. We do not have the size and quality of squad of Chelsea or Man Utd. We have lost Torres for large parts of the season and there is nobody to step properly into his shoes. Man Utd have four top quality strikers. At one stage today they had Berbatov, Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo on the pitch. That's well over £100 million worth of strikers. Other clubs tend to come to Anfield and set up to defend. To win championships the best clubs have to deal with this. It's the price of success. At times this season we have been unable to deal with this.

But what we have to remember is that this season we are competing for the title for the first time in years. Last season we finished fourth. This season we have done the double over both Chelsea and Man Utd. These two sides finished first and second last season and were the finalists in the European Cup. Even if we don't win the title this season it has been a season of real progress. And we are still there, still competing. Man Utd will be worried now and looking over their shoulders.

Whatever happens this season and there is still so much left to play for at home and in Europe, Benitez has created a side that other teams really fear. Nobody will want to draw us in the quarter finals in Europe and domestically we know we can beat anyone now. With a couple of months to go a good season could turn into a really great one.

Let me just say it again. Manchester United 1 Liverpool 4. I might print this post out and frame it.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Neighbours

Like many prime ministers before him, Gordon Brown has become rather fond of the international stage. It tends to happen with them all in the end, although it doesn't usually happen quite so quickly as it has with Brown. Most go into politics with ambitions to make a difference and such ambitions are almost always domestic at first. Only once they have been in power for a while and when they have realised how powerless they are to bring about real change do they turn dispiritedly to the international arena as a way of winning the plaudits they desire.

Brown has come to this mindset in a subtly different way. When he became Prime Minister we were promised a man of action full of new ideas who was going to hit the ground running with all kinds of initiatives in his first 100 days. We're still waiting. The last Queen's speech, in which the government's legislative programme is set out, was one of the thinnest and shortest on record. The Brown government has been characterised by a complete lack of ideas.

This isn't remarkable if we consider that Labour has been in power for nearly twelve years. Brown was the most powerful Chancellor in history, he was effectively prime minister to Blair's president. Blair too became all too fond of the international stage as he was continually frustrated by his intransigent and difficult neighbour.

So, once Brown became PM, for all of the rhetoric, nothing really changed. It was business as usual. The irony of course is that Brown was master of all he surveyed. Unlike his predecessor he had no difficult rival sniping at him and seeking to make mischief. He had the power to do what he wished. But now that he had the top job he had little real idea what he wanted to do with it.

This is a Prime Minister who has had his best moments when the unexpected came along. In his first summer in power, the time when he enjoyed a brief honeymoon period of popularity, terrorism, floods and foot and mouth disease came along in quick succession and he seemed to be statesmanlike and decisive. But it was all an illusion. There were no real decisions to be made, just the chance to appear and pontificate and allow the wheels of government to take the strain. The public however liked what it saw and Brown soared in the polls.

Then it all started to go wrong. He decided against capitalising on his popularity by calling an election and then lied about doing so. His earlier decision about 10p tax came back to haunt him and characteristically he refused to take responsibility or admit to a mistake until he was forced to do so. The moodiness and indecisiveness was now starkly revealed. As Chancellor he had been able to hide when the going got tough. As Prime Minister there was no hiding place. His poll ratings plummeted and party morale sank too.

And that was when the current financial crisis came and briefly looked like rescuing him. By acting quickly to recapitalise the banks he did not do anything revolutionary or touched by genius but he at least did it quickly and decisively as he had to. He was given credit for it by the public and even won the plaudits that this remarkably egotistical man clearly enjoys.

Now he thinks he can do it all again. He is pinning his hopes on the G20 summit next month. He wants to grandstand and lecture the world and prescribe the cure for its ills. In his speech in Washington last week he even told Congress that Britain and America, the special partners, were acting in concert to rescue the world. In Brown's mind his piddling and useless VAT cut is the same as the massive $800 billion package pushed through by Obama.

It is no coincidence that the Budget has been pushed back to April 22nd, much later than usual and long after the start of the new financial year. Brown no doubt wants a further fiscal stimulus package but is meeting resistance from the Treasury which knows that we cannot possibly afford one given the state of our finances and the fragility of the Pound. Even if Brown manages to push one through it will be tiny and useless. Brown knows that his rhetoric will once again fail to match his actions. If he announced such measures before the summit his fellow leaders would be able to point to this and criticise as the Germans did last year.

The G20 summit is costing Britain tens of millions as all such international talking shops do. It is already proving difficult to reach any kind of consensus. The danger is that it will end up costing much more because our prime minister is determined to lecture the world and so will feel obliged to push through measures the country will regret for years to come.

This spendthrift prime minister will do whatever it takes to splurge our billions for the sake of his pride. In the week that the Bank of England started Quantitative Easing is this how he will fund that splurge? We have been assured that the policy will be reversed as soon as is necessary, but then Brown has assured us of lots of things only to find excuses later. Are we going to have a massive package which is paid for by printing the money because we are borrowed to the hilt?

It's a real danger. It's a disaster waiting to happen. It is to be hoped that the man who lives next door, Alistair Darling, finds it in himself to become another awkward and intransigent neighbour for the good of the nation.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

A New Dance?

Leah wants to talk to me really. I know she does. It's transparently obvious. If you don't want to speak to someone then why would you allow them to see that you were online when you have the ability, which you use often enough, to prevent them from so doing? She sits there online calling to me like the Sirens called out to passing sailors. I can feel myself weakening.

She wants to speak to me but she is too stubborn to make the first move. I want to speak to her too despite what I said a few days ago. I'm just afraid that if I do she will just swear at me again if she is still angry about whatever she was angry about before which still remains a mystery. I also keep thinking about what she said and the way it made me feel.

It was ever thus. As I have said many times before, we should just get married. We would probably argue from time to time, we would probably get mad with each other from time to time just as we do now. The difference then would be that we would be in close proximity. We could cure all of that angst and anger with good old fashioned passion and sex. I find it extinguishes anger nicely if only because both parties forget what they were angry about.

This is the dance that Leah and I do. I'm just wondering if I should try to change that dance. We had that opportunity last week when she was here. We need new steps so that we can find a new and better rhythm.

Queasing

As I have mentioned previously, I am extremely sceptical about the current policy of Quantitative Easing, although unlike some I have no difficulty pronouncing it. Nevertheless I recommend the suggestion in The Times recently that we henceforth call it Queasing. This works on three fronts. One, it is easier and quicker to say. Two, it will make for better newspaper headlines. Three, it is a word not so very far away from queasy which describes the state of the economy and how we all feel about the policy of queasing.

On the policy front however it is unclear if the policy is working as expected. The first auction went well but it is having the effect of inflating the price of Gilts thus depressing yields and so further hitting already suffering pension funds.

Is it too late to think again about how we should be going about this? Robert Peston of the BBC has an interesting suggestion in his blog which to my mind seems altogether better targeted to where the real problems lie. I won't repeat his very lengthy and detailed blog you can read it for yourself. I will just say that, if we really need Queasing then his suggestion would be better, more likely to succeed and less likely to cause lasting damage.

Democratic Deficit

In America, following the presidential election and appointments to the new administration, the Senate found itself an unprecedented four members short. The 17th amendment of the constitution of course provides for this and allows new members to be appointed by state governors in Colorado, Delaware, Illinois and New York on a temporary basis before elections can be held. But that temporary period will be a rather lengthy one. This is prompting questions in Washington about democracy and accountability and the need for a constitutional amendment as it should.

Yet here in Britain, nearly twelve years into a Labour government that was pledged to reform our own upper house, the House of Lords remains unelected and unrepresentative. Political parties are often critical of the Lords when in opposition. Once in government they come to appreciate it. It is useful. It is controllable. It can be overcome if necessary. It can be used as a way of appointing ministers and even cabinet ministers without all of that messy election nonsense. Membership can be handed to those who make donations or who have otherwise proven useful. Given the professional, career politician nature of most MPs these days, the Lords can be used as a means of bringing in people who actually know what they are talking about. Gordon Brown has be clearly become an enthusiastic convert to the idea of the House of Lords. The Conservatives are already telling the nation that they will have other priorities to think about before reforming the House of Lords which means it won't happen for at least another five years.

This is an appalling scandal. Even in the light of the recent revelations about corruption in the Lords, very little fuss is made for fear of rocking the boat and prompting demands for proper democratic accountability for this constitutional abomination. This is a part of our national parliament. It can propose and amend legislation. Members can be appointed at the whim of the government. Given our unwritten constitution, this means that a government could easily bring in all kinds of draconian legislation and even prolong its term in office and, other than by coup d'etat, there is nothing we could do about it. It may seem far fetched but it is legally possible and that is an outrage.

We trust successive governments not to overstep the mark. But let us not forget, in 1997 the maximum period someone could be held in custody without charge was 7 days. It is now 42 days. It's amazing what politicians can convince themselves is necessary during crises and unprecedented times. This is why most countries have elected parliaments, elected heads of state, written constitutions and fixed election timetables. It's not foolproof and cannot stop the more determined autocrats and tyrants. But it can certainly delay them.

What we have in this country is an elective dictatorship, no matter which party is in control. Once elected our MPs can do more or less as they please thanks to those convenient fictions representative democracy and parliamentary sovereignty. They can hand over power to Europe without our say so and ignore manifesto pledges with impunity. They can even concoct excuses about there being no precedent for referendums in this country and invoke the historical right of parliament to decide such matters.

The fact is that our politicians have betrayed our trust. They have proven themselves incapable of reforming themselves whether it concerns their own gilded salaries and perks or the structure of government and parliament itself. It doesn't matter who wins the next election, nothing will change because they will baulk at the idea of surrendering any power.

We need a new political party to shake things up and to shatter their complacency. We need a party committed to a written constitution, a democratic bicameral parliament, an elected head of state or at least public consent for the continuation of the Monarchy and a proper bill of rights to prevent governments from curtailing our freedom in the name of security.

When this government came to power it did so on the back of all kinds of fine sounding promises about ethical foreign policy and reform and renewal and change. Twelve years on and we now see them clinging desperately to power, vetoing their own legislation for more openness and even attempting to prevent the public from knowing more about how much of our money they claim for themselves. They all come to this in the end. It was ever thus. Until someone comes along and has the guts to take on these vested interests and put the interests of the nation first it will stay that way too.

Weakening

Have you noticed that, thus far, I have not had one of my characteristic changes of heart and reversed my decision to end things with Leah? I'm feeling unusually determined this time.

Oh I still think about her constantly. I still want her all of the time. But when I have these thoughts I just remind myself of some of the things she has said and done recently and that usually cures me of the desire to make contact again. I haven't even come close to making contact yet. Normally I just have to take a look at her picture or remember happier times and that makes me recant. This time she even admitted that she was behaving really horribly and yet she did it anyway. I have to keep remembering that.

The test would be if she made contact with me. What would I do then? Am I capable of saying no to her. I've seldom been able to in the past. Even recently when she asked me to help her I strongly suspected that she was just using me and that she would revert to angry Leah as soon as I was finished. But I did it anyway. This is what happens when one is an incurable optimist.

I find it very difficult to stay angry with Leah. I find it very difficult to stay angry with anyone really. My ex girlfriend Lisa has ignored my birthday for at least the last five years and yet I still nearly sent her a card earlier this month and I no longer have any feelings for her.

Do I still love Leah? Of course. It will take a long time for that to be dissipated. I know I'm doing the right thing by trying to forget about her. It doesn't make it any easier though. The very fact that I am writing about her on this blog is a dangerous sign. It means that hope and optimism is starting to win again. It means that I hope she will read this and talk to me and that we will start the same cycle again just as we have always done in the past.

What I could do with is meeting someone else to divert my attention. Maybe I should go for a complete opposite. A stunning blond perhaps. It's a long time since I've fallen for a blond. Then again that didn't work out too well either.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

A Lost Soul

You may recall earlier this year the atheist poster campaign which ran posters on the side of buses proclaiming: 'There probably isn't a god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life'. In response to this the god botherers variously became irate, refused to drive the buses bearing the poster and then retaliated with their own poster: 'There definitely is a God. So join the Christian party and enjoy your life'.

Now when the atheist poster first came out it was at times criticised for being a bit, well agnostic really, thanks to its use of the word probably. This, we were told, was not due to some existential angst but down to Advertising Standards Authority rules.

This being the case, how did the god squadders get away with the word definitely? 1000 people duly complained, one of the biggest complaints in history. Today their complaints were dismissed by the ASA because the poster is 'electioneering material', although they didn't explain who or what was standing and where the election was being held. The public apparently can see through such claims and not take them seriously. This is odd to say the least. Did people really believe that Mars Bars helped them work, rest and play? That campaign was banned. Yet religious proselytisers are allowed to claim that their invisible friend definitely exists. Previously they have been allowed to display posters promising 'Faith, Miracles and Healing' at certain evangelical churches. This would seem to be something of a double standard.

May I suggest that atheists start a new poster campaign. Something along the lines of: 'If there is a God, why does he need to advertise?'

On the subject of religion, I happened upon a programme on BBC Three last night which was simultaneously hilarious and deeply troubling. Deborah 13: Servant of God did pretty much what it says on the tin. It was a documentary about 13 year old Deborah Drapper, who is a Christian but one of the more fundamentalist, deeply serious variety. You can see the programme again Thursday night on BBC3 at 0125, or via the BBC i player.

Deborah is a very pretty and clearly bright girl. In a few years she will be driving the boys wild if she isn't already. The trouble is that she doesn't really see boys. She's not allowed to. The main trouble is that her faith is that peculiarly fundamentalist, puritanical brand which seems to think that all forms of enjoying one's self and anything to do with sex is sinful. The boys, if she ever meets any, may well find her unreceptive to their advances, although, boys being boys, this will probably just add to her attractions.

Clearly these are attitudes which have been inculcated in young Deborah at home, her brother and younger sister were much the same. They have led a terribly sheltered life. They had no idea who various celebrities such as Britney Spears or Victoria Beckham are (not necessarily a bad thing of course) but this was a house with the 10 Commandments on the kitchen wall, literal belief in the Bible as part of every day life and a strange isolationism about the entire family, presumably because they think the rest of us aren't good enough.

Deborah has no friends and she was being raised to serve the lord. Her parents have eleven children because it is 'for god to open and close the womb'. All are educated at home. Deborah, she told us, loves learning. But one can't help wondering what she is learning about. Her father even called all of this 'training' his children. I can think of a better word.

It goes without saying that she and her family are creationists. Evolution is 'the most ridiculous theory ever,' Deborah claims and it is of course to blame for the nation's ills. If you are taught from the start that you are just a piece of slime and that you evolved from an animal then is it any surprise if you act like one says Deborah, proving that her home schooling is not really doing a terribly good job, even if it has imbued her with plenty of confidence to spout such nonsense with the requisite evangelical zeal.

Deborah has never been to a party with children her own age and knows nothing about boys and sex. She believes that she belongs to her father until he gives her away to a man to be married. This is Britain in the 21st century!

The Bible, according to Deborah is the infallible word of god. She has somehow come to the conclusion that, at the age of 13, she is a sinner and deserves to go to hell because she may have from time to time lied or taken the lord's name in vain. And of course she believes that she has the duty to go out and save the rest of us. This required her having to go out and see some of her contemporaries for the first time. They reacted in a way that one would expect teenagers to react, although they were remarkably good natured given that they were being told they were definitely going to hell.

One brother, Matthew, also educated at home, has just started university and is going out into the big wide world. Here is where the unintentional comedy began. Matthew took Deborah to meet his new friends who were normal young adults with normal attitudes to life and love but who again were a great deal more tolerant of these two judgmental weirdos than they probably ought to be, proving that those of us who are content with the idea of having evolved from slime have much better manners. One has to wonder how long they will put up with being judged constantly by their new friend and told they are sinners because they kiss or otherwise associate with members of the opposite sex and enjoy a drink.

As Matthew and Deborah drove up to Derbyshire and saw some of the beautiful scenery and those stacks of rocks left behind by glaciers, both reacted with exultation. Aha, they said, there is proof of a designer.

Later Deborah went along to see a typical student party, albeit a rather tame one compared to some that I remember. There was general partying and flirting going on whilst Deborah told all who would listen that if they had ever stolen anything, taken the Lord's name in vain or had impure thoughts they were going to hell. She was not the life and soul of the party. Her brother tried a little harder but did feel he should sit out some of the songs such as Katy Perry's I kissed a Girl because he disapproved of the lyrics. I really really hope that college and some of those flirtatious girls corrupt this earnest young man. It will do him good.

It was all illuminating and at times funny. But at the same time it is terrifying. People actually think like this in the 21st century. They are capable of closing their eyes to so much that they find inconvenient or which runs counter to their viewpoint. Yet our society does nothing about such people because religion, even in these most extreme forms, is regarded as being a wholesome and good thing.

At the end of the programme Deborah again spoke to the film maker and spoke of her beliefs. She spoke of Jesus. She started to cry, infact she sobbed when she thought of how he had supposedly died for her sins. Is that a healthy way for a 13 year old girl to think? Is it good that she is feeling a level of guilt like that for her alleged sins. Isn't what her parents have done for her, far from being healthy and wholesome actually destructive and abusive?

That is what is wrong with religion. It's that it always, given the opportunity, goes to extremes. This is why those god botherer posters have attracted so many complaints. When you tell people lies most can see through them and have the intelligence and maturity to see past the rhetoric or at least make their own judgements. But it always gets a few. This is especially the case when you get them young and when you tell them that a man made book is the word of god and that every word is true, presumably even the parts that contradict the other parts, and that none of it is down to interpretation.

Deborah is being denied a proper childhood, a normal upbringing and believes that if she makes even the most minor mistake she is an evil sinner. I'm no psychologist but I would imagine that could very easily screw her up in all kinds of ways and create a damaged human being rather than a wholesome one.