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Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Wednesday
Dec 7,2011

I have only just caught up with a speech made in the Moses Room (an alternative Lords Chamber for hosting smaller debates) last Thursday by Lord John Eatwell which sets out cogently what is wrong with the Government’s response to the economic situation and sets out a clear alternative vision.

He was responding to a motion from Lord Lamont of Lerwick on “the economic situation of the United Kingdom, including the impact of the eurozone crisis on the United Kingdom and other non-eurozone members.”

He said:

“My Lords, like other noble Lords I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, for securing this debate, even though the topic has widened from that he initially intended. I also wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise, on his witty maiden speech.

Despite appearances to the contrary, the debate has not been about economics. Instead, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, pointed out, it has been about politics-the political choices made by Governments in the eurozone, most notably the Government of Germany, and the choices made by Her Majesty’s Government. Indeed, the common theme that has run through much of the debate has been the severe austerity that Germany demands of the rest of the eurozone and the similar economic misery that the coalition is inflicting on Britain. It is now clear that the eurozone embodies fundamental design flaws. These have been addressed by the noble Lords, Lord Lamont, Lord Alderdice and Lord Higgins, my noble friend Lord Myners and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft. A successful monetary union requires a powerful and active central
bank, an all-Union bond market managed by a central treasury function, some means of balancing the economic benefit between the most successful and least successful parts of the Union, easy migration and, it is hoped, some sort of all-Union employment policy. This is a reasonable description of the United States of America, with the employment policy being provided by the military.

My noble friend Lord Desai was right to point to problems in the bond market as far as short-term financial stability is concerned, for it is the existence of an all-Union bond market that is crucial. Given that the eurozone economy is the largest in the world, any major bond fund must have significant exposure to the euro, just as it must have exposure to the US dollar and, to a lesser extent, to sterling. This can be obtained by holding any eurozone sovereign bond. Moreover, the exposure can be maintained by switching between different sovereign bonds with no foreign exchange risk whatever. Hence the huge flows between eurozone sovereigns that have produced wild gyrations in interest rates over the past few months as uncertainty and rumour have fuelled massive capital flight. The point was made by the noble Lords, Lord Wolfson and Lord Flight: it is like walking along a rocky path carrying a large amount of water in a shallow pan.

Compare this with the situation in the US. The state of California, which represents 13 per cent of the US economy, is bankrupt. This has no impact on the US Treasury bond market at all. Similar problems in Greece, which represents 2 per cent of the eurozone economy, have produced a wave of destructive contagion. The creation of a eurobond market equivalent to the market of the US Treasury-no bailout, no austerity, no ECB as lender of last resort-will bring durable financial stability. Of course, creating a eurobond market is a formidable political problem, but it is not impossible to imagine that this could be solved. It is not necessary to have a United States of Europe, as the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, claims. It is conceivable to have a powerful central bank, a central bond market funding a monetary union with a centre that is still politically weak relative to powerful member states. Indeed, that is a description of the most stable monetary union in the world, the Confederation of Switzerland. Clear identification of the design flaws of the eurozone that have resulted in such appalling financial instability should finally dispose of the illiterate comparisons often made between Britain’s fiscal problems and those of the eurozone members.

Are the Government right to argue, as they do over and over again, that their austerity policy is necessary to maintain the confidence of the bond markets and keep UK interest rates low? Perhaps it is, but only because of their own political folly. The Government have repeated this mantra so often that the markets probably believe it by now, and in believing the Government’s pro-cuts propaganda, they demand a redoubling of austerity. We have financial stability, but it is the stability of the grave. We are repeating Japan’s lost decade in an economy that is much poorer and much more unequal. I warned at the time of the Budget that the Government’s austerity policy risked creating a vicious cycle in which expenditure cuts and tax rises would lead to lower growth, which in turn
would lead to falling tax revenues and rising costs of recession. This in turn has led to yet further higher deficits, and so on in a downward spiral. But there is another twist in the tail that I had not fully appreciated until I read the OBR report.

The austerity programme also reduces the medium-term productive potential of the economy and hence reduces the possible future growth rate that is supposed to restore the nation’s finances, so now we have two mutually reinforcing engines of economic decline-the merry-go-round of cuts that do nothing to cut the deficit, and the recession-induced fall in growth potential that is making the deficit bigger too. And what is the Government’s response? It is more of the same. That is not my verdict. As the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, pointed out, it is the verdict of the OBR. Reviewing the plethora of schemes to turn the economy around, the OBR concludes:

“We have not made any material adjustments to our economy forecast on the basis of these policy announcements”.

In other words, the OBR concludes that the Government’s much spun “growth strategy” will achieve a net result of precisely nothing. However, I believe that the OBR is being overly optimistic.

First, the OBR persists in being excessively optimistic about where future demand will come from. In March, it predicted that private sector investment would grow this year by 6.7 per cent. Now, eight months on, it admits that investment has fallen. In March, it predicted that investment next year would grow by 8.9 per cent, and it still thinks that that is almost achievable. It says that investment in 2015 will be roaring along at 12.6 per cent growth a year, up from the 8 per cent it predicted in March. Where do these fantasy figures come from? Where is the incentive to invest when household incomes are going to be as low in 2014 as they were in 2002? It does not matter if interest rates are low: if there is no demand, there is no reason to invest.

Secondly, the other component of the rebalancing of the economy referred to by the OBR is supposed to be net trade. Again, the OBR is being excessively optimistic. It admits that most of the beneficial impact of the devaluation of sterling has now been exhausted, and recognises that markets in Europe will be depressed for some time, and yet somehow conjures up a significant improvement in trade performance, so overall the OBR is far too optimistic. The situation is much worse than it thinks. The people for whom matters are really worse are the poorer members of our society. If the OBR’s predictions are correct-I think that they are over-optimistic-household real disposable income will fall by 4.7 per cent over the next three years. However, that is an average figure and well over 60 per cent of the population have below-average incomes. If we examine the impact of the Government’s policies on median income-that is, the level of income in the middle of the income distribution-then the fall in disposable income will be 7.5 per cent. The cuts in real income are concentrated at the bottom end. Indeed, as the IFS analysis of the Autumn Statement has shown, the measures taken this week will lead to further cuts in the real income of the bottom 30 per cent and give benefits to the top 30 per cent. Nothing is more disgraceful and distasteful than the savage pleasure that Liberal Democrats and Conservatives take in cutting support for the poorest in Britain.

There is one further chapter of this dreadful story that must be taken into account in any overall assessment of the state of the economy: that is the level of unemployment, particularly of youth unemployment. It is simply uncivilised to have more than a million young people unemployed and their lives blighted at just the time when they should be looking forward to building a future, careers, stable households and families. Yet the prolonged recession holds out that prospect not just for the 22 per cent of young people now unemployed but for thousands more. We can begin to solve these problems only if there is a return to significant rates of growth in the eurozone and in Britain. The austerity imposed on the eurozone by Mrs Merkel, and on Britain by the coalition Government, will achieve nothing but a lost decade, or more. Stable financial markets will not produce an automatic increase in business confidence. There is no confidence fairy; she was killed by the Government’s austerity rhetoric.

What is necessary is a radical rethink of economic policies and even economic institutions. We need a major increase in government investment to kick-start private sector investment. We need new funding for industry on a greatly enhanced scale-not just what the Financial Times called the “gimmicks” of the Autumn Statement. We need a realisation that demand can be boosted by redistributing income towards the poorest, because they spend every pound they get and their spending has a lower import content than that of the wealthier sections of the community. The Government must become an employer of last resort to tackle youth unemployment.

How should we pay for all this? First, we should realise that unless something radical is done, the deficit will go on rising; we will go on borrowing more as we cut more. Secondly, if there is to be quantitative easing, it should be far better directed than it is under the shotgun approach used at the moment. Thirdly, even small amounts of redistribution could have a significant effect on the rate of growth of demand.

It will be evident from what I have said that I am fearful for the prospects of the eurozone and of our economy. Of course our current economic circumstances are dreadful, but they are made by human hand and they can be unmade by human hand. The key is political: political will and political intelligence, allied to sound economic analysis. All three ingredients are notably absent from the Government’s policy.

In a few short words he set out an effective three point plan for the economy:

  • A National Investment Bank to target the “quantitative easing” to where it will really make a difference – in business investment to deliver future jobs;
  • A recognition that further cuts in the income of the poorest in society will have a disproportionate impact on demand; and
  • The role of the Government in being an employer of last resort for young people.

It would make a real difference – a pity that the Government isn’t listening.

Tuesday
Nov 29,2011

There was a Private Notice Question in the House of Lords this afternoon from LibDem Peer, Lord Dholakia:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they propose to take to ensure that the security of the United Kingdom is not compromised on 30 November.”

This produced the following response from the Home Office Minister, Lord Henley:

“My Lords, the security of the UK border remains our top priority. Contingency plans are in place and we are satisfied that security will be maintained. We started training additional staff for contingency arrangements in April and adequate resources are now available. Any staff deployed to the front line will have received the training required to operate effectively. Arriving passengers will remain subject to checks at the border by appropriately trained staff.”

There then followed a series of increasingly bad-tempered exchanges between the Minister and Labour Peers with the Minister demanding that Labour Peers condemn the strike, whilst admitting that the Government had been planning for a strike since April. Here are the exchanges with Labour Peers (one of whom was me):

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Government have sponsored speculation about what they will, may or might do to maintain UK security, especially at the borders, on 30 November—everything from bringing in the Army to the idea of staff from the Prime Minister’s Office manning passport control points. However, people need and deserve stability. If they have booked a holiday that day, they need to know whether they can get away. If businesses have important customers coming to the UK, they need to know that their businesses will not be damaged. I should therefore be grateful if the Government would publish, clearly and fully, for the benefit of the country as a whole, what in detail they intend to do on Wednesday in relation to border security.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am very sorry that the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition did not take the opportunity to condemn the strikes that are taking place on Wednesday, which would have been helpful. If all parties agreed that those strikes should not happen we would not have this problem. We shall be operating the appropriate checks with the appropriate people, appropriately trained to make sure that visitors—whether they are coming here as tourists, whether they are coming here for business or whether they are returning UK citizens—can get in without any disruption or with disruption minimised as much as possible. The noble Baroness will also be aware that this is an operational matter and for security reasons it would not be appropriate to comment in detail, as she wishes, on the arrangements.

Lord Tomlinson: Will the Minister comment on reports in today’s press that part of the police force is being drafted in to take over the role of the UK Border Agency at our borders and that their training is alleged to be merely 90 minutes? Is that adequate?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I would not believe—and I would recommend that the noble Lord should not believe—everything I read in the press. I can assure him and the House that everyone assisting on this matter will have the appropriate training necessary to do the job. Yes, some police will be involved but they will have the appropriate training to do the job that they need to do.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, the Minister said that staff started training in April. What were they training for in April?

Lord Henley: My Lords, any sensible organisation, knowing there was a risk of such things happening—something which has still not been condemned by noble Lords opposite and I am waiting for that condemnation to occur—would make the appropriate arrangements. The border agency started that last April.

Lord Grocott: Given that the Minister has repeated asked people on this side of the House to talk in terms of condemnation, can we take it as read that the Government condemn the cleaners, the dinner ladies, the low-paid workers and those threatened with a weakening of their pension entitlements and an increase in their contributions? Is the Government’s position that they condemn these people for trying in any way to defend their position?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I condemn the strike as it affects our security and the arrangements we are having to make. That is the condemnation I am still waiting to hear from the party opposite.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, the Minister has repeatedly referred to this side of the House not condemning the strike. What I want to ask him is this—can he give a categorical assurance that the motivation of the coalition Government is security and not strike breaking?

Lord Henley: My Lords, as I made clear in my original answer, our first priority, our highest priority, our top priority is the security of the United Kingdom. If the noble Lord thinks that we are involved in strike breaking he should think again. We want to make sure that our borders are kept secure. We think that the unions are endangering that security by the actions they are taking. The offer is still open to talk to the Government and others and we wish they would take that up.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, of course our borders should be kept secure, but are the Government doing enough to negotiate with the unions on this point? Are the Government in fact making every effort to try to resolve this dispute rather than, as the Minister has told us, having been preparing since April for just this eventuality? Is it not that they actually wanted to provoke a strike, for whatever political reasons they may have?

Lord Henley: Come on, my Lords. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that the Government’s doors remain open and that the Government are prepared to negotiate. It is the unions who are being intransigent and it is the party opposite which is refusing to condemn an action that will possibly endanger our security. Because of the actions we have taken, and have been taking since April of this year, we think that we will be able to keep security at the appropriate level at the borders on Wednesday.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, given that the Minister is so fixated on the possibility of getting the kind of statement that he would like to hear from these Benches, does he imagine that the people out there who are contemplating going on strike are mostly or even to a small extent members of the party I support? I submit that not only are they not, they are members of all parties and none, and what is preoccupying them is not the question of whether the Labour Party supports them but their concern for their future pension rights.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Baroness accuses me of being fixated on this issue and perhaps I am somewhat naive to be so fixated on this issue. I do not know in which way the members of the unions involved happen to vote. I happen to know that those unions support the party opposite. That is why we are still waiting for that condemnation from the party opposite.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, does the Minister agree that any strike is a demonstration of failure? Does he further agree that the Government themselves have failed to resolve this strike?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I totally and utterly reject what the noble Baroness has said and again invite her, as the Leader of the Opposition in this House, to condemn this strike.”

 

 

Monday
Nov 28,2011

In Question Time in the House of Lords a succession of Labour Peers (including me) pressed the Government on their attitude to the Health Lottery run by Richard Desmond of “Daily Express” and “Asian Babes” fame, which only pays just over the legal minimum of 20% of the money raised to the good causes it supports.

Here are the exchanges:

Gambling Commission: Health Lottery

Question

2.41 pm

Asked By Lord Faulkner of Worcester

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment the Gambling Commission has undertaken of the contribution being made to good causes by the Health Lottery.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, the Gambling Act 2005 requires that at least 20 per cent of the proceeds of a society lottery go to the good cause that it supports. Each of the 51 society lotteries that are promoted under the umbrella brand of the Health Lottery must comply with this requirement. We understand from the Health Lottery that 20.3 per cent of the proceeds of each individual society lottery will go to the relevant good cause, addressing health inequalities in specific geographic areas of Great Britain.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, may I ask the Minister two questions? First, is she aware of the great concern that has been expressed by the beneficiaries of legally run society lotteries in the health sector, which have benefited immensely from those local society lotteries, about what is seen as the unfair competition from the Health Lottery? Is she aware that the hospice movement is particularly alarmed, because it depends very heavily on society lotteries? In Worcester, for example, our two hospices receive £70,000 a year from the South Worcestershire Hospices Lottery, which pays 50p in the pound—not 20p in the pound—to those good causes.

Secondly, notwithstanding what the Gambling Commission may have decided initially about the Health Lottery’s legality, how can it be legal to have 51 community interest companies linked to the Health Lottery which have no independent existence, but which all have the same three directors and all operate out of the same virtual office? How is that legal?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, the noble Lord has great expertise in these matters. In his first question, he raises the concern about the hospices. We share the concern about the potential impact on society lotteries, although a number of existing health-related charities have been supported through the Health Lottery arrangements so far, and we will ensure that the impact on other society lotteries is monitored.

On the noble Lord’s second question, about the legality, he will also be aware that compliance with the requirements of the Gambling Act 2005 is a matter for the Gambling Commission, which has issued the necessary licences for the Health Lottery. As with any major scheme entering the market, however, it will work with the operator to ensure that what is delivered is actually compliant. We expect initial findings from that monitoring to be with us by next March.

Lord Addington: My Lords, would my noble friend give some thought to the idea that charities which are created to allow a lottery to be organised might be against the spirit that was initially taken on in this field? If that is right, will she undertake that the Government might look at the whole legal framework? If it is against the spirit, we can change the rules.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My noble friend makes a very valid point that, so far, the legality has been in the matter of the fact of the law. However, as I have mentioned, there will be ongoing monitoring and, as he so rightly says, all these things can be changed if it turns out that the spirit of the law is not being respected.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, are the Government content with the system that they have in place for monitoring the operations of the Gambling Commission and, if not, what can they do about it? Are they content that Mr Desmond is a fit and proper person, given what was said at the Leveson inquiry last week and the failure of his organisations to associate themselves with the independent press commission, and that this is the way forward given some of the issues which now surround the operation of this lottery?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, as I say, it is for the Gambling Commission to look at this. We recognise all the issues around Mr Desmond and his other organisations, but those are not perhaps directly relevant to this. One thing that the Government have done is to merge the Gambling Commission and the National Lottery Commission, which we expect will make regulation easier and create cost savings but also help to produce a more robust form of monitoring.

Lord Collins of Highbury: My Lords, may I press the Minister on the issue of what I consider, as I think many would, an apparent loophole exploited by the Health Lottery with its 51 separate companies? Will she give an assurance that this loophole will be examined and perhaps closed by the Government, bearing in mind that the Health Lottery has a turnover of £510 million a year and is in effect an alternative national lottery, affecting funding not only for other health charities but for the arts in general?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point about the issue of whether the Health Lottery will impact on the National Lottery. We are well aware of the vast amount of good work that the National Lottery does for the arts and a whole range of charitable organisations in this country. This is the first time that a lottery has been set up in this mode, with 51 society lotteries under an umbrella. It is a new model, which is why we are looking to the Gambling commission to report back to the Government on how it is going to operate. Of course, the Health Lottery has been going for only eight weeks so it is early days as yet to see how it will pan out, but I hope that the noble Lord will rest assured that the Government are monitoring the situation.

Lord Haskel: Following on from my noble friend Lord Faulkner’s question, should the Minister not be speaking up for those charities that give 50 per cent of their income rather than those that give only 20 per cent?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I am sorry if I was not speaking up loudly. One indeed commends the society lotteries that give on average 51 per cent to good causes overall, which is a much more significant proportion than 20 per cent. The question remains whether this will be a form of raising additional funding for good causes, and only time will tell whether that is the case.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, is it not the case that the public assume that a much higher proportion of the money that they put into these lotteries is going to the good cause concerned? Should the Government not be looking to raise the 20 per cent threshold to a more realistic figure? That may then squeeze out those who see setting up these lotteries as a way of making extra cash for themselves rather than for the charities that they are supposed to be supporting.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, the raising of the threshold has been under discussion. We feel that at the moment, with the Health Lottery still so new, this is not the moment to change the thresholds for the lotteries as a whole. As I say, though, we are monitoring the situation since, as far as we are concerned, it is a new set-up in the lottery world. We shall wait and see, with the promise of a report of that monitoring early next year.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: When I had the privilege of moving the Second Reading of the National Lottery etc. Bill in 1993, I gave way 28 times in the hour it took me to complete my speech. It was perfectly clear at that time that scrutiny of the lottery was being carried out extremely effectively by Parliament. I hope that the amount of time that we need to scrutinise this new development will be shorter rather than longer.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: I bow to my noble friend’s expertise over many years in this area. I share his hopes that the scrutiny will be shorter rather than longer.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: If the Minister reads the prospectus of the Health Lottery, she will see that in order for it to meet its targets of paying money to the 51 community companies it will need to raise something in the order of £250 million a year from the British public. Where does she think that money is going to come from? Surely it will be from existing charity giving, existing society lotteries and the National Lottery.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, this is one of the things that we shall need to look at. At the moment, the Health Lottery is raising £2 million to £3 million a week compared with the National Lottery which is raising somewhere between £150 million and £190 million a week. So the latter is still far and away the major source of public money in this area but, to pick up an earlier question, it is very important that the public are made aware of just how much of their money is going to good causes from the Health Lottery compared with how much goes to good causes from society lotteries and indeed the National Lottery.”

Apart from the Minister (Baroness Garden) and interventions from LibDem Lord Addington and Tory Lord Brooke of  Sutton Mandeville, only Labour peers seemed interested in the issue.

Sunday
Nov 27,2011

I am in “I told you so” mode.  In August 2009 – months before the General Election – I asked the question:

Would a Cameron/Osborne Government plunge the UK back into deep recession?

I described this as

The nightmare scenario

saying:

“I have had a nightmare:  David Cameron and the Conservatives win a General Election next summer, despite slow but steady improvement in the UK economy; George Osborne is appointed Chancellor and slashes public spending and hikes the VAT rate up to 20%; and then it all gets a whole lot worse ….”

Now, as we listen to George Osborne and Government Ministers softening us up for next week’s Autumn Statement and the acknowledgement that we are heading for a double-dip recession, it is no consolation to realisation that my nightmare seems to be coming true.

Friday
Nov 25,2011

I spent part of yesterday evening at the official opening of The Grange building at Middlesex University’s Hendon campus.  The £80 million building and its facilities are hugely impressive and must be some of the country’s best for the creative arts, and include:

  • two HD TV studios designed, equipped and built by Sony
  • digital darkrooms, digital media workshops, photographic studios and avid suites
  • specialist workshops for wood, metal, plastics, CAD, CAM, ceramics. glass, screenprint, etching, letterpress, sound interaction, electronics, laser cutting and digital print
  • specialist studios for animation, 3D animation, fashion, fine art, graphic design, illustration, interior architeture, interior design, jewellery, photography and textiles.

The creativity that these have already spawned were on display throughout the building.

Over the last few years, I have watched the whole Hendon campus develop and grow, so that it is now an enormous asset for London and the country, nurturing and unlocking the talent of its students – who go on to become some of the best paid graduates emerging from the country’s universities and to make their contribution to the UK’s future prosperity.

Saturday
Nov 19,2011

I see that the US Congress is to investigate Chinese equipment suppliers Huawei and ZTE to see whether they present a threat to US national security.  According to PC World, the House Intelligence Committee wants to:

“examine if Huawei’s and ZTE’s expansion into the U.S. market gives the Chinese government an opportunity to hijack the nation’s infrastructure to conduct espionage. U.S. lawmakers worry that the networking equipment sold could secretly contain Chinese military technology to spy and interfere with U.S. telecommunications.”

Huawei has many links to the Chinese Government and its security apparatus.  As Jeffrey Carr summarises the key facts as follows:

  1. The company’s founder Ren Zhengfei was an engineer in the PLA prior to forming his company.
  2. The company’s chairwoman Sun Yafang worked for the Ministry of State Security and while there helped arrange loans for Huawei before joining the company as an employee.
  3. The government of China is Huawei’s biggest customer; specifically the State-owned telecommunications services.
  4. Huawei equipment is used to intercept communications in China for state-mandated monitoring.

Nevertheless, despite this its products are already widely used in the UK’s infrastructure particularly given its role in providing key components to BT.  I have expressed concern about this before and back in 2006 Newsweek recorded the Conservative Party’s concerns, saying:

“Political conservatives in Britain expressed the same security concerns about Huawei last spring. In April, the company won a $140 million contract to build part of British Telecom’s “21st Century Network,” a major overhaul of its equipment. But when rumors began circulating that the Chinese company might then bid on Marconi, a landmark electronics and information technology firm that was being put up for sale, a Conservative Party spokesman sounded the alarm. The Tories asked the British government to consider the implications for Britain’s defense industry of a Chinese takeover of Marconi. In the end, Huawei didn’t make an offer, and the Swedish telecom giant Ericsson is in the process of buying Marconi.”

Huawei continue to try and expand their access to the UK infrastructure market – see, for example, their wooing of Mayor Boris Johnson with an offer to provide mobile phone infrastructure for the Underground in time for the London Olympics.  In August, they recruited the former Government chief information officer, John Suffolk.

Their latest move to gain respectability is to sponsor a charity Christmas concert in support of The Prince’s Trust at the Royal Festival Hall next month, to which they have invited large numbers of senior Government officials and Parliamentarians.

No doubt, Huawei will say they are much-maligned, but I do wonder whether a UK Parliamentary Committee shouldn’t be following the lead of the US House Intelligence Committee and launch an investigation into the company’s growing influence in the UK and any possible implications for security.

Tuesday
Nov 8,2011

Ben Brogan, the Daily Telegraph’s Deputy Editor, is fed up with the tent protest at Parliament Square. 

And what is more, he is fed up with Mayor Boris Johnson’s failure to sort it out:

“Well, those of you who have long wondered about that ghost town of dirty tents lining two sides of the square might have a look at this video, which we filmed a few days ago. We used a thermal camera in the same way we did at the St Paul’s protest. If anything the result is even more damning. Turns out the ‘peace camp’ looks deserted because… it’s deserted. MPs might like to ask why the Met/Westminster Council/Boris Johnson don’t pop round and take these abandoned articles away. Either that or stop bullying us about left luggage and locked bicycles being destroyed. The Mayor should get down there this afternoon with a van and clear the lot himself.”

Strong words: “get down there this afternoon”.

Is even the Daily Telegraph beginning to realise that the Mayor needs to get a grip?

Running London is not about sound bites and photo ops – it is about doing things for London and Londoners.

Whether Londoners agree with the Daily Telegraph’s fixation about tented protests or not, they do agree that London needs a Mayor who takes the job seriously and really does care about the city.

Friday
Nov 4,2011

I’ve already asked what exactly was William Hague’s grand international conference on cyberspace for, but it is clear that my scepticism is shared by the journalists who were sent to cover it and came away disappointed or as the Daily Telegraph put it:

“So what did we learn over the course of the two-day meeting? Well, in short, almost nothing. ….

As the show limped to its finale on Wednesday, many of Mr Hague’s conclusions could have been written at any point in the last six months.

“All delegates agreed that the immediate next steps must be to take practical measures to develop shared understanding and agree common approaches and confidence-building measures,” the Foreign Secretary declared. Well, quite.”

And serious experts like Richard Clayton from Cambridge University were pretty underwhelmed too.
Tuesday
Nov 1,2011

In August, David Cameron wanted to block Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry Messenger.

Today, William Hague said:

“Some governments block online services and content, imposing restrictive regulation, or incorporate surveillance tools into their internet infrastructure so that they can identify activists and critics. Such actions either directly restrict freedom of expression or aim to deter political debate.”

And just in case the Prime Minister had missed the point went on:

““Human rights are universal, and apply online as much as they do offline… Everyone has the right to free and uncensored access to the internet.  … We saw in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya that cutting off the internet, blocking Facebook, jamming Al Jazeera, intimidating journalists and imprisoning bloggers does not create stability or make grievances go away.”

Oh dear …..

Monday
Oct 31,2011

In July the Foreign Secretary announced that the UK would be hosting an international conference on cyberspace.  The purpose was to bring together governments, international organisations, NGOs and businesses from around the world to “address the challenges presented by the networked world including cyber crime that threatens individuals, companies, and governments.”  William Hague said that it was “vital that cyberspace remains a safe and trusted environment in which to operate. This can only be done effectively through international cooperation, engaging both the public and private sectors. Together I hope that we can begin to build the broadest possible international consensus.”

In case you missed it this major attempt to build international consensus is taking place tomorrow and Wednesday – indeed the process of international bonding began over drinks and nibbles at the Science Museum earlier this evening.

However, looking at the programme, it is not clear what the programme offers that is going to be different from numerous similar gatherings over the last few years.  Nor is it apparent where the “broadest possible international consensus” is going to be hammered out.

But we are assured that it is going to look good …..

quorh.jpg

But this picture really does deserve a caption competition:

quorh.jpg

Printable suggestions only please.