Britain doesn’t like nuance or shades of grey

The reaction to recent statements made in the media by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has sunk to a new low. If you ever doubt a consensus exists between the two main parties and most of our media (print and TV), just observe the aftermath of any great tragedy. All actors in the Westminster farce come together around a single idea or set of ideas, beyond which no one is permitted to stray. Should they dare to do so, they face being roundly denounced. The person to do that has rarely been the leader of the opposition (at least in my life time), and so the reaction to Jeremy Corbyn’s straying from the agreed lines is particularly vitriolic – not least from within his own party.

A little background first for those who may not have been following developments in Westminster this week. Following the terrible attacks in Paris on Friday, several in Westminster saw it as a chance to hasten through move to increase the powers of the security services and realise their long-held desire to bomb Syria. At times like these, the official opposition is expected to fall into line and pledge full support for whatever the government want to do. Earlier in the week, the so-called ‘Jihadi John’ had (probably) been killed by a US drone strike. This news was greeted with jubilation by the British Government, a sentiment that was supposed to be shared by the Labour Party.

Cameron’s government has faithfully played its part in events, but the fly in the ointment has been Jeremy Corbyn’s response. This is simply unforgivable in the eyes of many. So what crimes has Corbyn committed in the last 7 days?

First off he dared to question whether the drone strike that reportedly killed Mohammed Emwazi were an altogether good thing. His comments saying it would have been better if he could have been put on trial, rather than being treated as a perfectly reasonable – if rather obvious – statement were met with ridicule.

Next up, following the Paris attacks, Corbyn re-iterated his doubts that joining the French in bombing Syria was the right way for the UK to act. Many Labour MPs seem to really want the chance to vote to bomb Syria, and are hopping mad they may not immediately get the chance to do so.

The final straw seems to have been Corbyn responding in the negative when asked if he supported a policy of ‘shoot to kill’. Corbyn’s position on this is rather nuanced. He wants police and security services to try to stop those engaging in armed attacks with non-lethal force if at all possible, but to retain the option to use lethal force if there is no other option. This is pretty much what happens now, so his response was actually pretty reasonable. This really caused Labour MPs to lose the plot though, and the print media have had a field day. Ben Bradshaw Tweeted:

Happy to tell you Ben that it is not true (although you already knew that and just want everyone to think that’s what he said).

Corbyn also had the audacity to suggest that British (and the West’s more generally) foreign policy towards the Middle East might not on the whole have made us any safer and may in fact have made things worse. To most people this should be a statement of the bleeding obvious. Not to Labour MP Ian Austin though it seems. He used the occasion of David Cameron’s statement to Parliament today to ask this question:

I agree with everything the prime minister said about Syria and about terrorism. But does he agree with me that those that say that Paris is reaping the whirwind of Western policy  or who want to say that Britain’s foreign policy has increased not diminished the threats to our own nation security are not just absolving the terrorists of responsibility, but risk fuelling the sense of grievance and resentment which can develop into extremism and terrorism.

So apparently, in the post-Paris world, anyone who dares to suggest Britain’s foreign policy makes us less safe is “absolving the terrorists”. If this is not the madness of groupthink, I don’t know what is. Austin wasn’t the only one either, Labour MPs seemed to be queuing up to praise the Prime Minister and distance themselves for their own party leader.

Corbyn’s style does often work against him and makes him easy to misrepresent however. If you watch Cameron in interviews, it’s obvious he has prepped for hours, run through all the possible questions he could be asked, rehearsed his answers and had someone write him some soundbites to unveil at an opportune moment, knowing these are what journalists will pick up on. He is incredibly good at it. Many politicians are.

Corbyn though does not appear to do this. He doesn’t have a lot of time for the media and seems to give answers off the cuff and without having anticipated the questions in advance. This has the advantage of being authentic and at times interesting, but it also means if he says something out of the ordinary (judged by the turgid standards of Westminster) – which is frequently – he doesn’t explain his position comprehensively, so people unexposed to that opinion, or those with an interest in misrepresentation, can find their own meaning in Corbyn’s remarks. He needs to understand that this will happen and find his own way to set out his position in a way that leaves no room for doubt or misrepresentation.

Nuance and shades of grey are not welcome in Westminster. We are now at a stage where someone can write this with a straight face. This is the sort of reporting we used to laugh at if it came from Fox News in the States, thankful that that sort of bullshit wasn’t tolerated here. Not any more it seems.

Many people in the public at large fall into the “string em up, hang em high” way of thinking. Politicians know this and at times like this queue up to look tough, and simply appear to be doing something, anything. I find it hard to believe that they all believe in private the things they say in public. The opinions of the likes of Corbyn are always unwelcome in situations like this, but to seek to marginalise those views seems to me rather dangerous, and smacks of repeating the same mistakes we have made in the very recent past.



I have had similar thoughts to these. So much furious discussion, but I don’t really have any words to add. It all seems so hopeless.

Originally posted on Paul Bernal's Blog:

The aftermath of the events in Paris has shown many of the worst things about the current media and social media. I’ve been watching, reading and following with a feeling, primarily, of sadness.

What depresses me the most – and surprises me the least – is the way that the hideousness has been used to support pretty much every agenda. I’ve seen the events used to ‘prove’ that we should leave the EU (‘control our borders’ etc) and that we should stay in the EU (‘solidarity’ with France), that we need less surveillance (it didn’t work this time, why not direct the effort and resources elsewhere) and that we need more surveillance (the threat is real, we must do everything needed). I’ve seen it said that we need to clamp down on Islam, that we need to support moderate Islam, that terrorists are all Muslims, that the vast majority of…

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OBR shows how austerity killed growth

The OBR published a short note last week showing the impact on growth from the fiscal decisions taken by the Coalition Government. This is not a revelation. The OBR has said before that austerity would have and has had a negative impact on growth, but the chart it produced with this note is quite striking. Here’s the chart.Screenshot 2015-10-27 at 6.13.47 PM

It shows that following the crash, Labour’s discretionary fiscal policy (that’s active changes to government spending and taxation) had a positive impact on growth of around 0.3% in 2008/9 and 2009/10. Labour enacted a fiscal stimulus, but not a very big one.

It’s what this chart shows about the period after the 2010 election though that’s most interesting. After assuming power in 2010, the Coalition embarked on it’s policy of austerity. When it was formed, the OBR actually thought austerity in the first year would have a bigger negative impact than it in fact did, but it still provided a drag on growth of about 1% in 2010/11. 2011/12 was actually the year when austerity really started to kick in. When the OBR made it’s first forecasts though, it thought austerity would have a negative impact on growth of around 0.6%. In actual fact though, it was more like 1%.

It’s fairly well known now that despite the rhetoric, George Osborne actually responded to terrible growth figures in 2011 and 2012 by easing up on austerity, and this can be seen clearly in the chart above. In 2012/13, the government’s discretionary fiscal policy had a very small negative impact on growth, turning to a very small positive impact in 2013/14.

In 2014/15 though, the year before the election (coincidentally I’m sure), George Osborne’s discretionary fiscal policy made a positive contribution to growth of over 0.3%, which is more than Labour’s stimulus provided after the crash. So growth is only at the level it is now because of the positive impact of fiscal policy, something that many Conservatives don’t want to hear.

We are to believe that more cuts are on the way as Osborne tries to achieve a surplus by 2019/20, but if he goes ahead with the cuts implied by his plans – tax credits being only one part of it – it seems likely this negative drag will continue. Coupled with prospects for growth in the rest of the world looking bleak, it seems unlikely that growth can persist alongside spending cuts. Something will have to give.

Fiscal Charter Debate

Originally posted on Origin of Specious:

Here is George Osborne accusing Labour of wanting to ‘borrow forever’.

The funny thing about this turn of phrase, which is meant to make us gasp in horror, is that actually shows why the government, in principle, neverneeds to run a surplus. That’s exactly the point: it can borrow forever. (Of course, I don’t think it’s really borrowing, but I’m happy to play along with the conceit for the sake of argument.)

If I borrow, I need to run a surplus at some point to pay back my debt. I can try to keep borrowing to repay my debt, but at some point nobody will be likely to extend me a new loan to refinance my existing loans. Why? Because at some point I’ll die, and the last person holding my debt will get nothing but my crappy assets. Death is the ultimate default.

But the State doesn’t die. It doesn’t even retire. So it…

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Under new ownership

Originally posted on Jules Birch:

Originally posted on October 7 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Forget social housing, any kind of affordable rented housing is living on borrowed time in the wake of this year’s Conservative conference.

In his speech on Wednesday David Cameron announced ‘a national crusade to get homes built’ and go from ‘Generation Rent into Generation Buy’.

The headline policy of starter homes does not look any better than it did the first two times he announced it (in December 2014 and again when he doubled the target in March). The original policy had potential because it offered the prospect of additional homes on sites that would not have got planning permission before. Though there were potential problems, what would amount to urban exception sites looked like a good idea, especially if the uplift in land values could be captured to pay for infrastructure.

But the…

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A Tale of Two U-Turns

Today was a day of U-turns. One for the Tories, one for Labour. For the Tories, David Cameron decided to pull out of bidding for a Saudi prisons contract, over concerns for human rights and the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. The wily Michael Gove appears to have leaked the story of a Cabinet row in a (successful it seems) bid to paint himself in the best possible light, but others may wonder if Jeremy Corbyn’s public calls for the contract to be pulled also had something to do with it. Whatever the truth, Cameron’s decision seems to be popular as U-turns go.

For Labours part, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell made a significant U-turn of his own. This one has gone down like a lead balloon within his own party, even though it’s a very good about turn for him to make. Two weeks ago he appeared to commit Labour to voting for George Osborne’s Fiscal Charter; a ridiculous document which would commit future governments (in theory, but not in practice) to run fiscal surpluses in ill-defined ‘good times’. McDonnell appears to have signed up to it to try to allay concerns about Labour’s ‘fiscal discipline’. He has now changed his mind and should be applauded for doing so, although it will be embarrassing for him for a few days and has caused serious ructions in the Labour Party. Veteran MP Mike Gapes (who it seems has been having a lot of fun today) summed this feeling up succinctly today Tweeting:

It’s no secret that many (most) Labour MPs actively despise McDonnell, so it should be no surprise that they look to pounce on any perceived errors in judgement. The important thing though is that he has now made the right decision on the Fiscal Compact and now has a chance to make a coherent case against austerity. They should probably now try to get as many ‘experts’ as they can onto the airwaves to trash the Fiscal Compact. That shouldn’t be too hard.

Jeremy Hunt’s revealing comments over tax credits

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was asked today about the forthcoming cuts to tax credits which are so unpopular they have united Jeremy Corbyn with The Sun. His answer was very candid are rather revealing about the conservative mindset. When asked if the tax credit cuts should be slowed, Hunt said:

“No. We have to proceed with these tax credit changes because they are a very important cultural signal. My wife is Chinese. We want this to be one of the most successful countries in the world in 20, 30, 40 years’ time.

“There’s a pretty difficult question that we have to answer, which is essentially: are we going to be a country which is prepared to work hard in the way that Asian economies are prepared to work hard, in the way that Americans are prepared to work hard? And that is about creating a culture where work is at the heart of our success.”

People like me would say that the economic system we have causes unemployment and it has a tendency to use this to push wages down. Conservatives like Hunt though don’t agree. They think the qualities of the individual determine someone’s experiences. Presumably, when he reads stories of over-worked Chinese workers committing suicide, he sees only hard-working strivers who desperately want to get on. Only through hard work does Britain succeed. It’s the conservative theory of individual success applied to the national level. Hunt went on to say:

“Dignity is not just about how much money you have got … officially children are growing up in poverty if there is an income in that family of less than £16,500. What the Conservatives say is how that £16,500 is earned matters.

“It matters if you are earning that yourself, because if you are earning it yourself you are independent and that is the first step towards self-respect. If that £16,500 is either a high proportion or entirely through the benefit system you are trapped. It is about pathways to work, pathways to independence … It is about creating a pathway to independence, self-respect and dignity.”

Again, people like me would say the system traps people in low paid, insecure work and means they have to rely on the social security system to live anything like a decent life. Hunt and his fellow Conservatives would bring those people cheer by pointing out the ‘dignity’ in their struggle to put food on the table. In other words, “Forget that you can barely pay the rent. Take heart in the dignity of your hard work and the fact you are no longer such a burden on the state.” As Jeremy Corbyn said in his speech last week “you don’t have to take what you’re given.”

Hey there, Deficit Denier, climb down out of that Magic Money Tree!

Originally posted on Modern Monetary Theory: Real Economics:

“Deficit Denier” ??

The accusation of being a ‘deficit denier’ seems to cause real problems for many progressives.  We should meet this accusation head-on.  WTF is a ‘deficit denier’ anyway?  This is the obvious question that needs to be asked. Is anyone denying the UK and US governments spend more back into their economies than they receive in taxation revenue? No-one is. Neither is anyone denying,  during the very rare  times the government is in surplus, the reality that everyone else is then in deficit themselves. Someone has always to be in deficit. What is there to deny?

We try to be deficit comprehenders. Just like Stephanie Kelton’s deficit owls. We try to understand and explain why a sovereign government like the UK can be in deficit for an extended period of time and why the bailiffs aren’t knocking on the door demanding an immediate repayment of all loans.


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Tory Party channel the Manchurian Candidate

Michael Gove just put out the following statement in response to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech today:

Labour have confirmed that they are a threat to our national security, our economic security and to the security of every family in Britain.

I felt like I’d heard these words before and it gave me an eery feeling. One of my favourite films is The Manchurian Candidate, in which an entire US platoon are brainwashed and when asked to describe the platoon’s commander, automatically respond  “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.” Has something similar been done to Tory MPs? See what you think:

“So what do you think of Jeremy Corbyn?”

“Jeremy Corbyn is a threat to our national security, our economic security and to the security of every family in Britain.”

“Er, thanks Minister.”

Michael Fallon has also been afflicted. It’s not too dissimilar to this:

In the film, Raymond Shaw has been brainwashed to become an unwitting assassin. What have they done to Corbyn though? I think we should be told!

Arguing against “really simple” economics

I blogged earlier about Labour’s decision to sign up to George Osborne’s “fiscal compact” and whether or not that was a good idea. I’ve just been reminded of a bit from Thursday’s Question Time when a member of the audience talked about being “really simple” with the government’s budget being just like his own. I wonder if this kind of thinking is was prompted John McDonnell’s move yesterday. As you can see in the video, economist Yanis Varoufakis quite succinctly set the audience member right, prompting applause from the rest of the audience. It shows that this kind of “common sense thinking” can be countered quite easily if the will is there. I suppose the question is whether the bloke who asked the question changed his mind after the exchange, or still thinks he is right: