Bad Chancellor. Bad journalists

3:35 am - August 30th 2008

by John B    

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Surely, if there’s one constant in life, the Guardian ought to be mildly biased toward the Labour party? But based on its latest interview with Alistair Darling, we can’t even rely on that anymore.

The headline the Guardian has put on the interview – and therefore, the headline that the gibberingly mad press will also put on the interview, whilst also interviewing perverted and insane former Tory ministers, who’ll point out that actually it’s even worse still – is “Economy at 60-year low, says Darling. And it will get worse”.

This is absolute, shimmering, festering poo on a stick. What we’re seeing in the UK right now, and what will probably continue in the UK for a while, is a correction in house prices (I’m still voting for 25% of January 2007 levels as a bottoming-out point; house price deriviatives aren’t a liquid commodity in the UK but if anyone’s up for an off-list trade then do give me a shout), combined with a ropey environment for speculative money-borrowing (although the private equity market in the UK bottomed out in about March and is now having a resurgence…)

Mr Darling’s actual money quote, via semi-serious hack Decca Aitkenhead is:

“The economic times we are facing “are arguably the worst they’ve been in 60 years,” he says bluntly.”

I thoroughly admit that this is about the stupidest thing that a Chancellor of the Exchequer could possibly say, and that Mr Darling should be fired and beaten purely for saying it. But c’mon, how crazy would you have to be to take it literally?

After inflation, we’re about 4X richer per head than we were in 1948; we don’t have any kind of serious existential threat. What we have is a mild shock to house prices combined with the fact that heating your house to 21 degrees celsius all year round is now quite cheap instead of exceedingly cheap. And even distribution-wise, we’ve not done so badly.

Meh. Whatever. With a Labour party this comedically inept at defending itself (what’s wrong with “yes, we’re going through some bad times. They’re really not that bad; unemployment is lower than it was under John Major, never mind previous Conservatives”?), we’re going to end up with an even larger Tory majority than was inevitable from ‘we’re grumpy and want a pointless change’ syndrome.

It’s a bit of a shame, in the week where London’s conservative regime is already starting to make a difference, the angle of debate is moving even further from what’s right to what’s nonsensical populism – and worse, as a poor excuse from a cheap man for something that he shouldn’t even have to apologise for…

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About the author
John Band is a journalist, editor and market analyst, depending on who's asking and how much they're paying. He's also been a content director at a publishing company and a strategy consultant. He is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy and also blogs at Banditry.
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Reader comments

1. Lorna Spenceley

Surely if there’s one constant in life, the Guardian ought to be biased towards the Liberal Democrats? It used to be a great liberal newspaper, went all jelly-at-the-knees over Tony Blair circa 1995 and I haven’t read it since 1997 – it’s just too awful.

A brief survey of my acquaintances shows that they share the same opinion as you: the economy is inevitably experiencing something of a downturn from a very high point, and suffering from the influence of “global forces” beyond our control. Things will automatically correct themselves, and anyone who bought a house more than 5 years ago is laughing, anyway. Hey, it might even be fun. The most common reaction, however, was “What a strange thing to want to talk about at a get together in the pub. Let’s talk about the marble kitchen worktops I’m having fitted, instead”.

There’s a belief that things will always be the same for the UK; it is our right to be rich because we always have been. No one feels uneasy that we have always earned more in a day than someone doing the same job in a far away country earned in a month. No one questions that ‘foreigners’ will always fall over themselves to live and work 12 hour days in Britain, doing the menial jobs while we pursue careers in estate agency, aromatherapy or pop stardom. We can easily sustain a large non-working population as these people are still useful to the economy because they create demand(!). It’s the natural way of things for hairdressers from Bolton to go on weekend shopping trips to New York, and so what if our exams are easier than they used to be? We are not cramping our youngsters’ creativity.

You don’t need to know anything about economics to realise that living the way we do just doesn’t make sense; the borrowing was going to have to stop once the rest of the world realised we had no way to pay off our debts, and we have reached that point. With the value of our currency plummeting, we now have to bid against everyone else for scarce resources (e.g. oil, food) while paying the interest on our previous debts. It isn’t just a mild downturn, whatever the elementary economics or dubious, incomplete statistics say. The emerging economies are not going to continue slaving for us now that they have seen through the facade, and it is far more likely that we will end up slaving for them.

“we don’t have any kind of serious existential threat”?

I disagree:

Yeah, but you’re a greenie so you’re *hoping* the system will collapse 😉

No, I’m not, that’s an anarchist position. If it collapses we get social disorder, massive hardship etc.

I want it to change, that’s why I’m a greenie!

I expect the Guardian to be a centre left newspaper and so long as the Labour party pursues a centre left agenda I would expect the Guardian to be broadly supportive of it. That’s not the same as it being “biased”, which would seem to imply a willingness to distort its priorities and its reporting in order to favour Labour, as the Mail for example plainly does with the Tories. An example of that may be to play down a notable remark made by a Labour chancellor because it may give encouragement to Labour’s opponents. Well thankfully the Graun has more integrity than that – you admit yourself that it was a remarkable thing for the chancellor to say and it was entirely appropriate that they put it in a headline.

To dismiss the current difficulties as “a correction in house prices….combined with a ropey environment for speculative money-borrowing” is an understatement to say the least. We are quite likely heading into a recession, unemployment is going up and food and energy price rises are hitting people hard, the public finances are f*cked. Now I don’t know if it’s the worse situation for 60 years – the late 70’s and early 90’s were pretty bad for example but it’s no argument to say “well we are better off than in 1948”.

Like Andrew Adams, I am interested that you don’t see anything to worry about in the shape of what seems to be a slowing of growth in the UK economy – which means that this chancellor is likely to be even worse than his predecessor at predicting the budgetary deficit – a looming increase in unemployment, the fall of the pound on foreign exchange markets, the inching up of inflation. As well as that, we might be in for another of those major structural changes – the last set of changes, frequently blamed on Margaret Thatcher, created an under-class which has just continued to grow over the last 10 years, despite a benign economic climate. With the apparently unstoppable increase in outsourcing of increasingly skilled jobs to low-wage economies, my worry is that there will be no value-added work for the next generation to do apart from fronting TV programmes and serving in shops.

I don’t think you can blame the Guardian for getting such a great story. It make me laugh when the Conservatives look down their long pointy noses at the newspaper. You won’t find a story like this in the Telegraph or the Mail when Dave is Prime minister.

That’s not the same as it being “biased”, which would seem to imply a willingness to distort its priorities and its reporting in order to favour Labour

I probably would.

10. dreamingspire

IIRC, fhe Grauniad was pro Harold Wilson at the start of his years at the top.
When you compare the reorientation of Germany towards green energy with the fumbling here, you should begin to see that we don’t have a combination of political and civil service institutions and organisations capable of changing this country’s direction. We ape the USA in depending on wars and financial markets, yet I see in the USA’s Democrats a groping towards a different national strategy. We tend to follow the USA several years behind, so indeed Darling is right in expecting things to go down and down for some time yet.
The USA’s empire is strange, for it doesn’t rule the far away places where its wars are successful (unlike the Roman Empire’s occupation of everything that it conquered, or indeed out own Empire until the 1950s), and thus it doesn’t profit from them – so I cannot see a historical model that will help us find a way forward, but maybe someone else will offer that. The USA is also finding that more and more of it is becoming owned by foreigners – by and from the newly rich nations.

11. Conor Foley

This seems a more realistic view:

Also look at the growth of the stockmarket over the last couple of weeks. Maybe Darling knows something that we don’t or maybe he has just been spooked by the IMF.

you should begin to see that we don’t have a combination of political and civil service institutions and organisations capable of changing this country’s direction.

I think this point is spot on.

As do I.

And I agree with your article in the main, John, although I might suggest that you read the comments below that article that you cited here…

It’s a bit of a shame, in the week where London’s conservative regime is already starting to make a difference…

… as they throw a rather different light on the story than might be thought from the post itself.


Err. the comments thread appears to feature a petulant idiot (conjecture: anyone who posts as ‘anonymous’ rather than under either their real name or a pseudonym can safely be ignored) trying and failing to slander the GLVDP.

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