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Osborne's Autumn Statement speech revealed more borrowing

Switch in focus from growth

Austerity is still the answer but now the question has changed. ‘How do we rescue the country’s economy, eradicate the deficit, and return to growth?’ has been replaced with, ‘how do we ensure that the cost of borrowing doesn’t increase?’

 

When governments borrow money they do so by selling bonds (gilts). These can best be described as IOU’s where investors buy a certain amount of bonds to be repaid, plus interest (yield), over an arranged period of time. Keeping down this yield is paramount to a government’s ability to repay its debts. If the government becomes insolvent then it will default and trigger the kind of austerity measures currently seen in Greece.

 

Britain’s coalition is trying to ensure that the country is still seen as a safe haven for money markets. When investors suspect that a country is unlikely to be able to repay its debts then credit lines dry up and the governments have to offer higher yields to convince potential investors that the extra reward merits the enhanced risk. An example would be Italy where a lack of liquidity has led to yields of eight per cent to be repaid in just three years. This contrasts with Britain’s relatively luxurious position of selling, at just over two per cent, bonds that don’t have to be repaid for a decade.

 

So Chancellor George Osborne is understandably keen to maintain cheap borrowing levels and avoid massive interest repayments.

 

How is the coalition maintaining market confidence?

 

Just how one keeps borrowing down is the dividing point in the country’s political landscape. The Conservative led government hopes that by maintaining their austerity programme to eliminate the structural deficit over the course of the parliament, they are keeping the faith of the markets. But austerity comes hand in hand with lower investment, lower spending and lower growth. The UK economy has flat lined and as a result borrowing has to increase to fill the void left by lower tax revenues. The government’s argument is that avoiding austerity measures and allowing the yield on UK bonds to grow by just one per cent would mean every family in the country paying an extra thousand pounds so Britain could repay its debts.

 

The Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Paul Johnson, appearing on the BBC’s coverage of the ‘Autumn statement’, noted that due to declining growth increasing the amount Osborne has had to borrow, he has to factor in more cuts than previously to eradicate the structural deficit:

 

“He’s had to take another 15 billion [pounds] away from public spending in the years after the next election. Now he hasn’t told us how he’s going to do that, he’s simply said that in his forecast he’s taking an extra 15 billion away, that’s enough for the OBR (Office for budget responsibility) to say he will meet his target. Had he not pencilled that in the OBR would have to have said he’s going to miss his targets.”

 

Osborne’s analysis is that should this happen the effect would be to shake the markets’ confidence.

 

 

So what of the opposition?

 

Polls are currently reflecting the public’s lack of faith in Labour’s economic plan. ComRes found that 21 per cent of people trust Labour with the economy whilst 50 per cent do not. Ed Balls’ argument for his economic philosophy has hit a wall. The party’s message is that spending more and therefore increasing borrowing costs will lead to lower borrowing costs. On the surface the claim appears illogical and they have failed dismally in getting across any sort of economic argument to support the claim.

 

The coalition has found political capital in claiming that despite inheriting a huge deficit they have maintained a low level of borrowing costs. This appears true when compared with European neighbours like Greece and Italy, but does this tell the whole story?

 

Today’s bond market:

  Price Yield
US Gov 10 yr 100.00 2.00
UK Gov 10 yr 113.27 2.23
Ger Gov 10 yr 97.23 2.31

 

The above graph shows that the UK does indeed borrow a similar amount to both the USA and Germany. If the theory of cutting the budget deficit to increase the attraction to borrow follows, then you would expect them to have similar budget deficits:

 

Budget Deficit (% of GDP)

US 9.3
UK 8.7
Greece 7.0
Germany 1.1

 

So far so good.

 

But the US, despite the best efforts of the Republican Party, isn’t following a similar austerity plan to keep favour with the markets.

 

Upon arrival to the White House President Obama initiated an $800bn bill and recently fought hard for a $447bn package of tax cuts and government spending. Hardly austerity measures and when combined with the life and death struggle to raise the debt ceiling, which had it not been achieved would have led to an American default, would surely deter any nervy investors. Yet that isn’t the case, so Chancellor Osborne’s theory of ‘austerity or exorbitant borrowing costs’ appears to fall down.

 

The example of America’s economic situation is much more consistent with Britain’s position than the European countries. Britain hasn’t defaulted on its debts for 300 years, it has its own currency, an independent central bank and control of its own monetary policy. Our flexibility is far greater than the likes of Italy and Greece and is as such a far safer economy to invest in.

 

Economist Paul Krugman believes austerity rain will lead to an austerity flood

Labour will need to work hard to convince the country that stimulus is the way to go with even former Liberal Democrat leader and Keynesian, Lord Paddy Ashdown, subscribing to the government’s argument. During a debate with Alistair Darling in response to the ‘Autumn Statement’ he reiterated the party rhetoric; “debt as high as Italy yet borrowing rate lower than Germany.” Labour has to show that this is a distortion of cause and effect to gain any credibility for their argument. Ashdown’s party has always wanted to join the Euro despite the disadvantages of the loss of a sovereign monetary policy. These monetary conditions are again ignored in the austerity hypothesis. Italy cannot print money into the system in order to devalue; it has no control over interest rates and is tied into a political entity that is forcing austerity measures that only increase the likelihood of default and further disincentivise investors.

 

The 2008 Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman states in his blog: “it turns out contractionary policy is contractionary after all. As a result, despite all the austerity, deficits remain high. So what is to be done? More austerity!”

 

Perhaps the Labour Party would be well served to adopt this point in favour of the distinctly less successful ‘too far too fast’ campaign.

 

 

 

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The world leaders need a leader


 

Is this the international leader the world requires?

The world calls for a leader as governments across Europe collapse, yet it may be that the man for the moment was the first to fall victim to the economic crisis.

 

Gordon Brown had a turbulent three years as Prime Minister and domestically it all went wrong from him. The 10p tax fiasco undermined his government, his inability to appease his cabinet undermined his party and by calling a ‘lil old lady’ a bigot, he undermined his relationship with the public.

 

But whilst Brown failed to find his feet as a domestic Prime Minister, he did much to bolster his curriculum vitae as an international leader to call on when there is a crisis. As Prime Minister he convinced Europeans that the banking crisis was a global problem, stabilised devolution in Northern Ireland, and even got the Chinese to agree (in principle…. kind of) to the Copenhagen climate agreement.  But his greatest achievement was the G20 summit in London where the leading nations agreed to inject $1 trillion into the global economy.

 

Perhaps the most lasting achievement of Brown’s international ventures was his ability to pull China into the negotiations. The rising superpower has over $3 trillion in reserves and is the key to economic recovery; it must be pulled, tugged and cajoled into opening up its chequebook and buying foreign goods. The problem is that the country is export driven and wants to keep its currency artificially low to protect this interest. But the leadership can be forced into realising that it is in their interests to intervene as a strong Europe and America mean a strong market for Chinese goods.

 

But as with Churchill before him, Brown’s successes on an international stage were not enough to ensure a further term as Prime Minister. So where will the leadership come from?

 

China must be thrust to the forefront of the G20. This is what Obama and Brown realised and did so brilliantly in 2009 but seems to have been a lesson not heeded, as the latest instalment in Cannes was really the France, Germany and Greece show. China does not willingly push to spend its money externally without a guarantee of a return, so when austerity measures are placed at the heart of a meeting their politicians will happily take a further step back.

 

The traditional world leader is of course the United States of America, but President Obama is in no position to take up the mantle. The ‘greatest democracy in the world’ continues to fail as a system. He’s struggling to operate due to the severe restraints of a filibustering Republican House of Representatives home to a lunatic fringe of ‘Tea Party’ politicians. An approaching election will do nothing to free up time to rally the world behind a common cause.

 

So attention shifts from the leader of the free world to the leader of the Eurozone. Germany is the main European power and the head of the Eurozone, it needs to be strong and proactive but its leadership is floundering. Merkel is clearly an indecisive character by nature and it doesn’t help that the country she represents burdens here with a weighty recent history. Memories of the Weimar Republic and the hyperinflation that destroyed the German currency have, in the minds of the political elite, ruled out the use of the ECB as a lender of last resort. To expose the central bank to huge lending, quantitative easing and inflation is still a terrifying prospect for a country where a loaf of bread used to cost a wheelbarrow full of money.

So is there another British Prime Minister to rise to the challenge? Categorically no.

 

The UK has an awkward international position. Obama has made it a point of policy to look to the east making it difficult for the Prime Minister to maintain the ‘special relationship’. At the same time our European neighbours are increasingly focussing internally, decreasing the UK’s influence on the continent.  Gordon Brown maintained very close relationships with both Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy earning their respect and their ear. Cameron has largely undone Brown’s meticulous work, earning the title ‘lightweight’ from Obama and being told to ‘shut up’ by Sarkozy. Though this country’s days of controlling an empire is a distant memory, Gordon Brown showed that Britain could still have a profound effect on global politics. But Prime Minister Cameron, aided by his vociferous Eurosceptic party, hasn’t made friends with anybody and is more isolated than any UK leader in memory.

 

Chancellor Merkel is the unwilling incumbent of the hot seat and though incredibly hesitant must eventually place her faith in the ECB. Whilst this may prove to take a long time to achieve, the wonderful truth about continuously doing the wrong thing is that eventually you are forced to do the right thing.


If she slips it will help the job market.....

Young, unemployed, depressed.

I hate Strictly Come Dancing but that isn’t the reason why I’m going to trash national treasure and thoroughly nice old man SIR Bruce Forsyth.

The knighthood is the culmination of a remarkable career. The recognition comes for a multitude of achievements; not only has he been the recipient of the award for most prominent chin in show business for 70 years in a row but he can also list an impressive catalogue of work in entertainment and for charity.

I’m not going to dispute the charity work. I’m not even going to question the highly unlikely existence of said ‘biggest chin’ award or ‘Chinnies’. Instead I’m going for the juggernaut and questioning the value of his entertainment.

If the knighthood was for services to sticking to a routine through thick and thin never worrying about originality or creativity, fearlessly refusing to deviate let alone swerve from doing the same drab thing…. repeatedly…and getting away with it for a laughably long time, then he is a God.

He is spoon-fed laughter from an increasingly vacuous audience seemingly too bedazzled by Eurovision song contest style lighting and sparkly glitter to digest that his ‘jokes’ were tired and lazy when they were originally conceived. The fact that he’s still on TV is a damning indictment of both the creative team who thought that such a show was acceptable in the first place and the 10 million odd people who’ve made it a runaway success ever since.

But that’s enough chastising a career. To go further would be to rob the material of future historians when biographies of stars of light entertainment will have long since replaced political histories as the country’s favourite academic pursuit.

Rest assured there is a relevance to this blog, it’s not just a vitriolic rant unfairly thrown in the face of an elderly statesman. The context is a country with rising unemployment rates, 8.1 per cent to be reasonably exact, and a serious problem facing young people in getting a proverbial foot on the ladder.

A lot of readers will think they see where I’m going but honestly I don’t want to purge all old people. The problem isn’t older workers. With their pension problems and having lived through an age where pissing away money made economic sense, they have enough trouble. Instead I’m going to be reasonable and bemoan the BBC’s management system.

I am one of thousands of journalism graduates who torturously dragged themselves through an incredibly elongated education system, did my exams, paid my dues and, to an extent, paid my fees. Having given up on any grand delusions of being a musician, astrophysicist or archaeologist, I finally decided that journalism is what I want to do with my life.

It’s a reasonable enough ambition. In a way it’s a noble attitude. I don’t want to be the important person doing the important things; I just want to be the guy who passes on the message so that people in general can rest assured that important stuff is happening.

Yet as soon as I finally had that soul searching conversation with the mirror and determined once and for all that this is the career I can do and do well, I find that the world seems to have decided already that I can’t do it and won’t even give me a chance to prove it right.

Most of the jobs out there are for editors/deputy editors and are hardly a walk in job for a fresh-faced graduate. 99.9 per cent of available vacancies demand a ‘very experienced’ professional who’s spent years in the industry. So I turned to the BBC trainee scheme and BOOM, it doesn’t accept students who’ve graduated with a journalism undergraduate or postgraduate degree.

So am I useless because of my lack of experience or am I past my sell by date because I know too much?

The media is one of the most important industries in our society and it needs fresh blood and new ideas otherwise it gets stale quickly. We shouldn’t be proud that one man has been such a dominant force in the industry and for so long. His renaissance with ‘strictly fumbled prancing’ isn’t because he came back with new material; he didn’t have a tour de force that suddenly thrust him back into relevance. But whilst Brucie needs to have the good grace to step aside the far more important issue for the future of young journalists and young people generally is that managers of the companies of this country need to be brave enough to give youth a chance.

 

 

I’m an indebted graduate, one of nearly a million unemployed 16-24 year olds.

Bruce Forsyth is a million years old, rich and employed.

 

 

p.s. (I would have fleshed out my Brucie statistic at the end with a figure for his salary but I couldn’t afford to pay the Times subscription to read the article carrying the figure…)

 

 

 

 

Supermarket price war commences


Competition drives supermarket prices down

Sainsbury’s have laid out a battle plan as the UK’s supermarket giants fight for customers. The call to arms comes as a direct reaction to Tesco’s big price drop campaign where prices for 3,000 staple goods including bread, milk, fruit and vegetables have been lowered.

From this Wednesday Sainsbury’s will issue coupons to the value of the difference between its branded goods and those of its rivals, Tesco and Asda.

Around 13,000 products are identified in this price comparison set and as of tomorrow, 12th October should the shopper select an item that is cheaper elsewhere,  as long as they spend a minimum of £20, they will be given the difference back via money or coupons.

The price match scheme comes as the market leaders try to attract new customers amidst a backdrop of difficult trading conditions.

Moneyhighstreet reacted to the move saying: “In reality, whilst this latest deal from Sainsbury’s may not actually save the customer a huge amount, it will no doubt be perceived as being very positive and provide reassurance that they are not being ‘ripped off’.”

Last week Tesco reported a rise in half-year profits despite a fall in underlying sales in the UK. Chief Executive Philip Clarke pointed to a price elasticity trend affecting certain products: “non-food business has been under quite a bit of pressure in the last quarter.”

Meanwhile Sainsbury’s reported slightly better like-for-like sales. For the first six months of the financial year, excluding petrol but not VAT, Sainsbury’s sales rose by 1.9 per cent as opposed to Tesco’s rise of 0.5 per cent.

But whilst this is a victory for Sainsbury’s the results have served to fuel the fire of an already highly competitive industry.

The reaction to the economic conditions from Sainsbury’s and Tesco will not have been received well by Asda who have an existing pledge to be 10% cheaper than their rivals and may now have to react.


Crunch time for Eurozone leaders

In an information light announcement at a bilateral summit in Berlin, President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel set October as a deadline to reach agreement on a package of measures to stabilise the Eurozone. This will include a recapitalisation of European banks if required. After months of dithering over the politics and ignoring the economics, their hand is clearly being forced by growing international pressure for action as the announcement will come just before November’s G20 summit.

Whilst detail is thin on the ground it does seem that recapitalisation of banks will be at the forefront of any announcement. For weeks there has been talk of a boost to the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) with figures as high as €2tn being discussed in order to offer liquidity to member states. But after the break up of the Belgian bank Dexia and downgrade in credit rating of 12 UK financial firms, attention has moved to avoiding a repeat of 2008’s banking crisis.

The international pressure for Europe to find a resolution is enormous. Today in an interview with the Financial Times Mr Cameron urged the euro membership to accept collective responsibility and backed an increase in the eurozone’s €440bn (£378bn) bailout fund. The hope is that decisive action will bring an end to the uncertainty that is currently destroying confidence in the markets.

But how will the cards fall for Greece? Whilst the current Prime Minister has refused to speculate on a Greek default, former PM John Major made it clear yesterday in an interview with the BBC that Greece would have to default.

“In the short term the banks need to be recapitalised and Greece needs to default, the sooner that happens… the sooner you remove something from the overhang in the markets.”

In this scenario banks would take a big haircut and if they weren’t sufficiently capitalised it would spark another banking collapse. But it seems increasingly likely that this will be the course of action as the German news agency DPA has reported a discussion between Eurogroup senior officials about a potential haircut of up to 60 per cent on Greek bonds’.

Reassurances by Sarkozy and Merkel that recapitalisation is on the table and banks would be given all the support they needed add weight to this likelihood.

A default would badly damage banks that are exposed to the Greek debt and would set a dangerous precedent to other heavily indebted economies. At the moment Italy and Spain are not insolvent but have liquidity problems that would not be helped by the drying up of lending likely to occur if banks take a haircut over Greece. But banks may be prepared to accept this so long as they are sufficiently recapitalised. The time for leadership and the use of EFSF funds has come and perhaps an acceptance of a default will end the uncertainty.

Has Apple lost its core?


Brief biography of Steve Jobs

  • 1976 – co-founded Apple with his childhood friend Steve Wozniak
  • 1985 – Fired from Apple having lost a power struggle with the board of directors
  • 1986 – Paid $5m for the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm Ltd creating Pixar Animation Studios
  • 1997 – Returned to Apple as CEO
  • 2006 – Sold Pixar to Disney for $7.4 billion and became the largest shareholder in Disney
  • 9th August 2011 – Apple briefly overtakes Exxon to become the world’s most valuable company
  • 24th August 2011 – steps down as chief executive

 

Upon returning to apple in 1997, Jobs oversaw a rise in annual revenues from $7.1bn (£4.6bn) in 1997 to the current figure of $65.2bn.

The extent of the rapid success of Apple in recent years was highlighted yesterday by the company’s position in Interbrand’s annual rankings. Apple Inc. broke into the world’s top 10 most valuable brands rising to eighth with a value of $33.5bn. The estimate is based on profit, future earnings estimates and the prominence of the brand and highlights the enormous success of the company since Jobs’ return.

Apple is one of the most innovative companies in the world often praised for its ability to know what the public want before they do. With their ipads they gave the world the tablet; a product that no one had ever heard of yet alone wanted, and yet now so many people cannot do without one. The question for Apple is that with the passing of Jobs does this instantly devalue the brand?

For many people the brand Apple is the brand Steve Jobs. It’s a lot like watching an episode of Dragon’s Den when one of the investors get out their cheque books not because of the business presented to them, but because of their faith in the entrepreneur. It was a worry when Jobs stepped down in August but now it’s an even bigger problem.

When Tim Cook took over as chief executive the company’s shares dropped in value by five per cent in after-hour trading. Whilst clearly bad news this was not as big an impact as many had predicted due to the perceived value of the man to his company. The drop in investor confidence was offset by the assumption that whilst Jobs was no longer in the forefront he would in essence be a backseat driver continuing to dream up new products. But now the company really has lost its genius and the question is whether or not with the loss of Jobs, Apple has lost its advantage.

Of course it’s far too early to tell. The brilliance of Apple over the last decade has been its ability to release one great product after another and so it will be judged on the products it produces without Jobs.

But there is cause for concern. Cook launched an upgrade to the iphone4 on Tuesday and with many people hoping for the iphone5 the atmosphere was one of disappointment. The initial reaction on the US stock exchange was for Apple’s shares to slump by 3.6 per cent immediately after the announcement, although by the end of the day they had recovered to a drop of just 0.6 per cent.

But such results could just indicate an adjustment period. Jobs were famous for his crowd-pleasing product launches. His relaxed style and infectious enthusiasm were part of the appeal of Apple’s products. He was geeky, but he still made his products look cool. Cook failed to get the same energy into his first product launch but then this was a less exciting product, as it was just an update to the iphone4. The first real test will be the launch of the iphone5 but this flat footed start will have done nothing to silence the doubters who believe that Apple hasn’t found the seed required to grow the company tree.

Jobs’ genius has been most clearly highlighted in these times of recession. He’s shown an ability to create essentially elastic products such as tablets and expensive smart phones, and manage to convince consumers that they need them every bit as much as they need bread and milk. Will the company’s development teams be able to continue in this vain or is this the bursting of the Apple bubble?


The people have spoken and they have unanimously decided…. NO!!!

No to what? Well obviously no to political reform. But also a great big vocal no to politics as a whole. Here are some of the other questions posed at the ballot that were rejected.

Q. Do you have any sympathy for Nick Clegg’s scapegoat status?

A. NO!! One thing is for sure, Liberals got hammered in England, Scotland and Wales.

Q. Have you given up on government?

A. NO!! In England Tories are still firmly in control of local councils and whilst they expected to lose hundreds of seats they actually gained 81.

Q. So do you support the government?

A. NO!! We hate tuition fees, we don’t like the cuts but we blame the Lib Dems and Labour so Tories have got through the local council elections unscathed.

Q. Have you forgiven Labour?

A. NO!! Labour fell well short of the 1,000 extra councillors they wanted to gain in England and they took a beating in Scotland courtesy of the SNP.


The public may not know what it wants but they know what they don’t want and that’s everything currently being offered.

The traditional progressive movement in England has been given a resounding kicking. The Liberal Democrats got annihilated in the local council elections losing just shy of 700 seats and 9 councils. Even here in Sheffield, where it was expected that things would be bad with Labour gaining control of the council, it was far worse than expected. Nine councillors were lost and many other wards saw Sheffield’s lowly conservatives overtake Clegg’s men.

And then there was AV. The polls seemed to agree that there was no hope for the attempt at political progression putting it 18 points behind the No2AV campaign. In actuality it was far worse than this as 68 per cent voted against thus giving Clegg his second kicking and leaving his party at a crossroads.

Can he lead Scotland to Independence?

Scotland

The one concrete result we have got is in Scotland. Ed Miliband wanted the Labour recovery that aims to eventually see them retake Westminster, to begin in Scotland. Such talk indicating Miliband’s patronising belief in Scotland’s subsidiary status didn’t have the desired effect and pushed the voters towards Alex Salmond’s ‘putting Scotland first’ approach. The Scottish Nationalist Party stormed to an impressive electoral dominance destroying the labour party who so long have ruled the lands north of the border. However, whilst the SNP are experiencing a surge in support, this may not actually point to a thirst for progression. Whilst the First Minister, Alex Salmond, now has a position to implement a referendum for independence it is not at all certain that if he does he will win. The result was massive for the party but if they don’t win a referendum on independence then it could be assumed that the results of the Scottish assembly elections were an anti labour and Westminster vote more than a victory for SNP. Salmond is a heavyweight politician operating in a pool of small fish. And whilst clearly he has voter appeal he may have benefited more from poor labour tactics than having successfully united his country over political reform.

England

Liberal Democrat attention is now being switched to the next great battle. NHS reforms will serve as the latest battleground in order to refocus and regroup the party. I have always resisted previous talk of the coalition government not lasting as ‘too early to say’ but now the government is ‘mission creep-ing’ its way to internal crisis. Divisions that were previously confined to the backroom are now open to the public. Aside from the AV campaigns and figures such as Chris Huhne, and Paddy Ashdown throwing tantrums the formerly silent but lurking Tory backbenchers are creeping into the limelight. When asked about the longevity of the coalition government conservative Peter Bone MP said: “I don’t think it will go on for the full five years that’s for sure. The only reason for the coalition was to come together and sort out the economic mess that labour left this country and once that’s done there’s absolutely no need to continue with the coalition.” He went on to say: “Liberals have got to row in behind the government and stop bleating”. This opinion is reflective of so many Tory backbenchers who don’t see this as a coalition government, but a conservative one with a few refugees thrown in to provide Mr Cameron with the votes he needs to do the bidding of middle England.

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, most famous for threatening to resign unless changes were implemented to Andrew Lansley’s NHS reforms, stated today: “We have become a human shield for the conservatives”. There is no doubt this is true and it’s hard to see what they can do to change that whilst remaining in government. Mr Cameron won’t throw them any bones. The Tory backbenchers won’t allow it. They’ve come to the fore as they did to derail John Major over the EU. The current PM will be wary of his history, internal party rebellions destroyed the two previous conservative PM’s and now that the Liberal Democrats are so weak and Labour are still a long way back on their road to recovery, his primary concern is to appease his own party.


What is the point of first past the post? It doesn’t represent the public. It serves only to represent a single political group as the winner rarely gains a majority worthy to represent its constituency and insures safe seats for politicians. This allows them to feel free to use public money to fund anything from pornography to duck houses.

The arguments from the No2AV campaign have relied on an advert portraying people being too stupid to understand a format requiring the writing of numbers in order: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-obZ9OG_XKA

And a poster showing a boxer being knocked out by an opponent and still winning despite this being impossible under AV as boxing is a one on one situation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVRtL20Ue54&feature=player_embedded

But the argument that winning a foot race, even by a nose, is justifiable as being fully representative seems to be doing enough to win with the ‘No’ campaign in the lead by anything from 5 to 10 percentage points depending on the poll.

Why?

The King is born!!! Oh, the King is dead....already

The public have no appetite for change. People will complain about politicians and the press will get delirious with rage at expenses scandals but it means nothing come election time. We’ve become an old country set in its ways. We alternate our governments between labour and conservative as their main competition has been over who can be closer to the political centre ground. We have a monarchy that trudges on despite holding no influence over the country and its subjects anymore. The economy is lurching in the face of competition from China, India and Brazil. Our place as a ‘former’ world power is at last truly dawning and there doesn’t seem to be any enthusiasm to snap the country back into life.

We’ve had two by-elections recently in Barnsley and Oldham East after the previous Labour MPs were imprisoned. You would have thought that criminally pissing away voters’ money would deter the people from entrusting your party again, at least for the foreseeable future. But Labour not only held onto the seats but actually increased their share of the vote by over 10 per cent in each district.

The voters trundled into the booths and collectively put a cross in the box next to Labour because that’s what they’re supposed to do. “We’re from the north. We vote labour. We don’t want Thatcher’s Britain.” The same happens in the south with middle England as staunchly conservative as ever only to be riled out of their dozy middle class lifestyles if there is a perceived threat to…..trees.

AV won’t win because the politicians don’t want it to. The Tories like their safe seats. They represent the moderate right against the left wing. If the voting system represented a straight fight between the right and the left, then labour and lib dem votes would be intertwined possibly decimating the Tories in a number of their close seats.

Labour are split over the issue because they realise the above, but they also don’t like the idea of losing votes to the lib dems who are often the common mans’ second favourite party and could do well under AV.

It could all have been so different……

For real reform it takes a leader who can win the support of the public and develop enough energy to encourage people to act in the name of progression. Think Martin Luther King, Emmeline Pankhurst or Vladimir Lenin. Nick Clegg could have been that man. For a while he was the knight in shining armour destined to lead the country to greener pastures. He fearlessly strode into the field of conflict (TV leadership debate) and after a ferocious battle where much blood was spilt (some verbals and polite disagreements) the gallant knight emerged heroic and victorious (1% gain in vote).

But then it went wrong.

Mel Gibson ain't no English Bitch

I don’t remember Mel Gibson signing an agreement at the end of Braveheart saying: “Fair cop mate, your English boys won. It was a good fight (but never really that close). Do us a favour sport (King Edward), I’ll be your deputy if you fancy?” It wouldn’t have gone down well with the Scots and would probably have confused the film critics. But that’s what Clegg did because he hadn’t seen Braveheart. He fucking hates Mel Gibson films.

Since then he’s had to choke on tuition fee increases that decimated his strong student support and battle his own party about Andrew Lansley’s proposals for reforms to the NHS. Clegg’s Merry Men aren’t happy. Vince Cable (Friar Tuck) is getting into arguments with David Cameron about immigration speeches. Danny Alexander (the ginger merry man) is falling out with George Osborne about ‘dirty tricks’ in the AV campaign. All the while the liberal democrat Godfathers Emperor Ming Campbell and Charles Kennedy are hardly thrilled about the whole coalition deal.

Clegg could have pushed through electoral form. He could have ridden the crest of a liberal wave that refused to elect the Tories outright despite knowing labour were not so much a dead horse but long decayed. His victory is that there is a referendum on electoral form. He has taken it this far but to ensure this he had to sign his political life away. Now Ed Miliband won’t even share a platform with him during the YES2AV campaign. It’s a sad state of affairs for a man who sacrificed his party to gain power and attempt to make real change to the country. If AV wins it will now be Miliband’s victory. If it doesn’t then Clegg’s surely done as a political force. Tuition Fees increased, Trident will be replaced rather than scrapped and electoral reform has slipped away.


Just in case you didn’t know – IMDb (Internal Movie Database) is a hugely popular website that encourages the public to rate films out of 10 and subsequently calculates the average rating of each film.

I love IMDb. It reflects the point of view of the film going public that could previously only be gauged by Box Office takings. If you wanted to learn about the quality of a film you would have to rely on the opinions of critics, but with IMDb came an opportunity for film fans to contribute to a truly reflective audience reaction.  

Unfortunately sometimes the website gets things terribly wrong. For instance, whilst I’m very fond of its top 250 list, there are some glaring mistakes that reflect the problem of relying on the common man rather than professional film buffs.  Here are my examples of IMDb madness

Into the Wild: 8.2/10

This is the tale of an idiot. Based on the true story of Christopher McCandless, Emile Hirsch plays the role of a young man disillusioned with society who gives up all his earthly goods to truly experience nature. It culminates in his death in Alaska when he realises that he can’t feed himself. It’s of course tragic that McCandless died but there’s also no doubt that he was an idiot. Unfortunately, Sean Penn directs this as an anti capitalism story of the freedom of the human soul and in support of the man who wasted life in such a reckless way. A tale of lack of preparation is told as a story of inspiration. It’s tragically stupid, but still it’s better than Trainspotting, Scarface and Gone with the wind…….apparently.

 

Spot the difference......Oh there isn't any

Avatar: 8.2/10

Just over 300,000 people have contributed to this rating. It makes it the 164th best film of all time. One position ahead of Life of Brian, a few places clear of the Terminator. It may be a clichéd complaint but Avatar is a rip off of the Pocahontas story. It’s a boring rehash of the old evil invading army vs the natural world done 30 years ago in Return of the Jedi. Stephen Lang’s role as Colonel Miles Quaritch is modelled on the ultimate armed forces bad-guy…….‘Chip Hazard’ from Small Soldiers. And it’s just another excuse for director James Cameron to spend lots of money on special effects and sacrifice writing, performance and plot.

Avatar is the ultimate dull blockbuster. But somehow it confused people with pretty 3D jellyfish floating and plenty of flying around. So this is apparently enough to place it above Life of Brian, often considered the culmination of Monty Python’s genius.

Leon: 8.6/10

This is rated as the 34th best film ever edging out Kubrick’s dark comedy classic Dr Strangelove, Francis Ford Coppola’s intense masterpiece Apocalypse Now and Orson Welles’ powerful portrayal of a media giant Citizen Kane. Of course it isn’t better than any of these films. It’s not even that good. It’s a rip off of the Terminator 2 relationship between an unfeeling killing machine and a kid whose life is threatened with some misguided symbolism of a plant pot and milk thrown in. I hope that doesn’t sell it as it’s really not worth seeing. Director ‘Luc Besson’ is now associated with the Transporter and Arthur trilogies. Not really a body of work to unseat Kubrick, Coppola or Welles in the history books.

So what’s the solution? IMDb is still a good guide and I discovered a number of films through its ratings. For instance it champions much of the late Sidney Lumet’s great work with the likes of 12 Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon rated highly. But if you want a more reliable guide then the critics are still the best. In particular the website “rottentomatoes” which amalgamates scores in a similar way to IMDb but only allows contributions from film critics.  But as always when in doubt follow the good Doctor Mark Kermode and he will show you the light.

Limitless: A film review


 
 

Limitless a.k.a Bradley Cooper promotion vehicle

An action-thriller starring Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro that is not just limited but morally confused.

The story follows Eddie Morra (Cooper) a struggling writer devoid of inspiration whose life is going wrong. To really emphasise this image of destitution Eddie has long hair and a dirty flat. This ingenious idea manages to perfectly capture the essence of the difference between him and men who have short hair and tidy living rooms. Hollywood long ago decided that these are the characteristics required for a male to truly obtain inner peace. To enhance the image of Eddie as a character worthy of following in what is essentially a tale of self improvement; early on his girlfriend Lindy, played by Abbie Cornish, breaks up with him. The reasoning is confused but at this stage that is irrelevant. The picture is complete. Eddie’s world is now definitely a mess and something is needed in order to reinvigorate him and give him purpose. Unusually for a mainstream Hollywood film the pick-me-up comes in the form of…. drugs. A chance encounter between Eddie and the brother of his ex-wife; Vernon, played by Johnny Whitworth, sees Eddie introduced to NZT.

NZT serves as the main thought provoking element to this film. Apparently humans only use 20 per cent of their brains and this drug allows a person to access the extra 80 per cent. Through a set of circumstances I won’t ‘spoil’ Eddie gets hold of a large amount of NZT pills with which he embarks on an extended montage of self improvement. With his mental capacity brimming he bashes out an apparently fantastic novel in no time, cleans his flat, gets his hair cut, learns multiple languages and makes millions on the stock market. There is more that happens and I haven’t even introduced DeNiro’s character but that isn’t what I want to talk about and in truth barely matters in a film whose entire purpose is to plug Bradley Cooper in light of the approaching ‘Hangover’ sequel.

To an extent this film shares a vision with Darren Aranofsky’s Requiem for a dream. Requiem’s central characters embark on a journey to make enough money to afford pure heroin which lacks the side effects of the scag available on the street. Inevitably the good times on the drug bring about side effects. Eddie experiences headaches and vomiting when he begins to run out of NZT so he pays a lab technician to develop a purer form of the drug he needs to keep him working at optimum level. However unlike ‘Requiem’ where Jared Leto ends up with an arm amputation and Jennifer Connelly performs horrendous sexual acts to feed her addiction, in ‘Limitless’ we are supposed to support Eddie in his quest to gain the drug. There is even a scene at the end where he desperately searches for one last pill in order heighten his senses and be able to escape a life threatening situation. It’s literally the same as Popeye using spinach. But instead of encouraging children to eat their greens this film advocates the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Whilst not spoiling the ending the conclusion appears to be that drugs are ok as long as you get rich and successful and there aren’t any side effects. Fine, but why then does Lindy leave Eddie when she discovers that his self improvement is the result of drug influence. Is she wrong to leave a man with a drug dependence that has completely altered his personality? It appears so because inexplicably she gets back together with him by the end despite his continued use of NZT.

Aside from the confused approach to addressing drugs, it takes some serious liberties in assuming what a hyper-intelligent being would want to achieve. In this story Eddie goes from wanting to be a writer to wanting to make huge amounts of money, enter the corporate world, dominate the stock market and eventually make a run for President. Interestingly Leo Tolstoy began as a writer and when he became successful and incredibly rich he turned away from the establishment and the political class and began working like a peasant in search of fulfilment. Other super intelligent men like Che Guevara went from a doctor to a revolutionary communist. But this is a capitalist film in line with the American dream. This is hardly outside-of-the-box thinking and it’s really no wonder that a film with such limited philosophy completely fails to deal with the issue of drugs.

If you ignore these irritating questions then it’s a standard thriller. DeNiro’s good in the 10 minutes you actually see him whilst Bradley Cooper’s fine if you like him or irritating with a giant Cheshire grin if you don’t.

Rating: Meh 5/10