Tag Archives: David Cameron

Inside Job proves that David Cameron shouldn’t be let off the hook for the phone hacking scandal

I just watched Inside Job. It was one of those films I felt I had to see, rather than desperately wanting to. I am glad I did watch it though. I am still reeling from the impact of its message.

I was expecting to agree with the thrust of the film’s argument about the excesses and ludicrous risk taking of the financial sector but I wasn’t prepared for just how persuasive its case would be. I find it hard to disagree with the view that the banking system should be divided into small high street firms for the general public’s savings and more adventurous, some might say dangerous, investment arms, prone to failure. In fact it’s my personal view that such a separation is the sensible and right course of action for both future fairness and stability.

But I had a feeling that Inside Job’s argument would only preach to the converted. It would not make a dent in the ideologies of those who believe in minimal regulation and a laissez faire approach to economics. Many in this camp are brainwashed and privileged; too stubborn or selfish to admit that the global collapse that began with Lehman Brothers in 2008 changes everything they supported. However some have genuine intellectual and pragmatic reasons for insisting too much government control is a bad thing. They need to be won over to a middle way that recognises not all regulation is bad and that indeed given what has happened, some is vital. An essentially left wing argument, with elements of conspiracy hinted at by the title of Charles Ferguson’s film, would not convince this group.

Whilst there are elements of what I predicted in the content of Inside Job, it actually fashions an argument independent of political viewpoint, based primarily on undeniable facts, which cannot be ignored. The film’s title refers to the overlapping and conflicts of interest between key segments of the banking crisis; from government to investment bank CEOS, from rating agencies to universities. This is not an unfounded or merely possible conspiracy but a cold, hard reality of vested interests, dominated by a handful of men, which control the world’s fortunes through their self interested greed.

Time and again Inside Job illustrates how bank bosses pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bonuses would crossover into so called “regulation” jobs for the US government, and then leave to go back to working for banks which they could have favoured during supposedly impartial decisions about government policy. The rating agencies that approved risky transactions were paid by the banks, so had no reason to be accurate or give warnings. The decision makers would then lecture at prestigious universities like Harvard to justify what they and others had done and ensure the next generation does the same. The justification would always be that finance is too complicated for us plebs to understand.

Whatever your opinion on the right solution to the problem, whatever your political allegiances, it’s clear that conflicts of interest on such a scale could only lead to corruption or at the very least incompetence. When the credits for Inside Job rolled I found myself not only digesting its gobsmacking and concise revelations but looking at the recent phone hacking scandal in a new light.

In many ways the News International crisis has gone beyond party political differences. Parliament voted as one to block Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of BskyB. Political leaders of all colours were condemning the illegal actions of rogue journalists and private investigators, as well as their own close relations with the media. MPs responded to public outrage. But on Wednesday Labour leader Ed Miliband was accused of being partisan when he grilled the Prime Minister in the Commons about the reasoning behind his appointment of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who it now seems must surely have known about or even sanctioned illegal practices. David Cameron counterattacked Miliband’s interrogation by labelling him as a hypocrite and opportunist. Despite some awkward questions from other MPs, which
Cameron refused to give straight answers to, he generally wriggled out of a
tight spot.

Some might say this is fair enough. The incidents being analysed throughout this scandal took place under a Labour government. The Prime Minister has released details of his meetings with editors and News International, to be “transparent”. Tony Blair’s New Labour started the culture of greed which made not just aspiration but being rich ok and desirable, and also created the Westminster culture of spin with media handlers like Alastair Campbell at every Downing Street meeting. Cameron’s relationship with Andy Coulson might even be described as refreshing, given that he refused to ditch a man he regarded as a friend at the first sign of trouble.

Even before watching Inside Job though I disagreed with the way Cameron shot down Miliband. As leader of the opposition it’s Miliband’s duty and his job to pressure and question the Prime Minister. He also has genuine reasons to doubt his integrity, fuelled by public demands for clarity. After watching Inside
I can see that conflicts of interest like the one David Cameron found himself in, working with Coulson and leading a government approving the BskyB
takeover, are just tiny steps away from catastrophe and corruption. Miliband
must continue to expose Cameron’s mistake and continue to ask for public
assurances that it won’t happen again.

Inside Job is a surprisingly gripping watch. It lost me during some sections of economic explanation but for the most part constructs a message that resonates
independently of mathematical or political understanding. It remains topical
and relevant for a number of reasons, concluding with the revelation that
President Obama kept on the architects of the 2008 crisis to rebuild the
economy more sustainably. It is a sobering reminder of the huge limitations and
inequalities of life in a modern democracy.

Cavalier Cameron taking wrong foreign policy gambles

David Cameron’s globetrotting, self-proclaimed “jobs mission” was apparently intended to both reiterate Chancellor George Osborne’s message that Britain has reopened for business and embrace foreign secretary’s William Hague calls for a new diplomacy that reduced our overreliance on America and sought closer ties with the emerging powers of tomorrow. A new blunt diplomatic style has certainly emerged from the Prime Minister but it is questionable whether or not it shall prove fruitful for the nation’s interests.

In interviews over the course of the trip Cameron has admitted that in coalition it takes longer to get MPs from his own party on board. Perhaps this loss of immediate influence over Conservative MPs has encouraged the new Prime Minister to be more assertive and presidential in speeches, or “frank” as he puts it, so that he can exercise power elsewhere. What Cameron has hurriedly defended as honesty others see as risky brutality. In Turkey he referred to Gaza as a “prison camp” in a shameless attempt to please his hosts and has followed this of course with the more widely publicised criticism of Pakistan’s terror links whilst in India. Cameron appears to have been trying to score easy points with his host nations by verbally attacking their old enemies, whilst apparently forgetting the all seeing eye of modern media and the importance of the UK’s relations with Israel and Pakistan as well as Turkey and India. In the case of Pakistan his comments were particularly misguided as progress was being made and will only ever continue with close cooperation from the Pakistani government and military. Inflammatory comments likely to destabilise a fragile but necessary partnership in security will not serve Britain’s interests, even when the PM insists that his comments only referred to widely known truths.

Cameron’s defence of his behaviour has shown his naivety as a leader and statesman. Repeatedly he has insisted that he would not feel comfortable being dishonest and he sees no reason to not say what he thinks and point out the realities of situations. This sort of answer might please voters at home and indeed it seems that the Prime Minister is more comfortable as leader of the opposition, using his bluntness as a tool for political gain through his “Cameron Direct” meetings. The fact is that even though Cameron has merely stated the widely known reality of situations, diplomacy, particularly when you are seeking to gain from it, requires subtlety and the judgement to pick which issues you are blunt and firm about.

Given that Cameron insisted the whole huge trip, entourage and all, was about securing jobs for British people and markets for recovery, he has missed an enormous opportunity to take a worthwhile gamble instead of being reckless in other areas for reasons of image. I have examined the idea of a “New Politics” on my blog before and whether or not this is something Cameron truly believes in or simply a political tool his first foreign policy tour has been a failure. Firstly if we assume that Cameron uses the idea of a “New Politics” largely as a politic tool, which frankly I do, Cameron has blundered over Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. By committing to a withdrawal date in 2015 he has not only placed an unwanted burden upon the armed forces but started a countdown towards political suicide; in the likely event that the situation on the ground does not permit a total pull out in the time limit he has agreed to, mostly to appease President Obama. Secondly then, if we take the idea of “New Politics” seriously, Cameron missed a perfect, opportune moment to take an inspirational stand against non-renewable energy in the wake of the BP Oil spill and call for a new way forward.

Whilst in America Cameron made a lot of noise about not simply pandering to the Americans anymore, being realistic about the nature of the special relationship, calling us a “junior partner” but insisting he would get a better deal for the UK out of future relations. However what actually happened was that Cameron downplayed the significance of his own nation, abandoned the Scottish legislature, branding their decision to release Megrahi as wrong (whether it was or not, did he need to come down so hard on the Scots?), and failed to defend an oil company vital to thousands of Britons’ interests that is also full of American shareholders, executives and only exists because of the world’s richest nation’s unquenchable thirst for the black gold.

If Cameron was the prophet of “New Politics” he claims to be he would have expressed deep regret at the damage caused by the oil spill and agreed that it was right BP clean it up (whilst insisting it would do no good to destroy BP as a company). He would then have referred to President Obama’s previous description of the spill as a disaster on the level of 9/11 and recognised this as his moment to touch the hearts of the world as Tony Blair did in the wake of that attack and unite two nations across the Atlantic. He would have argued that the tough truth exposed by the spill was that our way of life was dangerous and destructive as well as unsustainable, and therefore required a more urgent solution. He should have appealed to America and Britain’s joint legacy of leading the world against new challenges and offered to support and partner President Obama in pioneering a new generation of renewable, clean energy sources that would provide jobs and investment in the short term and vital energy security in the long run. He would have pointed to his government’s commitment to deficit reduction to show that he believes in sustainability in all areas of government but also urged the President to set aside funds for replacing the dependency on oil with innovative, inspiring new technologies. He should have left America with this message for green jobs and carried it to his meetings with all world leaders as the defining aspect of his diplomacy and insisted green restructuring be closely tied to economic recovery as it continued. This universal, unifying message would have been far more suited to a Prime Minister on his first foreign policy trip and far more inspirational than cheap, undignified point scoring. It would also clearly state Britain was open for the right sort of business; green, sustainable business with jobs that would last, instead of empty promises alongside policies like the immigration cap that rendered them immediately worthless.

All in all Cameron’s first foray into international leadership reinforced some opinions I held of him before and during the election. As a competent government leader on the world stage he does not compare to the gruff efficiency of Gordon Brown and his ideological spending cuts are likely to alienate important economies rather than entice them. His apparent commitment to passionate, inspirational political ventures does also not extend to urgent challenges like climate change, which might just allow Britain to find a place in the world again. His hasty honesty and radical conservative policy are thankfully tempered, albeit loosely at times, by his Liberal coalition partners, but Clegg and co must be careful that crafty Cameron does not amass all the political capital gained by the coalition.