Thursday, 1 September 2011

Hello again

It's been four months since I posted anything so there maybe no-one out there to read this... the trauma of being a golf club captain, and keeping that blog up to date, meant I didn't have time to maintain this one. But I'm no longer captain so hope to keep this up to date in future.

A lot happened while I was away - phone hacking, riots, Eurozone collapse of confidence, never mind Libya or Syria - and I'll comment on those issues now.

I think the main point of interest is how so 20th century they now appear. They seemed to be incredibly important at the time - headline after headline, lead item on the news for days - and yet once the news spotlight moves on no-one is really interested any more. That says a lot about the inability of news media to focus on what's important, and to keep focused even if its not topical. (I wrote that paragraph on the 1st of September, when the Eurozone crisis had slipped out of the headlines for a few weeks: I have come back to this post on the 24th October when it is certainly back in the headlines. It never went away but as far as the media is concerned, it did).

Phone Hacking

I watched the furore about phone hacking, the demonization and closure of the News of the World and the criticism of the News International group (“NI”) with bemusement – especially as there were so many significant things happening elsewhere - and I’m not surprised that the issue has now largely gone away.

It seemed to be caused largely by a combination of jealousy and revenge at – two hypocritical newspapers, The Guardian and the Independent. Hypocritical and not particularly good selling as well. When the history is written, the News of the World will stand out as a great campaigning newspaper that did far more for the public good than the Guardian could ever dream of doing and Rupert Murdoch as someone who did more for media freedom in the UK than possibly anyone else.

And what would you expect a newspaper to do?
An important part of their job is to tell us things we don’t know. This includes things people don’t want known. Some of these things are justifiably private. The assessment of which those are is a critical part of a newspaper’s job, and there needs to be scope for proper appeal and compensation if a newspaper gets it badly wrong.

But most things people don’t want known should be known and we should be grateful that many newspapers invest time and money in digging into the truth. There is a right to privacy but most of the people investigated by the press lead public lives and use their image to boost their career or status.

Far more worrying is the growing attempt to muzzle the press by injunctions against publication, especially super-injunctions against reporting the existence of an injunction. Pre-hacking, this was the hot issue affecting the media. As most of the details leaked out it was clear that the injunctions had been brought not to protect privacy or other family members but to protect the value of the person’s image. A very few judges have been allowed to create a new branch of law to protect people with a lot of money from the public gaze.

Unfortunately the hacking scandal has allowed the focus to switch and has taken the pressure of politicians to protecting the press. The politicians will be pleased because so many of their misdeeds have been exposed in the past. And remember many of those exposures have used dubious methods but we have been grateful for them.

When I posted on this theme last time I mentioned the excellent BBC serial State of Play. I recommend watching it.

The Riots

Most people took support from the riots for their opinions about what is wrong with Britain today, from the left’s decades attack on family and responsibility causing a collapse in society’s moral fibre to the brutal impact of the cuts on the most vulnerable in society. As news trickled out about those involved, immaturity and the short term madness of crowds became more likely suspects, complemented by incompetent policing in two regards:
- Arrogant handling of a tense situation after police had killed someone, and
- Insufficient focus on stopping trouble before it started.

It was worrying to see how Sir Hugh Orde in particular, the head of ACPO, the self annointed trade association for police heads, was so keen to criticise politicians for their role in trying to resolve the issues when it was clear that the police had lost control. Fortunately he failed to get the job of heading the Met, and hopefully his influence is waning.
There is an investigation underway into the causes of the riots and it’s better to wait for that before commenting too much; there’s not enough information yet. But I take away two things:
- Whatever your position on social exclusion, the work being done by Ian Duncan Smith’s team is critical. If it is successful it will improve people’s lives immeasurably in the long term. If not, many will continue to be excluded from normal society.
- The current method of policing cities – hands off, CCTV, stepping as a final solution – has gone horribly wrong. Zero tolerance, involvement, visibility are words that should start being used.

The Eurozone

Where to start? The simple thing is that the Euro was a mistake from the beginning, at least in involving countries with very different economies. A "core Euro" of France, Germany and Benelux might have worked. But the differences between those countries and the other 12 were too great; things onluy worked for as long as they did because the lenders were happy to provide finance while the world was going through an economic boom - or a bubble. Once that confidence evaporated, the scale of Government debt (made worse in some cases by guaranteeing the debts of banks) meant that the question of who stood behind the Euro could not be avoided. And as we saw in Yugoslavia, if you put things together that should not be together the eventual parting will be painful.

So who does stand behind the Euro? Inevitably, Germany is the only country that can and the question is the price it will extract for doing so. It is inevitable that if the Euro is to be a stable currency that there has to be some form of political as well as economic union - without a common fiscal and central bank policy there cannot be a stable currency region. I think those who doubt the future of the Euro underestimate the willingness of the European governing elite to ensure its survival and the survival of the European dream.

It is inevitable that the Greek Government will default on its debts; hopefully others will not have to as well. But I think it very unlikely that they will leave the Euro: the cost to them and potentially to others would be too great.

The cost of the default will mostly fall on European banks, who will have to be bailed out to some extent by other countries. Mostly Germany.

The treaty changes necessary to implement a co-ordinated form of economic governance in Europe provide the UK with the best chance in years to re-negotiate its involvement in Europe. I have long thought that the solution to our difficulties in Europe is to recognise a two-speed Europe, or an inner and outer core. We should welcome the creation of a more harmonised Europe for those who want it and we should take our proper place in the slow lane.


The intervention has worked. Despite a lot of criticism of Cameron and Sarkozy at the beginning, their humanitarian instincts have helped successfully depose an evil man and we should be grateful to them (as should the Libyans, who should now get on with running their country). Syria seems to tied up with Russia and Iran to be given a similar level of help. Its hard to understand why Russia doesn't want to get on the right side of history, but hopefully Libya will motivate Syrians go continue their struggle.