You dirty, double-crossing chatty rat

What are they playing at? What is the insane psychology going on behind this? It is bad enough that Labour can make play with innuendo about cosy deals to slurp on taxpayers’ money (which turned out to be untrue) then to find gossip, leaks, internal accusations and all sort falling out of Number 10 just as major elections are about to be held. Whose side are they on?

There may be nothing to the gossip, but it just has to sound bad, and down tumble the approval ratings, and they are tumbling.

It is a matter of trust. The public do not trust politicians without good reason to do so, and when that trust is shattered, then all the false narrative stereotypes about greedy Tories and snouts in the trough, they come out in force, liberated from their den. The Red Wall rises again.

So, who was in Number 10 when Boris started bawling at his advisers for being too ready to lockdown again? Unless the cleaner was walking by, it can only have been civil servants, ministers and SPADs. Civil servants are oath-bound not to interfere with politics, and ministers and SPADs are Conservatives, so they should be doing their damnedest to protect the reputation of a Conservative Government.

Instead, the SPADs have been gossiping and telling tales like a girls’ fifth form.

Did anything go through their heads? Did they not know that every bad story knocks points of the polls, and pushes the awful Keir Starmer towards Downing Street, and boosts Nicola?

There are said to be deadly rivalries and with such a bunch of supercharged political egos personality clashes and feuds are inevitable. Some may convince themselves that a word in the right ear will topple a rival, or dethrone Carrie. Some may seek to influence Boris. Most likely, they are just immature extroverts who want to boast about their own importance to their ‘friends; in the media, and see their words in print. They might self-rationalise that as duty to country, but it comes down to being schoolgirl gossips. Whatever thoughts they have about what hey do, it just weakens Boris, maybe fatally, and without Boris there will be no Conservative government in a couple of years. The papers have already latched on to the similarities with late-Major.

All this damage is done by chatty rats who are meant to be working for the Conservatives. It’s like sending an army into battle to defend the life of the nation, only to find the Green Howards instead attacking their rivals in the Scots Guards.

The Last Emperor of China lost his throne because of incurable rivalries and corruption amongst the eunuchs in his court. Eventually, when his kingdom was shrunk to the walls of the Forbidden City, he drove them out. The SPADs in a sensible world would be driven out in ignominy too (whether as eunuchs is up to Boris). Then again, we have found a SPAD spurned can be even more dangerous. You have to ask whether the worst are kept on just out of fear.

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It’s a funny old game, politics

The government says it will do ‘all in its power’ to stop a breakaway football “Superleague”. What power, and why? All the power of the state falls upon cartels and monopolies, but for football a monopoly cartel must be enforced.

I am waiting for FIFA to claim a breakaway league is ‘unethical’, as would be the most hilarious hypocrisy. Tonight though the ‘Superleague’ seems to be falling apart, to great rejoicing from fans: it has been a strange couple of days.

Of all the subjects to address, football is not a natural one for me: I do not follow the game and could not even name any players. I can see the grip it has on real fans though, deeply, emotionally bound up with their teams, and for a great portion of the population them a rumpus about the organisation of football competitions is of real importance. To an outsider, it look weird: these teams are multi-billion pound public limited companies: I might as well wear a team shirt for British American Tobacco or wave a rattle (do they still have football rattles?) yelling ‘Rio Tinto forever!’ It’s not my thing.

It is different though: football is big business, but it is the entertainment business: just like the film industry, it is all about mass emotional engagement. Football is a game which can exploit that better than any other: it is man against man without equipment apart from the ball, constant, unpredictable movement (unlike the regulated positions of cricket), and sudden bursts of activity and charges towards goal-scoring, will-he, won’t-he, that mirror the natural rhythms of the emotional drive. It is worth the millions poured in by fans and sponsors.

In all this, it has nothing to do with government. The PM does not turn up to intervene if a film studio decides to pull out of the BAFTAs and set up their own awards ceremony, or if the producers of Bake-Off move the show to Channel 4. (I hope he does not, anyway.)

Laws have intruded on occasion: when we were within the European Union it was ruled that rules could not keep teams all of one nationality, and MEPs keep trying to interfere with football player transfers – selling a player’s contract has been described as a modern day form of slavery, which is not just insensitive to those actually kept in slavery today and throughout history, but is profoundly stupid: what slave earns a millionaire salary and can behave like a libertine brat with impunity?

What the Superleague thing was about is not entirely clear, but the fans did not like it, or some of them did, but I do not know if they knew what they were protesting against either.

Then in stepped Boris. Currying favour maybe with football fans in the northern towns, he was going to give the new League ‘the red card’. Why? On what basis?

The greatest thing about football is that it can be played by a dozen friends in the park with jackets for goalposts, or by players employed by a billion pound corporation, and whichever it is they do so on their own, not licenced by bureaucrats. It is so profoundly unrelated to government concerns that in an over-politicised world it is liberating. If government starts interfering, it is ruined.

There is a place for law in terms of the commercial structure. Monopolies are restrained to ensure open competition on prices and quality. If teams meet together to raise ticket prices or to suppress salaries, there can be intervention. A rule that the teams must play in a particular competition or be barred from all professional competition would be a terrible restraint of trade, but that looks very like the FIFA rules our PM is trying to keep imposed. A breakaway league would be fair competition, and could improve the game overall, as competition does. Yet instead of cheering this competition, it has to be given the red card, acting not as a government, but as FIFA’s hired boot-boys. There is no sense in this. It is embarrassing.

Tonight, the clubs that were forming the breakaway league away are withdrawing. The fans demanded it, and that is a proper reason. Pressure from impotent ministers though: that should have been laughed to scorn.

Rishi Sunak’s budget speech

Speaking against the Chancellor’s budget this afternoon, we first have Mr Rishi Sunak, in 2015:

No more irresponsible borrowing. No more spiralling debt at the taxpayer’s expense. No more passing the debt to the next generation. I was delighted to hear the Chancellor’s plans for this nation finally to run a budget surplus.

I have spent my career in business. Every company I have been involved in sets a budget, as indeed does every household in this nation, and when they do they operate with these basic principles: first, “How much is coming in?” and only then, “How much can I spend?” For too long, Governments have got that back to front, spending first, ignoring how much is coming in, then letting borrowing endlessly make up the difference.

Coming from a financial background, I decided to spend some time analysing our nation’s fiscal history. I wanted to know, when it comes to our Government’s revenue, how much does in fact come in. I can tell the House that, since 1955, tax receipts, with limited variation and remarkable consistency, have averaged 36% to 38% of GDP. In spite of the vast differences between Labour and Conservative Members in our approach to setting tax rates, the average tax take has been remarkably similar under Governments of both parties. There appears to be a natural ceiling to what any Government can extract from the pockets of its hard-working taxpayers.

That to me suggests a simple conclusion: in normal times, public spending should not exceed 37% of GDP. That is the best estimate of our income as a Government and therefore the best guide to what we can afford to spend. So the Government’s plans to get public spending to that level are not, as some Opposition Members have suggested, an ideological crusade or clever politics; rather, tackling excessive public spending is simply the sensible, logical and responsible course of action. That action, taken to make sure that we live within our means, is the same course of action that any business or household would take when presented with the facts. We all know what happens when those facts are ignored: more borrowing, more debt.

[….]

All debts need to be repaid, with interest. For the next generation, that means higher taxes or less money to spend on public services. As the hon. Member for Streatham said, we already spend more money on debt interest than we do on the police, transport or housing. That simply cannot go on.

Whether one is a Thatcherite or a Trotskyite, the rules of budgeting are the same: one cannot sustainably spend more than one earns. I commend the Chancellor for acting on that principle and ensuring that Britain’s finances will once again be back in the black.

He then added, in 2017:

Fiscal responsibility is not just an ideological pursuit. Without a prudent approach to borrowing and debt, ordinary people pay the price. They pay it through slower growth, less fiscal resilience and interest rates that begin to climb. Let me start with growth.

As Government borrowing grows, it crowds out the lending available to British businesses to expand and invest. The results of these things around the world are clear. On average, economies with debt exceeding 90% of GDP grow 1 percentage point slower than those where it is between 30% and 90%, and 2 percentage points slower than those where it is below 30%. If it were not for the actions of this Government, our nation’s debt would already have spiralled well beyond 90%. Although a 1 percentage point hit to growth does not sound like a lot, it would be £100 billion in GDP, and £40 billion less to the Treasury’s coffers.

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The new challenges for 2021

Happy New Year to all; and now we roll our sleeves up to achieve what the opportunities of the year put before us.

Few were sad to see the end of 2020. It has been a bad year, which is one reason for not doing a jaunty end-of-year round-up yesterday.

There have been happy things: Britain came out of the European Union at last on 31 January 2020 and the hang-over transition period ended as the new year fireworks were bursting, and with a good, new trade treaty agreed, not a cliff-edge. However the dominant theme of the year has been the plague from Wuhan.

The worst thing has not been the disease but the lockdown imposed to try to control it, which failed, lengthening pain. I found it hard to celebrate the New Year – when they end the lockdown, then I can celebrate.

In the meantime, we look ahead. There is work to be done.

For all of us, the priority is to work, and work hard, at whatever we do that is economically active, or social. The lockdown has trashed the economy and bankrupted many, but the overall structure is sound, when allowed to work, and hard work will revive the engines of prosperity. Work is there, fundamentally, to create value, as Adam Smith explains. There can be forms of work which are valuable in one sense but create no lasting value, such as the work of civil servants, judges, stage actors and the like: the priority is value-creation as all prosperity depends on it. (If that means sending unnecessary civil servants out to work in factories and shopfloors, I am all for it.)

Society too has taken a body-blow: we have got unused to congregating together, attending church, organising social gatherings and attending and organising the clubs and societies which form the sinews of active society, and it will take an effort to convince anyone to come off the computer screen, stop watching daft YouTube videos (guilty as charged) and to step outside the house and into those social groups. It has even got to the basic level of decay that many have found they do not have to give a friendly greeting or to smile.

Within government too, action is needed, and it must not be driven by professors on a power-trip. Indeed after this period of utter negation of liberty, we need to see a major drive to boost individual freedom. Politically it will be important to be seen to champion freedom and personal responsibility, but then any politician can make the right noises: Tony Blair was hailed as a champion of civil liberty but in the event was an enemy to it. Society suffers and the economy suffers when its members are not free. We can thrive economically and in our mental state when we have personal responsibility and the freedom to pursue our personal goals. I feel more specific articles coming on.

In a few days’ time the country with the world’s biggest national debt will have a new President, and we must see how he swings America’s weight around.

Liz Truss for one will be busy, signing even more trade deals across the globe. Fascinatingly, her bouncy confidence and speed of action have driven even the glacially slow European Union to up their game in signing deals in the wider world. They are being overtaken though.

Then the loneliest man of them all is Rishi Sunak, with an empty Treasury and knowing that he if he raises taxes to fill the gap, it would bring no more cash in anyway, and would put another wrecking ball into the economy.

There is a lot to look forward to in 2021, but it is not going to be easy. We cab look for politicians to acct wisely, but really the hard work is for the rest of us. We must all work hard.

Jacobean court farce

The reign of King James I began to fall apart into farce in 1612. The King was no fool, or if he was, he was as the cliché has it “the wisest fool in Christendom”, and in character he was uncertain, fearful and indecisive, which led to his relying on other who were unworthy of trust. Until 1612, he had at his right hand Robert Cecil, who had served Good Queen Bess as had his father and who guided the new, inexperienced king. In 1612, Cecil died and the King was adrift, and the kingdom with him.

King James was a good king to the extent he could be given his limitations. He had ruled in Scotland, and had been impatient to rule his inheritance in England too, making plans based on expectation not experience, and the change from the unruly, poverty-stricken court in Edinburgh to the surface splendours he found in England left him unsure of how to react.

The King also had a nervous complaint which led him to fidget constantly and left him unable to concentrate his mind on the task at hand whenever another presented itself, and make the King unable to govern himself let alone a kingdom. Part of this was his unfortunate fondness for handsome young men, many of whom were promoted in court despite no merits beyond their comeliness, and a court full of handsome young men and many rather personable young ladies was a source of constant intrigue.

Had this dysfunctional royal court been merely a private parlour, one might pass over in distaste it like a tabloid sensation, but these plotting courtiers were governors too, in the absence of control by the King. It led to the collapse of the King’s authority, and worse later.

They competed for favour and gathered positions and titles from an impressionable king who saw these favours as costing him nothing. Two such young men were Robert Carr and Thomas Overbury, who came to London together and wormed their way into the court, Overton by his intelligence and Carr by his face; Oveton gained a knighthood, and Carr was made Earl of Somerset. This is a poor substitute for the competition of merit which the kingdom needed, but it is not unknown to this day.

These games become dangerous. Those competing for favours formed factions of convenience, and whispered accusations circulated, in a dangerous atmosphere where treason was the fear in the wind, as well it might be after Guy Fawkes and after the By and Main plots, and was a fatal accusation, but even an accusation of discourtesy would be fatal to a career.

History books tell better how the breach between friends came, when Carr openly took up with Frances Howard and arranged the annulment of her marriage so he might have her. Overbury’s poem The Wife was a deadly insult to Frances, now Countess of Somerset. She pulled an old and cruel trick: she spread a tale that Overbury had been disrespectful to the Queen. He fell from favour at once and and the next year, though further intrigue he was in the Tower accused of treason, where Carr and Frances arranged for him to be poisoned. Their faction were all implicated.

It starts with personal disagreements, and political rivalry which has personal motives, rarely the good of the nation, fought by personal intrigue, with never a thought to the public responsibilities of office – and when power is purely without responsibility it is precious indeed and to be defended at all costs. Courtiers fought like rats in a sack, and their political heirs still do today. If they stay in the sack it might not bother the wider world until we realise whose taxes are still paying them.

No servant is greater than his master, and it is a weak master who allows them to think they are. That was King James’s failing, and that of several other political leaders down the ages.

The scandal that culminated in the death of innocent Overbury was just one of the many intrigues that scared the Jacobean court, and lost the king the love of the nation. It all continued under his son, King Charles I, which led to the discontent, rebellion and Civil War.

I wish that we had learnt to rise above this sort of thing, but apparently not.

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