Category Archives: Media

‘UK gloom risks clouding real picture’

THAT’S not my headline, incidentally, but the FT’s.

Any politician who dares suggest that the country isn’t doomed (particularly if he or she’s a minister) gets pilloried for a fool. But since I am not a minister, and since I’m used to being pilloried, can I recommend this article, which paints a fairly balanced, though still depressing, picture of our economic prospects. 

Nevertheless, it contains this interesting, previously overlooked morsel:

Economists expect household disposable income to grow this year at 1.4 per cent, twice last year’s level and almost 50 times faster than in 2007.

Although investors demand higher yields on government debt than in Germany, they are more willing to hold UK government and corporate paper than they were in October. The trade position is improving and with oil prices falling, a fiscal stimulus and substantial state support for banking, Britain is about to enjoy the most powerful fillip the economy has seen.

I accept the argument made in a previous thread that it’s not always fair to accuse someone of “talking down the economy” just because he points out an unwelcome fact. Similarly, it’s absurd that anyone who suggests the UK is not going bankrupt and that we will, at some point, emerge from the other side of the downturn, is an out-of-touch, demented loon.
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Filed under Economy, Media

An Obama-free zone

DON’T take the headline the wrong way: most readers know I prayed for an Obama victory in November and was overjoyed when he won.

But it’s the only thing everyone else is talking about and you can’t escape it – it’s all over every newspaper, radio station and TV channel. So today, consider this site a little island of calm, untouched by the frenzy and jubilation of this historic inauguration day, free from the screeds of analysis and reportage, speculation and vox pops.

And another thing… where real life needn’t intrude.

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Filed under Barack Obama, Blogging, Media, United States

I wonder how Jeff Randall votes?

Jeff RandallIMAGINE the reaction from the foaming hordes if, talking about the state of the economy in 1991, a BBC presenter had said: “What would I do if I were the government? Resign.”

But it’s 2009, not 1991, and Jeff Randall doesn’t work for the BBC, he works for Sky News. Of course, few of my own commenters seem to accept that, legally, Sky News is under the same obligation as any other broadcaster to maintain neutrality and objectivity.

So it seems strange that Randall makes this politically-biased claim in the advert running regularly on Sky at the moment. I suppose he’s got to do something to attract attention away from Robert Peston. And Randall was, until recently, editor at large of the Telegraph. Never having seen his actual programme, I accept it’s possible he is entirely objective and fair.

His advert, however, clearly isn’t.

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Filed under Economy, Media

The truth about Labour and the middle classes

PETER Hitchens is an odd chap, isn’t he?

He uses language that is unavoidable for a tabloid columnist: extreme, uncompromising and shocking in equal measure. Did I mention “plain daft”?

His latest rant is on Labour’s alleged hatred of the middle classes. The governent’s determination to fight poverty is merely an excuse, claims Hitchens, to destroy the middle classes. Oh dear.

It’s true that Labour is, and always has been, committed to fighting poverty. That’s one of the reasons I joined up 24 years ago. It’s also true that if you’re going to fight poverty, you’re probably going to target those most likely to be affected by poverty: in other words, those families at the bottom end of the income scale (I know that sounds too obvious for words, but Hitchens seems to believe that any resources not spent on those who already enjoy middle class lifestyles is, by definition, wasted money).

But Labour’s focus on abolishing child poverty is not, as he (deliberately) patronisingly claims, for the “aah” factor. It is simply because children who are offered the same opportunities as their wealthier contemporaries are far more likely to lead productive lives as adults and be better parents. It’s called breaking the cycle of poverty, Peter. Why am I not surprised you’re against that?

It’s true that there was a time when the Labour Party believed in leveling down economically, when high taxes were  seen as A Good Thing in themselves, regardless of how the revenue would be spent. The electorate, however, had other ideas and the Labour Party of Michael Foot was kept away from the levers of power.

Hitchens fails to grasp the truth of Tony Blair’s achievement in the creation of New Labour: Blair convinced the party that it was not only okay for people to aspire – to want a bigger home, to want their kids to go to a better school, to want a better (or even a second!) car, to want better and more frequent holidays, to want to earn more – but that it was positively desirable.

Far from hating the middle class, the government wants to expand it – not by redefining it, but by raising our poorer citizens up, by getting them off benefit and into work, by helping them to realise their ambitions, to aspire.

In other words, to encourage everyone – or as many as feasibly possible – to become middle class themselves.

Mrs Thatcher realised, long before her party did, that giving working class people an economic stake in society was not only electorally profitable – it was morally right. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown learned that lesson. However, unlike the Conservatives, Labour believes that those economic and cultural opportunities should be afforded to everyone, even the poorest in society.

Maybe Hitchens believes a “full up” sign should be placed on the door of middle class-dom?

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Filed under Economy, Media

In praise of… W?!

REGULAR followers of this blog will know I’m hardly a fan of W, what with the stolen election, Guantanamo Bay, CIA agents being publicly identified, etc.

But listening to The News Quiz on Radio 4 tonight has almost made me a supporter of the 43rd, even at this late stage in his presidency. It almost made me throw up listening to those so, so clever, self-satisfied,  smug panellists (I exempt Jeremy Hardy from this criticism because he is actually funny) smirking loudly at Bush’s (admittedly phoney) Texan accent and laughing at their own witty observations about how stupid he (and therefore America) is.

(And that was before the whole embarrassingly self-congratulatory rubbish about jolly hockey-sticks protests against Heathrow’s third runway, to which all the contestants were inevitably, predictably and depressingly opposed. Still, I guess you use Gatwick to fly out to your Tuscany villa, don’t you?)

Anyway, back to W: whisper it, but no-one gets to be president of the world’s only super power by being stupid. Yes, he mangles his syntax more violently than John Prescott at an NFU rally, but just because he can’t swap repartie with Stephen Fry does not make him a hillbilly. His record on aid to Africa, for one thing, puts all his predecessors to shame.

Admittedly, his record on just about everything else is rubbish, and, as I said, listening to The News Quiz only made me almost support him. But spare me the political “wisdom” of most (not all) of these Radio 4 comedians. Honestly, by the way the Toksvig sneers self-approvingly, you would think she’s a Liberal Democrat or something.

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Filed under Media, United States

Newsnicht

WHEN I was sacked as a minister, I decided I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as “that MP who talks about trains”, which is why my first PMQ since was on a completely unrelated subject.

Nevertheless, there are occasions when it’s hard to escape the fact that in two years I managed to pick up one or two bits of knowledge about the industry. Which is, presumably, why I was asked to go on Newsnight Scotland (or Newsnicht, as it’s sometimes known by the jaded and cynical, ie, me) last night to discuss the prospects of high-speed railway lines ultimately linking Scotland with London.

So here we are, if you’re interested. Sorry it took so long to post, but this YouTube uploading lark is trickier than I thought.

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Filed under Department for Transport, Media, TV

Too much information

SO, THE Information Commissioner has ruled that ministers can’t have private meetings any more.

This is undoubtedly a cause of celebration for LibDem MPs who don’t expect ever to be in government anyway. But at the risk (and for “risk” read “certainty”) of being accused of being an anti-democratic control freak, there can sometimes be good reasons for holding private meetings where a record isn’t taken. The most successful negotiations, between ministers and his civil servants, between departments or between a department and an outside body, can very often start with an informal discussion that, technically, didn’t actually happen.

No more, apparently. Openness and transparency counts more than successful delivery of policy, I suppose. Hooray for the Freedom of Information Act and the Information Tribunal.

As a transport minister, I once received a request from the department’s press office for details of the car I drive as a “civilian”, as it were. I informed my private secretary that, naturally, I wouldn’t be divulging that information. But out of curiosity, I asked the press officer in question why he wanted the information. He said he had received a request from The Times for the make and model of car each minister drove in their private lives. 

Why should this information be divulged? What would be the rationale, I asked? Because if the department is telling people what kind of car to drive, their own choice of car was a matter of public interest, came the reply.

Two points of interest here: the Department for Transport doesn’t tell anyone what kind of car to drive, and I certainly wouldn’t have anyway. And even if that was something it did, I still wouldn’t have dreamed of divulging that kind of thing.

I pointed out to the disappointed press officer that if we agree to give out details of the (non-government) cars we drive, the next thing will be a demand to know if we intend to take a long-haul flight when we go on holiday, or whether or not we have central heating installed in our homes. A flea in the ear was duly administered.

Of course, that particular piece of information was not applied for under FoI, but under MOPB (Minding Other People’s Business). Still, given some of the recent rulings of the Information Tribunal, had it come under FoI, they would probably have sanctioned it.

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Filed under Department for Transport, FOI, Media