Monthly Archives: April 2010

the penultimate debate

Tonight we had the “final” leaders debate, which of course is the final televised debate before the really important debate when the British public step forward with their voice – and it was unsurprisingly a clear win for Cameron, closely followed by Clegg with Brown a dead third.

What interests me is that after 15 years of hearing about ‘the nasty party’ all three leaders were portraying their parties in the voice of ‘the nasty party’, tough on crime, immigration, tax-dodging, anti-europe – they were all at it, they couldn’t be tougher, it was like watching 3 lads in the street after a drunken night out: all sizing each other up before a fight, but all playing more mouth than trousers.

Whatever happened to the liberal Tory big society, the pro euro cannabis friendly Liberals, or the entirely laissez faire attitude of the Labour party to immigration, crime, schooling, public spending… They talked tough, and the people liked it – it’s very strange that our society which for 95% of the time seems to be fundamentally liberal and open to cultures new and old battens down the hatches during an election preferring to hear tough messages from all the parties rather than hearing the progressive voice that they bask in for most of the rest of the year. The voting public can be described as nothing other than fickle.

So, spain gets downgraded?

The Greek economic tragedy has finally started to wobble the other more ludicrous economies of this little continent. For years Greece has been one false step away from their economy collapsing in a fiery heap. Entry to the Euro as well as a buoyant world economy saved them from this much earlier; and many pointed fingers at them for fiddling their euro entry details, forgetting their responsibilities as a government to their international commitments, and at their general populous who seem to regard tax avoidance as a national sport, are unionised beyond belief, and in the eyes of many of their European neighbours seem to harbour an almost pathological dislike of a full day’s work.

So it comes as no surprise today that another of our neighbours that for years has taken the whole european community for a ride has finally been downgraded – it’s a comeuppance they’ve had coming for some time in the eyes of many. Spain has personified the scrounger for years: as one pro-euro commentator said earlier:

They’re Europe’s council house, the one we all know where none of the occupants work, but take 2 holidays a year, enjoy their full sky subscription and their booze, fags and nights out. They’ve taken from the community claiming poverty – while spending everything they can get their hands on, not repairing the roof, just splashing the cash.

Harsh words, but frankly not unfair in the broad scheme of things: Spain is a classic example of what needs Anglo-German co-operation to solve within the EU: states that have abused the CAP, European Development Grants and more general European state support services: Spain has had it very easy for the last 15 years, it’s grown fat on a healthy world economy, it’s built roads, schools infrastructure… I could go on. But it’s not modernised, it’s not changed it’s working practices and it’s not attempted to move it’s economy toward self-sufficency – or at the very least some level of debt clearance that’d allow them to sail forward without being mortally holed below the waterline.

Reform is needed right now: the basket case economies of Greece, Portugal, Spain and even Ireland need to make cuts now, they need years of austerity governments, high taxes (that are collected) and no support for fripparies from the stronger economies. The problem is that this isn’t going to happen, what’s going to happen is the larger Eurozone partners plus international aid is going to prop up these basket cases to keep the larger economies afloat: and that’s terrifying.

€120 billion is what the IMF is proposing is needed to stop Greece’s financial flu from devastating other economies big and small: that’s €120b that was only €40b last week: and that Goldman Sachs is predicting could be €150b by next week. It’s no wonder the German’s are taking to the streets to harangue their politicians for answers. We should be doing the same, because no matter how big we perceive the mess in our economy to be, we’re one of the big stable boys in comparison: and we’ll no doubt be asked to chuck money into this pot at some point.

The Mic is Always On

It’s one of the first things we tell people in media training whenever we’re asked to do it – it doesn’t matter how well you know the hack, it doesn’t matter how quiet you think you can do it, it doesn’t matter how flippant your remark might be, the open mic of the news media is guaranteed to pick it up.

So to see such a huge cock up today, from a seasoned political operator, clinging to power  desperate to stop his party not just losing power, but losing the right to form the official opposition was stunning. To call a voter you’ve just patted on the back a bigot for asking questions (which incidentally weren’t in my opinion bigoted at all – just concerned) is naive beyond belief.

Of course, behind a closed fader or a slammed phone or door, we’ve all said what’s on our minds – “tosser” is my favourite insult to hurl – but in the middle of an election, to someone that you’d probably just won around to your side again, an easy win – jesus. Brown was right, it was a disaster!

In between the chuckles and gawping at the slow-motion car crash that unfolded all afternoon, Brown made his appearance in a radio studio and looked like a broken man, head practically on the table, perhaps the funniest part of that interview wasn’t shown much after the initial live encounter: when challenged on losing the election, he chucked his head and arms back and rolled his eyes so hard he looked like he might damage himself. It was a tragic display from a broken man, and a broken party – there was no defence from Mandelson, Prescott or any of the others in the cabal: then the squatting in the poor old dear’s house until an awkward apology was no doubt extracted… it was just a car crash.

As a communications specialist I think this will be an important nail in the coffin of the Labour campaign: I don’t think it’s the stake through the heart that certain commentators are predicting it’s going to be – but I do think that Brown’s now a wounded animal, and that’ll be a dangerous game for both Cameron and Clegg to play with. CCHQ have been remarkably restrained all day, LDHQ slightly less so – but it shouldn’t be forgotten that wounded animal’s lash out – sometimes fatally – so it’ll be interesting to see how they both handle him.

What’s missing in radio is technical ability

I’m reliving my childhood at the moment, listening to BFBS on a Saturday afternoon while playing with my favourite toy, I’ll admit the toy has changed – it’s now my MacBook rather than my Lego, but I’m struck by how little has actually changed: this is still a radio station playing a really wide selection of music: not pandering to the chart or stuck so deep in the Labrini girl past that it sounds the same every day.

BFBS was really the first radio station I properly listened to; I learnt about timing, talking up to vocals and trimming jingles, the technical stuff I practiced over and over in my bedroom. But more importantly than that I learnt a key aspect of good radio – personality matters. ‘That was – This is’ radio dominates the dial these days, the only place you don’t hear it generally is tiny indies and the BBC, my issue with this is that there’s now no stepping stone from the indies to the mainstream, and the BBC are slowing replacing radio talent with celebrity and thinking that it’s the same thing.

Radio is a technical medium: the very best in the business have always been technically superb – whether it’s Kenny Everett, Noel Edmonds, Chris Tarrant, Bruno Brookes or Tommy Vance – all of them have one thing in common, they were superb producers who knew their kit, who understood timing and who could blend entertainment with technical interest in both the studio production and the music itself.

Radio should make you smile, it shouldn’t just be about cramming in a liner card read before thumping out another set of adverts. Automation is often blamed for this, but the computer playing the music isn’t the cause – it’s laziness and a dogma like format that’s created slaves to the playlist. You can’t listen to commercial radio now without hearing songs cut short, vocals crashed and links rushed; the talent these days is fading away – and once it’s gone so will the ability to learn from it. So stand up for your local radio stations, get involved and don’t put up with generic gobs on sticks who don’t entertain you and don’t care about the importance of being technically good.

Green Energy

A question came up in the Leaders Debate on Sky News (in HD apparently) last night that got me thinking, why are politicians in the UK unable to come to terms with the big green issue: it’s multi-faceted yes, it’s sometimes controversial, absolutely, but at it’s core is a truth that surely all of us can agree on. Living in greener homes and driving greener cars would make us all richer. Green technology is a jobs growth sector, and with dwindling access to carbon fuels we need to do something soon to secure our energy security?

But seemingly not one of them wants to grab the bull by the horns. It’s not about carbon trading or even the choice between wind power or nuclear, let’s get down to basics. Let’s pass laws that houses need to be better: for years the big builders have thrown up unsustainable poor quality housing without enough insulation, without good windows, efficient boilers or access to better recycling services. Let’s change that first.

Second let’s make recycling compulsory, nationwide: no flip flopping between different councils: Germany has the right idea – it’s not a choice, it’s the law, and because it’s the law the german people have found better ways of working their recycling, you don’t find German shops chucking carriers bags at you at a rate of knots (Ocado with 34 plastic bags for a weekly shop for 2 people please take note!), paper bags are used more, buy or bring your own bag schemes are everywhere, and they’re used too – not because it’s fashionable, but because it makes sense to cut down your personal recycling ‘liability’.

Third, we need Micro-generation, you can’t move on the continent for wind turbines and solar panels, in even the most picturesque places you’ll find them on buildings, do they spoil the view? I don’t think so.

Micro and Macro generation

Micro and Macro generation

This is the view from the Mohne Dam, (of Dambusters fame), a hydroelectric power station in Nord-Rhine Westphalia, this is the village of Günne in it’s very pretty shadow. Here we see a huge amount of solar PV, wind turbines and energy efficent homes with strong double and triple glazing as well as night shutters to keep heat in and out depending on the season.

What’s so awful about this view? In my view it’s a good trade off for a healthier, greener planet – and what is so bad about that? We need to make sure that NIMBY’s don’t have a leg to stand on, it’s the one area where devolved localism has destroyed people’s right to make personal choices – this needs strong leadership that definitively shuts the door on parish council’s planning ruling against green improvements to personal property… We’re not talking about legislation that means that cement works can be built in the middle of a grade 1 listed thatched villages, we’re talking about sensible legislation that will allow our buildings to come into the 21st century to meet 21st century environmental demands.

I didn’t hear this simple solution from any of the Leaders, and to me, this is such a simple set of steps that’d move the UK forward in green terms by light years.

talking of the EU

The leaders debate this evening, despite being billed as the Foreign policy debate, again failed entirely to properly cover the European issue: considering it’s the poltical equivilant of a cosh for all the parties to clout each other with, that’s not surprising – but it’s quite depressing that there doesn’t appear to be any leadership on the issue.

I grew up in what was West Germany, and Germany is arguably the most Pro-European in the Union. I speak 2 European languages to a decent standard and love the place both to travel and do business: don’t get me wrong though like all institutions the EU has more than it’s fair share of problems which all need reform; because of this I have a long held love/hate relationship with the EU: but let’s be clear on a few points.

Personally speaking I don’t have a problem with the Euro – I think as a businessman that the Euro is a good thing, it gives us block strength against the world powerful dollar and the up and coming Chinese and Russian currencies, as we found out during the ERM disaster, and more recently in the Credit Crunch, the Pound, although still a reserve currency, is – because of our own economy – hugely exposed to Global fluctuations and hedging. Don’t get me wrong though, I love the Pound – much like I loved my Deutschmark’s when I first really learned the value of money saving my allowance, but I can’t help but think that we’d be better off, and we’d find a new power in Europe if our (frankly, huge) economy joined Germany and France in the Eurozone… potentially so much so, that we could excerpt serious reform of Eurozone policies; something Germany in particularly would likely support us in.

When it comes to freedom of movement I’m baffled about the Schengen Agreement and why Britain feels it needs to be outside the core structure of the agreement: first and foremost as an Island our ports would clearly need to retain custom control to the wider world; and let’s be under no false pretence – entering the Schengen Agreement wouldn’t just suddenly open our borders to one and all: we are still an Island, and that will not change (unless the EuroBridge ever goes ahead!). Britain’s position on Schengen is fundamentally flawed as an argument – we won’t open our borders, except to Ireland – where we have no juristiction over their immigration or border and port controls. We’d save a fortune using Frontex rather than establishing our own border patrol force and many experts predicts that it would actually help the immigration issue. Especially considering that migrants from the East and the South passing through Europe to get to Britain would have to be dealt with under the terms of the Dublin Agreement (which we’d be able to wield with teeth) and in partnership with other nations as part of one co-operative block: they’d have no right to settle here having passed through our official ‘border’ 1000’s of miles before they reach our shores. (via land, rail and continent to UK sea travel). Immigration is a European problem, full stop. Just ask the Italians, the Daily Mail might like to make out that it’s Britain against the world, but if we opened our eyes there’s clear room for European unilateral action to control and temper immigration to all of our benefits.

I think the European human rights legislation (despite the protestations of the Daily Mail) is bang on, Human Rights are none negotiable, how we interpret them in our legal system for criminals and immigrants needs sensible debate, but the fundamental rights of the individual to live without pain, humiliation, servitude, torture and with freedom of expression & association and discrimination are just that: fundamental. To often the ECHR and other human rights legislation is blamed for allowing rapists and pædophiles to walk the streets, that’s not human rights failures though, that’s a failure of our justice system to interpret the various bills, and a failure of politics in the UK to adequately caveat criminal legislation to ensure that those who break our laws or attempt to breach our controls on citizenship are always held to account within boundaries that protect the public in the first instance.

You might think that I’m a screaming integrationist because of this, but you couldn’t be further from the truth: indeed I think we need to fundamentally examine and change the way we  integrate European laws into our own, for too long we’ve taken everything and integrated it wholesale into our own law – something that almost no other nation in the Union does, that needs to change so we protect our national interests both personal and corporate more effectively. We also shouldn’t give up our Military; the idea of a European Armed Forces sounds wrong, we already have NATO – and we have provisions for nation state (and by proxy military) support of European nations written into the Lisbon Treaty, that’s as far as that needs to go. I also think that tax needs to be set locally, personally I’d prefer a flat rate system for all, (and that’s another article), but I don’t think that the EU presently has anywhere near the amount of consensus required, or indeed the amount of economic similarity between the various nations in the Union to harmonise our tax affairs successfully.

Other stuff though I’m more open to conversation about – I’d prefer Germany’s road laws for starters, but if you think for one minute I’d like their or the French, Italian or Austrian police systems you can think again. I think we should harmonise Europes extradition and immigration policies so it isn’t up to individual nations to support asylum seekers who travel into the EU, it should be a union wide issue. I love the idea of harmonised green energy requirements – not just by directive, but by treaty – it takes the wiggle room away from politicians that are happy to talk the talk but generally ignore the elephant in the room.

And you know what, I’m not going to stop there – the ferrying of MEPs between 2 (technically 3) locations, is outrageous, pick one place, and that’s where the affairs of the EU shall be carried out, travelling between Brussels and Strasbourg accomplishes nothing but burning cash. There also needs to be more direct power devolved to the people, presently the system is a mystery to most – so it needs transparency, especially within the groups that draw up the directives, what drives them – the interests they represent and the way they come to their respective decisions needs to be better understood. And finally (although far from finally I could wax about this all night) we need to do away with the worst policy ever implemented between European nations since the appeasement of National Socialism: the divisive, horrifically expensive, widely abused, anti-comptitive Common Agriculture Policy. It’s an unruly disaster that’s tainted an entire generation of politicians and laypeople against the EU, so in my view the quicker it’s dismantled the quicker all Europeans will be able to look their African neighbours in the eye, the quicker we’ll reduce friction between nations that have abused the CAP and those that haven’t, and most importantly the quicker we’ll cut the cost of running the EU in general: and cutting the size and cost of any element of government in my book can never be a bad thing.

There are plenty in UK politics that want to isolate us: and if there’s one thing we should learn from our own history is that Britain’s always been stronger, whether as an Empire or as part of the Allies against fascism and communism, when it co-operates closely with it’s friends: and for all of our sibling rivalry there’s no doubt that we’ve got plenty of friends in Europe.

This man wants to be in No.11

Be afraid, be very afraid – if ‘St. Vince’ gets his hands on our money, we’re all in deep poo. The only silver lining to a Lib Dem victory might be that they enter us into the Euro and european economic centrism before they manage to bankrupt us.

Europe, the issue that just won’t go away.

For most people in the UK, Europe is just about Johnny foreigner wanting to straighten our bananas; or at least that’s the impression you get if you believe most news outlets and a good chunk of our politicians – the xenophobia toward Europe and the EU can be cut with a knife, it’s awful, cloying and destructive.

For year after year the rhetoric has become increasingly hostile: and in my experience it’s not representative at all: so you have to wonder why it’s allowed to continue? Well of course the media doesn’t help; the sillier aspects of the EU administratitive functions are easier stories, and you can add a twist of them against us that you just don’t get from the same administrative department in the UK doing exactly the same thing… but that’s just not it.

No, the problem lies much deeper: it’s entrenched in our politics – none of the major parties (and I include the Lib Dems here) have a cogent European policy, a policy that doesn’t waver depending on which hack they’re chatting with, or which audience they’re addressing. No one dare put their head above the parapet and tell the truth: and the truth is that we’re in it. We’re a respected major component of the EU, and we’re constantly frustrating our nearest neighbours by seemingly ignoring this power. The UK has again and again made specific accommodations in European legislation and European treaties for it’s own gain – the idea that we always come off worse is a complete fallacy.

What we need to do is engage – we need to leave this idea of the ‘Great’ Empire in the past, the ‘special relationship’ we have with our friends across the pond doesn’t get nearly the same scrutiny as the EU does: time after time the USA have screwed Britain over and yet the USA is still great? Just ask yourself, who is setting the agenda – don’t be led by a few hacks desperate for an stereotype driven story, and don’t listen to a politician that believes we’d be better standing independent of our neighbours: because they’re wrong. The world has changed, China, India, the whole Middle East and Russia are growing in power, and it’s a fool that thinks that we’re going to be entering into fair or balanced trade agreements with any of those economic zones… Just ask America about their trading woes with China and you’ll realise just how difficult a time our little island would have.

Europe and the EU are great things, they’re things that the UK should be front and centre in all the time, together we and our European neighbours are the largest economy in the world, we’re one of the largest armed forces groups, we’re the most diverse cultural and economic zone in the world. It’s about time the UK stood up and looked at just how damn strong we can be if we engage properly with Europe.

So Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Brown – come clean: let’s have your real positions on Europe, right here, right now.

I’m so angry today.

Watching the Foreign affairs representatives flog their respective donkeys today was just embarrassing, never, ever, have I seen such a badly briefed set of people: they’d have said anything to win cheers from their respective trenches – whole treaties seemed to be ignored, rewritten and modified to fit the arguments of each respective side. It was full on little-englander and that made me so furious: I don’t understand why our politics must always sink to this.

Clegg, you’re no Churchill

There’s an article in The Sunday Times today regarding a YouGov poll that rates Nick Clegg as being the most popular party leader since Winston Churchill: the world has gone mad – who did they ask? The two simply aren’t comparable, one was a dogged war leader who took his country through it’s darkest hours of the Blitz, who fought off Fascism and National Socialism, who supported his country and enthused the populace to stand up and fight for Britain. The other is, until recently, a virtually unknown yes man for the Liberal Democrats, who got away with a few cheap me too points against a failing leader and a leader desperately trying not to fall into traditional party trenches… Glib soundbites was all we got from Clegg, (and indeed from Brown & Cameron), and if we’re blunt, Churchill wasn’t about glib soundbites, he was genuinely resolute and dedicated to Great Britain… so as Lloyd Bentsen might have said: Clegg, you’re no Churchill. – Something I hope resonates deep in the brains of the Liberal Democrat communications team, because Clegg’s just been set up for a huge fall if he in any way tries to play up to being the next Churchill.