Friday, 11 April 2014

The dangers of the Unrewarded Middle

Selina Todd writing in the Guardian has a point when she suggests that most people don't identify with being 'hard-working families' as Miliband imagines from his isolated and away-with-the-fairies illusion of what ordinary folk are like. It's a fantasy world that exists purely in the Miliband head. 'Ordinary people who have to work' is by far a more accurate description. 

Likewise, the 'squeezed middle' has proved to be a soggy squib. Recent research suggests that the middle reacted to 2008 by knuckling down, cutting costs, repaying loans, skimping on foreign travel and new cars and even with cuts in universal Welfare benefits made adjustments. Fortuitously, the car industry has been saved by the thieving bankers grudgingly having to repay billions in PPI compensation, most of which has been spent on new cars and white goods. 

And 'we're all in this together' has proven to be true only for the very wealthy, who as a group have seen their incomes soar as the rest of the country is stuck on zero percent pay increases. Few will view as equitable an arrangement under which all are required to endure hardship but only some are rewarded. 

And of course those home-owners living in London and the south east are seeing increases of up to 30% over 2008 levels for their homes.

So I think there's a new political cliche lurking out there waiting out there to be discovered - the 'unrewarded middle' - those working in manufacturing or professions untouched by the consumer-spending led recovery, living in areas in which house prices haven't yet recovered their 2008 levels, burdened by student debt and with abilities and qualifications that won't win them secure well-paying work, who have obeyed all the rules and see nothing before them but a lifetime of unwelcome graft, struggle and grief. Such folk will be deservedly angry at all the political promises - and intelligent enough to realise that whilst politicians may be unable to offer salvation, they can at least be kicked hard when the opportunity of the ballot-box arises.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

National psychology

Historical footnotes are often more fascinating than the well-travelled events they amplify. One such formed a running theme of Alan Moorehead's pen pictures of our near European neighbours shortly after their liberation from the Reich. The theme was the extent of residual hatred of the occupiers; Moorehead found that the more compliant a conquered nation had been, the better fed, least deprived its people, the more they hated the Germans. The Belgians in particular had an easy war under occupation; resistance was minimal, voluntary co-operation with the occupiers substantial, the people fatter and better fed than the French, with fewer retributive shootings. As a consequence, they hated the Germans viscerally, to an extent far greater than the French. Moorehead visited Brussels zoo to find the animal cages packed with alleged collaborators. He enquired what was to become of them. "They will be given a fair trial" he was told "then they will be shot."

I was reminded of this whilst reading a further piece in Der Spiegel attempting to understand German sympathy for Russia, particularly over Ukraine. Christiane Hoffmann writes:
The question of guilt has created a link between Germans and Russians, but the issue evaporated fairly quickly for the Russians after the war. Unlike the French, Scandinavians and Dutch, the Russians don't tend to name and shame the Germans for crimes committed during the German occupation. "Those who suffered the most had the least hate for the Germans," says Baberowski, as if the issue of German guilt evaporated in the first frenzy of revenge at the end of the war. He believes it dissipated, at the very latest, after the return of the last prisoners of war to Germany. "The Russians told stories that would make your blood freeze in your veins, but they were never accusatory towards us," says Schulze, who spent several months in St. Petersburg during the 1990s.
Psychologists will no doubt have an explanation. Der Spiegel also remarks the shared sores of anti-Americanism in both Russia and Germany, which the actions of the NSA (ably supported by GCHQ and the UK's hub position for international data routing) have rubbed raw. The French also resent American influence, still blaming the US for having to liberate them in 1944 and not quite daring to make a film depicting Europe being invaded by the 134 French soldiers who accompanied the Anglo-US forces on D-Day. Gregorio Marañón, writing of Tiberius, termed this 'the painful slavery of gratitude'.

The tectonic plates are certainly shifting in Europe.  

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

It's Cameron's cronyism that will be remembered

When Cameron's brief and unremarkable spell as the Conservative Party's leader ends shortly, he will be remembered for one defining quality - his cronyism. It's not just the Eton toff thing, or the incestuous Oxfordshire county-set weekends, but a perception that his loyalties to his 'chums' - in business, parliament or socially - outweigh his obligations to the rest of us. Whilst there are those who wish to be inside the charmed circle, most of us would rather replace Cameron. For whatever reason, the untalented and egregious Maria Miller is part of the PM's circle of protection and is getting the sort of full crony protection that is a gift to UKIP and likely to cost the Tories tens or even hundreds of thousands of votes in 2015. 

Cameron's departure will mark the end of an era for the Conservatives. For the past few years they have been listening to political gurus telling them to 'triangulate' and 'occupy the centre' rather in the manner of a lifestyle coach recommending a Camomile enema and Civet-poo face scrub. No-one has been listening to the grass roots members and Constituency Associations, so they have packed it in. Those such as Norman Tebbit, whom age has endowed with great wisdom, remain unflinchingly loyal to their party, and though never Cameron cronies will go down with the ship.

If the Conservatives want to remain a force in British politics, they must ditch the homeopathic triangles nonsense and be proud to be square rather than hip. And find a leader with the common touch.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Budapest revisited

In the centre of the Pest side of Budapest, a stone's throw from the station, lies a gleaming glass and chrome shopping mall, a clone of identical glass and chrome malls that have sprung up everywhere in eastern Europe. H&M, Swarovski, Subway, French Connection and all the familiar icons of the British high street are here; Brits make the mistake of thinking these are UK brands, and no doubt Magyars think they are Hungarian ones, only to be astonished when they visit London that there's a Zara on Oxford Street. Go around the side of the Kaiserzeit station, though, and the bullet and shell scars, plastered over, are evidence of the fierce battle of Budapest. After the war the burnt-out brick shells of apartment buildings in the centre of the city were given new concrete floors, new windows and a new coat of Soviet stucco, which occasionally falls off to reveal the rough, scarred fire-blackened brickwork beneath.

If the shopping mall marks the high water of EU membership, the bodged-up Soviet buildings surely represent the old Hungary - a royal pain for the Hapsburgs to govern, a running sore for their politburo successors and now, in the EU's new empire, no doubt giving Von Rumpy some sleepless nights. As Ambrose reports, Fidesz and Jobbik have just won another parliamentary majority. I've written before that Orban's party's mantra of "Home, Family, Work, Health and Order" makes me uneasy. In English it has the tone of a laudable aspiration; in Magyar it seems like a command. The Jew-hating has always been an eastern European thing, and which Jews would want to live somewhere they can still be spat at on the street? The new statue of Admiral Horthy, the wartime Regent and shaky ally of the Reich, is perhaps not quite as controversial as many British journalists think it is. He was a Hungarian first, and not a terribly good fascist, and probably ensured Hungary came out of it all better than if the country were simply occupied. And secondly, Hungarians erect statues and busts of just about anyone who speaks Magyar; every fourth-rate 19th century poet has his own little corner of green in Budapest complete with bronze bust, hundreds and hundreds of them, not one of whom is known outside Hungary. If Horthy wrote even one poem or one bar of music he qualifies for a statue, irrespective of his role as Regent. 

Ambrose thinks that the way Hungary is going may itself be reason enough why the UK should leave the EU. Jobbik, which won 20% of the vote, would dearly love to intern the troublesome petty-thieving Roma and Sinti in special detention camps, and the Roma rent-boys on the subway steps of Nyugati pályaudvar metro always have an eye out for a severe kicking from the Magyar Garda, Jobbik's unofficial brownshirts, if they are slow enough to get caught. Any beggars at street level, visible to patrol cars, are picked up by the police and dumped on the city outskirts. And everywhere the EU circle of stars flies alongside the Hungarian tricolour.   

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Miller is bent, but Kennedy is wrong.

Maria Miller is bent and does not belong in Parliament, but Ian Kennedy is far more dangerous. The Chair of IPSA, talking to the Sunday Times, said MPs should lose the power to police themselves; naturally, he imagines that civil servants from IPSA are far more capable of doing the job. 

Kennedy's committee, you may recall, wants to establish State (he means tax) funding of the established political parties that have sitting MPs based on their share of votes in general elections - the overall amount allocated being determined by, erm, Kennedy's committee. In other words, he wants to establish LibLabCon as the UK's permanent political parties irrespective of their plummeting memberships and lack of support. The tamed parties will be wholly subservient to the whims of a permanent Mandarinate. It is the same deeply corrupt proposal as that brought out by ex-Mandarin Hayden Phillips - and the only funding option that these anti-democrats are interested in exploring.

Of course it would suit Kennedy to have the MPs that belong to these ersatz parties to be no more than salaried employees of his State, subject to annual reviews and salary enhancements and bonuses as rewards for compliant behaviour. His suggestion to the Sunday Times is geared at advancing this agenda at a time when Parliament is again vulnerable. 

Kennedy is relying on the smoke and mirrors trick that leads us to believe that the corruption in Parliament lies in the freedom of MPs rather than in the dying three party structure. In fact Miller's corruption is a result of government rather than Parliament having too much power - and of a weak, vain and very stupid Speaker incapable of leading the rights of his House. Miller must go, and to resist the encroachment of Kennedy and his central State apparatus, she must be thrown out by fellow MPs. Will the corrupt parties allow it?