The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘George Osborne’

Is Trident In Trouble?

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 30, 2010 @ 16:43

In Chewing Gum Administration

The fact that George Osborne has placed the cost of Trident within the Defence budget is quite an interesting gamble. It’s bound to enrage MoD types, and it’s made Dr Liam Fox, our esteemed Secretary of State for Defence, even more of a pariah than he already is.

The odds on Liam Fox being the next Cabinet minister to go are already high and will surely rise in the next few weeks if he starts to get a little stroppy over this decision. Surely Cameron is not already looking for yet another fight with his right-flank? One would have thought the whole coalition thing was bad enough for them to deal with, but seeing national security being chopped to help the budget deficit. Unthinkable!

The move will definitely endanger Trident, at least in its current form. There is no way the departmental budget can sustain its present guise and forthcoming renewal. So if they really want to keep it, major sacrifices will have to be made. Which is very unlikely, especially when there is obvious room for manoeuvre in the Trident budget.

It’s made me think, however. Is this actually a sop to the Lib Dems? Has Danny Alexander managed to persuade Osborne that, OK, we can’t cut Trident altogether, but can we at least do something – and give a credible, financial excuse – which forces the whole project to be reassessed? This allows the Tories to keep saying “we’re all in this together” and allows Lib Dems to quietly purr that, maybe, just maybe, we’re taking steps in the right direction, and we can all pretend the reason is “financial” so we don’t have to suffer the inevitable “SOFT ON TERROR!” attacks.

Politics is filled with trade-offs and calculating schemes of the highest order. This may well be one of them.

I hope so, anyway. It’s a damn sight more exciting.

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(Belatedly) Asking The Chancellors

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 31, 2010 @ 09:43

Vince got lucky to get the centre podium...

Because I was crazy busy on Monday, I spent Tuesday in catch up mode. One of these things included watching Monday’s excellent “Ask The Chancellors” debate on Channel 4.

I have a lot of time for Channel 4, in spite of their eternal quest for the yoof demographic that, by now, doesn’t give a shit for TV. But I have respect for them because, every now and then, they pull out a show of real quality, like this, even if it was watched by less than 2m people, while EastEnders, on at the same time, got at least 9m…

It was also a crafty piece of television. Channel 4, excluded from the Prime Ministerial Debates, got the second prize. After all, any show with Vince Cable in has to be worth watching. Better still, by getting in first, they have been able to set the bar for what the debates should be like. There’s no doubting that the rules of the Prime Ministerial Debates are going to make them much less engaging than this one.

My verdict on “who won” changed throughout the show. Partisan hacks on Politicalbetting.com spent the entire show bashing whoever they hated the most; at times I wasn’t sure I was watching the same show as them.

But doing my best impression of a dispassionate observer, I thought a case could be made for all three of the participants. Alistair Darling was his usual self: dry, solid, dependable. He also fired a few salvos at George Osborne when he got the chance, which muddied the waters on tax and tax credit policy a little.

George Osborne, meanwhile, had a decent night. I can’t bring myself to say I could ever like him – there is just something about his demeanour that makes him feel untrustworthy – but in spite of that, he seemed on top of his brief, with plenty of good lines of attack to undermine Darling and the Labour government. He doesn’t “look” like a Chancellor, and probably never will, but sounded like he would be confident enough in the job.

Vince Cable was his usual self: affable, relaxed and clearly in command of his portfolio. In terms of apparent engagement with the audience on set, he was by far the most successful. And, as we know, people don’t always vote on policies. His actual performance was sharp, full of witty barbs and very honest, frequently the only one to directly answer the question.

Darling didn’t attack Vince all night. Perhaps he knew there wasn’t much point. Osborne got extra credit for being prepared to take on The Cable, and did his best impression of being ganged-up on, but Vince always had at least a decent response.

It probably isn’t a shock, then, for me to say that I think Vince “won”; I am a Lib Dem after all. But I like to think it doesn’t blind me. I genuinely think Vince just edged the night, but the other two did very well. Especially George Osborne, who withstood and deflected attacks from the Darling-Cable tag team.

In terms of what effect it has on the voters, it was probably minimal. But it was good spectator sport, and for those of us who enjoy politics, a very tantalising appetiser for what’s on the way.

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0.1%

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 26, 2010 @ 10:37

Shamelessly stolen from elsewhere, as usual

This morning’s GDP figures for the last quarter of 2009 estimate that the UK economy exited recession during it by a miserable 0.1%. And, as all us part-time mathematicians will know, that could be anywhere between 0.05 and 0.14. Doesn’t seem much, but a rounding error like that probably represents several tens of millions of pounds…

It had been widely predicted that this would happen, but once again no one expected it to be so low as to be only just the end of the recession. Having said that, this is just an estimate, and though it can go up or down at the next revision, I expect it will go up.

Even so, it’s hardly the glittering mandate Gordon Brown was hoping for. The final proof that he had successfully guided us through the dark days, and the boom times are here again. Far from it. The country needs huge growth from here on in to ease the pain of the debt mountain, and that isn’t going to happen.

So Gordon, this is your reward. You decided to “go long”. Or rather, you didn’t decide. I’m utterly certain that if there wasn’t the pesky issue of local elections on May 6, Gordon would go right to the bitter end, clinging desperately to the trappings of state in the hope that something will come along to save the day.

It hasn’t, and it won’t. The next GDP figures will be due out three months from now, and they won’t show much of an improvement on this.

But really it’s not the next quarter that we’re interested in. Everyone knows this whole year is going to be extremely tough. Job cuts will continue. Pay freezes will be the order of the day. And George Osborne’s emergency budget (assuming it is him…) promises to be as tight as a duck’s arse.

That sets the scene for the double dip. Consumer spending is not going anywhere this year. Even more so if inflation starts to lift off; if it does, those historically low interest rates won’t stay historic for much longer.

This really is not a good election to win, you know…

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10 For 2010

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 1, 2010 @ 10:32

I dunno about you, but that just looks so cool!

In time honoured fashion, the start of a new year is always a good time to consider what it might herald. And so, not to be outdone by other bloggers who’ve done the same thing, I’m going to share with you 10 predictions for this year.

1 – The Conservatives will win the General Election (which will be held in May) with a majority of approximately 50 seats.

2 – George Osborne will not be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer.

3 – Gordon Brown will be replaced as Labour Party leader by Ed Miliband.

4 – Gordon Brown will get a job on the international stage and resign as an MP.

5 – The new Tory administration will suffer a scandal of some kind. Yes, I know this is very vague, and a total cop out, but I can’t quite put my finger on it…

6 – The Tories will scrap the ID card, but questions will remain over whether the database behind the project actually disappears with it.

7 – Obama will not only pass his healthcare reform bill, but will score a major political coup by passing comprehensive immigration reform, utterly dividing the Republican Party in the process.

8 – The Democrats will lose 30 seats in the House, and 5 seats in the Senate, worsening the already fractured relationship between Obama and an increasingly obstructive Republican minority.

9 – Australian PM Kevin Rudd will win the next federal election – a double dissolution – with a major landslide.

10 – The Iranian crisis will either culminate in the death of Mirhossein Mousavi or there will be a popular revolution. That’s another cop out, I’m sorry, but either way I think this will be a significant year for the Iranian situation.

Oh go on, one more, I hear you cry. Well, it’s not going to be what you’re expecting.

Arsenal will win the Premier League.

There, I’ve said it. Cos I’m interested in more than just politics, you know. I’m not that boring…

Hey, that was a lot of fun. Wish that could be my post every day!

And now I’m almost looking forward to the end of the year to see how spectacularly wrong I’m going to be. Wish me luck! Unless you don’t want any of those events to happen, of course.

Happy New Year to you all. Here’s to much more futile monstering in the year to come 🙂

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Did Darling Deliver?

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 10, 2009 @ 10:05

Poor Darling. What a crap hand he was dealt. Thanks, Gordon.

A few days ago, when talking about the then forthcoming Pre-Budget Report, I confidently predicted

I fully expect Alistair Darling to be fairly specific. After all, it makes no sense to be about to legislate for a halving of the deficit if you have no real plans to save money. If they don’t, it’s tantamout to sticking yet another “Kick Me” post-it note on the back of Gordon Brown’s head.

Well, it seems Mr Darling has done just that. Perhaps he is looking forward to the Labour government going down in flames at the next election, and wants to be the one that finally does for Gordon Brown.

Yesterday’s PBR was an exercise in procrastination. Lots of tinkering at the edges, lots of remarkable statistics – such as Darling only apparently being £3bn wrong on this year’s borrowing figure despite the economy falling 1 percentage point more than he thought it would – but the key issue was avoided.

The country’s current spending window runs to the end of 2010/11. This is most fortunate for the Labour government, as it means the overall spending limits for the next financial year are already known to government departments. As a consequence, it means Alistair Darling can dodge the issue.

Clever. Labour, seeing that the Tories are ascending to government without telling anyone what they actually want to do with it, are wanting a slice of the action.

Rather than being a responsible government, and trying to claim the mantle of honesty and fairness for themselves, they have instead deferred. The hot potato has been thrown up in the air, and it will land in someone’s lap some time after May 2010. I’d be utterly amazed, though somewhat delighted, if the possibility of a March 25 election actually happened, but I don’t think it will.

Too clever by half, in fact. But that’s politicians for you. There have to be cuts. It’s simply not possible to sustain such enormous and continued borrowing without eventually upsetting the markets. If Britain loses its top-tier credit rating, which may happen, the cost of further borrowing will rise even more, making cuts have to go deeper still.

But once again, what are the political alternatives on offer? Can we credibly believe George Osborne, who will not spell out his spending plans, even though we will be getting an emergency budget within weeks of a Cameron victory? He must have some idea where the axe is going to fall.

Does this leave scope for Vince Cable to come up with a gigantic masterplan, outlining in great detail what the country needs to do to relieve this burden? Or will doing so be just too much honesty for the British public to take?

We are in danger of having one great enormous lie as our election campaign. More so than usual! Politicians will be afraid of being too negative, for fear of scaring the country half to death.

We need them to be honest, however, or we’ll never face up to the terrible mess this country is in.

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Who Will Inspire Us?

Posted by The Futility Monster on October 7, 2009 @ 07:49

Osborne attending the wake for British electoral politics.

Osborne attending the wake for British electoral politics.

The next election is increasingly going to be one for the the manic depressives of this country.

George Osborne’s speech yesterday was a mixture of the glum, the moody and the foreboding sacrifices ahead for this country. The man struggled to break into a smile throughout the whole event, and if his whole demeanour is carried forward to the campaign, it’s going to make things rather difficult.

Where’s the hope? Where’s the optimism? American political speeches always have one key theme: we are American, and we will beat this. No matter what the topic, there is always a rallying cry towards the end which always says “we’ve come through worse times; our great American nature is what will make us get through this one”.

Perhaps I’ve got so used to the way Obama does it that no one comes close any more. Everyone is always a disappointment by comparison. Especially George Osborne, whose general behaviour and mannerisms seem extraordinarily wooden and aloof to me.

That’s not to say Osborne didn’t try. There was a vain attempt to set out what he would like his future Britain to be like for his children. But, as always from him, it felt contrived and lifeless. Dull, dull, dull.

Meanwhile, on the other side – who are now also talking about cuts – who are the leading protaganists? Alistair Darling. Gordon Brown. Harriet Harman. Alan Johnson. Not a dose of oratorical inspiration between them. Each have their own style, but none of them have the ability to get an electorate truly motivated about the choice that lies ahead. Especially if they’re all talking about cuts too.

The next election is, sadly, going to be all too real. There will be no grand visions of a transformed society with a new government. Instead, the economic situation necessitates a terribly dry election about numbers and what each party are going to do with them. The Germans have just went through exactly the same thing: in what most observers have called the most boring election ever. All parties wanted similar things. There were no huge issues. No scandals. No conflict.

At least there will be some conflict here to quicken that moribund pulse. Even if it is borne of the fake Mandelson-Osborne rivalry, purely for the TV cameras, it might get people listening. But otherwise, it’s going to be funereal: somber and composed.

There is scope for some party, or party figure, to drive a very compelling narrative here. One about “British values” of fairness and freedom; of stiff-upper-lipness in the face of a dual enemy: the economy and the environment. These are challenging times: but we can meet them by invoking the war-time spirit of community and togetherness in the face of a common threat to our existence.

See how easy it is?

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The West Wing of 10 Downing Street

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 30, 2009 @ 01:11

The late (and legendary) John Spencer as Leo McGarry from The West Wing

The late (and legendary) John Spencer as Leo McGarry from The West Wing

After reading this post on Political Betting I began to wonder how many people in David Cameron’s inner circle are fans of the West Wing. Or perhaps even Cameron himself enjoys a little dabble with Martin Sheen, et al.

The rumours are abound after Tim Montgomerie on Conservative Home lit the blue touch paper suggesting there might be some sort of other role for George Osborne. Could it be more akin to a Rahm Emanuel?

Every leader has to have their go-to man. Their fixer. Someone they trust implicitly because they know they have no leadership ambitions. It worked perfectly for Blair and John Prescott, because it was obvious Prescott was doing his last big job ever in politics. He was charismatic, a formidable opponent, a bit of a bully. Prescott did a job for Blair in keeping the party united, and was rewarded handsomely. Can you think of any other politician that might have got away with punching a member of the public in the face (no matter how much they deserved it)? Neither can I.

The problem with Blair and Prescott was that in order to maintain a ludicrous façade of Cabinet government, Prescott was given various ministries and Secretary of State roles, from which he unleashed a terrible wave of incompetence. Transport was his first failure. Then planning, local government, et al. Rather than just admit that he needed to have someone in the Cabinet who had no Cabinet responsibilities, and thereby admit to the growing presidentialisation of the office, Blair went out of his way to give Prescott something to do, pretending that there was a Cabinet “of equals”.

Personally, I’m done with the pretence that we have Cabinet government in this country. Cabinet government has been dead since Thatcher. We have a combination of a presidential Prime Minister (which is actually worse than a US President, since a US president has checks and balances) and a Whitehall bureaucracy that looks after itself and preserves the status quo very effectively.

Everything about our political culture revolves around a presidential idolisation of the party leadership. We vote in elections on the pretext of a local MP, but in most people’s mind is who they’d like to see as Prime Minister. The party leaders are increasingly the focus of all media, regardless of topic. Brown regularly makes statements in the Commons which could easily have been made by the relevant Secretary of State, which in turn gives Cameron the chance to reply. The party leaders also hold regular press conferences; Cameron even goes so far as to holding his in front of a “Rose Garden” backdrop.

In such presidential systems, there is inevitably one figure that fills the chief of staff role. If Osborne is destined to be Cameron’s Chief of Staff, then it would open up a very new and somewhat exciting page in British politics. At last we’ll have a tacit admission that the Cabinet is dead, and that there is a hierarchy of ministers – something that is essential to deal with the pressures of modern politics and media operations. At last we’ll have the most senior member of staff free of all other ministerial duties, allowing them to focus solely on knocking together the necessary heads in order to deliver the government programme; or, indeed, work in the opposite direction by keeping the leader in touch with party opinion.

Perhaps if Gordon Brown had a proper Chief of Staff he would have someone honest enough to tell him straight: that he has no chance, and that all around the Labour Party is in need of a clean-break, not another relaunch.

In other words, a proper Chief of Staff can do the arm-twisting and the sweet-talking, and be the eyes and ears on the ground, leaving the so-called Prime Minister free to focus completely on the broad picture. Meanwhile, you don’t get a ministerial post neglected or abused for the sake of ego – much as Ed Balls does with the Children, Schools and Families brief.

But most importantly of all, it would be the beginnings of a long, steady process that might, just might, see us get a system which has better ways and a definite framework for restraining the unfettered power of the executive in the British system.

That would cheer all of us liberals up.

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