Archive for November, 2017


In defence of John McDonnell. Don Brind denounces the “interview as humiliation”

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

“If only we Germans had a word for it”.

The BBC’s comedy news programme The Now Show came up with an imagined quote from Chancellor Angela Merkel reflecting on how her failure to form a new German coalition government was being relished by her detractors.

Two alleged car crash interviews by the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also inspired Schadenfreude and it was probably not confined to Tories. Over the years McDonnell has rubbed up against plenty of his PLP colleagues who would no doubt have felt that joy at the humiliation of another.

The Shadow Chancellor’s first encounter with Andrew Neil on the BBC Budget programme had them salivating . The second, with Mishal Hussein on the Today programme produced a splash for the Standard (remind me, who is the editor?). It claimed McDonnell was “ridiculed today when he repeatedly failed to put a figure on Labour’s borrowing plans”

McDonnell is one of Team Corbyn’s best communicators but he was below par on his early morning outing. He nonetheless made a perfectly sound case for investment in infrastructure “Every infrastructure project you put out there immediately starts employing people, they start paying their taxes and as a result of that you cover your costs.

But he threw in a complaint about “the type of journalism where you go into an interview and someone asks you a question of a particular figure, is to be honest, a trite form of journalism.”

It came across as a whinge but whenever I hear an interviewer ask repeat a simple question and then complain the politician hasn’t answered it I hear echoes of the Jeremy Paxman’s signature Newsnight interview in which he directed the same question to the then Home secretary Michael Howard twelve times.

That 1997 interrogation was widely admired and emulated but it became increasingly clear that Paxman’s journalism stemmed from deep cynicism and contempt for politics and politicians. This was confirmed five years later when he authored The Political Animal. It was reviewed in the New Statesman by John Lloyd . I made his powerful critique required reading for my students when I turned my hand to teaching politics and journalism.

Paxman, argued Lloyd, sees politicians as “demented, empty, lickspittle bunch; indeed, many may be psychologically flawed.” and Parliament as a “pantomime”.

According to Paxman, MPs see the fact politics has moved away from the Commons to the studios as a “Bad Thing, since it deprives them of the opportunity to hold the government to account in the cockpit of democracy. They have yet to explain why this process can be done only in a converted chapel under rules of conduct, some of which date back to the 16th century.”

Lloyd concluded gloomily “Paxman – as an approach rather than an individual – has won. His style of journalism – the interview as humiliation, or personality clash – is now the preferred type

“Broadcast news and current affairs, for all its many splendours, is now an anti-democratic conspiracy. No one, it seems, can do anything about it.”

That’s undoubtedly an overstatement – I certainly don’t believe that McDonnell’s interrogators, Andrew Neil and Mishal Hussein, share Paxman’s cynicism and contempt. But when you hear a question repeated over and over it’s worth asking whether that question is aimed at enhancing understanding of a complex issue or whether it’s about making the journalist look good and showing the politician is a fool.

Don Brind


Marf with a solution for the Irish border issue

Monday, November 27th, 2017


Some Royal wedding betting markets

Monday, November 27th, 2017


I’m going for a wet May 2018 wedding with the Obamas attending.

Paddy Power have some markets up following this morning’s announcement. I think May is the most logic date fitting around the bank holidays and fits the announcement of a spring wedding.

5/2 on it raining in May seems huge to me, and as for attendees to the wedding, many have said Prince Harry and President Obama have a bromance, so I’ll back the Obamas attending.

As for the location, I’m unsure what the protocols are for the Prince marrying a divorcee, it might rule out Westminster Abbey. When Prince Charles remarried a divorcee they were married at Windsor Guildhall instead of Windsor Castle because ‘it was discovered that the legal requirements for licensing the royal castle for civil weddings would require opening it up to other prospective couples for at least three years’ so I’m not backing Windsor Castle either.

There are other markets available but the odds are rather unattractive or designed to enrich Paddy Power.



The timing of this leak makes me think it is all about ousting Damian Green, and ultimately Mrs May

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Timing is everything.

Sam Coates of The Times has a very intriguing story in today’s Times.

Damian Green offered to funnel money to the Democratic Unionist Party in a secret side deal, The Times can reveal.

Theresa May’s de facto deputy ­offered Conservative Party funding for a salary for a senior DUP employee after the confidence and supply agreement had been completed in the summer. The revelation has angered some Tory MPs who said that it would be an inappropriate use of party funds. One donor said they would be furious if they discovered that money had gone to a different party.

No 10 said that the arrangement had not been put into motion but did not ­deny that the offer had been made….

….The Times understands that over the summer the Northern Irish party suggested that it wanted the creation of a DUP adviser paid from government funds. This was on top of the deal between the Tories and the DUP after the June election that means that the party’s MPs keep Mrs May in office.

The special adviser proposal was turned down by Sue Gray, the government’s head of propriety and ethics, who works in Mr Green’s department….

….The Times understands that Mr Green and Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, had discussed what to do about the role once Ms Gray had turned it down. It was agreed that the Tory party would pay directly for the position.

Such an arrangement would mean that Mr Green was in effect agreeing to fund the work of a competitor to the Conservative Party, since otherwise the salary would have been funded by the DUP. The Tories continue to have an active branch in Northern Ireland even though they do not have any MPs

The interesting aspect of this story is the timing, this story has been known since the summer, but it has been leaked today, after Green attended the DUP conference this weekend and pertinently whilst he is currently under investigation for a variety of reasons. It damages Green further.

Damian Green who is Mrs May’s oldest friend in politics and has been shoring up her position since the calamity of June 8th, so if Tories wishing to topple Mrs May, forcing Damian Green’s resignation might be a prelude to that.

As someone who has been paying his subs to the Tory party since 1997 and regularly donates money to the Tory party, I’m rather annoyed my money would be used to fund another political party. I expect major donors to the party might be similarly annoyed.

Far too much effort is spent on ensuring Theresa May remains Prime Minister, and not enough effort on what is in the best interests of the party and the country.



My 100/1 tip for next PM is setting his sights on Number 10

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

The Sunday Times report

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt has sounded out colleagues and party donors about a run for the Tory leadership when Theresa May stands down.

Senior Eurosceptics say Hunt is lining himself up as an alternative to Boris Johnson as the main Brexiteer candidate for prime minister after publicly switching his support from “remain” since the general election.

The foreign secretary’s gaffes have contributed to a view that a heavy hitter who supports Brexit will be needed to take on either Amber Rudd, the home secretary, or Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, when May steps down — which is expected towards the end of 2019.

One of May’s aides said Downing Street became suspicious of Hunt’s ambitions earlier this month when “briefings started appearing that he would make a splendiferous chancellor”.

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt has sounded out colleagues and party donors about a run for the Tory leadership when Theresa May stands down.

Senior Eurosceptics say Hunt is lining himself up as an alternative to Boris Johnson as the main Brexiteer candidate for prime minister after publicly switching his support from “remain” since the general election….

….One of May’s aides said Downing Street became suspicious of Hunt’s ambitions earlier this month when “briefings started appearing that he would make a splendiferous chancellor”.

But Eurosceptic power brokers say Hunt’s ambitions extend to No 10 as well as No 11.

Back in July it was clear Jeremy Hunt was on manoeuvres and I tipped taking the 100/1 on Hunt to be Mrs May’s successor. He’s got a lot of good things going for him. He’s proved to be a very competent Secretary of State in probably the most tricky cabinet job, despite the opprobrium regularly heaped on him. He’s also a very successful businessman, and crucially he’s switched from backing Remain to Leave since the referendum.

Switching from Remain to Leave will assuage concerns of Leavers, plus won’t taint him as being one of  Putin’s puppets. He’d also gain the support of  the Cameroon wing of  the party, as he’d espouse the social and domestic policies of David Cameron, who is after all the only Tory to win a majority in the last 25 years.

At the time of writing, William Hill and Paddy Power were offering 66/1 on Jeremy Hunt to be next PM, my advice is to take those odds, even purely as trading bet it should be profitable. Jeremy Hunt wants to be PM, it has been clear for months, and he’d do a damn sight better than Theresa May.



A New Ireland?

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

There is no word for schadenfraude in Gaelic, or English, for that matter. Still, the Irish can be forgiven for feeling more than a touch of it as their needs seem to be one of the key – and very possibly the hardest – of issues to be resolved in the Article 50 negotiations. It is probably fair to say that of all the issues which exercised voters over the years in relation to the EU and Britain’s role in it (immigration, control over laws, the right to have a free trade agreement with nameless faraway countries, the amount paid to the EU), the effect on Ireland of our EU membership and possible departure was not high on the list.

The idea that the Irish might veto the start of trade talks has triggered a bout of condescending fury amongst certain newspapers and politicians. How dare a small poorer island so dependent on Britain challenge Britain’s right to determine its own destiny in whatever way it sees fit? Such impertinence! And yet, impertinent or not, British politicians now face having to grapple with how to accommodate Irish interests and the minutiae of Irish politics, both north and south of the Irish border, a task made even harder by the government’s dependence on DUP votes for a majority.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this has come as an unwelcome surprise to many of the romantically optimistic Brexiteers, reinforced by a perception that in the 17 months since the referendum the hard thinking about how to reconcile the government’s preferred Brexit with the Northern Ireland agreement, the CTA and all the other ties that bind Ireland and Britain simply has not been done.

It is not the first time, of course, that the question of Ireland has dominated – or persisted like a recurring bout of shingles in – English politics.

From Tudor times onwards, no English government has been able to ignore Ireland. Indeed, a policy for Ireland was essential Mostly, this was for strategic reasons to protect Britain’s flank from Continental invasion, often aided by the rebellious Irish (Wolfe Tone). Sometimes it was because the very existence and legitimacy of the English constitutional settlement depended on victory in Ireland (the Battle of the Boyne).

On occasion the constitutional settlement was changed as a result of events in Ireland (the Act of Union). And ever since the Reformation, the religious question added an extra level of friction which poisoned Anglo-Irish relations in a way which it is hard for a largely secular society accustomed to a mildly apologetic Anglicanism to understand. And throughout, always, the question of land: who owned it, who benefited, who was dispossessed, who could live on it, how many mouths it could feed – or, tragically, not. A question which, together with Irish demands for a form of self-government, took up a significant amount of Parliamentary time and governmental energy throughout the 19th and early 20th century, in a way unimaginable today.

The Irish question was never a sideshow, much as some might have wished it so. A small country on the edge of a great Empire, an island whose main export was its people, almost in spite of itself, punched above its weight in its impact on the politics and culture of its dominant neighbour.

And even in the last century when Ireland (or the greater part of it) broke away, Irish nationalism continued to have an impact, though less on Parliament and more on those institutions which underpin or support the rule of law and security: the army (the Curragh Mutiny and the Tory party’s support for violent resistance to Parliamentary decisions are an ironic counterpoint to the current Labour leadership’s past support for violent Irish nationalism, though Corbyn is unlikely ever to draw attention to it.)

The police and English judiciary (whose investigations of terrorist crimes and responses to miscarriages of justice in the 1970’s were not their finest hour) and the Northern Irish authorities, whose behaviour resulted in Britain being found guilty of degrading and inhumane treatment.

It is not surprising that having finally put this bloody and neuralgic history behind it, best exemplified by a few well-chosen words by HMQ at Dublin Castle and a symbolic bow before a memorial to the dead, Ireland should feel so concerned by the prospect of a reintroduction of hard borders and all that this entails.

So. Can Britain learn any lessons from this long shared history? Might it too now become once again an island country on the edge of a large dominant polity but punching well above its weight? The romantically nostalgic Brexiteers must hope so.

Or is another Irish example its more likely future? The example set by the Ireland of the 20th century, perhaps? A country which, after barely taming its internal divisions following its messy departure, retreated into itself, played little part in world affairs, seemed content with a traditional and stifling cultural zeitgeist (recently revealed to have hidden a multitude of sins), exported its young, was seen as a problem by its neighbours (when they were wearily forced to pay it attention) and only rediscovered its mojo when it rejoined a larger stage.



From YouGov: The budget in five charts

Saturday, November 25th, 2017



The sun is rising in the East

Saturday, November 25th, 2017

Never mind the crocodile: the dragon is now the power in Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe is probably not a man much amused by historical irony. That’s a shame because if he was he might appreciate the various mirror images between his enforced retirement and the downfall of the Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah of Bengal in 1757. The Nawab – at 24, nearly seven decades younger than Mugabe – was deposed by the East India Company after it bribed his commander with the offer of the crown provided he betray his prince at the Battle of Plassey, which he duly did. That action laid the foundation stone of the British Empire in India. Mugabe, by contrast, led Zimbabwe into independence and in so doing, set the sun on the last large piece of territory in the Empire.

However, what goes around, comes around. 37 years after closing the door on one empire, his downfall might well mark the point at which another finally broke cover.

The British press have naturally been fairly quiet on this point. Mugabe has for years been a comedy villain for them (comedy being easier when it’s 5000 miles away) and Mugabe was happy to keep revisiting alleged British interference for domestic purposes. It’s all refighting imaginary battles from a vanished world order – as is the question of Zimbabwe’s status in the Commonwealth: who cares?

These echoes of the past have distracted from the actions of the present. The most telling feature of the Zimbabwe coup was that it was clearly green-lit by China. As in Bengal 260 years ago, the subordinate assumed the crown on the overthrow of the former leader backed by the shift in allegiance of the army and undoubtedly with the approval if not outright connivance of the great power.* Gen Chiwenga, the commander of the Zimbabwean army, was in China only a week before the coup. It’s inconceivable that he didn’t discuss it while there, not least because it’s equally inconceivable that it would have gone ahead had China been opposed.

The simple reason why China has an interest is money. China is Zimbabwe’s biggest foreign investor and its key supplier of military equipment. It has an interest in the political stability and economic welfare of the country (note – that means it doesn’t have an interest in democracy). Neither of these were being served by Mugabe. Can we know for certain that it wasn’t a purely domestic matter? No, and to be fair, the timing may have been forced given what looked like an incipient purge from the Mugabes of their opponents but all the same, the meshing of interests is clear.

Nor is Chinese investment limited to just Zimbabwe. In 2015, China had 107 companies operating in Zimbabwe, which meant it didn’t even make it into the ten most active trade partnerships (Nigeria, with 334, was top, followed by South Africa on 229 and Zambia on 213). Overall, China is now Africa’s largest trading partner. It’s also a key supplier of low-interest finance for infrastructure investment. With money comes power, as Britain well knew.

And the flip side is that the trade and investment is at a level which forces China to take an interest in the domestic stability of these countries. The goods it’s buying – raw materials, above all – are essential to its economy. Africa is the second-largest regional supplier of oil to China, after the Middle East, for example. As with all great global trading powers, particularly those with large and growing overseas investments, core national interests demand open and reliable sea lanes, reliable partner regimes and overseas military bases to protect not only its economic interests but also its people (there are now more than a million Chinese in Africa). It is not that China is actively seeking a scramble for Africa – on the contrary, it’s been remarkably tentative about using its power – it’s that the outcome is an almost inevitable consequence of having grown as it has.

The true mark of a superpower is the ability to act contrary to the world’s norms, with impunity, providing that the action does not cross the essential national interests of another superpower. The US and Soviet Union used to sponsor regime change and before them, the European powers did likewise when they didn’t take a more direct interest. Nawab Siraj wasn’t the first and certainly wasn’t the last to suffer at the hand of proxies.

Why does this matter now? Because it’s symptomatic of the West’s weakness and lack of strategic capability. The foreign policy of the US is a scream in a vacuum and that of the European powers is introspective and ineffective. While Britain struggles through Brexit with the hope of global trade deals, China simply gets on with it. But then China has the financial and diplomatic muscle to be able to build its new order.

David Herdson

* There are obviously some differences too: Zimbabwe’s transfer of power was bloodless, including – so far – Mugabe himself; also, the army was a more direct actor this time. All the same, the parallels are striking.