Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Riposte II

Is this a spoof?

Regarding your four reasons for trusting Cameron, Osborne and Hague:

I will concede that the first reason, that they have sound judgement. (Albeit, as Iain Martin reminded us yesterday, this sound judgement usually arises only after a three year delay.)

I suppose I cannot deny your second reason, that they are courageous. (The most feeble election campaign in history, the slowest and smallest cuts programme imaginable, a disproportionately pro-Lib Dem coalition, ceding the terms of debate to Labour - all brave, ambitious decisions I'm sure.)

 I will wholeheartedly agree with the third reason that they are all profoundly patriotic (even if Cameron will sometimes refer to the English as Little Englanders, cede powers to the EU when we're not looking, and publicly belittle our standing in the world).

And as for your fourth and final reason, that they are "in possession of the facts"... I've got to wonder what it is they aren't telling us.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A riposte

Bruce Anderson:
"In response to such an account of Mr Cameron's electoral difficulties, some of the belly-achers become positively Bennite. David Cameron lost because he was not offering proper Toryism. He should have campaigned on scrapping the 50p rate and no ring-fencing for the NHS. If that had been the Tory platform, it is just possible that Gordon Brown might still be Prime Minister."

Complete and utter nonsense. Nobody is suggesting he should have campaigned on such a platform, because everybody recognises your statement of the obvious.

However: the 50p rate is economically illiterate, and there is a strong case for saying that bringing it back to 40p (where the rich still pays substantially more than anyone else) would mean everyone else would be required to pay less tax and receive more from their public services (and the economy in general). Nobody in the government is making this case, at least publicly, because the government is scared of making a complicated argument, even one that is eminently winnable. This is of course something they could be doing now they're in the first half of a term, rather than approaching a general election as you preposterously suggest. The challenge is to make the message about such a change being of benefit to the masses more than to the rich, and then hammer that message in relentlessly.

The NHS ring-fencing was recognised as an unaffordable promise early on and given that Labour was even ruling it out themselves the promise should probably have never been made. By defining himself around that message Cameron runs the risk of coming across as a promise-breaker. But worse, in defining public services by the amount of taxpayers' money poured into them, the Tories have been dancing to Gordon Brown's tune - when before, with the "more for less" stuff, Cameron showed so much promise of doing otherwise.

Nobody, anywhere, is saying either of these examples are "quick fixes" that would get the economy booming again. Trying to fix the economy at all is like trying to rotate Blackpool Tower 45 degrees using only a hammer and a screwdriver. But holding onto failed policies like 50p tax is like trying to do all that with a ball and chain attached to your foot. Pointless and irresponsible. And it's treating the voters like they're idiots who can't be persuaded of anything.

Timing is everything in politics, and the time to make these arguments is now.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Squashed Easter Eggs

Don’t read this article unless you’ve seen the last three minutes of Doctor Who series 6 as reading this article would otherwise completely ruin all of it.

And indeed be sure to watch it first as nothing in this will otherwise make a lick of sense to you.

(Continued in full at Bleeding Cool.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The folly of talking about cuts

Why do politicians, journalists, lobbyists, activists and just about everyone talk about every kind of public spending alteration in the terms of "cuts" and "increases"? Totally in relativistic terms? I'm not even going to go into the debate about why these groups are relentlessly focussed on these inputs over what really matters, the outcomes. Why can't anyone in Britain have a genuine, analytical debate over what the appropriate level of spending, or taxation, is in any given dimension of the state?
Why does nearly every discussion start under the assumption that in pretty much every department the present state of affairs is the optimal status quo? Why are right-wingers advocating "lower taxes" rather than "low taxes", or at the very least talking about the level at which they think taxes should be appropriately set? Why are the numerous union activists chanting against "Tory cuts" spelling out in detail what they think the right level of public spending should be? (For that matter, we might as well ask, why did Labour cancel its last Comprehensive Spending Review? In doing so they completely absolved themselves of any fiscal credibility, passing the buck to their successors in every possible way.)
In fact why are the high-profile supposed Conservatives not making the case for right-wing policies, or further fiscal consolidation than is absolutely necessary? Do they seriously think that anyone who still supports them at this point would actually mind them going further with public sector spending cuts? Especially given there's a remarkably strong case that further such cuts are indeed necessary?
And on the speed of cuts as well. It has been reported to a moderate extent that had the Tories been in power alone, a hypothetical Tory majority government would have cut the entire deficit within the first year or so, and were held back by the Lib Dems. (I am mildly dubious about this because the Chancellor would still have been George Osborne, who was advocating Gordon Brown's spending plans until he decided it would be politically expedient to oppose them, rather too late.) That would presumably mean that by this point, today, in October 2011, we would be living in a United Kingdom with no national deficit at all. And government could plod along as usual without there being mandatory fiscal consolidation every single year. (By election time, most people would have forgotten there were any spending cuts at all!)
But, naturally, the mountain of debt would still remain - something that concerned me before the election, that Osborne's promise of eliminating the deficit was oversold, we need to be in substantial surplus for a long enough time before we can start making a serious dent into that mountain. And back here in reality, the real Osborne is borrowing more than ever before, with the debt mountain actually set to RISE by another £315 billion over the course of this parliament, to nearly £1.2 trillion. Which surely, we can all agree, is not an appropriate amount of debt for any country to be into...

Cameron's speech

Photo by Nick Pickles

I think there's scope for saying that Cameron's speech as a whole, while not containing many passages about growth specifically, encapsulated what it actually takes for Britain's economy to grow. This was very much more a speech about the British public than it was the British government. And ultimately, it is the public that makes the economy run at all, not the government (and nor should it be the government), so why not put the emphasis on that?

At the very least it marks a difference from the previous government which took all the credit for growth - and subsequently, quite hypocritically, denied any blame for recession. (Labour likes to cite international factors as the reason for the recession, as though international trade had nothing to do with those continuous quarters of growth they boasted so gleefully about. That's when they're not pinning all the blame on the banks, where of course they had absolutely nothing to do with removing the one regulatory mechanism that would have prevented a cash flow crisis from emerging, as soon as they entered office.)

A visible British success on the international stage in Libya. A complete transformation in educational standards. A house-building revolution. A cut in burdensome health-and-safety regulation that causes more problems than it solves. A nation of good health. Where good leadership and initiative is encouraged, and promoted. Where the unemployed are ready to work, equipped with the skills and motivation they need to maximise their productivity, and Britain's with it. Where unwanted children are adopted, rather than left to the care of the state, while well-off British couples (such as David Miliband and his wife) travel overseas to adopt their own. Where young people have the discipline and the motivation that they need to succeed in life. Where marriage forms the bedrock of society (regardless of the sexual orientations of the couple involved). And all done without breaking the bank - that's the way to build a solid economic foundation for the future, not using the arms of the state to prop up failed businesses and hire workers to perform pointless tasks that often intrude into ordinary people's lives at times when they aren't welcome. It's what people do that matters, not what the state does.

In some ways it is a shame that Cameron didn't completely bring all these ideas together into the theme of their impact on economic growth, or pointing out that the "can-do" attitude can extend to what government is capable even when it's spending less overall (not that I'm convinced it is spending less overall, strictly speaking). But on the other hand, the speech was presented as a call to arms, a rallying cry to the nation, and when you're trying to address a wider audience, speaking in terms of economic jargon will rarely achieve the intended effect. (Not that there's any chance much of this wider audience will have seen the whole speech, but it's always worth putting the effort in!)

Sometimes what is needed is not a push, not a shove, but a poke, a whisper in the ear. The economy will only grow if people collectively will it to grow. And by setting an upbeat tone, with an outlook designed to motivate people into action, Cameron can probably achieve a lot more than a few dozen government initiatives. Let's just hope that the next round of GDP figures bear this out.

Friday, September 30, 2011

750words - the anti-Twitter

It's my birthday today. And almost like a new year's resolution, I've decided to make a point of making resolutions for my birthday and then sticking to them. So this, for example, would be one of them - writing 750 words every day.

Of course as of writing this I have only written 54 words and am concerned I may not be able to persist with it for a very long as the well runs dry. Still, it is about quantity, not quality, I suppose. But should it be that way? Shouldn't one prioritise quality over quantity? Is there not significant value in conciseness, in boiling down comprehensive thought into a sentence or two? Must we reiterate things in order to get our point across? (Oh lord I'm only a sixth of the way through this exercise. Must remember to use fiction next time. Or copy-paste an old thing. Yeah, cheating, that'll help.)

In truth I have resisted writing much of anything of late, beyond the odd tweet. (Okay, quite a lot of tweets to be fair.) It gets me into the habit of writing short, pithy, concise points that are easier for the audience to read but it is somewhat constraining; I don't feel like there's much I can do to develop it into something genuinely useful. If I want to take myself seriously as a writer (and do I want to take myself seriously as a writer?) I'll need to be able to write at length on any given subject. And this tool might just get me into a rather good habit on that front.

Oh lord there's still two thirds to go...

So I suppose in a way this tool is the anti-Twitter. Rather than forcing you to compress everything into under 140 characters, it forces you to expand everything into 750 words. Instead of publishing everything to a public feed that anyone and everyone can read at their heart's desire, it publishes nothing at all. Not even if you ask it to. You have to copy and paste your words into something else if you want to publish them. And no social interaction with anyone at all, you're in complete and total isolation, which only really makes a difference if you actually use Twitter properly in the first place...

Over half way through! And I only ran out of steam twice in that last paragraph. Not quite the home stretch, but we're getting there...

I suppose you might get to the point at which you've run out of things to say. Or unique things at any rate. You might end up repeating yourself. You might even find yourself changing the mode of narrative midway through the piece you're writing. You never know. Hey, you might be writing something that a thousand miles away somebody else has already written. In fact for all I know, and now that I think about it of course this MUST be the case, virtually everybody has chosen this as the subject of their first 750words piece - not that there's any way to find out, given they're all private.

That's five hundred words down. Note to self: spell out numbers as words, it counts as more words that way. Further note to self: also write out your self-instructive thoughts as these also count as extra words. Even further note to self: adding "further" to the front of the previous sentence was an ingenious way to expand it, don't you think? Final note to self: push this gag any further and you'll break its elasticity.

Anyway, I've filled this piece up with a lot of blather, most of it intended humorously, and if I choose to publish any more of these I'll probably edit them down before I press "send". Not the way I've written things in the past; I usually tend to edit as I go, so this is an interesting and different way of doing things for me (and perhaps for the better as I rarely got anything done in the past). Perfectionism becomes a lot harder when you have made tweaking everything into a massive task, so perhaps what I write will be a bit less interesting, but a bit more insightful. Look there I go again, transforming a "maybe" into a "perhaps" before I've even finished writing the sentence out.

Ahhh, relief. Only twenty-four more words expected of me. So I've nothing left to say, but fgkjfgjkf dfkodffkl sjdfkj opgfgiofgtio sjsdhbjerio drfotrkormjkwe dfiojgnir qwyewe cbklg dfio rfdjogtr sejesrhj

Friday, September 23, 2011

Me on Question Time

My bit is midway through part 2, where I call Harriet Harman on something she said toward the end of part 1. I remember seeing her physically recoil like a jack-in-the-box! (The camera doesn't quite capture this.) Watch the whole thing through if you'd like to see it in context. You can see me gawping throughout.

Choice twitter comments (using the #bbcqt hashtag):

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

George Osborne, 50p tax etc

Westminster needs to stop looking at any 50p tax abolition as a tax cut and start looking at it as the end of a tax hike. At 40% high earners would still be paying a higher proportion of their income than everyone else and it is to Osborne's shame that he's never put it in these terms.

George Osborne is extremely wealthy and yet does not suffer from the 50% rate as his wealth is derived from family rather than current earnings - and yet he uses his enormous wealth as an excuse to bash the aspirational. He is a petty little man and a weak Chancellor.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

X-Men First Class

My semi-coherent advance review with Rich Johnston for Bleeding Cool.

Film out on 1 June 2011!

Monday, February 7, 2011

10 O'Clock Live

Just out of mindless curiosity I filled in a survey about Channel 4's new satirical offering, 10 O'Clock Live. (The survey at one point includes a revealing list of the show's regular contents, evidently cribbed from the run-sheet.) Unsurprisingly I got a bit carried away with the "additional feedback" form, which apparently is shared with Channel 4 executives. Given they are likely to balk at the ridiculous length of my critique, I share it here in the hope that at least SOMEONE will find it of enough interest to actually read and give feedback....

Top-tier talent wasted on dreadful writing. The jokes are rarely funny and never imaginative. The presenters work best in their off-the-cuff moments, reacting to things. Jimmy Carr is a brilliant talent who tells hysterically funny jokes in his stand-up work - perhaps he needs to work with the writing team more closely. (Perhaps you need a different writing team.)

Usually the bit that makes me laugh the most is the newspaper headlines at the end - usually just Charlie Brooker reading out the funniest headline. That doesn't reflect well on the writers, who unlike headline-writers are paid to come up with things designed to make us laugh.

It's all way too left-leaning - the guest discussions usually have a balanced panel but always hijacked by David Mitchell's Guardian-skewed viewpoint. This is just as prominent in his interviews: the first one, with David Willetts, was a relentless grilling, but actually shed some light on the subject that had got lost under all the broken promises, mindless slogans, smashed windows and poked Duchesses in other media coverage - despite Mitchell's attempts to create his own soundbites for the "case against". The second week, he didn't ask Alastair Campbell anything he hadn't already been asked a million times over (Iraq, Iraq, Iraq), giving him a pretty easy ride overall - due to Mitchell's predictable anti-war slant. And the Caroline Lucas interview was a bit of a love-in, Mitchell agreeing with her on virtually everything.

Also it's just plain weird seeing Mitchell without Webb, as an anchor at least...

I have no idea what Lauren Laverne is doing there. She doesn't add anything to the programme and her presence is a rather patronising (false) suggestion that there aren't any good female comedians out there. Some tension between the cast would be welcome too - they spend most of the programme looking at the camera rather than each other, usually saying very similar sorts of things, which can create a disturbing impression of a hive mind. A more stylistically and ideologically diverse cast would solve a lot of these problems - Mitchell, Brooker and Laverne are essentially cut of the same cloth, and this does not make for good chemistry (the Two Ronnies for example didn't share much in common beyond the same first name!).

"This Week" is on BBC One half an hour later and has for the past three weeks been a bit funnier and a lot more informative. That is what you are competing with.