Wednesday, 30 November 2016
At the weekend we saw the final demise of a former political colossus. Yes, Ed Balls was finally voted out of Strictly. Oh and Fidel Castro died.
Now nobody is denying that Castro was indeed a figure of great historical importance in the 20th Century. But that doesn't necessarily make him admirable. Unless you are Chauncey. Chauncey does think that Castro was admirable. He gave one of those wheezing and earnest speeches he gives on such occasions, which make him sound like a not entirely sincere or indeed competent social worker going through the motions. Castro was, he opined, actually he stated it as if it were a fact, which in Chauncey's mind it probably is, a champion of social justice. Now unless social justice, which is admittedly a somewhat woolly phrase, has somehow come to mean a dictator who imprisoned his enemies, refused to allow his own people to leave the country and tortured and murdered anyone who crossed him whilst forcing his people into a time warp of shabby penury, then Chauncey might be a little confused here. Chauncey would no doubt claim in response that the health service was good. Well it was free certainly. But it was also much better if you happened to be a tourist, a friend of Castro, part of the Communist Party elite (which really ought to be, if social justice is to mean anything, a contradiction in terms) or anyone well connected (see previous parentheses).
Chauncey - who is not now going to attend the funeral of the former vicious dictator, presumably on the grounds that he has been advised that this would be a photo opportunity on a par with Ed Miliband's famous bacon sandwich moment, coupled with Neil Kinnock falling over on a beach, plus Michael Foot in his donkey jacket and Gordon Brown's bigoted woman all combined and multiplied by a thousand - has been a lifelong fan of Castro. His sub sixth form common room apologia for Castro was a classic of the form. It was a work of art in many ways. It was moral relativism in the form of a scruffy, bearded, vegetarian nonentity trying desperately to drive all of his few remaining voters into the welcoming arms of the Tories and Ukip. If you don't love Castro and his brand of social justice then we don't want you he seemed to be saying in that same sanctimonious voice he uses when addressing photographers and journalists invading his private space. We wouldn't have been at all surprised if he had paid fulsome tribute to Castro in the part of his PMQs questions when he does his weekly obituary column. 'Thank you Mr Speaker. This week I want to remember a much misunderstood man.'
Speaking of Ukip, they have a new leader. He's a bald chap called Paul Nuttall who says that he and his party are now going to replace Labour. Under normal circumstances this might seem unlikely. We are not living in normal times.
Oh and the Government has hit upon a cheap, easy and ultra reliable way of spinning its message into the press. Just scribble what you want reported on to a notepad and then carry said pad, cunningly disguised as notes from a heavy duty meeting, into Number 10 for the telephoto lens users to snap. Have cake and eat it is apparently our negotiating position vis a vis Brexit. Boris must be so proud. There has however been much consternation and amusement that the carrier of said memo is the Chief of Staff of Mark Field MP. It seems a bit grand doesn't it. Perhaps its compensation for a low salary. For the record I am the president of this blog. And the vice president. And the ambassador, although I would like Nigel Farage to take over.
Not that any of this has affected Theresa's standing in the polls. She and the Tories now hold a commanding 16% lead over Labour. General election talk is bound to re-commence after Christmas, not least because Chauncey's idea of a nice Christmas present for constituents and major figures in Labour circles is a signed apple. Others send out whisky and the like. The SNP is thought to be preparing a furious denunciation of this blatant piece of anti Scottish bigotry. And on St Andrew's Day too.
Chauncey's approach to these sessions has evolved in the year and a bit since he started doing them. He started off talking softly and trying to sound reasonable and different. He also stared at hecklers over his spectacles in a way that they found, briefly, disconcerting, if only because he reminded them of a an ageing supply teacher. Now he has abandoned for the most part his former methods and crowd sourcing of questions in favour of treating them like one of his public meetings. All he needs is a loud hailer and he would feel entirely at home.
This week he wanted to talk about last week's Autumn Statement. This is an odd mixture of messages. Chauncey decried last week's statement full of fictitious and imaginary forecasts that will almost certainly turn out to be wide of the mark in their depressing commentary on the future. He also then confused the IMF and the IFS accusing the PM of selective quoting. Well yes she was, but she was quoting from a wholly different organisation, although to be fair they do both begin with the letter I. The PM made the not unreasonable point that, whatever the predictions, our economy is still growing and outperforming most or our competitors. Unemployment is down and employment at record levels.
But more than this, the member for Islington twinned with Havana, criticised the Government for missing its own Osborne inspired borrowing targets before then assailing them for not spending enough on social care. This his theme de jour. Mrs May did acknowledge that there is a problem with social care. And so there is. But part of the problem is politicians who promise the earth and tell their constituents that the state should pay while allowing the elderly to hang on to their homes to pass on to the next generation in the form of inheritance. Since most people regard their homes as a form of saving should they not then be required to cash in these savings to pay for their own care in old age. Why is the state responsible for people who are no longer capable of looking after themselves except as a last resort? What happened to families taking this responsibility? Should we also now have the state wiping babies' bottoms? Given that pensioners and the elderly get a good deal on pensions and other benefits like free TV licences, bus travel and the triple lock on pensions, get free prescriptions and make up the bulk of NHS spending at what point do we start debating new means of funding?
Part of the reason that we don't of course is that social care and the NHS is a political football. It's fascinating isn't it. Chauncey tells us that Il Presidente whom he admired so much delivered social justice and a brilliant healthcare system to his people who dreamt of nothing more than escaping his clutches and rowing or swimming to the land of Obamacare. Yet Chauncey then embraces his own disgusted of Islington persona and tells us that our own system is 'a disgrace.' Why are we cutting corporation tax he asks when some people have to use food banks? Well because it's better to have companies in this country paying lower tax than in another country entirely paying tax there and employing foreigners. Not that the PM said this. She didn't mention Castro either or wonder out loud why Chauncey hadn't mentioned him.
There is a problem with social care putting pressure on the NHS, increasing bed blocking and if we have a bad winter this is going to get worse. It is an added pressure and one that politicians of all parties are being dishonest about. One thing is for certain though, we don't look to Cuba for the answer.
Just been watching Angel Rayner on the Daily Politics. Oh my God! Many of us are astonished at the people elected to high office in other countries. We maybe shouldn't feel so smug.
Tuesday, 29 November 2016
In my Video Diary at the weekend, I argued that Donald Trump may actually just be a bit dim, a little stupid and that this, rather than more sophisticated theories about how he has run rings around the media and the experts, explains his behaviour and his status as the accidental president.
Because Trump cannot help himself. The man won. He won fair and square. He won according to the rules of the US system which say that the winning candidate is he or she who wins enough votes in the electoral college by winning individual states and their electoral college votes. It's a federal system.
Of course it throws up anomalies from time to time. All the time actually. This year was no different. Trump won in the electoral college but Clinton, on account of her piling up votes in the most populous states, won the popular vote and by quite some distance - over 2 million votes, or a 2% margin.
This clearly rankles with Trump. He hates to lose. Which is why he has spent the weekend claiming that he didn't. The man who was prepared to say that he had been cheated out of a win by a corrupt system is now saying that anyway. Despite the fact that he won and he is now set to be the man in command of the nation.
In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2016
What Trump is just too stupid to get into his head is that, by questioning the legitimacy of Clinton's vote tally he is in fact questioning the legitimacy of his own victory. Because, and someone should break this to him gently, if he is right that the system does not work and that it cannot be trusted, there is just as much chance that he was given votes he should not have been given as his opponent.
Because, Donald, the reason that you are now president elect is thanks to some incredibly tight contests in the rust belt states that delivered that victory to you. If Trump is right - which he almost certainly isn't, but let's follow what passes for logic in the head of Trump to its conclusion - and Clinton was the beneficiary of some dodgy practices, then he is too. And so, logically, some of those ultra tight contests might well have gone the other way. Thus the recounts are perfectly reasonable and sensible by Trump's own tweeted arguments.
On the one hand he was tweeting this weekend that it is sad and hypocritical for Clinton to join in the campaign for a recount. But then he tweeted that the election was susceptible to widespread fraud. So which is it Donald?
It remains unlikely and entirely unproven that there was widespread fraud in the election or that millions of people voted who were not entitled to vote. The chances are that the result of the election will be exactly the same as it was before once the various challenges have been heard. But if there is a problem with the voting tallies it is much more likely to be in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan where Trump won by a slender margin. Trump won by only 100,000 votes in some cases. If there really were the widespread problems that the victor himself is alleging, then the result would be overturned and we would have a new president elect and the sudden upturn in business at Trump's hotels would evaporate more rapidly than one of his apologies. Remember the electoral college does not vote to make the result official for another 3 weeks.
Now I am not suggesting for a moment that any of this is at all likely - although such an outcome would round off a seriously weird and astounding year with a bang. But it is amusing to watch the next president revert to form and make an arse of himself simply because he cannot bear to be called a loser. And he didn't lose. He won. But he lost the popular vote. He lost it by a mile. And he really hates that.
Of course this is in itself worrying. He is back getting riled and angry again and going back on Twitter. You might imagine that he has more important things to worry about right now. But that is the Trump personality, the Trump narcissism, the Trump neurosis, the Trump bovine stupidity, Trump cretinism on an epic Greek tragedy level. This is a man with a personality disorder the size of one of his towers of babble and bullshit, the size of one of his bankruptcy orders.
Ladies and gentlemen I give you the man who will soon have control of the nuclear codes instead of his Twitter account. Or perhaps he will Tweet threats on it. Media: stop telling lies and being mean about me. Or else.
Monday, 28 November 2016
The idiocy of large parts of the left and of people who self describe as liberal and progressive has been a joy to behold in the last couple of weeks hasn't it. You have to enjoy and amuse yourself at their agonies and the logical contortions they have been going through.
It started with the election of Donald Trump. Now this blog has been as robust as any in its condemnation of much of what Trump said during the campaign. But for now, if we are being fair minded, it is hard to know what to make of Trump the president-elect. For now it seems reasonable, fair and simply a recognition of democracy, to remain open minded about Trump the president. Yes there is a lot of foreboding and head shaking at some of his decisions thus far, but we simply don't know what Trump the president will do, not least because Trump himself probably doesn't know. Trump is an accidental president. None of this was supposed to happen. And so now he is making it up as he goes along. We had best watch and wait, although if you were a Trump supporter it would be hard not to feel like a mug right now.
The election of Trump was met by shock and then by protest. So long as this remains peaceful then it is fine. But what of those who are challenging the result? There was even a piece in The Washington Post last week claiming that, when the electoral college meets to deliver its legal verdict (the actual popular vote is just advisory strictly speaking), it should instead vote for Hillary Clinton on account of the electorate having taken leave of its senses. Other so called liberals have been bemoaning the unfairness of the process because Clinton has won the popular vote by quite a wide margin and yet lost the electoral college based on much narrower wins for Trump across the so called rust belt states. But then these are the rules and everyone knew them from the start. Remember, before the election took place it was widely believed that Clinton would win, the Democrats would win back the House of Representatives and thus the Republican Party would be in disarray. The exact opposite has turned out to be the case. And so the liberals have bleated piteously and are challenging the result.
Here in Britain last week we had the even more astonishing exhibition of two former prime ministers actively advocating that the result of the referendum last June should be set aside for no better reason than they don't like it. Oh they came up with some spin and bluster about 'the tyranny of the majority' and of having a second referendum. But the intent was there for all to see. We don't like the result. Let's overturn it.
Sir John Major and Tony Blair were both elected by substantially less than half of the population of this country and proceeded to govern without worrying. Major inflicted the Maastricht Treaty on the nation and pushed it through parliament despite having inherited his commons majority from Margaret Thatcher. He had not at that stage won an election. He did so in 1992 and won a small but working majority. He did so with 41.9% of the vote. In so doing he also won more votes than in the history of British general elections. No government before or since has won so many votes, but it was still 10% less than a majority of all those who turned out and voted.
When Tony Blair won power in 1997 he did so with fewer votes but a better percentage of those cast. He won power with 43.2% of the vote. In so doing he won a crushing landslide - a 179 seat majority meaning that Labour could do as they saw fit with little fear of parliamentary defeat. By the time that Blair won his third and final victory in 2005, that majority was reduced to a still perfectly viable and healthy 68 seats. But Blair was elected by receiving only 35.2% of votes. He won a smaller number of votes and a lower percentage of the votes cast than did Major in 1992 and yet still had a healthy and working majority to hand to Gordon Brown in 2007. Brown of course famously decided against having the British people vote to back him, as had Major in 1991 after taking over the previous winter.
The point here is that these are two prime ministers who were elected to power and who governed for many years having not come close to winning a majority of actual voters in successive general elections. In Blair's case, in 2005, he was a whole 15 points short. That is the way our electoral system works of course. But how dare they question the very clear and unambiguous result of our referendum last June in which over 17 million people voted for us to leave the EU. We cannot know by a process of osmosis, says Major, what the people who voted for Brexit actually wanted when they did so. But neither he nor Blair knew what the people who voted for them in smaller numbers were voting for either. That didn't stop them governing for 4 or 5 years at a stretch, often controversially. Both men took this country to war.
Furthermore both men were vehemently opposed to referendums during their tenures. Why? Because they feared they would lose. Do the Remainers ever ask themselves why we Euro sceptics were so keen on holding a referendum on our EU membership for so many years? We campaigned to have a referendum on the issue and, it has to be said thanks in no small part to the efforts of Nigel Farage and Ukip, we eventually wrought that concession from an embattled David Cameron - although he never thought he would have the outright majority to have to deliver it. But why did we campaign so relentlessly for a referendum? Because we knew that we stood a very decent chance of winning it. We knew that the British people were extremely unenthusiastic about the EU and angry about its arrogance and pettifogging interference in our affairs. The vote last June, whatever patronising Remainers say now, was not just about immigration and certainly wasn't about xenophobia. It was about a range of issues and of Britons having had enough. If another referendum were to be held, the chances are that we would win again and with a wider majority than last time. The project fear didn't work and its predictions have not come to pass after all.
Both Blair and Major knew this which is why they always found excuses not to have a referendum. Blair would have loved to take us into the euro but had been forced to concede a referendum before he could do so. Result, we stayed out of the euro. The British government was saved from its own folly by fear of the British people. That is democracy. Later Labour reneged on a promise to deliver a referendum on the EU constitution by arguing, wholly mendaciously, that the Lisbon Treaty was a different and discrete document. It wasn't. The EU in general dislikes and distrusts referendums. The Remain side are no different.
The lesson that our governing class have learnt from all of this is never ever concede a referendum. They are too dangerous and unpredictable. But it is too late now. The referendum was conceded when Cameron was cornered. Those of us who wanted to get us out have won. Now the losing side must accept the result. Britain is leaving the EU.
People who claim to be liberals but who disdain the democratic choices of the people are kidding only themselves.
But what of those who claim to be liberals but who have this weekend been mourning the death of a vicious, calculating and bigoted dictator? This is a man who imprisoned his own people, murdered his own people, encouraged and nearly precipitated nuclear war, engaged in proxy wars around the globe and yet was venerated by delusional lefties who were still doing so this weekend. One even said that he was adored.
Chauncey, the leader of the Labour Party and a long term fan of Castro, excused his crimes as 'excesses.' Castro's Cuba banned most strikes and imprisoned strikers and yet many of his most fervent supporters were trade unionists, like the late and unlamented Bob Crow. There are others who airily dismiss all of this with a wave of the hand. And at least he delivered good and free health care they say as if this were good reason for torture, murder and political imprisonment. In fact the health care, though certainly free, was nothing like as good as they claim and certainly not up to the standards of the best healthcare even in our own NHS with all of its problems. But even if it were of a standard with the sort of private hospitals enjoyed by royalty (and indeed not everyone in Castro's Cuba was equal when it came to healthcare, they have their privileged elites too), that would still not be justification for the grinding poverty, fear and backwardness, that would still not be justification for the harsh treatment of dissent and the lack of pluralism or basic human rights of Castro's Cuba all of which were the direct consequence of his policies and ideology.
Cuba is certainly a beautiful place and it is in the Caribbean, which lends it a clear charm, even if it is a shabby charm dating back to the 1950s as is most of its infrastructure and vehicular transport. But if Cuba is such a paradise why is that so many risk their lives to escape it? If Cuba is such a paradise why is it that, like all of the Soviet era countries, it has to imprison its own people within its boundaries for fear of them voting with their feet since they are denied actual votes? If Castro's Cuba is such a beacon of hope for the dispossessed and workers of our planet, how come so many Cubans kept trying to escape to the decadent United States? Lefties cannot answer that. They always rush to defend any and all enemies of the USA. Yet the United States has a problem, much like all western democratic nations, with controlling the numbers of people who want to come and live within their borders. Cuba would have had to build a wall to keep them in were it not an island.
It is this kind of cognitive dissonance that means that left wing politics is now so lost in a sea of its own contradictions, much as Cubans have for three generations often got lost in the Caribbean as they sought escape from Castro's depredations and vengeful sadism. Its astonishing isn't it how nasty and vicious right wing dictators are rightly condemned by all right thinking people. Yet equally nasty and vicious left wing dictators are venerated by large sections of left thinking people on account of their talking the talk of socialism and revolution whilst practising the opposite. Stalin and Mao were individually responsible for the deaths of many more millions of people than Hitler and yet are not treated with anything like the same revulsion. Castro was and is an icon amongst a certain section of deluded dreamers who bought the T shirt but who failed to look beyond the carefully crafted image.
There has been, here and in America and maybe soon elsewhere, a popular uprising against an unaccountable and arrogant ruling class. But because it is an uprising that is, at least in part, against a consensus that has been unchallenged and unchallengeable, we are seeing a backlash by that same unaccountable and arrogant ruling elite accustomed to getting their own way. The left, which was originally supposed to be on the side of the working man and woman, has been captured by a bourgeois elite that despises the working man and woman with their petty concerns about making ends meet, of being proud of their country and of not caring about issues like climate change, gay marriage and transgender rights. The backlash is against this consensus, against the sort of unthinking adherence to groupthink which sees them call themselves liberal and progressive whilst actively dismissing a majority verdict of the British people or of the democratically elected next president of the United States. Instead of questioning their own assumptions and prejudices they question the motivations and education of those with whom they disagree. They actually try to find ways, via the courts and if necessary by asking us the same question again and again until we give the right answer, to get their way. It never occurs to them that they are wrong. But then that is why it never occurred to them that they could lose. Yet on Castro so many of them are demonstrably wrong. If you have to make excuses for a dictator, then perhaps your world view is skewed. If you have to argue that the people were wrong when they exercised their democratic will then perhaps you shouldn't be a politician. You certainly shouldn't, like Tony Blair, be trying to make a comeback, although knowing Blair he will probably try to do so via the unelected House of Lords.
Sunday, 27 November 2016
So far Leviticus hasn't exactly been a barrel of laughs has it. It hasn't even had a story. It's been all rules about burnt offerings. Very dull and very very stupid. And of course a part that is now completely ignored by all those who claim to take certain parts of Leviticus seriously.
Now it gets even sillier. Ever wondered where all of those rules about what God botherers can and cannot eat come from? Ever wondered why Jews and Muslims insist they can't eat pork? Here it comes:
God spoke to Moses again now. Oh and to Aaron now because he's the big priest.
These, said God, are the animals that you are allowed to eat:
Apparently chewing the cud is good. It's revolting of course, literally throwing up in your mouth and eating it. Now this is done by animals for perfectly good reasons that they have evolved. Yes evolved. It enables them to digest otherwise indigestible things like grass and take the nutrients out. But it's not attractive is it.
Nevertheless this is the reason that some animals can be eaten and some cannot. Oh and they have to have split or cloven hooves.
Have you ever heard anything so bloody ridiculous? But that is the reason why both Jews and Muslims claim that they cannot eat pork. Because pigs don't throw up in their mouths and re-chew their food. They have split hooves, but they fail God's arbitrary test anyway. Camels too chew the cud but because they don't have split hooves cannot be eaten.
That is the dividing line: chewing the cud and split hooves.
Unfortunately then God, yes God, makes some basic errors about animals. He gives a long list of animals that can and cannot be eaten. He says that rabbits can't be eaten. even though they chew their cud, because they don't have split feet. But they don't chew their cud either. Oh and he thinks insects have four legs. Again, they don't. He even talks of four legged fowls. Four legged fowls?
Fish have to have scales otherwise they cannot be eaten. Throw away that lobster thermidor. It is an abomination.
Anything that does not pass this completely ridiculous set of rules is described as unclean. These days this is all rationalised of course. Pigs cannot be eaten because they are dirty. Because as we all know sheep and cows are lovely hygienic animals. But that is not what is meant by unclean. Leviticus just draws an absurd and arbitrary dividing line between what is unclean and clean to be eaten based on how they eat and whether they have feet that pass the test of being divided.
If you eat pork, shrimp, lobster, insects, rabbit then you are eating unclean food.
What is his reasoning? He doesn't give any. He is the Lord your God and he is holy. You must eat according to his commands in order to be holy yourself. This is the law. A stupid, facile law made by people who didn't know what they were talking about and got lots of thing wrong. But that hasn't stopped people taking it seriously for 3000 years, so much so that even those of us who think this is all a load of crap still have to put up with halal meat in some shops.
Saturday, 26 November 2016
Friday, 25 November 2016
Let us turn, briefly, from the world of politics to the world of sport. This weekend Lewis Hamilton will vie with a less gifted but luckier teammate for the Formula One world championship. Rosberg will likely win and if he does it will be because he was consistent if a little boring. He is the Philip Hammond or Theresa May of motor racing. He has also enjoyed better reliability in his car this season. Had Lewis enjoyed the same reliability he would have been streets ahead.
Yesterday Steven Gerrard announced that, after a couple of unremarkable seasons with LA Galaxy, he is hanging up those golden boots and those prodigiously talented feet will no longer grace football fields. When he left Liverpool I wrote of how he would be missed. But it bears repeating now. Steven Gerrard was the beating heart of Liverpool. It was and is cruel that, in a glittering and richly rewarded career, he never won the title with the club of his boyhood dreams. Gerrard for many seasons was the one world class talent in the team and it showed. He dragged some distinctly Rosbergesque teammates to victories and even to glorious Champions League victories. His performances in that miraculous season that saw Liverpool win their 5th European Cup/Champions League have gone down in legend including some typical goals belted from 25 yards out - the famous one that saw the club go, very much against the odds, into the knockout stage by beating Olympiacos, was typical. He famously almost single handedly won the FA Cup for the club too when all seemed to be lost in a game that West Ham thought they had won before Gerrard scored what is probably the greatest ever goal in cup final.
Gerrard, notwithstanding his brief sojourn in the USA, was a one club man. He remains a one club man. There are rumours that he would now like to get into management. But he will forever be a Liverpool man whatever happens. Given his heroics over the years, it doesn't matter who he ends up working for - assuming that Manchester United is not a possibility - we fans would likely forgive him. Read his biography and you see why he is so loved. He tells movingly of his slip up against Chelsea in 2014 that probably cost the club that title he had so long dreamed of. It was nearly so different.
Liverpool is a great club that is and always will be bigger than one man. Gerrard moved on a couple of years ago and that is right. This season the football is enabling fans once again to dream as we watch newer players producing ole football and thrilling the fans. We have all moved on from being thrilled by Stevie G to being thrilled by the likes of Coutinho, Lallana, Firmino, Mane, Sturridge et al. But that doesn't mean we cannot look back with fondness at the career of one of the Anfield greats.
Thursday, 24 November 2016
There's not really a lot to say about yesterday's Autumn Statement. Nothing much happened. There was nothing going on. John McDonnell didn't even throw a red book at the Chancellor. There were times during the statement when the Commons fell eerily silent.
All of this is a good thing.
For those of us who cheered at the demise of George Osborne, a Gordon Brown in Tory clothing, yesterday's tedium was reassuring. Dull is good.
The greatest issue we can justifiably have with the statement yesterday was that it was unnecessarily gloomy. The predictions of post Brexit drops in GDP are entirely actuarial and no more than guesswork. The predictions thus far have been wrong and glaringly so. These latest will likely be no different. Just the day before the Chancellor took to his feet his latest borrowing figures came in better than expected due to higher tax receipts. The economy continues to grow at a pace better than the Europe whose less than tender embraces we shall be leaving. Trade deals can and will be done on bilateral terms. Britain is going to be just fine.
And just because Hammond didn't do a lot yesterday does not mean that he will be a non reformist Chancellor. He is just taking his time. For those of us who hope for lower taxes, simpler taxes, flatter taxes, fairer taxes his time may well still come. Maybe the Spring Budget will be the time. Maybe then we will get much needed reforms of everything from the idiocies of Osborne's stamp duty regime to our arcane taxation system generally. Hammond made a small gesture towards more house building but much more needs to be done. We can but hope. Hammond said, quite rightly, that the Autumn Statement is or ought to be an unnecessary and damaging set piece we can well do without. It was turned into a setpiece entirely to feed the egos of Gordon Brown and then George Osborne. We can do without it. So Hammond was as good as his word and made it jejune. And then he abolished it.
Yes borrowing is set to be higher than had been envisaged, but that is because George Osborne set a wholly unlikely and unachievable target he would inevitably have missed. Now they have Brexit as an excuse. And they will be wrong about it all anyway.
The evidence for this is there for all to see. The constant pivoting and changing of positions is not him being insincere, still less of him being cunning or machiavellian. He is someone who bends his opinions according to who he is talking to. So during the campaign he said what the crowds wanted to hear. When confronted by a group of journalists from the New York Times he had not managed to bully into staying off the record he played to that particular crowd. Donny Little Hands, when questioned about climate change, suddenly professed an open mind and referred to the emails scandals of climate gate a few years ago. That is about the level of his understanding.
Having said that it is about the level of the journalists understanding too. Most haven't a clue what they are talking about when it comes to the issue of climate change, which is why they so often mention the supposed consensus of scientists. Except anyone who has looked into the issue properly knows that there is no such consensus and that even if there were science does not proceed by consensus. As Einstein said when confronted by 100 authors criticising his theory of relativity: if I were wrong then one author would have been enough.
Trump is a man who is very very good at PR and bullying. PR is nothing like as complicated as it is made out to be anyway, especially when you have the epic levels of self belief and the ability to bullshit that Trump does. But, when he is unable to get away with this, he tends to take the path of least resistance, not least when talking on issues about which he knows little or nothing. This is what explains his changes of mind. They are not changes of mind at all since Trump in general says the first thing that comes into his head. If this turns out to be inconvenient then he simply says something different before then shamelessly claiming that he did nothing of the sort or, if that fails, shrugging and saying it doesn't really matter anyway.
And all of this has stood him in good stead throughout his career. Indeed it worked to get him where he is now. He won didn't he.
The problem he is going to face now is that he won't be able to get away with it anymore. The scrutiny is something he has never faced before and no matter of ducking and diving and shameless denial will work. He tried it this week with the media. It worked when he met some TV executives and anchors and they made the mistake of thinking he operates by normal rules and that they were going to an off the record briefing. Then Trump laid into them before tweeting about it and how awesome he had been in telling them what was what.
He tried something similar with the New York Times only to be rebuffed. They called his bluff, demanded that the interview be on the record and, after some classic bluster and bluffing he gave way. He then behaved like a compliant pussy cat during the resultant interview.
This in many ways is reassuring. It means that Trump is not going to be as resistant to reason and strong arguments as we feared. It means he can probably have some of his edges blunted. It means that, if he gets good and intelligent people around him, then his government will not be the disaster we all feared. He will be the chairman of the board, the PR man with the tiny attention span alongside his tiny hands. The last person he talks to on any issue will be the one who persuades him. And if that fails they can always do what Putin and our own Nigel Farage did and compliment him. Make sure that the British embassy in Washington gets that memo.
There are going to be moments of high drama and of toe curling embarrassment though. And there are going to be moments in the situation room that are going to beggar belief. The sheer number of decisions that come to him, the amount of paperwork he will have to read that he will not read. This is why he wants so many trusted confidantes around him, so many family members. It won't come as a revelation to them that the most powerful man in the world is an ignorant halfwit. But it might spook the markets and embolden America's enemies. The good news though is that our own prime minister need not have Nigel Farage make the introductions or act as a bridge. Just call Trump up, call him a genius and then tell him that everyone in NATO thinks the same. That should do the trick.
It's fair to say, I think, that Barack Obama will have something of a mixed legacy when his term comes to an end in January. In foreign affairs in particular he has been a disaster and through naivety and carelessness made the world a more dangerous place.
One thing that you can say about the man though, he has been one of the coolest presidents in history. He is a superb speaker, although I for one will not miss those long pregnant pauses. He also has a real gift for comedy. The annual correspondents dinner was always a treat with Obama there and no president will ever be as good at pardoning turkeys.
Happy Thanksgiving, America. I know, given recent events, you may not feel very thankful, but it's still 2 months away yet.
Wednesday, 23 November 2016
Things have gone a bit quiet on the political front haven't they really. In previous years this uneasy peace would have had the prospect of being broken by today's Autumn Statement. Only last year it was George Osborne in charge with all of his dividing lines and gimmicks. But now that Spreadsheet Phil is in charge we may all slumber without worrying. Some are even saying that he may reduce today's big event back to what it used to be BG - before Gordon. The son of the manse was jealous of his friend Tony's weekly limelight hogging at PMQs and so transformed what was supposed to be simply an update on the nation's finances into a second Budget. Will Phil turn back the clock? Or will he spring a surprise. This seems unlikely. Phil probably doesn't even spring surprises on Mrs Hammond. It seems unlikely he'll surprise us all with exciting proposals to abolish stamp duty, slash taxes to a flat tax regime, build a million new homes and then appear in the Strictly Christmas Special. He does do strictly, but in an entirely different way.
Or of course he could simply be waiting for Donald Trump to offer his thoughts on our nation's finances. Trump helpfully suggested that we might wish to make Nigel Farage the British ambassador to the United States. Nigel affected to be surprised by this intervention. 'Cor blimey you could knock me over with a feather,' he said. 'Well, stone me'. This display of coquettishness was undone a little however when he reacted with cold and righteous fury to Downing Street's dismissal of the suggestion as being not, strictly speaking, any of the president elect's business. 'I don't want the job and this suggestion came out of a clear blue sky,' he seemed to be saying. 'Why oh why can't people leave me alone to go off and enjoy my retirement. But how dare the PM not take on board the perfectly sensible suggestion of the Accidental President and recipient of 2 million votes fewer than crooked Hillary?' It should be noted that earlier this year Farage was one of those British politicians expressing outrage at the intervention of Barack Obama in our referendum campaign. How times change.
Trump himself has been doing his best to create his new government and has been interviewing candidates for the top jobs in a ceaseless procession in and out of his big golden lift. Yet he seemingly has not offered Nigel Farage a job. He prefers offering him those that are not strictly speaking in his gift. He has also this week settled a lawsuit that alleged that he was a fraudster when he set up his eponymous university. He has also agreed with the IRS that he did indeed commit criminal acts by using his charitable foundation as his own private piggybank. Oh and he will not prosecute Hillary, let alone lock her up, not that this was in his gift either. Presidents don't decide who should or should not be prosecuted or locked up. But the Donald doesn't worry about the rules that apply to we the little people. He probably took a leaf out of his friend Nigel's books. Ukip is under investigation for misspending EU funds, although to be fair isn't that what everyone does with EU funds?
Chauncey, by the way, remains leader of the Labour Party. Oh and it has a message. Well, it has a rambling set of words that pass for a message. It could almost be the sort of thing that Donald Trump said during his campaign. They probably sought his advice, or more likely he offered it without being asked. I'm told he also is a consultant on the revamp of Buckingham Palace. Lots and lots of gold.
What? You want to know what the Labour Party message is? Well, okay then. Prepare yourself.
This is #Labour's actual messaging. Not a hoax. Not satire. If they go on like this, they are going to get absolutely thumped. pic.twitter.com/oKXv3INogB— Glen O'Hara (@gsoh31) November 21, 2016
Or what about:
Corbyn's big idea pic.twitter.com/zKdHBjKGTu— Mike Smithson (@MSmithsonPB) November 21, 2016
Good intervention? Pithy eh? I'm told they considered intervention, intervention, intervention but Tony Blair is already making a comeback into our politics and they didn't want to encourage him.
Anyway, to this week's PMQs. Is that okay Donald?
Today Chauncey wanted to talk about the NHS. As tends to be the case on these occasions there was an exchange of fire in the form of statistics and big numbers. Oh and Chauncey returned to one of his greatest hits: crowdsourcing a question from a member of the public.
The PM contrasted the record of this government and Dave's government with that of the 13 years of Labour on the issue of social care. They, she said, spent their entire term dithering and consulting and doing very little.
Now as a rule when Theresa and Dave before her raise the issue of the Blair and Brown governments and their alleged failures the likes of Chauncey and his Shadow Chancellor tend to shrug and say nothing to do with us. He after all voted against their governments more often than the average Tory. But what was this? Today he boasted about them. Spending on the NHS trebled he said, although he didn't point out that a lot of this was on Gordon's dodgy PFI projects at vast and inflated expense or on huge wage increases for doctors and other clinicians without any quid pro quo in the form of greater productivity. Indeed many of the problems of the NHS can be directly traced back to Labour's mismanagement of the NHS and their general solution of pouring money in without control.
But it was a big moment. Chauncey, under pressure to respond, boasted about Tony Blair. Is he turning into a Blairite? Is the pressure of his office rounding off his hard left edges?
Of course Chauncey did do the standard lefty schtick of attacking a perfectly sensible floated idea to get people to show ID before accessing free at the point of use NHS services. What about those who don't have passports he asked and they always ask. How awful a proposition that people should be asked to prove that they are entitled to something that is free. Of course there is a sensible option but it is one that the Guardianistas would shriek bloody murder about. You could simply get NHS staff to use their common sense and make a judgement about who is or is not British. If they are an elderly lady with a broad Yorkshire accent there is a good chance that their inability to provide photo ID is moot. If they have a foreign accent ask them for proof. Discriminatory? Well of course, but that's rather the point of these checks isn't it? It's supposed to be only for British people or those from the EU from which we can get the money back.
Chauncey was passionate and angry on the NHS as you might expect. He wheezed throughout his questions and sounded like he might soon be needing the intervention of nearby St Thomas's A&E. But he channelled the sort of anger he used to use on his stop the war marches. It must have felt like old times. Mrs May was fine. She defended herself using the same techniques and answers that Dave used to use on the issue. We can only keep investing in the NHS with a strong economy she said. Next to her Mr Hammond shifted uncomfortably. What were the latest predictions of that? And how wrong are they going to be this time?
There was incredulity yesterday at Donald Trump's suggestion, in the form of a tweet of course, that Nigel Farage should be Britain's next ambassador to the United States. How very dare he harrumphed various people.
Many people would like to see @Nigel_Farage represent Great Britain as their Ambassador to the United States. He would do a great job!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2016
Except of course they are guilty of staggering naivety and old fashioned thinking.
Trump is a very modern sort of gadfly - one with an attention span nearly as small as his hands. He likes to provoke and to antagonise. It is how he won the presidency after all. But, as is becoming clear, he is also a man who thinks he just made the biggest bet of his life and won against impossible odds. And so now he thinks he can do whatever the hell he likes. Nobody is going to stop him. They told him throughout the campaign he couldn't insult and lie his way through it and yet that is what he did and he got away with it. He won.
Trump tweets because that is the way Trump thinks. He is very much a 140 character or less kind of man. He will be a 140 character or less kind of president. He tweets that a meeting is great before it even happens. He settles a lawsuit, effectively admitting that he is a fraudster, and tweets that he is doing this to enable him to govern. Oh and then he has meetings with foreign dignitaries and politicians and seeks to win himself some business or to reverse a decision that has displeased him.
Great meetings will take place today at Trump Tower concerning the formation of the people who will run our government for the next 8 years.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2016
The man is a serial liar and a chancer, but one who keeps on winning, keeps on getting away with giant gambles, keeps on rolling in the ordure only to come out smelling of roses. He learnt early in his campaign that he could say or do whatever he liked and his supporters would excuse him. He could even blame the media for reporting his faux pas. To do so is unfair it seems. It is no doubt unfair that he has now decided, contrary to his claims of only a couple of weeks ago, that he will not, after all, prosecute Hillary Clinton. This is the correct decision of course, but it is the polar opposite of what he said he would do and his supporters expected him to do. And this is a man who claims to want to clean up politics. It looks more like he saw politics as a grubby arena in which he will excel. That's probably why he likes Nigel Farage.
Trump is going to be impeached. It is becoming increasingly clear that this is a president who will struggle to get to the midterms without massive controversy and likely impeachment. He is corrupt on a staggering level and will simply be incapable of resisting the temptation of using the office of the presidency to leverage himself some ill gotten gains. He will even boast about it on Twitter and then carp about unfair coverage in the corrupt media.
Why did he tweet that about Nigel Farage? Because earlier, entirely improperly, he raised the issue of some wind turbines that displease the Donald because they spoil the view from one of his Scottish golf courses. In other words he is using the presidency, before he even takes over, to advance his business interests. Rules are for other people.
Characteristically Farage probably fawned and praised the president elect and agreed with him about everything, even though the wind turbines issue has been resolved by our political and courts system. Trump is now president and thinks he can use it to his business advantage. Farage was happy to go along with him.
Trump values people who praise him and agree with him and call him a genius. That is undoubtedly what Farage did yesterday. So why wouldn't Trump want him as ambassador to the U.S? Perhaps we should give him the role of crawler in chief, the modern equivalent of the keeper of the royal stools.
Tuesday, 22 November 2016
I don't think I'm along in being a bit all over the place where the next President of the United States is concerned. There are elements of his policy prospectus with which I have every sympathy and could indeed be called an enthusiast, such as his desire for radical cuts in taxes, his rowing back on climate change policies using executive orders in the same way that Obama used executive orders to get around Congressional oversight. I loudly applaud reports that he wants to send man back to the moon and shall likely write a separate post about that.
And yet some of his appointments to his government and cabinet are blinkered or worse. After the initial shock of his election - not least to himself - and the softer words he chose to use, his hawkish approach to politics seems to be back and with it some of the people with whom he is surrounding himself. He has loudly announced that he will not be drawing his presidential salary. Big deal. It is also being widely reported that he will seek to spend a great deal of time in New York at his gaudy palace of bling and bad taste with all of the consequences for security, for New York and for the American taxpayer. They may be saving $400, 000 in presidential salary. That just about pays for the extra cordon around Trump Tower for a few weeks and will in no sense reimburse the cost in traffic congestion and lost business around 5th Avenue.
And then there is the issue of Trump's various businesses and his refusal to set up a blind trust to manage them added to his refusal to publish his tax returns during the campaign. What conflicts of interest will exist with a president who has so many fingers in so many pies right around the world. Already diplomats are wondering if they can curry favour with him by staying in his new hotel in Washington.
And presumably, terrorists being terrorists, they will see Trump's various businesses as soft targets - a proxy for the president. What happens if a Trump hotel or business is bombed or otherwise attacked? How does the Commander in Chief respond?
And now there is a bigger and yet.
Yesterday Vladimir Putin, ever the cunning opportunist, announced that he is moving nuclear weapons closer to Europe to counter the aggression of NATO in the Baltic states. This is of course a travesty of the truth. Additional forces would not have been moved to the Baltic states had not Russia invaded Crimea and parts of Ukraine and destabilised a whole country. Russian behaviour in Syria has further panicked eastern Europe. The very modest measures deployed by NATO were and are purely defensive in nature, designed to deter Putin from the same brinkmanship and adventurism that characterises his leadership.
But then Donald Trump happened. Now Trump is not wrong about the need for Europe to pull its weight more in NATO and to spend more to defend itself. Britain, though the biggest spender on defence on our continent, has been guilty of stripping bare our forces to the point where we would struggle to cope were they actually required to do any fighting. It is to be hoped that our new prime minister loosens the purse strings in response to the new world order. But it is a world order that has been created by the election of Trump and by his reckless talk during the campaign. He wants to reset relations with Russia, presumably because the last reset went so well.
Putin has seen his opportunity and is making mischief, probing for weakness and seeing what he can get away with. His latest provocation should be dealt with robustly. President Obama remains in charge for two months after all.
We do not yet know whether Trump will make good on his words of the campaign. We won't really know until he announces who his Secretary of State is. Congress will likely look askance at any attempts to cosy up to Russia, not least because the Senate in particular is manned by people with an altogether more realistic approach to diplomacy and who can see what 8 years of Obama's foreign policy has done for the world.
There are many aspects of a Trump presidency about which I am relaxed or at least agnostic. But, as Putin has shown already, his attitude to Russia is dangerous and destabilising. He needs to appoint an uncompromising hawk as his Secretary of State and to abandon talk of a new relationship with Russia. Russians respect people who stand up to them. Putin has played his very bad hand with great resolve and cunning. In that Trump was not wrong. But he should learn the lessons of Obama's failure and get tough with Russia. The last president to do that was Ronald Reagan. And look what he achieved. As it is, Trump was only elected two weeks ago and will not be in office for two more months and yet already the world is looking a lot more like we are in a new cold war era entirely of Putin and Russia's making, albeit with the aid of a naive, ignorant loud mouth from New York.
Monday, 21 November 2016
We are, as you will no doubt be aware by now, living in what is claimed to be a 'post truth' society. This is what is being declared by people who have lost in various popular polls, from our own referendum to the US election just a couple of weeks ago in which Donald Trump emerged triumphant. We have heard it, or a variation on its theme, from all of those who have lost or were part of the losing consensus. They are the tellers of truth and yet the liars are winning.
The great irony is of course that objective truth is difficult or impossible in areas other than long established science. Even there it is subject to revision. We can say with certainty that the Sun is at the centre of our solar system, that the Earth orbits it every 365.25 days. That is the demonstrable, objective truth. The statements of various politicians seek to compare themselves to this level of objective truth. Absurd.
Not that any of this is new. It's just a new form of words for a technique that politicians have been using for years. They never lose because they lost the argument, because their message was rejected, because the electorate simply didn't agree with them. No. It's always because of their message not getting through or because of some kind of chicanery on the part of their opponents.
The referendum was a classic of the genre. The losing Remain side have complained bitterly ever since about the claims of the Leave side. They are trying even now to delay and delegitimise the resultant consequence, namely Brexit. And, as is the way with such campaigns, some of those claims left a lot to be desired. But the same was true of both sides. The electorate, which, unlike in America, was very well served by the media, came to its conclusion knowing that both sides were playing fast and loose with 'the truth.' They had to read between the lines, come to a conclusion based on what they had read and the debates they heard. I believe that we as a country made the right decision. Subsequent events have shown that the Remain side were being as dishonest if not more so than the Leave side. But the truth of how wise a decision it was will only be revealed in the coming years. Historians will no doubt debate it for decades. There is rarely any objective truth in history.
Even now though, the Remainers, who have become the Remoaners, are playing fast and loose with the truth whilst complaining about the claims of the Leave side during the campaign. The video above demonstrates this nicely. It ought to beggar belief that they could be so transparently dishonest about the other side being dishonest.
But this is not a recent phenomenon. Take for example the issue of climate change. This has been elevated to the level of truth when it is anything but. But this enables adherents of this largely unproven theory to call those who are doubtful of it 'deniers.' This is a deliberate and calculated slur. Those of us who are sceptical do not 'deny' that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Neither do we 'deny' that anthropogenic output is likely having some impact on the climate. What we do question is the assumption - based on flawed computer models that have been demonstrably wrong since they have failed to account for temperatures in recent years plateauing - that the planet is warming in a way that is dangerous, unprecedented or in any way worrying. Claims that this year, just like last year, is the hottest ever are wrong and designedly so. It is a deliberate and calculated untruth. We cannot say that. Measuring and calculating temperature is actually very difficult because our planet is constantly warming and cooling, we don't have enough measurements across whole swathes of the planet where few people live and many of those we do have are poorly sited and operated. The planet has clearly warmed a little over the last 50 years, but not in a way that is particularly unusual. And we don't have measurements going back far enough to say anything else. It remains a theory with a paucity of evidence to enable us to say one way or the other that climate change is real and dangerous. Furthermore the efforts made by this country and others like us are pointless because they will have no impact while other developing countries continue to burn coal in ever increasing amounts. So 'the truth' about climate change is that we simply don't know and that our data and understanding is incomplete. Those who point this out are not 'deniers.' We are realists.
It is true that Donald Trump told an awful lot of whoppers during his campaign. The list is endless. But at its root was the simple fact, a simple truth if you will, that the Democrats lost the election because they have increasingly taken their support for granted. Much like the Labour Party in this country, they did this because they think that they are the ones telling the truth, that their so called progressive politics is true and noble and beyond reproach and that anyone disagreeing with them is a denier.
Politicians of the centre left and left and the centre right are increasingly talking to themselves these days. They are middle class, professional career politicians who validate one another by only talking to one another and dismissing those who disagree with them, even their own voters, as bigots, deniers or stupid. There was a liberal consensus for gay marriage. I was part of that consensus. But some disagreed with it. They have every right to do so. This doesn't make them bigots, it makes them small C conservatives.
Politicians have concentrated on peripheral, virtue signalling issues like gay marriage, climate change, the rights of people to change sex for reasons that defy imagination and common sense, not to mention biology and medical science, whilst millions have found themselves out of work or in low paid work thanks to shifts in the world. Trump tapped into a feeling that people weren't being listened to. His claims and insinuations and solutions were and are largely bogus. But he was not wrong about the problems and the failure of the political class to address them or even talk about them. Unfortunately the problems he identified were intractable and set to get worse.
But the fact that new technology, better productivity, shifting demographics and globalisation is going to see huge changes to our world in the next 50 years is not being addressed by politicians at all. Millions are going to lose their jobs. It started with blue collar jobs and now it is moving into the offices where the middle classes ply their trades and professions. Pension schemes are not going to be able to cope and will run dry. Healthcare is going to be increasingly unaffordable. Care for the elderly is going to be a growing problem. We are going to see massive change. It will give rise to new demagoguery, greater cynicism and anger and possibly much much worse. That is the truth we face. It is undeniable. It's why our political class is in denial and so bitter about the choices of the people they purport to represent and claim the right to govern. They ought to stop the name calling and start listening.
Sunday, 20 November 2016
Leviticus is concerned with making laws and rituals for the worship of God. God likes a bit of worship. And if you get it wrong? If you disobey his arcane and demonstrably stupid rules that he has just made up? Then he'll kill you. As we are about to see.
So Moses had just inaugurated Aaron and his sons to be priests. But then two of them: Nadab and Abihu, brought in strange fire and incense into the Tabernacle. Nobody really knows what this means. We can only surmise that they did something that ought not to have been done, or for which they had insufficient seniority.
Anyway, whatever it was God was displeased. Or of course it could just be that the authors of this gibberish just wanted to inject a bit of shock and awe into the story. After all they have just spent 9 chapters telling us in intricate detail what God wanted for his sacrifices. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking: what a load of crap. What kind of God wants all of this? I'm off to worship Zeus. Or I'm off to make up a God of my own that will cost me less in livestock.
But God decided that the mistake of these two sons of Aaron was so grave, so terrible that they had to be killed. See what I mean? It makes no sense. We've just been told that you can appease God if you sin by killing a goat and now he kills two priests for taking incense into somewhere. This is clearly a chapter that is meant to impress stupid, credulous people. If it had really happened of course it would concentrate your mind. But it didn't. It's just a stupid story.
God killed these two essentially to make an example of them then. Do as I say - or else. God told Moses that he expected to be revered and respected. Aaron said nothing, despite his two sons being killed by this capricious and nasty God who now also told them that there was to be no wine or other fermented drinks consumed in his big bad tent. Again, no reasons are given.
So the two frazzled priests were carried out of the Tabernacle and through the camp to show the Israelites what a nasty God he was. Moses also told Aaron and his other sons not to mourn the deaths. They had to carry on as normal. He is the worst kind of dictator isn't he. On the plus side, though they had been told they couldn't have a glass of wine they could eat the meat from the offerings because it was most holy.
But now Moses got angry with another two of the sons of Aaron for not doing things properly. This is like a Monty Python sketch isn't it. You first have to move three paces to the left, then burn a goat, then move two paces, consume it after cutting off the fat and putting that on the altar and smearing blood all over your ear. Get this wrong or in the wrong order and God will smite you.
Fortunately Aaron pointed out that after the death of the former priests things needed sanctifying again and so it would have been wrong to eat the meat as instructed. Moses was satisfied with this ridiculous interpretation. But the subtext of this will be familiar to us all. God's rules are what we say they mean. Priests interpret and tell us what's what. Unless they get burnt of course. Now if that happened regularly even I would go to church.
Saturday, 19 November 2016
Friday, 18 November 2016
You know how I hate to say I told you so. So I won't say it. Not in so many words anyway.
I'll just say this: what a bunch of numpties we have running the BBC. They lost their most popular and lucrative series over a minor fracas that could easily have been resolved if only BBC managers had the balls to manage.
And now that show is back. Yes it has a new name, but it is just a reboot of Top Gear. But my God it is a good reboot. What made the old show, as I never tired of writing when the whole fracas debacle was unfolding, was Jeremy Clarkson. His pals are important too, but it is Clarkson who is the chief talent, the one with all of the ideas and the irreverent wit that the public so love and which gave the BBC fits of the vapours each Sunday evening.
Yes this new show has had an enormous amount of money thrown at it. But it also has most of the old team in place, the old team jumped ship with the boys. Crucially, Clarkson was joined by Andy Wilman, the man who has a similar sense of humour to him and who runs the show alongside him.
That is what the BBC lost with their idiotic insistence that somehow Clarkson should not behave like a star or even a prima donna. The home of political correctness took its usual path of least resistance and failed to take account of the fact that their star was under enormous pressure, had gone through a divorce, had lost his mother and just snapped. They could have done, they chose not to. And this is not to offer an excuse for Clarkson. He can be boorish, he can be rude, he can be arrogant. But he did apologise. Unreservedly. And paid damages.
The BBC however persisted with its uncanny ability to shoot itself in the foot.
And so now we have the Grand Tour, a show that will come to be known as GT, which isn't so very different to TG now is it. This is because it isn't, something that Clarkson, May and Hammond sent up to good effect. But it is also a genuine reference to cars. And this opener was a show that loved cars. Yes it also loves the badinage between Messrs Clarkson, May and Hammond, yes it also has lots of explosions, but most of all it was about cars. And of course it has the production values and budget of a feature film. In much the same way that Netflix has brought us the brilliant The Crown this month and spent a mega budget on it (see my Video Diary tomorrow or now or on YouTube) Amazon has given Clarkson and Wilman a budget to make their show on an epic scale. This is a car show as if made by Cecil B DeMille. Top Gear was always a very well made show, with some beautifully shot films at its core. This takes things to a whole new level.
The Top Gear relaunch was a disaster because they tried to just do the same old show with new personnel. It was like one of those crap tribute bands ripping off other peoples' songs. It had few new ideas and looked like what it was, a pale imitation. They even used the same jokes. Clarkson uses the same jokes too, but then they are his jokes. They have also been forced, because the BBC owns the format and some of the inventions of Clarkson and co like The Stig, the Cool Wall and so on, to change things, to do things differently. This has probably done them a favour. The old show was in danger of becoming stale. Now it has been given a new lease of life. The BBC has done them a favour in many ways.
It wasn't perfect. Parts of it were a little clunky. The studio bits in particular didn't really take off and the bit in the middle with the American audience talking about the RAF was plain embarrassing. The bit at the beginning in which Clarkson schooled them on the correct terminology for cars was however very funny. Who has not been annoyed by those American videos on Youtube when they mispronounce Coupe?
In short then Top Gear is back. We have our favourite show back. Yes we have to pay for it now, but the good thing is that if you do you get your Amazon stuff delivered for free. People will pay for content if it is of sufficient quality. You can feel the quality of the Grand Tour. It deserves to be watched on a big screen in your living room. Why not buy one via Amazon and just add the subscription on the top.
Thursday, 17 November 2016
Old habits die hard it seems. The transition from the Obama regime is only a week old and it is already descending into chaos amidst infighting and recriminations. The president elect however went on to Twitter to assure the world that none of this is true. His various lieutenants and co-conspirators are not fighting like rats in a sack and the transition is going well. He said this in much the same way that he once assured the world that nobody respects women as much as he does or that he would publish his tax returns presumably.
What seems to be happening is that Trump is surrounding himself with ultra loyalists as has been his pattern throughout his career. They are also people with very hard right wing views in accordance with the kind of rhetoric we heard from Trump during the campaign. It seems that softer, more reasonable Trump has given away again to the angry man who insulted his way to the big job.
It is looking more like a mafia operation than a system of government. They are handing out jobs to loyalists and friends and, inevitably, to the Trump family who, it has been reported, may even be given security clearance. Trump is listening increasingly to his son in law, Jared Kushner who is pursuing vendettas. But Trump relies on such people around him to her with the weight of information being thrown at him. I'm increasingly convinced that Trump is dyslexic.
The great hope for the American people is that, though Congress will be controlled by his party, Trump is only nominally a Republican. He has no friends in Congress and a number of people he has denigrated and insulted. He can reward his friends and loyalists but he still has to get key appointees confirmed by the Senate. And how many friends does Trump have anyway?
The president has great power to do a lot without needing Congress onside. But his massive stimulus package and tax cut program will not happen without does need it onside. Does Trump have the skills to work with others? Does he have the ability to compromise? He imagines himself to be a great negotiator but he is entering a different world now, a more complex and demanding one. He needs people with talent and experience to work in key positions. Handing them out like rewards to those who have been nice to him or complimented him is no basis for government.
A week ago the president elect appeared at the White House. He looked and sounded awed by the realisation of his achievement and by the building he was in. Now he is getting used to the idea the old Trump is reasserting itself. It's a worrying sign.
Worse though is that he seems to be treating the creation of his government and cabinet as like an episode of the apprentice. He tweeted this week that only he knows who the finalists are. He added an exclamation mark at the end of that. That is how we should all feel at the Trump style of government. If only the American people could say: 'You're fired!'
Wednesday, 16 November 2016
We are living in truly tumultuous times. There was a time when supposed intellectuals and experts talked about the end of history. 2016 could spell the end of history just because it will leave the historians exhausted.
We thought events here on this little island were exciting enough back in the summer. We voted to leave the EU, changed prime ministers, watched as Labour botched an attempt to dump their liability of a leader and as various careers imploded. Oh and Ukip disappeared up its own fundament, lost a leader, then another one and is currently...well, frankly I've lost track of what's happening there on account of not caring.
But now America has trumped us. See what I did there?
Yes last week, while parliament was enjoying a recess and Theresa May a trip to India to talk trade and student visas, the US of A elected a television celebrity and alleged billionaire as its president. The man who had insulted and generally offended his way to a takeover of the Republican Party has now taken over the entire country. He does not really know what he will do now but he is of the opinion that the White House is altogether too white and nothing like gold enough. And its penthouse is only on the 2nd floor. I mean, come on.
The Donald is currently engaged in the process of appointing his government having learned that the process involves the recruitment of literally thousands of personnel to run the country. He was unaware of this. This is not encouraging.
Here in the UK Ed Balls is currently on a path to celebrity status via Strictly Come Dancing. I'm told this is a dance competition, although you would not necessarily know this by watching Balls. Still the public seem to like his spirit and never say die attitude. Or possibly they just like laughing at him. It's probably between him and Alan Sugar to be the next leader of the Labour Party. Laughing at Labour is now our default position.
Chauncey is the current leader of the Labour Party. You could be forgiven for not knowing this because the poor old chap struggles to make any kind of impact. He and some of his lieutenants did opine that he will be the Trump figure in this country when the next election comes around because he has such understanding of ordinary working class people. Apart from their attitude to immigration and Brexit obviously. He does want to be nice to Putin though.
And Chauncey does have plenty of fans still of course. Some are even putting together a song for him which they hope will vie for the Christmas number one slot. Called JC4PM4Me it is presumably not set to the tune of God Save the Queen. But I'm informed that Ed Balls has been approached for a terpsichorean interpretation.
Post truth is apparently the word of the year. This is the eponym that is being sprayed around by those who seem to have a difficulty with what electorates are deciding. What is truth anyway? It is apparently whatever those who are annoyed or frustrated by whatever electorates decide it is. The truth is what Tony Blair with his dodgy dossiers and Gordon Brown with his creative accounting used to tell presumably. Nick Clegg, David Cameron. All purveyors of truth. Donald Trump is an egregious liar. But he is hardly new.
The phrase that better describes the position of Labour is post reality. They have Chauncey on their front bench, now performing a little better than a year ago but clinging to his world view as tenaciously as he clung on to his job this summer. Labour are getting a little better at this spin business though. Today, perhaps as a contrast to his post smart and post shaven appearance he was surrounded on both sides by two female black members of his Shadow Cabinet, Kate Osamor and Dawn Butler. Ms Butler in particular kept saying 'wow' at his various utterances. I think this was because she felt he was saying something pertinent and indeed incisive, although it is hard to tell with Labour. She could have been saying it because she felt like the rest of us that he is a pre-scripted disaster who is talking what the Foreign Secretary might describe as 'bollocks.'
Chauncey does look a little better these days because the PM is not particularly good at PMQs. Not yet anyway. We do tend to forget that she is new to the job and there is a steep learning curve. She's improving but her answers can be disjointed and hesitant. She is clearly afflicted by nerves. She often trips over her words. Dave did too, but he did it with style, ploughing on regardless as he committed spoonerisms or got his facts or names muddled. When May does this she corrects herself, goes back to try again. She is also of course not so proficient at the quips that make these sessions memorable.
Chauncey this week wanted to question in his usual wide ranging and discursive way. Post reality he wanted to talk about the alleged divisions in government relating to Brexit. This is fantastic when you consider the contortions that are affecting Labour on the subject. It has no position on it at all for the same reason it doesn't talk about nuclear weapons. It is facing both ways on Brexit and was going to oppose invoking Article 50 until it changed its mind. Now they all seem to be doing both at once.
Chauncey however had his pre scripted questions about some of the reports that have come out this week and the words of the Foreign Secretary, one of which begins with b and ends with ocks. A Deloitte report claimed that the Government is struggling with Brexit and needs thousands more civil servants to cope. Number 10 has rubbished the report in strong terms.
Yet Chauncey wanted the Foreign Secretary, who was chuntering across the Dispatch Box at him, to explain what he had said which has got the papers so excited. In truth they have been less excited by what Boris said but by the fact that he said it. The old Boris is back. Hurrah!
Chauncey also raised the issue of Boris having said that we will make a Titanic success of Brexit. This is of course a classics reference and does not refer to the ship of that name. But it has to be said that there is confusion in Government about what Brexit will mean. They simply don't know, for the good reason that for now they are still compiling the information, debating the issues and waiting to see. Their position that it would be damaging to reveal too much about their negotiating position is of course a stall, but its not a post truth or post reality one. It is one based on the simple proposition that nobody has ever exited the EU before, we have been in it for 40 years. You can't just throw all of this together. Quite what Labour would do in this position is a mystery. Perhaps they would have a push me pull you type Brexit. They recently had a leadership election in which Chauncey's opponent wanted to ignore the democratic will of the people altogether. Maybe they were trying to set a precedent for ignoring the results of elections closer to home.
Though Brexit is the subject de jour, albeit one overshadowed by regime change in Washington at the moment in which there is a great deal of confusion too, there seems little point in pressing the Government and PM about what it all means at this stage. She would be as well to shrug her shoulders and say 'I dunno.' Not that she would ever be so vulgar of course. That is the reality and truth of where we are at the moment. Article 50 may need an act of parliament, it will then have to be invoked and then we will have two years of who-blinks-first negotiation. On the plus side however European leaders are fighting like rats in a sack on the issue too with elections and referendums coming and events in America discomfiting the bonds market and potentially leading to the break up of NATO. Our negotiating position is evolving. It will be based on pragmatism. That is a word that Chauncey would never use. He would no more say it that mention the name of Tony Blair in polite company. That is the truth.