Fiscal Cliffs and Monty Python Politics

December 31, 2012

always look zazzleIt may not add to anyone’s good humour, if I conclude LWD blogs for 2012 with thoughts from a book entitled “It’s Even Worse than it Looks”

Don’t end the year downbeat, I promised myself. It’s a new dawn. And all that stuff. I turned to the book I have been reading “It’s even worse than it looks” by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein.

These gentlemen did not offer me much cheer. Their earlier work had the uplifting title The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get it Back on Track. Their main thesis in both books is that the American Political System is in a near-terminal mess. The brilliant system of checks and balances to preserve individual freedoms has become a means of arriving at lose/lose decisions for the people of America and even for politicians struggling to wrest personal or party gains regardless of longer term consequences.


Mann and Ornstein are political theorists with powerful access to the corridors of power in Washington. It’s ’Even Worse than it Looks” examines the January 2011 congressional struggle which attempted to reach an agreement to deal with the US debt. The brinkmanship revealed the two factors which are believed by the authors to lie at the heart of the matter: Increasingly adversarial stances between democratic and republican politicians, and a system which results in blocking of the proposals by the majority party. Such an argument has a disturbing ring of truth in 2011, and is even predictive of what seems to be arriving in January 2012, now dressed up in terms of a metaphoric Fiscal Cliff.

Another crisis?

If this is not a crisis for the American economy what is it? One possibility is that we are witnessing another outbreak of limited leadership vision If so, it has not gone unnoticed by the electorate. As the 2011 infighting continued, a poll cited by Mann and Ornstein showed confidence in politicians had slumped to an all-time low of 9%.

In other words, there is too much posturing posing as leadership. There are still plenty of folk out there convinced that “It’s all their fault”, but that sort of conviction is part of the problem. Mann and Ornstein suggest remedies including increasing the proportion of the electorate participating in politics at the most basic level through voting. They also would address gerrymandering of various kinds, and favour some form of proportional representation. The proposals seem more tentative that those for getting America back on track (their earlier book).

Always look on the bright side

The debate will continue. Some may take comfort in the view that it is all Mickey Mouse politics which will eventually be resolved as damaged global economies gradually become less turbulent. In the meanwhile, in the gloriously ironic strains of a tune and words from Monty Python, we might as well Always look on the bright side of life, de dum, de dum, de dumpty dum, de dum.

And a happy new year to you all out there.

2013 Postscript

The negotiations went according to plan, if you believe the insider account from Politico.

Ed Miliband’s Conference Speech. Unedited Notes as it Happened

October 2, 2012

Tudor Rickards

Unedited notes posted immediately after Ed Miliband’s speech [3pm Tuesday 2nd October, 2012] Notes to be updated and revised later. [Asides by TR made at the time]

Relaxed style. Good confident start. Avoided podium and notes.. Speech had been leaked thoroughly.

Almost good joke to start. Told of his son who wanted to help him write his speech which must have ‘lots of dinosaurs in it’.

Strong style. Was it because his speech tics of Prime Minister’s Question time had been coached out?

Regulation applause seemed early on more obligatory than acclamatory. Evolked (surprisingly) Disraeli, for the concept of One Nation. Implicit ‘we are not under this Government, all in this together’.

Nice bit about understanding why people voted for David Cameron, acknowledging the tough start imposed..[slipped in a political swipe about the double dip recession worse than last one under a Tory regime].

If the medicine’s not working you change the medicine [warmer applause]. Adds [with good timing] …and you change the doctor.

Bit of millionaire bashing re ‘high tax rate rebate’.

Chief Whip bashing.

Nick Clegg bashing. [But aimed at the Leader not the Lib Dem party]

Good rousing attack on Government ineptitude (an ambush by multiple barbed arrows) gained louder applause. [TV picks out reluctant listeners and reluctant applauders].

Message to the banks: Fix it yourselves or we’ll fix it for you. If not The next labour government will sort out banks …once and for all.

Emphasized need to help give better chances for the 50% who won’t go to University. Technical Bacculaureate. Plans apprenticeship obligation for contractors.

Gove’s educational policy divisive. We won’t go back to that. [applause is warmer at last]

Attempt to deal with financial short termism. Offers to work with Business. Offers to be Euro-friendly.

“Here’s my difference on immigration. Recognise strengths as well wrong policies.”

[An aside from TR: That repeated clapping. Now I remember. It’s graduation day. Every one claps. It’s necessary, albeit tiring and mostly tiresome].

Magic of the NHS. Cameron has broken his election pledge to protect it. [Bit of a stage managed standing ovation]. Labour will repeal the NHS Bill. [Another aside: Not another reorganisation?]

Would there be a strong ending? Almost. Was it coherent? Yes. Was it a confident speech? Yes. It generally exceeded expectations (although expectations were generally low].

Reflections and analysis to follow

George Osborne. My role in his political rescue

February 23, 2011

Just as Spike Milligan played a part in Hitler’s downfall, I can claim my modest role in the rescue of George Osborne from political oblivion

Not alone of course. Gentle George may never know that I was among millions of loyal citizens whose collective efforts in January 2011 rescued the Chancellor’s political career.

Your country needs you

You could say I failed to heed the first calls to service. As Christmas approached I was beguiled by the gentle and soothing reminders by the lovely Moira Stewart that my country needed me. Or at least it needed my contribution, however small, to buttress its finances.

I was under the comfortable impression that before January the 1st I should find an hour or so to complete my tax return on line. Maybe while waiting for Her Royal Highness to speak to her subjects on Christmas Day.

George was too busy fighting the Generals

In hindsight I was too soothed when what I needed was a sharper call to arms. Perhaps George himself in Kitchener pose, pointing down sternly at slackers from posters on every street corner. Your country needs your taxes. But George had been fighting on the city front, urging the Generals of the banking world to do their bit. For whatever reason, the little people constituting the big society had to show their loyalty without further leadership from the top.

So sometime in the week before the deadline of of January I settled down to feed into the Government’s database the relatively straightforward account of my earnings. I know it was during that week, because the website Moira had directed me to was quite curt. “Too late” it snarled. “You will now incur a £100 penalty because it takes over a week for your return to be processed”. Hmm.

More electronic hurdles

Somewhat shocked by the news, I pressed ahead. Only to discover there were several more electronic hurdles to jump over. For reasons I can’t remember the password I had used was no longer valid. I learned how I could be sent this vital information but that is a State secret about which I will remain silent and which took a week to reach me. Then, when the system accepted my password it needed a new User ID which again could only be communicated through similar Top secret channels.

Meanwhile January turned into February. The face of the world was changes as revolutions gripped the Middle East. And I had still failed to send my contribution to help my country in its darkest hour of financial need.

The electronic doors open

But then after several weeks of regular battles to be let in, the mighty electronic doors at the Government Gateway opened up to me. I was in. A hundred or so clicks later and I had committed myself to swelling the country’s fighting funds by at least as much as a Premiership footballer does in the time it takes to play a game.

Even the Guardian, no friend of General Osborne, admitted a great victory had been won:

Government finances show biggest surplus since 2008. Bumper income tax receipts bring a January surplus of £3.7bn and could put coalition on track to meet borrowing targets

And I could feel pride in the role I had played in rescuing my country and Mr Osborne from ruin.