The Government has been uncritically using the Chinese Communist Party’s coronavirus data in its presentations for days. The numbers, which come from a regime that has expelled and disappeared journalists who questioned them, appear to show a dramatic leveling off of Coronavirus cases. Information obtained by the CIA, first reported in the Mail on Sunday and now followed up in the New York Times, reveals that:
China has form on this – silencing the doctors who initially tried to raise the alarm about Coronavirus. Now the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is seemingly using carrot and stick approaches encouraging no reporting of new cases. Not that the cases have actually gone away…
Downing Street is aware that the figures are suspect yet still includes them in the data presentation charts. This seems to only be muddying the international comparisons.
On the wider point of Chinese integration with the global economy, you don’t have to be a Trump supporter to think that relying on China for strategically important goods is no longer going to be considered a great idea. In recent years China has made great play of it being a force for good in international affairs. Pundits even started comparing it favourably to the Trump administration when it came to the global rules based order. No longer.
Since President Xi extended his term of office the signs are that China is reversing liberalisation and becoming more of a technology-enabled totalitarian state, with increasing repression of minorities and continuing suppression of human rights of dissidents. On the international front it is becoming increasingly belligerent in the region, not forgetting it is North Korea’s protector.
Hong Kong fears that it will end up as under the leash of Beijing as Tibet. The Chinese communists are waging a cold war on Taiwan, which has been cold shouldered by other nations under economic pressure from Beijing. After this crisis is over Western countries are going to re-evaluate relying on China for strategically important technology like 5G. It goes without saying that production of critical medical materials and technology will be repatriated. Predictions of globalisation being reversed are overblown, de-Sinofication of the global economy however is a given.
The gentlemen of the Lobby are as thin-skinned and status conscious as a gaggle of gay hairdressers on a night out, currently they are up in arms about Downing Street insisting that their briefings be held at their offices. Usually ebullient Lobby chairman Christopher Hope is complaining that they now have to nip across Parliament Square and pop into Downing Street to hold the government to account. The truth is it is way past time to open up the government’s briefings, make them transparent and disintermediate the gatekeepers of the political news agenda.
In a digital world where news happens in realtime, not to inky deadlines, it is time to just put the briefings out live, streamed to everyone on all platforms. During the election Boris livestreamed his “People’s PMQs” on Facebook, demonstrating there is no technological reason why the briefings can’t be broadcast via a free digital feed to everyone. Hacks will still get to ask the questions, they just won’t be able to spin off-camera, privately delivered answers as they do now.
The reality is that it isn’t in the interests of hacks to open up the Lobby system or insist more often that quotes are on the public record. Intermediating allows them to more easily introduce their opinions into their new reports. Transparency will devalue their role because information scarcity makes their possession of a spokesman’s phone number so much more valuable. A start to improving and opening up the system would be to put the people’s briefings into the open, in realtime as it happens…
As much as it amuses Guido and generates television producer pleasing social media buzz, hasn’t the rise of the TrotsApp generation of talking heads on our screens undermined the Labour Party more effectively than the “billionaire-owned media” could ever do? In the postmortems the effect of the continuous platforming by broadcasters of far-left types – just because they are extremely active on Twitter – by current affairs shows should be reflected on. It normalised people who would in the past have only been selling Trotskyite papers outside train stations.
The negative effect is two-fold, firstly the zealous Labour activist base become ever more radicalised as the self-defined Trotskyites and communists normalise policies that are far away from the views and values of traditional Labour voters. As we found out last week.
Secondly, it just encourages polarisation, pitting Katie Hopkins against a silly luxuriating communist might make a noisy and watchable bunfight, does it really inform the viewers much? Policy development is made in think tanks of the left, right and centre. It is made by single-issue campaigns with deep knowledge of their subjects. It is not made by people who scream about billionaires and want “to kick the Tories out of Labour” whilst describing the Prime Minister as a fascist and “alt-right”. Shouting slogans and their well rehearsed soundbites doesn’t add to the sum of political knowledge in any meaningful way.
This is not to say they should be no-platformed. When Paul Mason or Owen Jones has a book out, let’s hear from them. They are articulate voices of the left, that articulacy alone does not warrant giving them almost continuous airtime. Do we really need them on our screens every day? That hasn’t done the Labour Party any good. Producers and bookers may want to reflect and seek out more representative left-of-centre voices.
Eurosceptic MPs have had a lot of thinking to do over the weekend. Do they hold their nose and vote for May’s less-than-perfect deal, or do they roll the dice again and run the risk of losing Brexit altogether? Some Brexiteers believe if they just sit tight Britain will automatically leave the EU next week. ERG supremo Chris Howarth – a hero of the long fight for Brexit – argues that it’s a “certainty” that so long as the ERG MPs hold their nerve that the UK is “leaving the EU on 29th March without a permanent backstop.” Guido would love that to be true, it is however a triumph of optimism over reality. Before MPs make their mind up, they need to face up to the political reality of where we are…
Let’s look at Howarth’s arguments in turn, because they are at the heart of the divide among Brexiteer allies:
Howarth argues these are certainties, Guido disputes that:-
Since the Tories came into government the national debt has risen by over 70%. By any measure that is hardly evidence of the savage austerity of left-wing rhetoric. Britain is still running a deficit, in 2018/19, taxpayers will fund interest payments of some £53 billion. A billion-a-week to service the national debt, you can put that on the side of three red buses.
Spreadsheet Phil is getting nearer to finally closing the deficit that George Osborne promised to close by 2015. This should not be taken by spending ministers as a signal to up spending, the national debt still has to be serviced and it would be prudent to start paying down the debt. Likewise giving councils carte blanche to borrow to finance an extended council house building programme will add to the debt burden. If that is what Theresa May is signalling in her conference speech it is bad politics for the Tories.
In Asia it is not uncommon for the state to build low cost housing for sale at below market rates. If councils were encouraged to build and sell properties they would not end up on the state’s balance sheet. It would spread capital ownership more widely by allowing people to own their own homes. It is good politics because property-owning democracies don’t tend to elect socialist governments…
By all means encourage councils to actively build new developments on their land. Scrapping the government cap on how much they can borrow to fund new developments should not however be a licence to build another generation of council estates – the petri dish for municipal socialism. The government should insist that the low cost homes should be offered on construction to qualified buyers who would have to be owner occupiers. When Phil Hammond announces the budget at the end of the month it would be good if the removal of the cap was coupled with a new “right to buy” that granted local residents the right buy any new council homes built. Councils would be obligated to offer new build homes for sale without the high profit margins often commanded by private sector developers. Politically it is a winner and the Treasury would be happy that long-term it would pay down the government debt used to fund the construction.
The Economist is celebrating it’s 175th year of publication with a paen to liberalism in the form of an essay. It is a bit of navel gazing combined with dollops of self-justification. Editor Zanny Minton Beddoes admits in her essay that The Economist has become the in-house journal of the liberal elite, what Steve Bannon calls “the party of Davos”. No institution is immune to intellectual fashions, the newspaper has in Guido’s lifetime championed Keynesianism, then neo-liberalism, and now the ‘Washington Consensus’. It has of late become overly preoccupied with climate change and whatever else concerns the faddish Davos crowd. The irony of The Economist, which was founded in 1843 to champion free trade, free markets and limited government, being on the wrong side of the argument on Brexit, in thrall to the EU and the thousands of tariffs that protectionist bloc enforces, is striking. Never mind the ambitions of those in Brussels for a pan-European super-state rigidly regulated from the Black Sea to the Atlantic.
On immigration Zanny admits for liberals “it is not too wide of the mark to caricature their views on migration as more influenced by the ease of employing a cleaner than by a fear of losing out.” Not a single democracy has escaped pain from uncontrolled mass migration, no politician can ignore the votes of those who have to compete with newcomers, the so-called “deplorables” in America and working-class Brexit voters in Britain. Almost all Western democracies have tired of fast migration. On this Zanny recognises reluctantly that “in the short run, liberals risk undermining the cause of free movement if they push beyond the bounds of pragmatism.” She proposes reform of the rules for refugees, despite accepting that in reality most immigration is driven by economics.
How adrift the current editor of The Economist is from the founding principles can be seen with her support for Universal Basic Income – putting everyone on the dole, disincentivising work. She cites a modest proposal for America to introduce a “UBI of $10,000 a year” which she admits “would require a tax take of at least 33% of GDP”, to be paid for by more disincentivising wealth taxes. So much for limited government.
One could go on, Steve Bannon did at their recent shindig. Judge for yourself how Zanny fared:
Happy birthday to The Economist…