Sunday, November 30, 2008

Some advice for Mr Clegg

Young Mr Clegg need not take any advice from me on his current troubles; managing a cabinet or a cabinet in opposition is a hard thing for a political leader and I do not claim ever to have excelled in the task.

Mr Nick Clegg, it seems, has been overheard by a scribe from the popular press, discussing his appointments and, it is claimed, uttering calumnies about his ablest ministers. I am sure there is much invention and embroidery in the report. Modern newspapers appear to trade in gossip rather than facts, to consider names more than principles.

Nevertheless I can perhaps offer one word of advice. Mr Clegg, it appears, is concerned that policies on the "environment" should receive greater consideration and greater import in the popular mind. There is some sense in this; the resolution of fuel sources and fuel prices is of the utmost importance to the political economy and the public now desire cheap fuel as they once desired cheap grain. Mr Clegg and his party can indeed promise cheap fuel by reducing dependence on tar and even coal.

I would therefore advise that the best person to take the portfolio is not Mr Webb nor Mr Huhne even Mr Clegg's ally Mr Laws. It is Mr Clegg himself. For the wisest approach to a cabinet is to allow able colleagues to do well that which they do; and to do oneself that which is considered to be most important to the achievement of one's objectives. I do not pretend Her Majesty ever concurred with me on this; I recall that once she suggested I depart my post as chief minister to devote myself again fully to the job of Chancellor. I am unclear who was in her mind as a replacement - for establishing a succession is also a difficult task for a leader.


First Sunday in Advent

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility ; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and for ever. Amen.

The collect for Advent is prayed in many churches today. A year ago I reflected on the continuing joys of the Advent season. This year it is my estimation that the national mood is more sombre, that for many people Christmas will be a short season of escape from great anxiety. Some will say that the hope attained from repetition of the seasonal prayer, from seeking solace in devotion, is merely another form of escape. I do not think so; for it is in devotion that the spirit is strengthened and the heart steadied for the travails that await us.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Darling heeds Cable

Slowly but surely the Chancellor continues to pay heed to the excellent Mr Vincent Cable. I am not fully enamoured of the financial strategy that it appears will be announced tomorrow to an expectant nation; nevertheless, if today's reports are to be given credence, it will contain elements of fiscal sense, largely borrowed, as has often been Socialist practice, from the Liberal canon.

Mr Darling, it appears, will reduce excise taxes levied on goods and services, known as vat taxes. This is excellent, for such taxes distort trade and consumption. It appears the European concert of nations has sought to make them as fair as "possible" and their imposition carries a great deal more sophistication than a century ago. Nevertheless there are considerable exemptions and distortions.

It is also suggested that the Chancellor will make a promise to increase taxes on those earning the greatest incomes, these taxes to be levied after an election. Such a policy might have been whispered in his ear by Mr Cable; indeed Mr Cable has shouted it from the rooftops. But it will not raise enough now or in the near future to pay for the substantial borrowing that Mr Darling proposes.

The Chancellor will also channel support to the poorest families. It is likely he will use his "tax credit" system. As I have commented in the past, this system involves excessive use of clerks and printed paper forms. Nevertheless it has the present advantage that payments can be increased speedily and directed to those in greatest need faster than reductions in taxes levied on wages. I would still in principle prefer reductions in income tax for working families - as I believe would Mr Cable; for the present policy would mean an increase in government disbursements - and that is not to be desired - rather than a reduction. I would wish to hear Mr Darling espouse such a policy once the immediate crisis has passed.

There remains the question of how much Mr Darling proposes to borrow, whence such borrowings will originate and how they will be repaid. He seems likely to offer a partial answer to the last question but continues to remain ignorant of the risk that increasing borrowing may increase pressure on the banks and on interest rates. He must offer a full explanation of his actions.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It only takes a spark

It was always my opinion that the Mohameddan world should be judged according to the same lights as nations and peoples who follow the Christian religion. The prophet Mohammed paid full respect to the teachings of Christ whilst rejecting his divinity; and in his lifetime this revered gentleman was no more violent than those kings, generals and even Popes who at the time professed allegiance to Christ.

Sadly the turbulence of the Middle East, the crucible of the world, has meant the roots of democracy and self-government have proved shallower amongst these peoples than in Europe, the Americas or other parts of Asia. Too often tyrants have reigned, besmirching the name of Allah and the words of their own holy book.

I reflect on these matters having read with horror and alarm the statement issued by the Mohammedan insurgents known as Al-Qaeda. Whilst peoples around the world welcomed the election of President Obama, as representing a new era in which colour of skin, race or religion, no longer determines a person's destiny, it was entirely predictable that this organisation would reject him in whatever terms might be felt would rally their diminishing forces . To most followers of Mohammed, the prospect of an American president named Hussein has seemed unimaginable; to Al-Qaeda he is an apostate. Thus far is predictable.

If however the reports are to be believed this organisation has gone further in heaping abuse on the new president. It has termed him a "house slave", abeed al-beit, a "house negro", according to their own translation.

Such comments are beyond offensive; they are worthy only of the Klu Klux Khan, the mythical American organisation that rejects enfranchisement.

In making such a comment, Al-Qaeda's spokesman reveals his organisation's true objective. It is to create a world segmented not just by religion but also by race; to continue the historic Arab mission of enslaving the Africas and converting the world by force of arms.

It is to be hoped that wiser counsels will prevail among other Mohammedan zealots. Indeed it is an opportune moment for those who in the eyes of the ignorant are aligned with Al-Qaeda to declare their difference; I think primarily of the Persians, the Lebanese, the Palestinians, the Sudanese.

Indeed I dare to hope that these two misplaced words might represent the turning of the tide in relations with the Mohammedan world. For it is when oppressed peoples recognise that others may suffer in the same way as themselves that the spark of liberalism is first kindled.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Economic tampering

Statesmen are anxious to place obstacles in the way of economic misfortune, to prevent the loss of work and manufacturing business. It is apparent to me that governments are more able to make an intervention now than 150 years ago, that electrical calculating machines and the development of political economy over many generations has made such actions more conceivable. Nevertheless, compared with those previous times, the political economy is as if Gordius had continued to bind his great knot, had twisted rope upon rope and only some new young Alexander might have the wit to perceive an answer. For the analyses that are made, even by the electric machines, are not as precise as those in engineering.

There are many dangers in the path of ministers who seek to untangle such a ροζιασμένον. Some actions have already been taken, some wise and some hazardous. In Great Britain interest rates have been reduced, increasing the supply of money and allowing banks to function in a less perilous battlefield than previously. The parties are competing to offer cuts in taxation; but how different are their various proposals!

Mr Cameron would favour businessmen. I have compassion for our manufacturers at this time; but in such times they must demonstrate their own persistence and resilience.

Mr Clegg would pursue his plans, revealed some two months ago. There would be retrenchment in government, taxes on the foolish and concessions for those poor families who continue to strive to provide bread and shelter in turbulent times. It is a just plan but inadequate.

The Queen's ghillie would also reduce taxes in some form. He would support his plan by increasing borrowing by the exchequer. He has, I hear, never studied political economy; it is apparent.

For increased borrowing by the government increases demand on the bankers, allowing interest rates to be raised once more and removing spare money from the pockets of householders and businesses.

There are further dangers to be considered by all nations. China would spend some £500,000 million pounds, I hear. Its people are a prudent people who have saved the money and it is in their banks, it is said. Other governments may increase spending rather than reducing taxes - as if each course is equivalent.

Reduction of taxes in the European nations, spending on railways and repair of earthquake devastated towns - it is as if all have forgotten the events of the last 12 months. Prices of fuel and metals have fallen with the reduction in demand and this may help to dampen the collapse of economic prospects. And yet once the Chinese dragon arises and spreads its wings, it will yet again demand steel and oil and coal. Once the British and the Americans have spare money in their pockets, they will yet again take to the air and the road.

Anyone who borrows money must seek a return on their borrowing. The government of China will borrow from its own people and create a better nation. The rest of the world will return to where it was: teetering on a financial precipice - unless that is, statesmen agree some wise investments for their borrowed monies.

For not only will borrowing increase the rates of interest but spending may increase the price of scarce commodities. It is therefore necessary that expenditure is directed towards those areas of investment where supply is plentiful, where working people can be employed without waste of resources. I hear a wise man in the past century once suggested that in such times it is best to employ the workforce to dig holes; there was greater wisdom in such a saying than mere jesting.

I would direct our statesmen to where resources are indeed plentiful and where investment can gainfully be made. For the mighty sun, the sky's glowing orb, continues to bestow unlimited fuel and energy upon us; and mankind now appears to have the skill, the techniques to place a harness on the chariot of Helios. Here is expenditure that will repay itself four-fold, if not ten-fold; it will stimulate new investment in new machines and reduce the hapless reliance that the northern nations have upon the desert oil wells of Arabia, Mesopotamia and Persia.

I have some hope that young President Obama will take steps in this direction; there are few grounds for confidence in Her Majesty's chief minister.

The fires are kindled, and the smokes ascend;
With hasty feasts they sacrifice, and pray,
To avert the dangers of the doubtful day.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Praying for peace

It is but a year since I remarked on the ceremony with which the British people remember the dead of the great conflict that engulfed Europe nearly a full century ago.

In visiting further such ceremonies today I continue to be deeply moved, and gratified, by this annual event. A priest today read the words of a young man, a member of the Sassoon family, who writes most movingly, from his heart, of the terrible aspect of warfare. Much as I admired the craft of Lord Alfred Tennyson, I fear he may have stoked some misapprehensions amongst the British people that there is a glamour in war and the waste of lives.

This week the world has a new hope; the Americans have elected a professed peace-maker to lead them. Mr Obama is a young man, lacking in experience, but he has shown his steel; and we must hope, and pray to the Almighty, that he holds fast to his course and seeks to be an instrument of true justice, justice that will build peace, not stoke hatred and warfare.

Let me quote the words, not of Homer, nor the great Horace, but of young Seigfried Sassoon:
At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow'ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!

Monday, November 3, 2008

A modest survey

I have availed myself of the opportunities afforded by modern electronic engines to allow readers of this journal to express on opinion on the state of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom.

It is a modest matter compared with the great contest across the Atlantic; yet it is sobering to note that Mr Darling, the present incumbent of the great office once held by myself, has failed to gain a single supporter.

There are a few hours to run before a declaration can be made; undoubtedly the findings of this poll will be of little interest in comparison with events elsewhere. Yet it has caused me a little amusement.


A lather of anticipation

I am in a lather of anticipation as the states of North America prepare to make their great decision, as their citizens queue to mark their preference on the ballot. It is an unwarranted privilege to view a great democracy cast its vote, to see with my own eyes its statesmen traverse its territories at a speed faster than that afforded by the fastest railway; the telegram and the printed newspaper could never offer such a spectacle.

Et jam tempus equum fumantia solvere colla, yes indeed, I am inclined to repeat this quotation from Horace, oft-attributed to myself as it is. These noble steeds foam at the mouth, awaiting the final contest. But if I must cast about for quotations, I should refer to the great Homer, the poet who chronicled the duels of heroes:

aurion 'en areten diaeisetai, ei k' emon egchos meinei eperchomenon.
(tomorrow he shall come to know his courage, whether he can resist my on-coming spear).

And yet it must be recorded that tomorrow's great contest may be of even greater significance than the war recounted by Homer. Even if Senator McCain is cast as Hector, the stout defender of the city of wealth, and Senator Obama as Achilles, the champion of the people, tomorrow's dawn may yet mark a moment when European civilisation embraces the hopes of all the people's of the world, when the peoples of North America themselves can aspire to equality of hope. And so I turn to Horace again:
Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit
or to St Luke
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
The reader must forgive the prematurity of my reflections; let us perhaps for just one day enjoy from some distance, but as if close to, such a mighty spectacle.