Category: politics

Voluntary neo-colonial

Simon Hattenstone interviews Gordon Brown and thank God turns off his faux-naif shtick for a once or so. Brown:

Going it alone, while still using the pound? “Instead of creating the levers of power for an independent Scotland, the SNP is suggesting a voluntary neo-colonial relationship with the rest of Britain. Scotland wouldn’t have any control of the pound.”

Right. The whole point of the SNP, as relaunched when Brown was writing the Red Paper on Scotland, was to get rid of the City-Treasury influence on monetary policy, concealed by the symbols of Ukania. I republish a post from December.

the token person who sits and smiles in the background

There’s something wrong with the Lib Dems isn’t there? I mean, apart from the whole “inflicting David Cameron on the country” thing.

Pearce said that she would remain in the party in a more modest role. “So at the moment, not knowing quite where I fit in the party, I have still decided to remain a Lib Dem because I believe in a lot of the Lib Dem values and policies, so I will stick with them right to the end. But I realise my place is not go for any high positions within the party. I’ll just stay and be the token person who sits and smiles in the background and do my community activism that I always do.”

I think comment is superfluous here. Just read it. The Tories have a horrible record of picking up black people, especially women, and dropping them (I did a case study back in 2010 for Stable & Principled and this story refers, and some of the free school people are going the same way) but I expected a bit better from the Liberals.

But of course there’s Rennard.

Jobs through Your Local Budget are 400% of GDP!

Is there anyone who didn’t predict that the Big Society would descend into shameless grantsmanship, chancerism, and possibly illegal party financing? Go read; the list of projects is unimprovable, The Thick of It meets Siobhan Sharpe meets the Alan Partridge pitch scene. Much of the money ended up with Tories or ex-Tories and some of that seems to have been donated back into the Tory campaign funds.

Some of this is pukka taxpayer’s money out of Cabinet Office funds, and the civil servants involved seem to have been put under the gun to hand it out. Accounting responsibility is utterly central to the structure of the civil service, however, seeing as the minister is Francis Maude and the permanent secretary and therefore accounting officer is Bob Kerslake you can probably whistle.

Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, meanwhile, is suing the Henry Jackson Society, the rather late UK branch of organised neo-conservatism, over some event she asked them to put on and went out rattling the tin for. Now there are a lot of unpaid bills, and missing money.

In the States, meanwhile, Krugman notices that top Murdoch executives’ employees look to them for revenge, as if they were gangsters or something. Ahem.

Hoare was furious with him one time when Hoare brought in a story about a famous actress only to find that Coulson, first, refused to publish it; second, took the famous actress on holiday; third, was clearly being rewarded in her bed; fourth, and worst of all, told the famous actress how Hoare had managed to get the story in the first place, with the result that the source was exposed and lost forever.

When Hoare discovered all this, he told Coulson direct and to his face that he was a “complete cunt”. Coulson replied with a line which became a regular catchphrase as he worked his way upwards: “I’ll make it up to you, mate.”

And although Brad DeLong’s Koka-Dancing Good-Time Snake-Handlin’ Thinkotheque offers grants, not one conservative bothered to apply. What links all this?

Well, perhaps, we could have a look at this parliamentary debate and specifically Esther McVey’s contributions.

While Labour was in office, it gradually wore away the financial strength of this country, eroding its savings and savings culture, and then it crashed the economy. Gas bills doubled, council tax doubled and fuel duty went up 12 times. The only things that grew under Labour were debt and overspending.

Apparently there was some huge pool of savings on deposit in 1997 that got spent by government. I remember a £28bn budget deficit. Funny! Also, I thought energy prices were all about the market now.

Let us not get away from how this started under Labour. What each and every one of us does is important. I have heard nothing from Opposition Members about the news that, because of our welfare-to-work programme, 30 million people are in jobs today. We know that under Labour, the number of households with nobody working doubled—[Interruption.]

There are 60-odd million people in the UK.

If one thing came out of the disastrous years that made our country more vulnerable because of the disastrous finances of the Labour Government it was the fact that not only are this Government doing more to get people into work—I will say it again, although I heard no positive sounds from the Labour Benches before: there are 30 million people in work—and that businesses have helped to support people and have taken them on, but that the community has come together to support one another

There are still 60-odd million people in the UK.

In the UK, it is right to say that more people are visiting food banks, as we would expect. [Hon. Members: “ Give way!”] No. Times are tough and we all have to pay back the £1.5 trillion of personal debt, which spiralled under Labour. We are all trying to live within our means, change the gear, and ensure we are paying back all the debt that we saw under Labour.

It is important to look at what is happening around the world. The UK has a population of 63 million and 60,000 people are visiting food banks according to the Trussell Trust. In Germany, however, with a population of 82 million, there are 1.5 million users of food banks. Canada has population of 35 million, and there are 830,000 monthly users of the Trussell Trust.

Who knew that the government was trying to reduce its deficit in order to pay down personal debt? What could that possibly even mean? Also, does the Trussell Trust operate in Canada?

We must put everything in context and look at what happened, whether that is the overspending and not being able to balance the books from 2002, or the financial crash of 2007. [Interruption.] We must look at how much we have done to balance and rebalance the economy, and get it on a stable footing.

Balance it! And then rebalance it! It sounds like something in the circus. You wonder what she actually thinks a chart of the public sector budget looks like over the last few years.

Let us be honest. One thing the Opposition do not understand is that disposable income is different from income. What have we done to support people with disposable income?

Several hon. Members rose—

I bet they did. I’m only surprised Esther McVey’s intern hadn’t provided talking points on what the coalition has done for people with disposable income. I imagine it wouldn’t be too difficult. The sting here is that the debate is about food banks and it’s not just the Labour MPs speaking; it’s the Tories. Story after hellish story of humiliation and despair pours in, and McVey responds in much the same way.

It’s a mixture, as above, of unbelievable lightness – the welfare to work programme is responsible for 30 million jobs, half the UK population – and hyper-extreme partisanship – Labour is making it all up, teh debt is really 400% of GDP, and if there are food banks which there aren’t then they’re Labour’s secret foodbanks. On the one hand, the chancer, on the other, the thug. Welcome to the emerging low-trust society, or did I say that before?

heywoood, always up to no goood

There’s a bit more on the war of Coulson’s Clearance here, from Robert Peston, who I seem to remember attracted attention back in 2011 as being oddly pro-Murdoch.

I know the answer to why Coulson was not given top level security vetting in 2010.

What happened was that Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood had decided that too many special advisers had access to the highest level of security clearance and wanted to reduce their number.

So he made a policy decision, without pressure from David Cameron, not to get Coulson cleared for access to such material. At the same time, Mr Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn was given the most vigorous degree of vetting, because of his foreign policy role.

Sir Jeremy simply felt it was inappropriate for large numbers of SPADs – as special advisers are known at Westminster – to have access to this material.

He subsequently decided Coulson was a good egg and could have access to this top secret sensitive material, even though he had not been cleared. So if anyone is going to be embarrassed by the failure to vet Coulson, and Labour’s investigation into this, it will be Britain’s top civil servant, Sir Jeremy Heywood

We already knew, since July 2011, that there was a degree of pushback on vetting Coulson and others, supposedly for cost reasons. But I think the first 3 paragraphs here are probably accurate, although the tone Peston gives them is tendentious. I know the reason – closing out the story much?

Taken literally, Heywood didn’t think Coulson should have access to anything sensitive. Neither did he think other special advisers should have such access. This doesn’t, of course, reflect positively on Coulson.

Also, it sounds as if the civil service as personified by Heywood wanted to roll back the integration of the No.10 press operation with the political/operational staff. No.10 is where the wiring for the intelligence community, the civil service policy machinery, certain bits of MOD, and the prime minister’s media support come together. Revoking the spin doctors’ access to secrets would dramatically reduce their power, and increase that of the institutions.

The last paragraph must be read in parallel with the rest of the news. We know that Coulson was eventually put forward for his clearance, and we can reason that it happened in the autumn of 2010. Clearly, Heywood didn’t somehow neglect to have him investigated, because after all it happened. We also know that Coulson did indeed get access to high-level secrets – whether from the possibly accidental “strap one” mention or his own words.

So an exception was made for him. Some media actors will want to blame Heywood for granting it. Others will ask who requested it. The process requires that the department that employs you acts as “sponsor” and presumably pays the bill. Coulson’s sponsoring department would be…you guessed it. The Prime Minister’s Office is a thing these days, with a domain name and all. It sits in the Cabinet Office administratively, Francis Maude’s ministry.

Since the Tories’ re-org of the civil service, the roles of cabinet secretary and head of the civil service have been split up, and the new one of the No.10 permanent secretary added. Heywood has emerged as first among equals from this position. Therefore, I give you three options – Heywood, Cameron, or Maude. But Cameron is the customer for the communications director. It’s his interests that are served.

Interestingly, we learn from this that it wasn’t only Blair who gave such access to his press secretary; counting back from Coulson, doesn’t the statement that the last four No.10 press secretaries had it take us into the Major years?

#crimsontide is coming for your mobile bill

This piece from Tom Watson is excellent. I can’t think of more than one other pol who understands mobile networks as well, and the other one knows more about fixed. Perhaps Watson is just well advised, but then picking good advice is a very important skill. On this strength, he’s the second best mobile analyst in the Northern Soul community.

He doesn’t, though, link to the news story that kicked the whole thing off. It’s here, at the FT. Apparently, David Cameron has:

has ordered ministers to improve mobile phone coverage across the countryside after becoming frustrated about the lack of reception in the often core Conservative-voting territories.

Ordered, eh? I thought he believed that free markets work. Presumably the Ministry of Medium Machine Building will be assigned to implement this decisive contribution to socialism. Maybe Cameron will show up at work to provide me with on-site guidance, like the North Koreans do.

The motivation is purely personal:

“We were requested to meet Maria Miller after complaints from David Cameron and Owen Paterson that calls were dropping,” said one. “Apparently this was an issue that grabbed the attention of the cabinet.”

Imagine the crimson tide that must have flowed. It’s also crassly cynical:

Mobile groups were asked to examine the costs of coverage to villages in Shropshire, Dorset and Norfolk – all with almost exclusively Conservative MPs – although work then focused on just using Shropshire as a pilot area.

Cameron’s solution, as Watson and the FT both say, is to impose a national roaming requirement on the networks. So if your phone doesn’t find Vodafone, it picks the next strongest signal, like it does under international roaming. This sounds nice, but it’s not as clever as all that. First of all, it doesn’t help you if there is no coverage from any network.

Between the 5 or 4 UK networks, depending on whether you still count Orange and T-Mobile as independent entities, there are actually only two-and-a-half sets of so-called passive infrastructure like land, towers, power and such. Vodafone and O2 share theirs under Project Cornerstone, T-Mobile and 3UK under Mobile Broadband Network Ltd, and EE’s 4G network is mostly parallel to MBNL, but also includes some original Orange sites outside it. There is also some complexity regarding how deep the sharing goes, but this is beside the point.

As a result of this, you’re less likely to find places where only one operator has coverage. Rather, you’re likely to get a dichotomy between places where both broad alliances are present, and none are.

Secondly, roaming in the mobile world implies compensation between carriers. If this is not regulated, it will be agonisingly expensive, because it’s intrinsically like a cartel. There’s no point unless everyone does it, which means there is no meaningful competition. The EU’s toughest women have spent a decade grinding this back cent by cent in the international domain. Watson notices this, which puts him way beyond most people.

Thirdly, if you can push traffic onto the competition and make a turn on the roaming, you’ll do it, so this gets rid of an incentive to build out more infrastructure. By now you’re probably wondering why we bothered to build four networks. The answer is that it would probably have been a good idea to share, but doing so requires the government to structure the market so that somebody will still bother to build out across the country. Back in the late 80s, infrastructure sharing wasn’t ideologically fashionable to say the least, and the successful example of fixed-line unbundling didn’t exist. It’s also true, though, that nobody then had any idea how this was going to turn out.

So here’s your problem: just throwing the switch on national roaming is rather like having infrastructure sharing, but without a population-coverage requirement, and also rather like unregulated international roaming. But there’s worse!

OK, who do you think will carry the most inbound roaming traffic? Obviously, the network with the most rural coverage. This won’t be the same as the one with the most base stations, because if you have spectrum in the original 900MHz GSM band, or even lower, in the 800MHz ex-TV band when that becomes available or even the 600s when they get auctioned, you automatically get a huge coverage boost from the fundamental principles of radio theory. You pay for this with a capacity/coverage tradeoff, though, so it might not please the countryside that much.

But it will make smaller operators subsidise bigger ones. This is a fundamental reality of a telecoms termination fee regime, where the network originating a call pays the network where it ends up. As a result, termination has monopolistic effects and is always regulated. OFCOM and the Euro-regulators have spent most of the last decade grinding it back. And now, we have a policy initiative that looks a lot like unregulated termination, with the downsides of roaming and of network sharing chucked in.

The worst of it, though, is the grisly contrast with the utter shambles of Cameron’s Broadband Delivery UK policy, which has so far failed to give a single contract to anyone other than BT and has also failed to deploy any end-user fibre. At the same time, community broadband projects that get public funding aren’t allowed to provide mobile operators with backhaul – i.e. the connectivity from the base station to somewhere civilised.

The market for very high speed leased lines, which is what you need, is officially unregulated even though in 85% of the UK there is a BT monopoly and in the rest, the only competitor is Vodafone, which can’t be expected to help its mobile competitors. You can follow this at BT whistleblower Broken Telephone‘s fine blog – I particularly like the bit where BT got central government money to overbuild a network the Welsh built with Welsh Assembly funds.

There are good things you can do with national roaming. Certain niche MVNO offerings and Machine-to-Machine applications can benefit. This guy used to sell Manx SIM cards to people who worried about per-operator black spots, but I think OFCOM made him stop for some reason. T-Mobile Netherlands used to do the same thing, but in tens of thousands, for machines. But this is niche stuff. Update: Revk points out that under the new EU rules, foreigners would get free roaming while UK residents would pay. I’d forgotten his mob offers you the option of switching to if you’re out of footprint.

Oh, and Tom Watson should be back in the shadow cabinet.


To follow up some points from this bit of ‘kipperology, the Grauniad recently interviewed Alan Sked. Of course he does his shtick about how there were no nutters or extremists in the gang when he was around, no sir. He also makes some reasonable points about UKIP being a sorry mess and there being a sound Keynesian critique of the EU.

But then he comes out with this turd:

Between 1980 and 1990, he was convenor of European studies at the LSE and chaired its European Research Seminar. “I would meet all these European politicians and bureaucrats who came over, and the cumulative effect was that I realised it was time to get out. We had an Italian senator and MEP once. I said, ‘How many mafiosi do you have in the European parliament?’ He said, ‘Oh, we only have about 12.’ I spent 10 years meeting these loonies.”

What gets me is that apparently that was all the LSE’s head of European Studies could think of to ask an Italian, and in the 1980s to boot, when for a while at least it looked like they could teach us a thing or three about how to run an economy. Hur hur. Mafia. Spaghetti. Roberto Baggio’s hair. Hur hur. I mean, what did the Senator make of Sked?

Such Farage. Much Godfrey. So UKIP.

earthquake prediction mastered at last

Pollsters suggested Labour must get 300 to 500 seats. Labour promised to get 150 seats. Labour got 300 to 500 seats. Suddenly the same polling says Labour must get 490 seats. Link two says the Tories briefed that they must get 500 seats. Could the figure of 490 be an effort to avoid quoting No.10?

Either way, the fascinating thing about the local elections was how everyone knew UKIP had won, and it was an earthquake, and it was a crisis for doomed Ed, long before any results were in. Everyone used the word “earthquake”. In the event, much of the earthquake was down to the chance that some Essex councils counted faster than some (much bigger) London ones. But news is news. ‘Kippers have the news nature. Therefore they are news.

We will now see something similar happening as the European Union finds some way in which Jean-Claude Juncker has to come out of this particular event with a new official car.

Quantifying UKIP Group Three

Really important data point in the light of this post:

2010 Tory voters, 84% (84%!) over 40? That’s Group Three for you, the grumpy protectionists. And they make up 49 per cent of the party’s electorate. As a rough guess, I’d identify the 7% of the total who voted UKIP in 2010 as the total of Groups One and Two. 49:7, some ratio. Here’s your answer as to why UKIP voters don’t put the EU at the top of their priorities, and do support the NHS and the BBC, etc: they’re normal. Normal. They’re your dad. They’re arguably more representative of the nation than some clown who wants charter hospitals and Tesco elections with a view to a future career with an American thinktank. They are damning evidence of the creepy weirdness of the Coalition. That will be why trying to order people not to vote for supposed “fascists” isn’t working.

This also has the consequence that if the ‘kippers want to be an enduring political force, building up Lib-Dem style local authority bases supporting MPs, their platform will just have to evolve and get normal, as will the personalities. Successful local government is dependent, above all, on being as normal as fuck, getting your head down, and grafting hard. This is going to be difficult, because the EU-obsessives, Powellite screamers, and glibertarians have nowhere else to go that gives them any hope of real influence at all. Therefore they will fight for survival. Similarly, the 49 per centers and ex-Tory careerists can’t have their own independent party or their own careers in it if they don’t get their way, so they will fight. Popcorn!

Pick a Tory. G’wan

These two David Hencke pieces on the election for chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee are interesting in the light of this post.

We have, on the one side, hilariously rightwing Tory Julian Lewis. We have, on the other, a pick between Rory Stewart and Keith Simpson. Interestingly, even John McDonnell (and most of the rest of the Labour Party) supported Lewis. Hencke argues that Downing Street wanted Simpson, or failing that Stewart. This sounds surprising; everyone has the impression that Stewart is exciting and therefore opposed to the government (you can see how this would come about, but it’s still only an aesthetic reaction).

But it makes much more sense if you think about what the HoCDC is going to be doing for the next few years. After Afghanistan, the military is expected to be in “roll up that map…” mode for the foreseeable future, while a whole variety of big equipment and infrastructure projects are in the pipeline. In so far as the HoCDC scrutinises operations, it will therefore only be able to do any damage to past governments.

Instead, it should be getting its teeth into the projects that will define the terms of the future. This requires a different skill-set and mind-set. I can well imagine Rory Stewart’s committee getting sidetracked into re-fighting Iraq and pursuing individual complaints and leaving the DESiders of Defence Equipment & Support well alone, which is how prime ministers like it and therefore how DES got that way.

One fascinating fact: We have a new chair of defence who has tabled only one question on defence to the government in the last year. He’ll have to ask a lot more now to make an impact.

If you were to make a decision on that basis you’d probably end up picking the SNP’s Angus Robertson, aka Mr Quantity.

Interestingly, Tom Watson, John Denham, and Malcolm Rifkind were supporting Crispin Blunt as a less pungent alternative to Lewis. Blunt, of course, is out of sympathy with the Tories, but has also been a surprisingly important gatekeeper in the lobbying system.

Not two UKIPs, three UKIPs.

As the day goes on, the initial UKIP-fest is wearing off a bit as more local election results come in. It’s still a good excuse to discuss this article in the Torygraph by Stephen Bush, someone who apparently “works on Benedict Brogan’s must-read e-mail”. Presumably, when he gets promoted, another intern will proudly announce that they write Stephen Bush’s must-read blog.

Bush makes the intelligent point that most political parties are rather different to the group of people they represent, and that this is especially true of UKIP. He goes on to say that there are two UKIPs, one made up of libertarians who are awesome and one made up of racists, who aren’t. I think we can refine this a bit. I think you can identify three. Specifically, I think there are three generations within UKIP, which exist for historical reasons.

Group one are the original class of 2001. These people were either UKIP charter members, were inherited from the Referendum party, or were drawn in from the right flank of the Tories directly. Ideologically, we can split them into two subgroups. The first of these are the Euro-obsessives, the ones who, like the party’s founder Alan Sked, care intensely about the European Union and the abstract concept of sovereignty. These people signed up for the ostensible purpose of UKIP, British withdrawal from the EU.

Sked has recently quit the party, protesting that it’s been taken over by racists who don’t really care about the EU, but he protests too much. He protests too much because of the other subgroup, the old-school extreme right. Whatever Sked says now, the early party was full of really appalling extremists like holocaust-denier Alistair McConnachie and Alistair Harper, editor of a “Nordicist journal”, plus endless variations on the themes of BNP or NF entryism, 1970s paramilitary fantasy, Ulster loyalism, and racism. Searchlight did a fine job annotating the 2001 list of candidates, their first nation-wide campaign, but the document is now only available in bits, some of which I link to.

Gordon Ferguson, who threatened to hang the whole Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat parties because he didn’t get enough media training, is probably a good example. Tim Fenton‘s comments point out, tellingly, that his patch has an active and extreme Orange lodge. These people should remind us most of all of the remarkably intense extreme-right response to the first Blair government – the conspiracy theory about Blair abolishing the death penalty for fear he would be hanged for being in the European Union is absolutely classic.

Group two emerged around 2004 and the spike in media interest generated by Robert Kilroy-Silk’s involvement with the party. Again, we can identify two subgroups here. The first of these are the libertarian entryists. American-style Internet libertarianism was fashionable, although no more popular than it ever has been, and a lot of them joined UKIP thinking that they could take over and direct it to their purposes. A similar motive was the idea that anti-EU sentiment is uniquely popular, so dousing libertarianism in it would make it popular. Hence we get Tim Worstall and Marta Andreesen as candidates. The second subgroup, the ex-Tory careerists, was motivated by the Tory party’s disarray under Iain Duncan Smith, and felt that the Tories had no future and also that it would be easier to make a career in a smaller party, for want of competition. (Although these two are both a bit late, tantric loverman Dr Earth and Bradistani kidnapper are exhibits A and B, as both of them are failed Tories. Winston McKenzie, of UKIP carnival fame, is another.)

Group three is 2010 and after, and is by far the biggest group. It is motivated by long-term economic crisis, by the Tories being in a coalition, and by those kids on your lawn. It doesn’t have much at all in common with groups one or two – famously, it doesn’t care about Europe and it agrees strongly with left-wing ideas on the economy. Libertarianism, abstract notions of sovereignty, or deranged putschist fantasies are much beside the point. I caricature them as grumpy protectionists.

So, basically, we have a ramshackle coalition of the grumpy. The biggest single group in it would like to vent intestinal gas, and wants its NHS and its BBC and its institutions in general. The second-biggest group either wants to sell all of those, or doesn’t care as long as they get to be an MEP. The smallest group is either obsessed by the EU, or else by Alan Clark diary fantasies, and has the most seniority in the party’s organisation, but also the least professionalism. UKIP is very different, in this sense, to something like the FN, which has a strong ideological and hierarchical armature under the plaster curves of Marianne (probably something like this).

It’s no surprise that Nigel Farage basically makes up policy on the spur of the moment; it’s the only way to respond to the movement’s utterly protean un-structure. I suspect that group three will get most of their way; there are more of them, they tend to turn up, and they are less flaky and risky than the glibertarians, eurofanatics, or pseudofascists.

Update: Important polling data has emerged regarding this post. Check it out.