The one with Rupert Murdoch, Lord Nicholls, and the cocaine

So Brooks Newmark, Tory dickpic exponent. As Harlan Ellison didn’t title, I have no mouth but I can’t stop laughing. Or rather, I can’t stop laughing but I have a serious point I need to make. Obviously this was really awful journalism, in fact, hardly journalism at all in any meaningful sense. For a start there’s the entrapment. There’s also the frankly creepy impersonation of some random woman in Sweden. It’s very hard to defend even though…and then the laughter kicks in. But it is very hard to defend.

Which reminded me of something. Reading Nick Davies’ Hack Attack, it struck me that if cocaine was to write its memoirs, the chapter on News International would probably be left out in the end because cocaine would be too ashamed to publish it. And it would be a great pity, because it might have been the best bit.

It’s not just that the NOTW and Sun newsrooms were incredibly cokey, nor even, according to Davies, that Wapping had a recognised dealer on the staff, even if it’s telling that they managed to have a staff drug dealer while also having an editor who specialised in their contacts with gangsters and another who specialised in their contacts with cops, and the whole culture of the place seems like one long pit-stained gak-sweat. Brash, overfamiliar, and also brittle. Also, reading Stick It Up Your Punter after Hack Attack, it’s very noticeable how many people there are repeatedly described as “energetic” and “supremely confident”, but also subject to dramatic mood swings and waves of paranoia.

It’s that the paper’s routine functioning, the process of production, depended in an important way on the stuff. And I don’t even mean this in that so many of them couldn’t get going in the morning without a quick one up the hooter. No. I’m actually thinking of the Reynolds defence of qualified privilege for public interest. This is a classic case in English media law, resulting from a lawsuit brought by the Irish politician Albert Reynolds against the Times and the Times‘s appeal to the Lords. The key point is that in some cases, a journalist can defend themselves from a libel suit if they can show that publishing the story in question served a legitimate public interest.

What constitutes a public interest is a good question, and one that changes over time. It is not the same thing as what interests the public, something newspaper editors tend to get wrong. The guideline is points one and two in Lord Nicholls’ judgment, although it’s worth noting that point one (seriousness) is actually an argument against qualified privilege. The Defamation Act 2013, which supersedes Reynolds vs. Times Newspapers, reduces this to a test that the defendant “reasonably believe” that publication is in the public interest.

But the obvious example of something that is in the public interest to publish, and stays that way, is lawbreaking of some sort. That some celebrity is sleeping with the wrong person might once have been obviously in the public interest, but it has got less so over the years, and one day it will no longer be so. Cocaine is illegal, though. This is why so many of their stories involved it, and why so many of their reporters spent so much time partaking of it with their subjects, encouraging their subjects to buy it, and indeed sometimes supplying it.

This was rather perfect; it may be illegal, but it is not all that illegal, especially not in practice, so police involvement would be fairly unlikely even if the reporter was covered in the stuff from head to toe. And of course their links with the Met helped. However, it is illegal enough to bat away threats of litigation with some confidence.

The budget and the bogus hairdressers

Chris Dillow has a nice chart, plotting the government deficit out-turn against a forecast based on its historic relationship with unemployment, swinging off John Maynard Keynes’ remark that if you look after unemployment the budget will look after itself.


As he says, the interesting bit is what happens after January 2012. Unemployment dropped sharply, but the budget didn’t come in anywhere near as much as you might expect, although it did improve a bit. A gap has opened up. Chris thinks this is a story about productivity.

I half-agree; it’s also a story about the policy-driven shift from unemployment, mitigated by Jobseekers’ Allowance, to underemployment mitigated by Working Tax Credit, aka the bogus hairdresser phenomenon (see here, here, and here). There has been some improvement in the economy, but much of the reduction of unemployment is accounted for by people declaring self-employment with nugatory hours, plus various other fiddles on the Government’s side, like not counting Work Programme attendees or persons under sanction as unemployment. They aren’t earning-out of the tax credit regime, and they aren’t paying income tax, so the budget doesn’t improve.

It’s trivially true that if you aren’t getting any hours, your productivity is zero. Importantly, though, efforts to improve productivity as such won’t help this problem at all, because low productivity is an effect rather than a cause. It’s an effect of policy, but it’s also an effect of the weakness of the labour market, because if the bogus hairdressers were in work they wouldn’t have to find ways to get Iain Duncan Smith off their backs.

How tight the labour market really is may be the most important question in British politics at the moment. Hence Duncan Weldon:

Balls has decided not to offer any new capital investment funded by central government borrowing. In this view, GDP growth is up, and therefore growth should bring down the deficit, and there is no case for fiscal expansion. If there is going to be more public spending there should be more taxation. This shouldn’t be a reason to harrumph off in the corner, though. Resolution did this rather nice chart of the parties’ fiscal plans.


As you can see, before anything else, just going slower is a big, big improvement on Osborne’s plans. Pushing the deadline out to 2019 and finding another £10bn of revenue or savings would allow for a 2% real-terms annual increase for the departments, while the Tory plan requires a 7% annual cut for the departments even with an additional £12bn taken out of social security. And we’re not even discussing Cameron’s giveaway yet, which takes the total cuts in the pipeline to £33bn. Labour would be fools not to run on the Tories’ £33bn cuts bombshell and to repeat the number every five minutes; personally I’m going to bore everyone to tears with it from here to May.

The problem, though, is Chris’s chart; although GDP growth is up and measured unemployment is down, the budget still sucks. And, you know, one in ten young people despair, because they’ve been stuck in the queue since 2007. As the EEF economics blog says, it sucks on the revenue side because income tax revenues are poor, because incomes, i.e. wages are poor. That is, to say the least, not what you’d expect in a tightening labour market.

It might, however, be what you’d expect in a market that is still pretty close to a high-unemployment equilibrium, but one that expresses the insufficiency of effective demand via underemployment rather than unemployment. If we were, that would explain why it is so difficult to reduce the deficit and why wages are so poor, and also why productivity is so poor, via Verdoorn’s law, where productivity gains usually happen when industry is operating at capacity. This is the crucial issue, and I suspect it’s roughly what is happening in France. The risk is that we end up running to stand still, deficit reduction keeps failing because wages and productivity are too low, and the statistics get progressively worse as the low-trust society becomes entrenched.

The good news is that there are some options for Labour investment to go with the absence of more Tory cuts. The public bank plans have evolved, and now foresee National Savings & Investments as its main depositor, which could give it enough welly for quite a substantial capital programme, and you know where I think it should go.

A charts post

Some links, with combined themes of data visualisation and rage.

This is from the Economist but don’t let that put you off. I still hear people saying “well, you say the Euro is awful, but what about bedroom tax eh eh?” This is pure whataboutery. The enormity of the disaster is pointed up by the 10th and 90th percentile bars.

That said I suspect the UK would look worse if they didn’t include the recovery in 2009-2010 in there. Also, the IFS estimates of the impact of austerity usually have a curve with a great big bend just before you get to the poorest 10 per cent.

Similarly, here’s the latest version of the Eurozone vs. US comparison. Euro fail:


I think I’ve said this before, but one of Obama’s greatest achievements has been stalling the austeritarians, with the classic device of setting up a commission to think the unthinkable. American lefties have been promising that he’ll implement a plan to gut social security or whatever realsoonnow since inauguration in 2009 and in some cases pre-inauguration, but here we are deep into the second term, and the issue has slid way down the agenda. Despite going to the wall with government shutdowns and all kinds of drama, neither the teabaggers nor the very serious people have managed to deliver a pukka federal austerity budget, and the chart makes the distinction very, very obvious. Given how powerful the institutional forces for austerity economics evidently are, this is a little masterpiece of delaying tactics. I guess he really is a Fabian.

And this is probably the best chart as such I’ve seen for a while, from here. The blue is what respondents think the ratio between CEO pay and workers’ pay should be; the red is what they think it is; the grey is the actual value.


It’s from the Harvard Business Review, but I notice they had the goodness not to actually title it “Yippee!!!”

And here’s a map of local authorities in England by percentage declaring an English identity:

The obvious point is that English == rural and eastern, with some twists. (East Lancs, for example, seems to change from valley to valley.) On an opt-in basis, basically no big city would go for an English parliament. (Leeds and Bradford are diluted by including their dales hinterlands in the metropolitan districts – you can get pretty woodsy and technically be in Bradford.) Nigel Farage would have to pick between Hull, Sunderland, and Torquay for his capital.

I’d like to see a chloropleth version of this with population scaling, and I’ve got the data in Fusion Tables so I may yet have a crack at some more maps. Also, it validates the finding from my Monarchist Map that Purbeck is weird, although I’ve been there and to be honest it wasn’t hard to spot. Before you ask, Ken Clarke’s constituency, which was the only big concentration of Jubilee parties north of London, stands out for its relatively low Englishness. I presume they’re like me, BRITISH, DAMMIT.

#burybadnews extra: the impact has been cancelled

Bonus extra #burybadnews at the Care Quality Commission:

The impact of the economic downturn on the quality of health and social care has been cancelled.

Well, there’s some good news! Wait. The CQC has cancelled its study into the impact of the economic downturn, not the impact itself.

Thanks to Tony Bovaird on twitter.

Also, I counted up the stories by department and here are the results.

Screenshot from 2014-09-21 17:37:29

Who knew Jeremy Hunt or rather his SPAD Sue Beeby was such a devious bastard? That’s right; everybody. Also, on this measure Alex Salmond’s Scotgov and Eric Pickles’ DCLG are equally slimy, which is kind of my point.


Thort: I was quite sarcastic about lefties who were convinced a Yes would trigger all sorts of good stuff across the UK, but the No, or rather the preceding yes-scare, does seem to have shaken a few things loose.

Another thort: West Lothian question, Matt Turner answer.

The West Yorkshire answer is “Bugger off!” but it seems to have been revised.

Speaking of West Yorkshire answers, here’s an idea. This is basically the Day It Rained Ponies for political obsessives, so let’s make the most of it. What about devolution on-demand? Say the Tories insist on EVEL as a sop. The problem here is that you might not want to live in Greater Wokingham. But part of a deal might be providing for, say, Southampton and Portsmouth, or Bristol, to opt out of Thatcherstan and opt in to home rule. Ponies!



Gaming out devolution

What’s the central fact of the debate about how to renegotiate the union after #indyref? Here it comes: there is a hard deadline in May 2015, when there must be a general election.

This is important because it changes all the actors’ bargaining positions.

The situation

Usually, in British parliamentary politics, a majority can do pretty much anything, but the minority can stall for time up to about a year, when the Parliament Act kicks in. But this changes when an election is coming; everything that was left on the agenda automatically falls when Parliament is prorogued.

It’s possible to pass leftover legislation through the so-called washup. Basically this means that if all parties agree on a text, it can be passed. That’s another way of saying that when there is less than a year left to ago before an election, the minority’s power to delay is effectively upgraded to a power to spike. If everyone has to agree to something, everyone has a veto.

If you have a very big majority you can hurry things up, although the House of Lords can still cause trouble. If you have time, you can force it. But at the moment, nobody has a big majority, and the election is in May.

The model

All parties have committed to passing a Scotland bill, implementing more devolution. The Tories want a biscuit in exchange for this, something like “English votes for English laws”. Labour, for their part, would like regional devolution. And there is a deadline. Because of the deadline, the Tory-led government can’t just pass what it wants.

First of all, there may not be a majority in the Commons for EVEL, as I think I will call it, although there may be for evil. Labour hates it; the Scots, Welsh, and Irish hate it; several Lib Dem ministers, notably Danny Alexander, would have to resign immediately if it passed because they couldn’t vote or speak on their own ministerial business. The Tories are in favour but I’m not sure if they are unanimous about it. That doesn’t give you a majority.

Even if you somehow got one, though, there isn’t enough majority to pass it quickly, before the deadline. That needs either a big and stable majority, or the opposition agreeing to co-operate. So, pretty much everyone involved has a veto on passing anything substantial.

That means the question is “Deal, or no deal?”, or in political science jargon, “is this better than the Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement, BATNA?” The alternative for all parties is “go to the country with our proposal on the manifesto”.

The parameters

The Tory proposal is either EVEL or some sort of “English parliament”. If, like all other devolved administrations, it was elected on proportional representation, I can see this turning out quite shitty for the Tories, with Labour, Liberals, left-of-Labour, Greens, and ‘kippers all over the place. It might also ruin the game for Tory county councils, aka Tory MPs at an earlier stage in their careers. And it would be very difficult to defend something that parallels Westminster 90% of the time as a sensible use of public money. So I think they would go for EVEL rather than EP.

The Labour one looks like some sort of regional devolution, whether city regions or even a Northern entity. This would obviously be just great for Labour (and possibly also both left-of-Labour and ‘kippers). I don’t know about you but “a powerful voice for more regen and infrastructure money in your community” beats “we solved the West Lothian question” as a slogan in my opinion.

The Tories also have the problem of trying to appeal to pro-Union sentiment – which turns out to be a thing! – by taking Scots’ and Welshmen’s votes away.

Even if EVEL polls reasonably well, it may be rather like Euroscepticism in being an issue a lot of people agree with, vaguely, but don’t care about much. Tories seem to have a fatal attraction to those. I tentatively think EVEL would help in Tory-UKIP fights, although the ‘kippers might pick up EP as a counter-offer. They are a protest party and it’s a more strident protest, and if it happened they would probably have better chances of actual influence in it. On the other hand, regdev would help Labour mobilise pretty much everywhere there are substantial numbers of Labour voters.

The output

Well, that would suggest Labour’s BATNA is better than the Tories’, so the Tories would be advised to make a deal that gets something passed before the 2015 GE, rather than see them walk. Of course, there is a potential rogue actor in that some of the Tories might rebel. From a Labour point of view, that would just be gravy. Question the parameters if you like, but this does seem to be what Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband are doing.

See here, and here.

#burybadnews: the burying. here are some boring links about fish

So I promised to check what bad news was getting buried over the indyref. Here are some stories.

NHS foundations crash to first-ever monster deficit: official

NHS foundation trusts are struggling, missing waiting list targets, spending a lot of money on agency staff, and have had a sector-wide deficit for the first time. 19% of the trusts are officially in the doghouse. There’s a report here.

One of those trusts is Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, King’s Lynn. This has been the subject of a Care Quality Commission report, which was released today, strangely enough. Secretary Hunt is sending McKinsey consultants to King’s Lynn, so if you live around there, try to stagger over the boundary before collapsing or something?

Morecambe Bay NHS is in trouble, and Hunt is sending it one Fiona West as Improvement Director. There seems to be a lot of it about.

Here’s a story of dodgy NHS procurement in Worthing.

Also in the NHS, a standard has been published setting out what information A&E wards should give the police when someone comes in who has evidently been the target of a violent crime.

The NHS is also sharing information with you, as it has a new data visualisation web site. I don’t know why that needed burying, unless it’s the detail that private-sector contractors don’t have to put any information on it.

Changes to GP practices’ catchment areas have been put off until January.

Do-gooders: three opportunities to lobby the powerful at PHE, OFCOM, and DWP!

And Public Health England has a global strategy, which sounds important! Rather like OFCOM, which invites comments on its Plan. There’s a plan, apparently.

Bash 7-day dole wait: don’t miss out!

Over at the DWP, they want you to wait an additional 7 days before you get any Universal Credit. The consultation on this measure has just opened, so get in there and object! The committee that will read your objection is as follows. It has an expert on Scotland.

The Committee’s Chair is Paul Gray. Its membership comprises: Les Allamby, John Andrews, Simon Bartley, Adele Baumgardt, John Ditch, Keith Faulkner, Colin Godbold, Chris Goulden, Matthew Oakley, Judith Paterson, Nicola Smith and Diana Whitworth. Its expert adviser on Scotland is Jim McCormick.

Sad IDS floundering as he misses by a million

Fortunately this may not matter much as the DWP is only 986,740 behind on its target of 1 million people receiving UC.

Sir Humphrey humphs once more as Sheinwald gets spooklomat gig

Speaking of information sharing, the government said it would appoint a senior diplomat as special envoy for law enforcement and intelligence as part of the DRIP legislation. The job goes to supermandarin Sir Nigel Sheinwald, former UK permanent representative to the EU, ambassador to the US, head of the Overseas & Defence Policy Secretariat, and prime minister’s foreign policy adviser.

In other bigwigs, the boss of Siemens UK joins the board of BIS, and an accountant becomes finance director of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, while Alex Salmond made his last act-in-office the appointment of four Queen’s Counsel. Anyone know them?

UK housing policy is a sorry mess and Eric Pickles is a fat clown

Islington Council has been trying to stop landlords converting business or industrial premises into low-grade housing. Housing minister Brandon Lewis has ordered them to stop, but no publicity, because he did it on the 17th.

Lewis also gave a self-congratulatory speech at the National Housing Federation in which he claimed Ebbsfleet new town and pre-fabricated buildings would solve all our problems, thus adopting two of John Prescott’s ideas from about five years ago.

Lewis’s boss, Eric Pickles, gave an utterly asinine and ridiculous speech in which he claimed to be fighting “the Binquisition”, blamed Brussels, talked about “Communist Cuba”, and promised weekly bin collections for zero money.

Here is a list of 21 magistrates’ courts that are trialling new technology.

Where was Islamic charity trustee going with the poor box?

The Charities Commission is starting an inquiry into something called Worldwide Ummah Aid after one of its trustees was stopped leaving the country with a large amount of cash. The terms of reference sound more fraudy than terror-y, but both are possible and either would be news.

The Cabinet Office may have hoped that the referendum would prevent the following embarrassment, but I notice that they have replied to one Williams’ Freedom of Information Act request with a message that their inbox is full.

Wrexham child protection report: exclusive

A lady in Wrexham has received the report she wanted about a complicated scandal regarding Wrexham child protection and a whistleblower. Fascinatingly, Wrexham council disclosed it over the #indyref. The report is here and mostly about nepotism.

Airlines can make you pay for checked baggage, the European Court has ruled.

Some stuff nobody in their right mind would read

Here is something trivial about tax discs, and something trivial about the Dartford tunnel toll. Baroness Kramer (remember her?) launches some ITSO cards (remember them?) A small flood relief project not quite in Leicester. Awards.

The government lobbying registers for the DCMS Permanent Secretary, the DWP Permanent Secretary, the Home Office Permanent Secretary, and Department for Education ministers have been updated but I haven’t spotted anything interesting.

A minister gave a speech, but there was no news in it. And here are some quite boring links about fish.

Save it for Nogoodnik

A quick thought. I have to say I was pretty conflicted reading this. I mean, there’s basically nothing I want more than David Cameron’s downfall, and I’d like to double my lifetime score of downed Tory prime ministers. But then, I’ve already stated my reasons.

Here’s a relevant story. In one of those WW2 comic books that still existed when I was a kid in the 1980s, I remember a storyline in which our SOE hero infiltrated the Nazi nuclear bomb programme. In this timeline, apparently, they hadn’t gassed or exiled or otherwise alienated everyone competent to build such a thing, because the Nazi proliferators were close to testing by the time our man arrived. The plan was to assassinate the project’s Turing figure, Professor von Nogoodnik or whoever. Having just about survived what was either a successful low-yield test or a high-yield fizzle, the sort of thing the North Koreans sometimes pull, our man realises that the Leader himself has unexpectedly shown up to observe the tests.

But – horrors – he only has one bolt left for his crossbow! Did I mention he was using a crossbow? Because, eh, reasons, I think. He hesitated between the targets, but eventually concluded that another fanatic could take over from Hitler but von Nogoodnik was irreplaceable. I guess the timeline stuck close enough to history that the Nazis had gassed or exiled or alienated all the other physicists, but not him. Also, did it matter that much now they’d conducted a successful test or at least a really big bang? And from what we know of Nazi politics, the idea of a seamless transition of power is pretty crazy.

Well, the plot has a few holes, but you can’t realistically have a comic book story with a Nazi nuclear bomb factory without at least one of the things going off, can you. So Nogoodnik gets it between the eyes. The end.

Now, even if Cameron had to resign, that wouldn’t necessarily mean a general election. Some other fanatic could take over. Iain Duncan Smith accidentally having the premiership thrust upon him via a succession of unfortunate events has a sort of queasy plausibility. It’s the sort of thing that happens to him, like writing a terrible novel, or marrying an heiress, or being saved from the political scrapheap…by prominent Yesman Bob Holman, of all people.

Jerry’s Final Thought, and #burybadnews

If you haven’t yet, read the Rodent who says some of the same things I’ve been saying but more fun, and shorter, and Scottish. Beyond that, I’d like to point out that tomorrow’s vote is a licence for two of the slimiest pols in the game to agree whatever they want and ram it to everyone else, claiming it’s irrevocable. Draw your own conclusions, and if it doesn’t work out, the 2015 general election could become a referendum on the terms.

Anyway, still trying to look ahead a little, here’s a micro-project of mine. With the biggest political event since oxygen nailed on for tomorrow, it’s a racing certainty flacks in droves will be gagging to bury bad news. That disturbing research finding, unpopular announcement, or long-delayed FOI application? Tomorrow’s the day.

Being modern an’ all, if you see it, report it on #burybadnews like so.