Guido, you’re absolutely mercilessly brilliant

Last night I watched MP Tristram Hunt’s interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight. I wasn’t excepting it to be a car crash of an interview, but that’s how it turned out. It was a riveting, seat squirming viewing.

The Guido Fawkes website has created a wonderful video compilation of the event.

My admiration for the Financial Times’ Gillian Tett is boundless

Why do I admire Gillian Tett, assistant editor of the Financial times? Not only is she lucid and articulate, but she’s immensely knowledgeable about global economies, and can explain the arcane in a easy to understand way.

Gillian Tett

All this was demonstrated on Thursday’s edition of BBC Newsnight [worth a look on iPlayer from 30 minutes in]. Gillian Tett was on the programme to talk about business confidence, in light of the positive signs of growth in the UK economy. Newsnight’s economics editor, Paul Mason, preceded the discussion with a trailer about his ‘five random indicators of confidence’, which included one about when his twitter messages no longer claim that he’s a Cameron/Osbornist propagandist.

There followed a discussion between Kirsty Wark, Gillain Tett, and US Professor Jeffrey Sachs. Both of whom agreed that quantitative easing had mostly benefited the rich, and that both the young and those with low educational training were yet to feel any benefit from economic growth. Gillian Tett’s view that “the gap between the old and the young is perhaps one of the most important issues right now, because if you are old and have assets you’re benefiting…”

She continued, “….the Bank of England is suggesting that 40% of the gains from quantitative easing has gone to the wealthiest 5%”. Answering Kirsty Wark’s point about a potential bubble in the economy, she said, “Frankly, I don’t think we’re in bubble territory right now, nowhere near it.”

Newsnight discussion about Twitter IPO

Next, Gillian was involved in a discussion with Paul Mason about the announced stock market flotation of Twitter. While Paul was as excited as a small boy in a sweet shop, and about as articulate, Gillian gave a masterful briefing on the issues around Twitter’s flotation and possible profitability. Here’s what she said,

“Here’s an interesting factoid. Since Twitter’s been formed there’s been 430 billion tweets, in just 7 years. …. The big question now for Twitter is how you make money on the back of those tweets.

There’s two ways of doing it. One, they can put adverts on our tweets, and people don’t like that. The creepier way though is to start sorting people in social groups, and with algorithms to start monitoring their behaviour, and then use that to try to market and sell to things to people much more subtly….

What we’re seeing now is the same algorithmic geeks who were doing finance a decade ago, … now trying to use us to see the signals as to how we’re living. I suspect Twitter is trying to do both.

Those 430 billion tweets are currently sitting in databases. Who is going to use them? How are they going to use that information? and can that be moneatised? That’s the big question that matters not just to the economy but to issues around privacy ….”

Opposites 1: Do we need more housing?

Image of house buildingThis is the first of an occasional series about strongly opposite views on big issues in society.

This first Opposites is about whether we need to be building more houses. Let’s start with a view that says we don’t need more houses in London and the South East.

The housing shortage is a myth: Andrew Lilico

In his article, Andrew Lilico compares the number of surplus dwellings over households. Using census data he concludes that for London and the South East it’s a long-standing myth that there’s a housing shortage.

In summary Lilico starts his argument by stating that the 1980′ saw the number of new dwellings just keeping pace with household formation. He continues with his proposition saying that the 1991 census was thought to considerably understate the population, potentially exacerbating a housing shortage, and an estimate in 2000  was considered to show a deteriorating situation.

But, he says, the 2001 census data showed, “Instead of surpluses of dwellings over households falling across England and Wales and going negative in London and the South East, they actually increased everywhere except London where they stayed constant and comfortably positive.”

Drawing on data from the 2011 census, Lilico concludes, “Well, those 2011 data have been released today and they are conclusive: there is no “housing shortage” in London and the South East of the sort identified in the 2000 Mid-Year-Estimates and other data from the late 1990s, and never was.”

It’s a compelling argument. Now for the opposite view.

Beautiful urban landscapes and affordable homes: Nick Boles

Government Planning Minister Nick Boles, in a recent speech and follow-up interview argued the need for improved housing and urban landscape design. Interviewed on BBC Newsnight he suggested increasing the amount of developed land by a third would address the housing shortage.

Nick Boles argued forcefully that,  “People have got to accept that we’ve got to build more on some open land. …. We’re going to protect the greenbelt but if people want to have housing for their kids they have to accept we need to build more on some open land. In the UK and England at the moment we’ve got about 9% of land developed. All we need to do is build on another 2-3% of land and we’ll have solved a housing problem.”

Boles also told Newsnight that having a house with a garden was a “basic moral right, like healthcare and education. There’s a right to a home with a little bit of ground around it to bring your family up in”.

The concept of houses with space and space around them raises objections from the anti-housing lobby, because it requires land. Nick Boles objection is that we’ve somehow forgotten how to build beautiful houses, and that we “build ugly rubbish”. It’s difficult to disagree, and his drive for improved design is definitely to be applauded.

The controversial aspect of his proposals lie around potential changes to the planning system to encourage both more and better building. This approach is supported by a recent report from the Institute of Economic Affairs – Abundance of land, shortage of housing, which concluded that the primary limitation to housing growth is planning regulation.

My view: I’m more inclined to the view that we need more housing, and especially better designed housing in improved urban landscapes.

Paxman’s cutting retort

On the BBC’s Newsnight programme last night on ‘Europe: In or Out’ [at about 44 minutes in if you’d like to check] the following was the conversation between Jeremy Paxman and a panel, including Annalisa Piras, an Italian documentary film maker living in London, and the writer, Tony Parsons:

Tony Parsons: … monetary union has been the greatest catastrophe in this continent in our lifetime, ….

Annalisa Piras: I’ll have to stop you there ….. creating a currency from nothing, and in 10 years becoming the second most important currency in the world … the crisis of the Euro zone is a consequence of the credit crunch starting in United States, …

Jeremy Paxman: It’s absolute tripe.

Annalisa Piras: What is?

Jeremy Paxman: The Euro zone problem is entirely the consequence of the way it was designed and  implemented.

Annalisa Piras: There was a design flaw …

Love him or hate him. ‘Paxo’ – Jeremy Paxman is peerless, except perhaps for ‘Brillo’ – Andrew Neill.

Observations on Lagarde and Osborne on Newsnight

On Newsnight yesterday evening, Christine Lagarde, the French Minister of Finance, and George Osborne, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, were interviewed about issues on European finance.

Noteworthy for me were Christine Lagarde’s impressively flawless command of English, that two finance ministers were interviewed together, and that George Osborne said that the UK wouldn’t be contributing to any further Greek bailouts. A worthwhile debate to listen to.

One further thought crossed my mind, and that’s about Britain’s general failure to speak foreign languages. How much better is mutual understanding improved when a nation’s leaders are fluent in more than their own language.

David Blanchflower and GDP growth

I’m now only an occasional watcher of the BBC’s Newsnight programme. But I did see last week the clash between Professor David Blanchflower and Matthew Hancock MP. Blanchflower was typically immoderate in his language, while Hancock was remarkably restrained under Blanchflower’s barrage.

Blanchflower persistently said that the imminent announcement of the numbers of the first quarter of 2011’s GDP growth of the UK economy, would surely indicate a downturn, and therefore presage a double-dip recession for the economy.

The GDP numbers, announced today, are very encouraging. They show that manufacturing production grew by 1.1%, services growing by 0.8%, and it was only construction shrinking by 4.7% that kept the overall growth low. 

The vital ingredient to private sector growth is confidence. Not the misnamed use of the word investment by Gordon Brown, which was in reality government spending. Since the Treasury has no more money, as Labour’s Liam Byrne remarked, it’s the private sector from where we need growth.

The detail in the 1st Qtr GDP numbers supports the government’s case that future growth can come from the private sector. Manufacturing, business services, agriculture/forestry/fishing, and post and telecomms, all saw healthy growth numbers of over 1%. Surprisingly, even the government contributed 0.7% to the growth numbers.

I doubt Newsnight will re-stage the discussion between Blanchflower and Hancock. Good news is not what Newsnight focusses on.

Paxo rebuffed

Guido Fawkes tweets that he’s thinking of giving up on Newsnight for Lent. Think he’s onto something.

On yesterday evening’s Newsnight programme Jeremy Paxman interviewed left-wing intellectual, Noam Chomsky, with all the undue reverence that reinforces the BBC’s leftish tendencies. Insight and solution from Chomsky was there none. 

Meanwhile, his subsequent interview with US presidential candidate Senator John McCain was as haughty as his Chomsky interview was deferential. McCain’s views on intervention in Libya were fascinating. McCain was the opposite of Chomsky, plenty of insight. I’m pleased that I posted this on my Facebook page a yesterday,

Think negative views on Govt actions re Libya are overplayed. Engagement involves risk. We mustn’t be afraid of risk.

Senator McCain discussed the issues around a no-fly zone, and the acceptance of  risk in doing so. The situation in Libya looks like an unfolding humanitarian disaster, and is something that we should be widely discussing, and not just seeking an opportunity to knock the government without any sensible alternatives offered.

In the discussion Senator McCain replied to a question about how to arm the forces of opposition in Libya, and in which he rebuffed a Paxman interjection with, “Please Jeremy, let’s not get ridiculous here”. That quietened Paxo. Both interviews are on the Newsnight website, so you can come to your own opinion.

I wish I’d Iain Martin’s writing skills

Some of the issues contained in my recent posts have been: the lack of any credible Labour politician to argue their case in the much changed political world; the importance of William Hague’s recasting of UK foreign and diplomatic policies; that our salvation, economically, will come from being an outward-looking mercantile nation once again; and finally, that the inbuilt leftist liberal intelligentsia running the BBC and Channel 4, is struggling to adjust to a new political dynamic.

I wished I’d both the time and the writing skills to flesh out these issues. One man, who’s always on my political wavelength is Iain Martin, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe. Today he has in two blog posts wonderfully captured the importance of these issues. They are:

“The introduction to “Newsnight” on Wednesday was a classic of its kind: portentous, statist in its underlying assumptions and slyly contemptuous of the ability of the private sector’s ability to create wealth and employment.”

“Having declined to make the full-throated case for several years that private-sector wealth creation will power the recovery and it will be crowded out if the state stays too large, Cameron now finds that it is not widely enough understood in the media or the country.”

  • Labour needs lessons in opposition – where he both notes the intelligent shifts in UK foreign policy from William Hague, and Labour’s complete failure to understand these shifts, saying,

“How did Labour respond to all this? Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that William Hague needs to start behaving like a foreign secretary. This is silly. In the Locarno room at the FCO, Mr. Hague had just made a serious speech about Britain’s place in the world. That counts as behaving like a foreign secretary.”

Now if I was years younger, I’d be writing to Mr Martin and asking for an internship under his tutelage. Oh, and I got a little buzz of pleasure, to find that I’d used the word statist in my blog post on not wanting to hear from Gordon Brown, and that Iain used it in his piece on Cameron’s not arguing his case.

Now, waiting for Mark Urban’s analysis of William Hague’s speech on Newsnight, which I hope is the top story.

Choices, choices: Newsnight, or Question Time, + This Week

I like my news and analysis raw, not reheated, as it were, by watching a later recording of it. I know that’s not always possible, but it’s how I like it. If there’s shock and surprise I like to get it first hand.

Thursday night tonight, so it must be a political talk-fest. However, I’ve a small problem. I’m keen to watch Newsnight, and their analysis and possible discussion of William Hague’s recasting of UK foreign policy, so this will take precedence over Question Time. Then, deciding whether to watch This Week will depend who’s on the sofa with Michael Portillo.

Analysis of William Hague’s speech is my top priority. It’s the  effectiveness of our foreign policy and diplomatic priorities that can help make a huge difference to our economic well-being. We’ve got to be as outward looking a mercantile nation as were our Victorian forefathers.

Did you know, I imagine you do, that there are cities in China whose entire existence is centered around factories making socks, or ones making ties. I know this isn’t high up in foreign policy terms, but we need to understand global markets, and global manufacturing trends. Having diplomats and trade consulates overseas is the way to understand geo-political and geo-trade developments.

Questions on hung parliament expose Lib Dems weakness

It takes political skill to deflect questions about a hung parliament and it’s ramifications. Here are three statements.

Labour: Ed Balls succeeded with ease in deflecting Jeremy Paxman’s questions on the subject of a hung parliament on Newsnight. I thought Ed Balls performed strongly against Paxo, rightly saying,

“Nick Clegg at the moment is giving the impression that he himself can decide who will be the prime minister of this country, but that will be decided by the people at the ballot box.”

Conservatives: David Cameron tells a crowd in Romsey that,

“The great plan of Nick Clegg is now becoming clear – he is only interested in one thing. That is changing our electoral system so we have permanent hung parliament, we have a permanent coalition. It is now becoming clear he wants to hold the whole country to ransom just to get what would benefit the Liberal Democrats.”

Meanwhile Nick Clegg for the LibDems merely offers confusion in spelling out his conditions for support in a hung parliament. Tom Bradby, ITV’s political editor, in A serious mistake? thinks Nick Clegg’s choice of electoral reform over the economy as the key election topic is a serious tactical mistake.

Paul Mason, Newsnight’s economics editor, eventually in the The economics of a hung parliament, concludes that the bond market [aka the economy] may pass judgement on a hung parliament faster than politicians can handle, which supports Tom Bradby’s view.