Posts tagged ‘David Cameron’

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Another One Bites the Dust

By , 5 June, 2009, 1 Comment

It is technically premature to call Gordon Brown a dust-biter, but the dismal results from yesterday’s local elections suggest Labour’s days are numbered. Indeed, David Cameron made a good point, for once noting that everyone gathered around their tellies looking for election results couldn’t even get them because the only news story was the flood of cabinet resignations and calls for Brown’s ouster. So far, Brown is hiding behind the loyalty of Darling and Mandelson, but I don’t think it will carry him past mid-summer, if that.

I’ll leave the horse race analysis of how the coup will unfold and who will replace Brown to others, but there’s one point relevant to the paradigm shifts Cappuccino follows. The nail in the coffin for Labour seems to have been the populist uproar over MP’s expenses and the rhetorical space that created for other anti-institutionalist arguments including the Tory rants against European integration and government welfare programs.

The election results thus support my longstanding belief that the real divide in society is between individualists and institutionalists and my hunch that institutionalists are losing that battle so badly and on so many fronts (from the referendum on Europe to Obama’s “new politics” to the collapse of organized media) that we might not rise to fight again.

On a Roll

By , 31 May, 2009, No Comment

I am feeling very smug about my predictive track record when it comes to the “revolution in culture” that is this blog’s subtitle.

Exhibit A: After recommending that news organizations negotiate an ad-share with Google, I was thrilled to discover that the New York Times was exploring it, and amused to find, yesterday, that Jeff Jarvis is now touting the idea as though he came up with it AND apparently without knowledge that the Times is already doing it. Since I have many bones to pick with Jarvis, this pleases me.

Exhibit B: After cautioning against the takeover of politics, media, etc by individualists over institutionalists, I am overjoyed to see the Fast Talker–a citizen-media enthusiast and individualist liberal-tarian at times–taking my side. What woke him up? A glimpse at the individualist Right in David Cameron, and the damage the Tory bashing of MP’s expenses has done to his party–Labour–in the lead-up to this week’s local elections. Here is the thing: To turn the tide for Labour, British lefties have to develop a defense of institutions, and that includes many institutions that the individualist Left likes to rail against. Liberal-tarians whining about corporate bonuses sets up a conservative critique of big government. Both kinds of whining need to be given up, but the cultural tide towards individualism in both left- and right- leaning circles makes that unlikely.

Another option, it seems to me, is for institutionalists of both left- and right- flavors to band together against both kinds of individualism. The question for the Fast Talker is whether he is willing to defend the corporation and the Church to protect the National Health System. If he’s not, I think he should prepare for bad news in Thursday’s polls.

David Cameron’s Cowboy Justice

By , 25 May, 2009, 1 Comment

Although today’s a U.S. holiday, I’m taking my time off to worry about the political winds across the pond in the U.K. Not only because I lived there a while and have friends with vested interests in how the next election pans out, but also because the core issue in that election is the same as the one I’ve been ranting about in our politics: the battle between institutionalists and individualists.

In Britain, however, it’s the individualist right, rather than the individualist left, that is ascendant over a Labour party that, so long as it’s led by Gordon Brown, will be all about big institutions tackling big social problems. The latest missive is Conservative leader David Cameron’s op-ed on the uproar over MPs’ expenses in the Guardian. Cameron begins with an assault on government abuse that reminds me of the individualist left’s assault on corporate bonuses a while back. His core argument: this is why institutions, all of them, are bad, and we should devolve more power to the people

“The anger, the suspicion, and the cynicism – yes, with politics and politicans, but with so much else – are the result of people’s slow but sure realisation that they have very little control over the world around them, and over much that determines whether of not they’ll live happy and fulfilling lives…So I believe the central objective of the new politics we need should be a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power: form the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities; from the EU to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy. Through decentralisation, transparency and accountability we must take power from the elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street…We should start by pushing political power down as far as possible…With every decision government makes, it should ask a series of simple questions: does this give power to people or take it away? Could we let individuals, neighbourhoods and communities take control? How far can we push power down?”

Part of me is glad Cameron wrote this item, because it should finally kill the delusions of those who are trying to cast him in an institutionalist light. The scariest claim is the push for replacing “judges”–the rule of law–with “the people.”–as in cowboy justice. The most absurd claim is the argument that the purpose of government should be to determine how much power it can give away. This is the great paradox of the individualist right: why run for state office if, ultimately, you don’t believe in the writ of the state? One hopes that the “people” in whom Cameron places so much faith will see through this circular logic, but that would require Labour to offer something coherent in response.

Spring Cleaning Post

By , 15 March, 2009, 1 Comment

Thank God Ban Ki-Moon hasn’t heard of me, because I know I’d be on his list of deadbeats for the appalling lapse of Cappuccino-making I’ve been doing of late. I have a handful of weak excuses:

Excuse 1. It was crunch time on the Forbes Billionaires report, for which we’ll be continuing to roll out content all this week and next on our website. Right now, the big focus of reader feedback has been the controversial listing of a Mexican drug baron–how does Forbes know where he got his money? How come criminal activity gets Allen Stanford knocked off the list but not El Chapo? My personal opinion is that there’s real money in the black market, and covering ugly realities is part of journalism, but I do think we ought to be critical, not adulatory in our description of what he does. My own story for the report (link to come) is on two Nigerian billionaires, and I’ve tried to take my own advice. [Updated: My story‘s up now]
Excuse 2. It was midterm season at Columbia and I’ve been swamped with work. One assignment may be of interest to readers: for my computers and the law class, which I blogged about before, I wrote about the shield bill now floating in Congress, that would protect journalists’ anonymous sources. I blogged my basic take on the bill a while back and got some useful feedback in the comment section; in my essay, I took up one suggestion, to define journalism as reporting, and combined with my desire to maintain journalism as a profession, to try to block out a 21st century interpretation of the 1st amendment. Any thoughts on the essay would be much appreciated, since I’ll be rewriting it in the coming weeks.
One thing that I’ve been thinking about while writing that essay, and indeed, over the last few weeks, is where I actually fall on the political spectrum. Many lefty friends who usually regard me as an ally have been writing to me asking why I keep linking to conservative thinkers, praising centralized power and waxing nostalgic for old values. Have I, one commenter wrote in an email, gone over to the dark side? No, I haven’t, but the concern suggests my hunch about partisan sea change was correct: as the left goes liberaltarian, I’m falling out of it. As the center goes Hamiltonian, I’m falling into it. And as the right goes silly, I’m shedding not a tear at all.
It’s not yet a perfect shift: David Brooks, who has been rejoicing alongside me about the rise of Hamiltonianism, still hasn’t made his break from the traditional right–he has high praise for Alexander Hamilton (duh) and Teddy Roosevelt, but also David Cameron. News flash, Mr. Brooks: David Cameron is the opposite of an institutionalist; his first move will be the evisceration of Britain’s health care system. But it’s a real shift: witness the hiring of Ross Douthat to the NYT opinion page this week, consolidating Brooks and Douthat as pro-government conservatives (who like social spending) and putting them in the same room with pro-government liberals like Krugman (who likes markets, but wants them aggressively regulated) and liberal hawks like Friedman who likes big geostrategic initiatives. This is the institutionalist, Hamiltonian coalition. Conveniently, I already have a subscription.