Thursday, 21 October 2010

Not that Sort or Fair....

Fair is a strange word. It can mean a lot of things. From fair-dinkum to the fair sex the dictionary is packed with meanings for this four letter word.

You'd think that having a word with so many meanings would be very useful and I suppose it is. The problems start when the same definition means different things to different people.

George Osborne obviously has a different view of what is fair to Alan Johnson. Although it took a while to notice as Johnson seemed more concerned with cracking jokes during his response to yesterday's spending review.

Fairness is quite similar to irresponsible in that the two main parties seem to disagree over what it means. Yesterday in Parliament Ed Miliband branded the governments plans for cutting the deficit an 'irresponsible gamble' during the warm up act of PMQ's. Others might think it is irresponsible for the government of the day to run up a huge budget deficit.

Responsibility could also do with having its definition clarified. Yesterday Johnson seemed somewhat reluctant to accept that the previous Labour administration was responsible for the state of the countries finances.

Deciding to ignore the fact that it was the budget deficit that was being discussed Johnson made the claim that it was a "myth" that the last government was to blame for the global economic crisis. Not just any myth but "the most incredible myth" pushing Heracles in to second place.

Seeing as the Tories were unlikely yo have regulated the banks any better than them this could be seen as fair. Here he is implying that the new bogeyman of the left, the banker from Deal or No Deal, is responsible and that Labour's handling of the economy was sound.

The problem with this argument goes back to Gordon Brown promising that there would be no return to boom and bust. If there's never going to be another "bust" you've got nothing to worry about have you? Spend all you like. Unfortunately not everything is within a governments control. Whatever your definition of irresponsibility is bankers were definitely it.

The consequences of this are still a painful memory. That point when we all learned that numbers went higher than we previously thought and the government was giving that much away in sterling to people you wouldn't buy a used car from.

Labour seem to blame the budget deficit on the bail out and none of this nasty cutting business would be necessary if we weren't in so much debt because of it.

This isn't true. The deficit is how much the government has to borrow to meet its spending commitments each year.

Brown's administration was basing its spending on forecast growth. Essentially what this means is that the economy was getting bigger so we could spend more money. Even if the economy hadn't reached that size yet it was going to so why worry? After all, boom and bust was a thing of the past, right? Right?

Wrong. The global nature of the crash meant that no-one was safe. When the banks' irresponsibility caught up with them (and us) the economy shrunk, growth was recalculated and we could afford what we'd already spent. By spending so much money that it didn't have and relying on cheap foreign credit Britain was in a weaker position than it needed to be.

Labour's alternative to all these cuts is to trim the budget deficit rather than balance the books. This is exactly the same blinkered attitude. It would undoubtedly be okay as long as everything remained as it is. But if it doesn't, if there is some other international crisis Britain, would be in a truly terrible position.

The Observer's leading article last week urged Osborne to "think globally" before making cuts. Their argument is that the apparently inevitable trade war between China and the US will mean that Britain won't be in a good position to export goods and therefore the private sector won't be able to create jobs. Possibly true. However, a truly international perspective here would reveal that Britain had better get rid of her budget deficit fast.

The reason behind the tension between the US and China is that China has been manipulating her currency so that it can produce cheap goods for export. One of these goods is credit. This has boosted China's economy and weakened America's. Now America wants goods to be produced in the good ol' US of A and not to import so much.

This will all lead to a protectionist stand off that could affect on the price of global credit and cost Britain a fortune. It won't then be a question of what to cut, everything will be cut to the extent that yesterday's cuts will seem generous.

I'm sure that's the definition of something though not everyone will agree of what.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

'Right' to Strike?

This week those of us with enough time on our hands will get to see David Cameron make his first speech to the Conservative Party conference since becoming Prime Minister.

We nearly missed out on this TV gold due to the latest threat of industrial action when three unions at the BBC voted to cause a media blackout at the time of Cameron's speech.

Whether a conference blackout would have truly filled our screens with darkness or with repeats of Homes Under the Hammer was not made clear.

Whatever would have been on no doubt viewers will be wishing the BBC had carried out its threat after a few minutes of hearing more talk of how cuts were needed and we should just take our medicine without complaining.

The action was called off after Auntie tabled an improved pension offer to the various unions involved.

Not everyone at the Beeb was keen on taking strike action with several high profile figures, including Jeremy Paxman, speaking out against it.

Union bigwig Ian Pollock was not amused. Pollock accused the Paxman cartel of being undemocratic as the union had voted in favour of the strike. He delightfully described them as working with 'loathsome enemies in Fleet Street' (who could he mean?)

What Pollock fails to understand is that democracy does not end with the union. The BBC has a wholly different democratic role to fill than any other media outlet.

No other news organisation maintains such a veneer of impartiality. This neutral stance is seen as a corner stone of the BBC and is the first thing mentioned in their online editorial guidelines.

That you can rely on Auntie for neutrality means you can scrutinize the countries leaders without having to worry about whether you're being manipulated. This makes the BBC the only true upholders of the 'fourth estate' role and has often been held up as the main justification for the licence fee even when the entertainment schedule doesn't.

This impartiality has often been called in to question with people of all political inclinations occasionally making accusations of bias. (I'm not going to put a link in for this, there are too many examples. Giving just one might seem biased....)

These attacks leave this reputation so fragile just the appearance of prejudice could destroy it forever.

Pollock said that the Tories weren't being targeted deliberately they just happened to be the first big event after what he called the 'long-winded niceties of calling strikes".

Pollock is again missing the point. When walking the tightrope of neutrality appearances mean a lot. If only a few people share the view expressed in Paxman and co.'s letter that blacking out Cameron's speech seems 'unduly partisan' the BBC's reputation is weakened and gives ammunition to its 'loathsome enemies'.