Archive for ‘Britain’

Hackgate and the case for collaborative reporting

By , 20 July, 2011, No Comment

A post up at Public Business on the U.K. phone hacking scandal and what the way the story was revealed tells us about the power of collaborative reporting:

Stories this complex, with tentacles that reach deep into multiple powerful institutions – News International, the Metropolitan Police, Downing Street – need to be tackled like a hydra, from all sides at once. One news outlet can try to do it all, but, as Rusbridger’s article shows, it works better if each news team has time to focus deeply on one angle, and the ability to share findings freely with those who are coming at the beast from another side. Moreover, a story of this type, one that will raise shocking questions about institutions so embedded in our society, whose authority and honesty we are taught to trust, cannot break through if it comes only from one corner. True though the revelations may be – and Davies’ work was flawless - they are too easy to dismiss until they have been cross-checked and verified by multiple voices.

Read the whole post here. It’s a follow-up to this post on the hacking scandal, which looked at the importance of introducing transparency to the reporting process.

Gordon Brown, After the Fall

By , 15 December, 2010, No Comment

A post at Foreign Exchange on a Gordon Brown lecture/book launch I attended yesterday at NYU:

The basic thrust of the book is that financial reform laws in individual countries are irrelevant as tools against a future crisis, because they simply provide incentives to firms to take their riskier business elsewhere. Instead, the book pushes for formal regulatory coordination and essentially, for expanded global governance. It is not an explicitly left-wing argument, as Brown’s vision of global coordination includes a completed Doha Round and a plea for international institutions to prod China into speeding up its push for more consumer spending. [During his talk, Brown clarified this point--essentially he thinks the recent five year plan can be a two year plan if Beijing wants it to be.] My take having read the first section and skimmed the rest: It’s a pretty good blueprint, but completely unfeasible. It’s also not badly written, as far as books by ex-politicians go. Certainly a relief after the purple prose we got from Blair.

After laying all this out in a short lecture, the former PM took a few questions.

Read the rest.

The Stiff Upper Lip and Its Discontents

By , 22 October, 2010, 1 Comment

I’ve just written the longest blog post ever at Foreign Exchange. It filled about 6 pages in Microsoft Word as I was working on it. I don’t think bloggers are actually allowed to be so verbose, but I couldn’t help myself, as the subjects touched on in the post triggered too many of my wonkish fetishes:

On Wednesday, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in the U.K. unveiled its mammoth austerity program, aiming to take £81 billion off the deficit over four years. There are a few major sources of cuts: a reorientation of British foreign policy that should take 24% out of the Foreign Office and 8% out of the Ministry of Defense; a welfare reform program  that should yield close to £20 billion in savings; a push towards privatization and localism on everything from low-income housing to law enforcement; and across the board cuts–mostly efficiency savings and staff reductions–in all departments with a few notable exceptions: education, health and foreign aid spending will all keep growing.

The plan has taken a heavy beating in the first 48 hours. First, there are criticisms of the way the Spending Review plays fast and loose with data: leaving off half the cuts in order to claim that the overall effect is more progressive than it really is, conflating real and nominal figures or cash figures and percentages or departments’ capital ceilings and their actual expenditures. I can’t tell if that kind of fuzzy math is intentional obfuscation or just economic incompetence, but it’s a problem with the Review and one reason it took me a long time to develop a solid analysis of my own. Second, there are criticisms of the policies on the merits, in particular of the changes in taxes, disability and child benefits and housing. The most aggressive critique has come from the Institute for Fiscal Studies in a series of Power Point presentations that are getting a lot of positive play in the British press, but of which I’m a bit skeptical.

The rest of the post is a detailed analysis of the review, followed by an assessment of just how regressive it is. The figures I ended up with show that the Review is regressive in the broad sense (worse for the bottom half than the top half) but when it comes down to specifics, is actually going to squeeze the middle more than the absolute poor.

For more scintillating details, read the whole thing.

Questions for Andrew Mitchell

By , 22 September, 2010, No Comment

Another hit from Foreign Exchange:

“Britain took the financial crisis harder than most, and the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition that took office in May ran on a promise to right the ship. Their solution: a dramatic austerity program that is making heavy cuts to a host of the country’s cherished public services. Opinion in Britain is pretty split about that, but recent polls show opinion is dead set against the decision to exempt overseas aid from any cuts, and, per an announcement from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg this morning, to triple aid spending on maternal and child health.

I sat down with Andrew Mitchell, Britain’s Secretary of State for Development…”

Learn what he said here, or listen to an excerpt of my chat here.

In Defense of Anglophilia

By , 15 May, 2010, 1 Comment

Regular readers of this blog, as well as followers of my Twitter and Reader feeds, will know that for many months, I have been obsessed by the British general election. Earlier this week, my friend and True/Slant blogger Ethan Epstein chastised American journalists for over-hyping this story at the expense of more significant elections, like the August ouster of the Liberal Democrats in Japan.


To be sure, in their domestic political contexts, the recent Japanese or (I might add) Chilean elections were milestones that deserved better treatment from the media. But from the perspective of U.S. media outlets concerned primarily with American foreign policy, the British election carries weight.
Read More →

The Future of Europe

By , 21 October, 2009, 1 Comment

As some readers of this blog may know, I have a large soft spot for the Watery Isle. I have visited friends and family there roughly once a year for as long as I can remember, and I lived there as a student, twice, in 2003 and 2006-7. So when I comment on events there, I do so with something more than an outsider’s concern. But today, I comment as an American.

Let me explain. Despite all the hoopla about ‘David Cameron the conservative reformer.’ his policies are identical to the Thatcherite Tories of three decades ago. That is, shrinking the size of government through upper-income tax cuts and slashing spending, and focusing what’s left of government on supporting ‘traditional values.’ [Especially egregious is his subtly concealed scheme to cut welfare payments to poor single moms--a group that correlates with immigrants-- while increasing the tax breaks to married couples, essentially paying middle-class white women to stay home and have babies. 'Lie back and think of England,' much?]

Together, as one journalist has already noted, these add up to a government that helps southern England at the expense of the North: the South is London financiers, Oxbridge academics, doctrinaire Anglicans and well-kept lawns. The North used to be factories, mines, sheep farms, and Protestant dissent, but Thatcherite labor reforms took the Northern economy and culture apart (as globalization necessitated, I admit). The result is that Britain is overly reliant on its financial sector and took a harder hit than most developed nations when the finance world collapsed last year. Granted, New Labour has done a whole lotta nothing to give the de-industrialized North something else to live on, but given that the North remains Labour’s consituency, the chances of Britain’s lack of economic diversity being addressed are much higher with Labour than with the Tories. Especially now that the financial crisis has made it possible for Labour to make a market-based argument for why Britain needs to start doing something besides banking again instead of the old socialist arguments that they rightly left behind 10 years ago.

All of this matters when it comes to understanding the two parties’ attitudes to foreign policy.

Labour’s Last Best Hope

By , 17 September, 2009, No Comment

I’m a guest blogger today at one of my favorite sites, Brit political blog Fast Talk Express. The occasion is the one year anniversary and 100th post. (Full disclosure: the Fast Talker is a good friend). In my post I offer up some advice for Labour as it navigates, and looks beyond, the upcoming 2010 elections.


The conventional wisdom on the failure of Blairite Labour is that, in trying to attract centrists on the old political spectrum, it alienated its traditional base and split the party into sectarian feuds. I believe the failure is better seen along the new political spectrum—Blair positioned Labour in the middle of this new axis, trying to retain the old coalition of economic statists and social progresives, while courting simultaneously defense hawks and free-marketeers. The result was just incoherence.

Instead, Labour should wear its roots proudly as the party of institutions, making the offensive, not the defensive economic and social case for big government as well as big defense when needed. It should not abandon social progressives but it should outshine Cameron in his own professed quest to leave the culture wars be. Instead, Labour should fold social issues under the mantle of government institutions, making the economic arguments in favor of expanding rights, for example, and accepting that conservative social institutions–including big business–sometimes have meaningful contributions to make.”

Read the rest of the post here.

Apocalypse 30: Bellyaching in Britain

By , 30 August, 2009, 1 Comment

This past week saw the International Television Conference in Edinburgh, where various stars of British screen life pontificated on, what else, the future of media. The show stopper was a keynote lecture by James Murdoch where he railed against the BBC, Ofcom and government’s role in media more generally. His language was inflammatory and his politics insufferable, but I found myself agreeing with him about the economics of the emerging media model.

Here’s the core of his argument: we live in a world where there is no longer radio journalism and TV journalism and print journalism and web journalism, but simply journalism. Stories–whether told in words, pictures or sound–are all going to be transmitted the same way, as a combinations of 1s and 0s to be read on laptops and mobile phones. Murdoch calls this the “all-media market,” and the people who provide it “branded mediators.” Clumsy phrases, but they do the job.

Still Thinking about Google

By , 27 July, 2009, 1 Comment

According to a new libel ruling from the UK courts, Google can’t be sued/fined for malicious falsehoods that appear on its news and blog pages (like this one). That makes legal sense, since no one employed by Google produces the content on the sites.

But here’s the problem: it’d be awfully hard to sue/fine some of the folk with Google blogs for their output either, since most of them consider what they do to be not-quite-published, and more akin to the kind of speech covered under slander law than the kind of published text covered under libel law. Clearly, the web has erased the most obvious divide between slander and libel, but it doesn’t really erase the qualitative one. A falsehood on my friend’s travelog about her summer in Equador is just not the same as a falsehood from Robert Reich.

Moreover, the underlying logic of libel law is based on private profit. You sue the people who make/write/print the falsehoods and if you win, you take back the profits they earned by spreading the lies.

The problem with private blogs on Google’s server is not only that they don’t aspire or try to uphold fact standards that are libel-proof but also that there’s an imperfect overlap between the person who produces the content (and thus might be morally responsible for it) and the person (AKA Google) who profits from that content (and thus might be fined to avenge a wrong).

The UK ruling thus underscores the argument I have been making about Google all along–they aren’t necessarily in open defiance of the laws, but their existence, their business model demonstrates the gap between the structure of our laws and reality of the internet economy. And try as I might, I can’t think of a way to solve this without in some way cutting Google down to size.

David Cameron’s Favorite Journalists

By , 10 July, 2009, 2 Comments

British newspapers have long had a reputation for poor news judgment, but for the last few months, they have really made the cliché come true. Firstly, there’s the way papers on both left and right jumped on to a witch hunt over parliamentary expenses, playing right into David Cameron’s hand as he worked to convince voters that only Labour ministers were abusing their expense accounts. In reality, there was abuse on both sides, but no massive fraud as was sometimes claimed by politicians.

Secondly, there’s the way the News of the World has started paying hackers to get access to the personal voicemails of public figures it wants to expose. This is especially intriguing since one of David Cameron’s cronies, Andy Coulson, is the News’ ex-editor. After Cameron condemned the News’ behavior (“It’s wrong for newspapers to breach people’s privacy with no justification”) but insisted he had forgiven Coulson, lefty commentators jumped on him as a hypocrite who only stands by journos running exposes on his opponents in good times.

This particular critique falls flat because it equates the journalism in the expenses scandal with that of the News. The Guardian, Telegraph and other papers who made a big deal about expenses were following standard journalistic practice by getting access to public documents about public sector agency finances. They made an error of judgment in choosing to publish that information instead of devoting that space to other more important stories, but once they settled on this story, their process was still one of basic newsgathering. By contrast, the News used illegal means to gain access to private-sector information about non-public finances and published that. EVEN WHERE the stories it was obtained for were of real importance, this is a violation of basic newsgathering norms, as well as of the law. Both incidents should be condemned, but not for the same reasons.

I have no special love for David Cameron, as readers of this blog will know, but I think his critics are letting their hatred of Toryism overwhelm their logic.