Category Archives: U.K.

A United Kingdom spending update

I had no idea that UK public spending had risen from 36.6% in 2000 to the 50% range until this post by Tyler Cowen

Remarkably, public spending actually went up last year as a share of our national income, according to a devastating analysis by the OECD.

In a spreadsheet buried deep on its website and annexed to its latest Economic Outlook, it says that public spending hit 49pc of UK GDP last year, a shocking increase on the 48.6pc of GDP spent by the state in 2011.

You should note that differing figures from the UK government show somewhat of a decline in spending in real terms, unlike this estimate.  It would be interesting to read a detailed explanation of why the OECD figures differ.

I would also note that, according to these estimates, UK public spending was 36.6% of gdp in 2000, and had edged up over 50% by 2009 and 2010 and now is still in the range of 49% or so.  Most of the run-up came over the bubbly years of 2000-2006.  Let’s start by calling that an unsustainable mistake.  I would say that, looking back, they didn’t get very much for this spending boost, did they?  That’s fact #1 that should start off any analysis of British fiscal policy looking forward.


Still, these numbers should be put on the table.  Instead, I very often see these numbers being swept under the proverbial rug.  Perhaps it is believed they might confuse people.

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

Sarkozy Forces the French to Join the 1980s

To the extent that the French enjoy a natural advantage, it is in their inefficiency: They are the world’s most efficient producers of structured indolence. They are the kept women of the global economy; their status depends, in part, on their practical uselessness.

Reinvent the British and you get a global finance center, edible food and better service. Reinvent the French and you may just get more Germans.

That’s Michael Lewis writing opinion for Bloomberg:

Aug. 6 (Bloomberg) — A few years after Margaret Thatcher came to power and launched what at the time seemed a futile war to compel the English people to embrace business values, I found myself dazed and confused in a London corner shop.

Down one aisle and up the other, I paced but found no trace of what I’d come for: the world’s finest pseudo-cookies. The shelf that once held those delicious McVitie’s wafers coated with milk chocolate was now stocked with less desirable items.

At length, I went to the middle-aged shop owner and asked where she’d hidden my favorite treats — this gift from the gods to those of us who want to pretend our cookies are merely crackers.

“We used to stock those,” she said, sweetly, “but we kept running out, so we’ve stopped.”

Right then I thought: Thatcherism is doomed. The English will never embrace efficiency, or money-making, or the-customer- is-always-right mindset, or any of those uneasy values that underpin modern capitalism.

I was wrong, obviously. The English have not merely embraced commercial values but have become so thoroughly imbued with them that London has displaced New York as the world’s money hub. A nation of people once embarrassed to complain that their soup was cold is now among the first to demand to speak to the manager.

But that was England, and those were the English. This is France, and these are the French.

…From this safe distance — 6,000 miles away — it’s hard not to admire Sarkozy’s audacity. Here’s an elected leader, serving at the pleasure of the French people, who has taken it upon himself to do the one thing certain to induce despair and hatred in the hearts of those people: force them to become more productive.

Inflicting market values upon the British circa 1980 felt a bit cruel, but visiting it upon the French circa 2008 feels almost like an unnatural act, like forcing a cat to fetch.

Of course, it’s possible to change a society and to drag it into the global economic monoculture. Mrs. Thatcher showed how: Break up collectives and make people feel a little bit more alone in the world. Cut a few holes in the social safety net. Raise the status of money-making, and lower the status of every other activity. Stop giving knighthoods to artists and start giving them to department-store moguls. Stop listening to intellectuals and start listening to entrepreneurs and financiers.


U.K. gets serious about carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)

I’m happy to see this announcement by the U.K. industry secretary. Proving out CCS is my top priority — utility execs need to know how much it costs — both capital costs and operating costs. And of course we need to know if CCS works at scale – if we cannot count on it, we are in big trouble for future emissions.

· Four energy groups to bid for demonstration project

· E.ON’s Kent coal-fired station may use system

The government has stepped up the pace of change in the battle against global warming by announcing a shortlist of four bidders pre-qualifying for its carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration project and outlining a proposed new legislative framework for “clean coal”.

Among the bidders are E.ON, which wants to use CCS for its controversial Kingsnorth coal-fired station in Kent, and BP, which recently scrapped plans to develop a trial project in Scotland because ministers appeared to be moving too slowly to meet its own internal timetable. Scottish Power and Peel Power are also included.

John Hutton, the industry secretary, said CCS had the potential to capture 90% of carbon emissions from coal-fired power stations and its deployment would dovetail with a wider strategy which included renewable and nuclear generation.

Sadly, the U.S. has made no real progress towards proving CCS.

Parliament's damning report about Saddam apologist George Galloway

Christopher Hitchens reviews the record of George Galloway:

…An inquiry was set up, by the Committee on Standards and Privileges, to investigate. It has now produced its report, along with a recommendation that Mr. Galloway apologize to the House and be suspended from Parliament for 18 days. And the findings of the report are even more damning, if that is possible, than the conclusions reached by the Senate and Volcker investigations. In particular, they make reference to the transcript of a meeting between Galloway and Saddam Hussein on Aug. 8, 2002. On that date, Galloway complained to his political master—the man he had saluted in public for his “courage” and “indefatigability”—that certain problems with oil prices were affecting “our income” and “our dues.”

Like Hitchens, I doubt that Galloway’s troubles are over — at least I sincerely hope the wrist-slap of an 18-day suspension from the House of Commons is only the first installment.

The BBC and British attitudes

Bret Stephens presents a disturbing profile of Muslim sentiment in the U.K. Ugly sentiment that is straight from Michael Moore, and which is more extreme than anglo-British sentiment, but still very similar.

Yet there is also something too easy about this emerging consensus, which, roughly, wants Britain out of the Middle East and the Middle East out of Britain. What it neglects is the extent to which the attitudes of British Muslims perfectly reflect the attitudes of Britons generally.

Consider the findings of a July YouGov poll on the British view of America and Americans. Sixty-five percent of respondents consider Americans “vulgar”; 72% think American society is unequal; 52% take a negative view of American culture; and 58% believe the U.S. is “an essentially imperial power, one that wants to dominate the world by one means or another.” Only 12% of Britons have confidence in U.S. leadership.


Such views aren’t just waterborne; they spring from the data set from which almost all Britons judge Israeli actions. Trevor Asserson, a solicitor, has compiled lengthy reports of BBC coverage of Israel: He finds that of 19 documentaries on Israel or the Palestinians aired by the BBC from 2000 to 2004 (as compared to only five about the earlier, nearer and far deadlier conflict in the Balkans), almost all were savagely critical of Israel. “The Accused” indicts Ariel Sharon as a war criminal; “Dead in the Water” alleges that Israel bombed an American ship in 1967 to disguise Israeli atrocities in the Sinai and to provoke an American nuclear strike on Cairo; and so on.

Compound this with the similar slant and tenor of nightly BBC coverage of Israel, the U.S., Iraq, Lebanon and Guantanamo Bay and it isn’t hard to understand the sense of rage, easily descending to radicalism and violence, which typifies the political sensibilities of so many British Muslims.

True, other factors are at play. The unemployment rate of British Muslims is three times that of the overall population, according to a 2004 survey, and the country’s Muslims tend not to participate in civic life. These details get lumped together in the catch-all of “social exclusion,” and it’s something that rightly concerns British policy makers.

Yet what really ought to terrify Britain’s leaders aren’t the conclusions that divide mainstream and Muslim Britain, but the premises that unite them. From the credence given to people like Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky, to the simplistic derision of the U.S. and the frenzied hatred of Israel, the two camps attend the same church and sing from the same hymnal. Until that changes, on one side or the other, Britain will have no respite from the encroaching terror. Or, to paraphrase Pogo: We have met the jihadi, and he is us.

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Details Emerge in British Terror Case

LONDON, Aug. 27 — On Aug. 9, in a small second-floor apartment in East London, two young Muslim men recorded a video justifying what the police say was their suicide plot to blow up trans-Atlantic planes: revenge against the United States and its “accomplices,” Britain and the Jews.

“As you bomb, you will be bombed; as you kill, you will be killed,” said one of the men on a “martyrdom” videotape, whose contents were described by a senior British official and a person briefed about the case. The young man added that he hoped God would be “pleased with us and accepts our deed.”

As it happened, the police had been monitoring the apartment with hidden video and audio equipment. Not long after the tape was recorded that day, Scotland Yard decided to shut down what they suspected was a terrorist cell. That action set off a chain of events that raised the terror threat levels in Britain and the United States, barred passengers from taking liquids on airplanes and plunged air traffic into chaos around the world.

The ominous language of seven recovered martyrdom videotapes is among new details that emerged from interviews with high-ranking British, European and American officials last week, demonstrating that the suspects had made considerable progress toward planning a terrorist attack. Those details include fresh evidence from Britain’s most wide-ranging terror investigation: receipts for cash transfers from abroad, a handwritten diary that appears to sketch out elements of a plot, and, on martyrdom tapes, several suspects’ statements of their motives.

There are details here, including indications that the plot-launch date was “not imminent”. One perspective is too view the timeing of the rollup positively “they stopped the carnage — maybe left some blokes yet to be uncovered”.

U.K. secretary Reid: we must revise international law

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies on 3 April 2006, Secretary of State for Defence John Reid emphasised changes to the strategic landscape. Reid is correct – what is the chance that action will be taken in time?

“Today I would like to move on and widen that debate to address new elements – in particular to make some observations about the international legal framework in which we operate. I am not myself a lawyer but, as a practising politician, I understand how law continues to evolve in response to real changes in the world.

“For centuries conflict between tribes, cities and states was completely unbridled and savage. Very gradually, mankind developed a range of conventions that they applied to constrain and moderate what is in essence a brutal activity.

“Eventually, these agreements became rules, which became laws. Much has been achieved in current legal frameworks. But warfare continues to evolve, and, in its moral dimensions, we have now to cope with a deliberate regression towards barbaric terrorism by our opponents.

“A few weeks ago I spoke to students at King’s College here in London about the uneven nature of the modern battlefield, and the unconstrained enemy ranged against us. Against this background, I called for all of us to be swifter to support, and slower to condemn our armed forces.

On April 5th Secretary Reid spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he summarized the thrust of the above April 3rd speech:

“On Monday I made a speech in the UK about how the international community needs to adapt to face this new threat. I made the point there that International Law has developed on the basis of a set of values which must be preserved, but I called for a debate about whether International Law, including conventions such as the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, needed to be strengthened, in the face of the new challenges.

“When an inherited set of international values, laws and conventions, comes face to face with more recently developed and hitherto unenvisaged circumstances and threats, our response should not be to abandon those values, laws and conventions but to develop and strengthen them to encompass these new circumstances.

UPDATE: Belmont Club offers a comprehensive analysis of the Reid speech and its implications:

Reid’s points taken together comprehensively call into question the international constitutional system. It is unlikely the issues raised by those questions will be resolved any time soon because those issues are typically addressed by the victors after a war (Utrecht, Westphalia, Vienna, Versailles, etc) to codify a consensus that has emerged in the course of events. All one can say with the conflict still in progress is that current concepts of the Rules of War, pre-emption and territorial sovereignty will be called into question; that they will change under the pressure of future events is all but certain; but what they will change into is anybody’s guess.


The issues that Reid raised were all prefigured in one way or the other by the US experience from 2002 to the present. They find their echoes in the Plame Affair. Guantanamo Bay. The McCain Amendment. In Iraq. That these problems are now coming to the general attention of Europe suggests that the problems themselves are real. If so, there is no Last Helicopter out of the situation unless it can take us away from the 21st century.

Tony Blair: Foreign Policy Speech [2 of 3]

Their case is that democracy is a western concept we are forcing on an unwilling culture of Islam. The problem we have is that a part of opinion in our own countries agrees with them. — Tony Blair

Greg Sheridan summarized “Blair showed himself yesterday as the most articulate neo-conservative in the world.”

The full-text transcript of Blair’s speech before the Australian Parliament is here. The introduction was typically Blair-eloquent:

This is a world in the course of choosing. Underneath its daily tumult – the stories of strife and sensation that blast their way into our consciousness – we are in struggle of a more profound kind.

Globalisation is a fact.

But the values that govern it are a choice.

We know the values we believe in: democracy and the rule of law; also justice, the simple conviction that, given a fair go, human beings can better themselves and the world around them. These are the values our two countries live by; and others would live by, if they had the chance.

But we believe in more than that. We believe that the changes happening in the world that make it more integrated, the globalisation that with unblinking speed re-shapes our lives, is an opportunity as much as a risk. We are open societies. We feel enriched by diversity. We welcome dynamism and are tolerant of difference.

Left and right still matter hugely in politics and the divergence can sometimes be sharp. But the defining division in countries and between people is increasingly open or closed; open to the changing world or fearful, hunkered down, seeing the menace of it not the possibility.

This is the age of the inter-connected. We all recognise this when it comes to economics, communication and culture. But the same applies to politics.

The struggle in our world today therefore is not just about security, it is a struggle about values and about modernity – whether to be at ease with it or in rage at it.

To win, we have to win the battle of values, as much as arms. We have to show these are not western still less American or Anglo-Saxon values but values in the common ownership of humanity, universal values that should be the right of the global citizen.

This is the challenge.

On the alliance with America Blair said:

Wherever people live in fear, with no prospect of advance, we should be on their side; in solidarity with them, whether in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burma, North Korea; and where countries, and there are many in the Middle East today, are in the process of democratic development, we should extend a helping hand.

This requires, across the board an active foreign policy of engagement not isolation. It cannot be achieved without a strong alliance. This alliance does not end with, but it does begin with America. For us in Europe and for you, this alliance is central. And I want to speak plainly here. I do not always agree with the US. Sometimes they can be difficult friends to have. But the strain of, frankly, anti-American feeling in parts of European politics is madness when set against the long-term interests of the world we believe in. The danger with America today is not that they are too much involved. The danger is they decide to pull up the drawbridge and disengage. We need them involved. We want them engaged.

The reality is that none of the problems that press in on us, can be resolved or even contemplated without them.

Our task is to ensure that with them, we do not limit the agenda to security. If our security lies in our values and our values are about justice and fairness as well as freedom from fear, then the agenda must be more than security and the alliance include more than America.

Patrick Walters’s headline was “Tony Blair gives lesson in leadership”. On global security, energy and the future of Kyoto:

He also warned against anti-American sentiment, saying the global security agenda required the active participation of the US.

“I do not always agree with the US. Sometimes they can be difficult friends to have,” he said.

“The danger with America today is not that they are too much involved. The danger is they decide to pull up the drawbridge and disengage. The reality is that none of the problems that press in on us can be resolved or even contemplated without them.”

Mr Blair earlier told the Australia-UK leadership forum that the rise of India and China had put the issue of nuclear power back on the agenda as far as the European Union was concerned.

“The emergence of China and India is making a difference, not only to the issue of globalisation but to the question of how we ensure that those countries can grow sustainably but also meet their energy needs.

“There is an immediate question now in a world of more scarce energy supply, to meet the energy needs of those two emerging economies.”

Tony Blair: Foreign Policy Speech [1 of 3]

…This is not a clash between civilisations. It is a clash about civilisation… I might point out too that in both countries supporters of the ideology represented by Saddam and Mullah Omar are free to stand in elections and on the rare occasions they dare to do so, don’t win many votes. — Tony Blair 21 March 2006

Blair is making three foreign policy speeches:

#1 How to defeat global terrorism, how Iraq and Afghanistan contribute to this goal

#2 The importance of a broad global alliance to achieve #1

#3 The required reform of international institutions

The first speech [full text] was typically eloquent [video on demand], and complementary to the Bush Cleveland speech. I think Blair deserves a read of the original, rather than relying upon the MSM sound bites. Paraphrasing risks loosing the development of his ideas – but I’ll attempt what I think are the key remarks:

…The basic thesis is that the defining characteristic of today’s world is its interdependence; that whereas the economics of globalisation are well matured, the politics of globalisation are not; and that unless we articulate a common global policy based on common values, we risk chaos threatening our stability, economic and political, through letting extremism, conflict or injustice go unchecked.

The consequence of this thesis is a policy of engagement not isolation; and one that is active not reactive.

Confusingly, its proponents and opponents come from all sides of the political spectrum. So it is apparently a “neo-conservative” ie right wing view, to be ardently in favour of spreading democracy round the world; whilst others on the right take the view that this is dangerous and deluded – the only thing that matters is an immediate view of national interest. Some progressives see intervention as humanitarian and necessary; others take the view that provided dictators don’t threaten our citizens directly, what they do with their own, is up to them.

The debate on world trade has thrown all sides into an orgy of political cross-dressing. Protectionist sentiment is rife on the left; on the right, there are calls for “economic patriotism”; meanwhile some voices left and right, are making the case for free trade not just on grounds of commerce but of justice.


It is in confronting global terrorism today that the sharpest debate and disagreement is found. Nowhere is the supposed “folly” of the interventionist case so loudly trumpeted as in this case. Here, so it is said, as the third anniversary of the Iraq conflict takes place, is the wreckage of such a world view. Under Saddam Iraq was “stable”. Now its stability is in the balance. Ergo, it should never have been done.

This is essentially the product of the conventional view of foreign policy since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This view holds that there is no longer a defining issue in foreign policy. Countries should therefore manage their affairs and relationships according to their narrow national interests. The basic posture represented by this view is: not to provoke, to keep all as settled as it can be and cause no tectonic plates to move. It has its soft face in dealing with issues like global warming or Africa; and reserves its hard face only if directly attacked by another state, which is unlikely. It is a view which sees the world as not without challenge but basically calm, with a few nasty things lurking in deep waters, which it is best to avoid; but no major currents that inevitably threaten its placid surface. It believes the storms have been largely self-created.

This is the majority view of a large part of western opinion, certainly in Europe. According to this opinion, the policy of America since 9/11 has been a gross overreaction; George Bush is as much if not more of a threat to world peace as Osama bin Laden; and what is happening in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else in the Middle East, is an entirely understandable consequence of US/UK imperialism or worse, of just plain stupidity. Leave it all alone or at least treat it with sensitivity and it would all resolve itself in time; “it” never quite being defined, but just generally felt as anything that causes disruption.

This world view – which I would characterise as a doctrine of benign inactivity – sits in the commentator’s seat, almost as a matter of principle. It has imposed a paradigm on world events that is extraordinary in its attraction and its scope. As we speak, Iraq is facing a crucial moment in its history: to unify and progress, under a government elected by its people for the first time in half a century; or to descend into sectarian strife, bringing a return to certain misery for millions. In Afghanistan, the same life choice for a nation, is being played out. And in many Arab and Muslim states, similar, though less publicised, struggles for democracy dominate their politics.

The effect of this paradigm is to see each setback in Iraq or Afghanistan, each revolting terrorist barbarity, each reverse for the forces of democracy or advance for the forces of tyranny as merely an illustration of the foolishness of our ever being there; as a reason why Saddam should have been left in place or the Taliban free to continue their alliance with Al Qaida. Those who still justify the interventions are treated with scorn.


The easiest line for any politician seeking office in the West today is to attack American policy. A couple of weeks ago as I was addressing young Slovak students, one got up, denouncing US/UK policy in Iraq, fully bought in to the demonisation of the US, utterly oblivious to the fact that without the US and the liberation of his country, he would have been unable to ask such a question, let alone get an answer to it.


This terrorism will not be defeated until its ideas, the poison that warps the minds of its adherents, are confronted, head-on, in their essence, at their core. By this I don’t mean telling them terrorism is wrong. I mean telling them their attitude to America is absurd; their concept of governance pre-feudal; their positions on women and other faiths, reactionary and regressive; and then since only by Muslims can this be done: standing up for and supporting those within Islam who will tell them all of this but more, namely that the extremist view of Islam is not just theologically backward but completely contrary to the spirit and teaching of the Koran.

But in order to do this, we must reject the thought that somehow we are the authors of our own distress; that if only we altered this decision or that, the extremism would fade away. The only way to win is: to recognise this phenomenon is a global ideology; to see all areas, in which it operates, as linked; and to defeat it by values and ideas set in opposition to those of the terrorists.


This is not a clash between civilisations. It is a clash about civilisation. It is the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace and see opportunity in the modern world and those who reject its existence; between optimism and hope on the one hand; and pessimism and fear on the other. And in the era of globalisation where nations depend on each other and where our security is held in common or not at all, the outcome of this clash between extremism and progress is utterly determinative of our future here in Britain. We can no more opt out of this struggle than we can opt out of the climate changing around us. Inaction, pushing the responsibility on to America, deluding ourselves that this terrorism is an isolated series of individual incidents rather than a global movement and would go away if only we were more sensitive to its pretensions; this too is a policy. It is just that; it is a policy that is profoundly, fundamentally wrong.


So here, in its most pure form, is a struggle between democracy and violence. People look back on the three years since the Iraq conflict; they point to the precarious nature of Iraq today and to those who have died – mainly in terrorist acts – and they say: how can it have been worth it?

But there is a different question to ask: why is it so important to the forces of reaction and violence to halt Iraq in its democratic tracks and tip it into sectarian war? Why do foreign terrorists from Al Qaida and its associates go across the border to kill and maim? Why does Syria not take stronger action to prevent them? Why does Iran meddle so furiously in the stability of Iraq?

Examine the propaganda poured into the minds of Arabs and Muslims. Every abuse at Abu Ghraib is exposed in detail; of course it is unacceptable but it is as if the only absence of due process in that part of the world is in prisons run by the Americans. Every conspiracy theory – from seizing Iraqi oil to imperial domination – is largely dusted down and repeated.

Why? The answer is that the reactionary elements know the importance of victory or defeat in Iraq. Right from the beginning, to them it was obvious. For sure, errors were made on our side. It is arguable that de-Baathification went too quickly and was spread too indiscriminately, especially amongst the armed forces. Though in parenthesis, the real worry, back in 2003 was a humanitarian crisis, which we avoided; and the pressure was all to de-Baathify faster.


They know that if they can succeed either in Iraq or Afghanistan or indeed in Lebanon or anywhere else wanting to go the democratic route, then the choice of a modern democratic future for the Arab or Muslim world is dealt a potentially mortal blow. Likewise if they fail, and those countries become democracies and make progress and, in the case of Iraq, prosper rapidly as it would; then not merely is that a blow against their whole value system; but it is the most effective message possible against their wretched propaganda about America, the West, the rest of the world.

That to me is the painful irony of what is happening. They have so much clearer a sense of what is at stake. They play our own media with a shrewdness that would be the envy of many a political party. Every act of carnage adds to the death toll. But somehow it serves to indicate our responsibility for disorder, rather than the act of wickedness that causes it. For us, so much of our opinion believes that what was done in Iraq in 2003 was so wrong, that it is reluctant to accept what is plainly right now.