Recent Articles

Oxbridge isn’t racist – but it’s failing the working class

by John B     December 8, 2010 at 10:20 am

Newspapers are frustrating. They often report stories that are genuinely interesting and worth investigating in a way that’s so misleading and confusing that the real point gets totally lost amid extremist rhetoric.

The Guardian’s reporting of David Lammy’s data on ethnic minority admissions of domestic Oxbridge undergraduates is a good example: some of the underlying data is good, but many of the factoids are wrong or misleading.
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Wikileaks’ Julian Assange isn’t is now accused of rape – updated

by John B     December 2, 2010 at 3:41 pm

[Update 9th December 2010 – The charges are now clarified and written about here.]

It’s become a prevalent meme across the western media – who, completely coincidentally, hate Wikileaks – that Julian Assange is currently being sought by the Swedish police on rape charges.

He isn’t. He’s sought on made-up-weird-charges that aren’t a crime in the UK, or anywhere else sensible.

Killer line:

The consent of both women to sex with Assange has been confirmed by prosecutors.

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Labour blames immigration but working class betrayal is the real issue

by John B     November 8, 2010 at 1:05 pm

When talking about Phil Woolas, immigration or “white working class racism”, it’s easy to lose sight of some important points.

Especially when populist demagogues blame immigration for all our ills, with more success than anyone in their right mind would like.

1) For sheer economic reasons, which can only be avoided by sacrificing the massive economic gains associated with them, the unskilled working class have been screwed over since the 1970s.
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Fears of talent leaving City ‘over-blown’

by John B     October 15, 2010 at 12:40 pm

From Financial News:

Not a single trading team from Tullett Prebon, the London-based broker which told employees they cold move abroad for tax reasons in one of the clearest signals of an exodus from London has moved, almost a year after the offer was made.

It is the second development in a week that suggests fears over core talent leaving the City were overblown.

So *nobody at all* at Tullett thought that they would be better off paying less tax to work somewhere that wasn’t in London.

I suppose some people might argue that although not emigrating, Tullett’s brokers are working-to-rule and deliberately ensuring they aren’t eligible for big bonuses, because they’d rather have 100% of nothing than 50% of a lot.

This doesn’t seem entirely convincing, given the personality traits of the trader-y types that I’ve encountered…

Sanity, liberalism and hypocrisy. And MORE BOOZE!

by John B     August 26, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Much of the most interesting work that I’ve done has been paid for by the drinks industry. So I’m about as impartial on this article as Mao Zedong on ‘whether or not Chinese-style communism was a good idea’.

Nonetheless, the often-missed point about the drinks industry, is that we’re an interesting, jolly, fun and indispensable part of society. A wedding without some champers, or a night out with the boys without a few beers would be shit.
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The Pope is not the same as The Irish

by John B     August 22, 2010 at 4:25 pm

So there’s a debate in the UK liberal blogosphere about Catholicism, Catholics, and when debate turns into race hate. The reasons why this is contentious are pretty obvious.

On the one hand, the Catholic Church is one of the most revolting institutions ever to have existed, second only to the USSR in terms of ‘well-meaning ideas invented by a nice chap that you could have enjoyed a cup of tea with, taken up by insane evil egomaniacs and turned into an excuse for tyranny and genocide’.
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Dozen eggs banned? Yes, they did make it up

by John B     June 28, 2010 at 9:00 am

The latest insane euromyth, as faithfully invented by the Daily Mail, is that the EU is planning to ban the sale of eggs by the dozen or half-dozen.

As usual, the Littlejohn Rule applies here: if the story sounds like something you “really couldn’t make up” (thanks, Mr Dale), then somebody doubtless has made it up.

The main thrust of the Daily Mail’s story is that under proposed EU legislation, it will be illegal to print “six eggs” on a box of six eggs. Instead, the quantity of eggage will have to be listed solely in kilogrammes.

This is simply – and really really obviously – false, and if you believe it then you’re doubtless someone who’s checked whether the word ‘gullible’ is really in the dictionary.
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So what if the Labour candidates went to Oxbridge?

by John B     June 11, 2010 at 9:05 am

There seems to be a fair amount of grumpiness and sarcasm going on around the Labour party leadership election.

Much of this is for sensible reasons (broadly “the only one of the candidates who isn’t a dull clone has no experience of managing anything ever, and David Miliband is a war criminal”).

However, there’s also a fair amount that’s come for the stupidest reason possible: “they all went to Oxbridge, so they aren’t representative”.
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It’s time for left-liberals to join Labour

by John B     May 12, 2010 at 3:57 am

Well, I called that one wrong. My analysis was basically sound at a party level: there was nothing that either Gordon Brown or David Cameron would be able to offer Nick Clegg that would be worth the savage electoral beating his party would end up taking as a result of joining up with either.

Unfortunately, I underestimated the ability of ambitious people to sell out their supporters for a massive dollop of bugger all, in cases where personal rewards are on the table. This was a textbook example of analytical failure; of course I should have been looking at the incentives for the agents rather than the incentives for the principals…

Birthrights, pottage, etc

So Nick Clegg gets to be John Prescott, and four other Lib Dems get cabinet roles (not confirmed at time of writing, but probably the poisoned-chalice ones – Home Secretary, Foreign Aid, Scotland… you get the idea). And when the Liberal Democrats lose all their seats next Parliament, I wonder if the Tories will reward him with a candidacy somewhere rural and blue where they weigh the vote…?

Meanwhile, as far as policy programmes go, the Lib Dems have basically acquiesced to the Tory manifesto. We’re still going to give the US tens of billions of pounds for the sheer love of the American military-industrial complex. We’re still going to put a cap on visas for filthy furriners. We’re still going to rig the tax system to bribe married Tory voters.

In exchange, schools in deprived areas will get a bit more money, the Tories will drop their plans to leave enormously rich people’s heirs completely untaxed, and we’ll have a referendum on Alternative Vote (remember, AV isn’t PR, it’s just “the current electoral system if it were designed by someone who wasn’t clinically insane”) at some point, which will probably fail when the Tories spend vast sums campaigning against it.

The only way this could possibly not be a terrible outcome for the Liberal Democrats is if Cameron has pledged not only to allow a referendum on AV, but that the Conservatives will support the “Yes” campaign. If that’s the case – which I haven’t seen any evidence for yet, and which would surprise me – then the collapse in the Lib Dem vote share at the next election will partly be offset and the party will at least survive.

What next?

The country will benefit in the short term. While the Tory government isn’t going to drop any of its core commitments, it’ll be deterred from doing anything really socially nasty by the need to keep the Liberals onside (equally, a lot of the socially nasty Tory PPCs who we all feared would get in last year were denied seats by the Labour resurgence in core marginals).

I don’t think that’s worth the long-term damage to the country caused by destroying the one viable alternative option for the non-authoritarian left, but heigh ho.

But the big winners, in a funny sort of way, are Labour. Who d’you think centre-left people looking for a change are going to vote for next time round, following five years of brinksmanship and savage cuts? Yup, that’d be the one.

I’ve made this point here before, but especially with this defeat (oh, come on, yes, I know, but it really was in the end, wasn’t it?)  and Gordon Brown’s departure, it’s time for lefties to join the party and lobby to get the Blairites out and the non-warmongering, non-civil-liberties-hating left in.

I’d also expect an influx of left-liberal former LD supporters into Labour (if I still lived in the country, I’d be signing up today) – join now, and you’ll have a say in who stands next time, and what platform they stand on. And in five years, or whenever the coalition collapses, it’s the duty of everyone left-leaning to get out there and flyer for Labour.

And if, by some miracle, AV does get passed, it’ll also be good news for the smaller parties of the left. Not great news – AV still won’t allow any of the 5-10% parties any seats, unlike STV – but it means that next time round you’ll be able to put Green first, Labour second and not risk letting in the Tories.

So overall, as a traditional Lib Dem supporter, I’m absolutely livid. As a liberal, I’m in two minds. At least the country’s not solely ruled by the Tebbit/Dorries party, at least there’s some hope for a left-Labour future, and at least there’s a tiny amount of hope for a multi-left future…

The markets have spoken, and they couldn’t care less

by John B     May 11, 2010 at 8:48 am

One of the reasons continually cited by Tory commentators for why we need to get the election resolved Quickly, and with a Committed, Majority Coalition Government Of Only Two Parties (which, entirely coincidentally, could only consist of a Lib/Con pact), is that of The Markets.

The suggestion is that, if we don’t have a strong, firm hand on the economy wielded by, erm, an ex-PR man and a scary manchild, then The Markets will punish us. In this sense, The Markets are rather like God: if they do exist, it’s certainly not in the kind of interventionist form that the tossers who invoke them to bolster their own political power claim they do.

The evidence for my claim is simple: none of the events of the UK political campaign or the election’s aftermath have had a significant impact on the value of the UK pound against the two other most important global currencies.

The chart below shows exchange rates (ie the value of a pound; higher is ‘better’ in the eyes of the sort of people who rant about this sort of thing, which is debatable but an argument for another day) from the start of 2010 onwards – i.e., the period when the expected election outcome shifted from a Tory majority government to “meh, don’t ask me, I only work here”:

GBP/EUR/USD rates from Jan-May 2010

In words, the only noticeable trend is that the GBP lost ground against the EUR up to mid-February (still pre-Cleggmania) and then stayed more or less flat, while there was no impact at all of the uncertainty on the US$ rate. So, what about the election itself? Well, this chart runs from April 21 to today:

GBP/EUR/USD rates immediately prior to May 2010 election

Yup, that’s right: bugger all against the dollar, a tiny fall against the EUR (which was mostly driven by the vague agreement on Greece’s bailout, but that’s another story that’lll keep). There’s nothing that reflects any serious concerns by The Markets about the value of the UK’s currency.

I’m not going to go into bond yields, because they’re complicated. But what we do know is that the UK’s debt is denominated in pounds, so there is no prospect of default – instead, the government can always print more money. So any perceived risk to UK bonds solely consists of currency risk (you’ll always get GBP10 million back from your GBP10 million bond, but GBP10 million just might only be worth USD2.50 at the time).

So if The Markets believed that the current election bargaining meant that there was a serious risk the UK wouldn’t pass a budget, make the required cuts to bring the deficit down over a reasonable time period, and so on – in short, if there were any real financial risk posed by any of the possible electoral combinations – then the pound would have fallen rapidly already, both because it’d hit the economy and because the only way to deal with the debt without cuts is devaluation.

Now, let’s get back to the politics.

The system is completely and utterly unstable, as unstable as it could possibly be, anyone staking more than they can afford to lose on the identity of the next PM would be a raving idiot – and The Markets couldn’t give a rat’s arse. They know that, whatever happens (my money’s on a minority Tory government, but not very confidently), the leaders of the main parties will instruct their MPs to vote in favour of a budget that allows the debt to be serviced, and enough of them will agree to get some kind of budget bill passed that keeps us from going Greek.

So anyone using The Markets as a justification for a Lib-Con pact, or indeed as justification for anything other than enjoying the current glorious Westminster farce, is doing so for political reasons. Now, why might the kind of people who’re normally taken seriously as commenters on The Markets talk up the Tories for political reasons…?

Look away now if you don’t want to know the shocking, unexpected answer.

Because if you work in financial markets, you have a much higher than average propensity to be a rich selfish bastard; and if you’re a rich selfish bastard, you have a much higher than average propensity to support the Tories.

This has been another round of Simple Answers To Simple Questions; see you next election (which, I’m estimating, will be when the Tory party tears itself apart over Europe in about 18 months’ time).

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