Would Stubborn UK Inflation Have Anything To Do With High Taxes?

Now why would UK core inflation remain stubbornly high? Anything to do with high income taxes, high business rates and high sales tax and government and local government fees slapped at every twist and turn? Plus government consistently over-paying for staff, services and vendors. What remains amazing is how the British press, including Conservative papers, seldom make the link.

The U.K.’s Consumer Prices Index has remained at 3.1pc for the sixth month running. Obviously there is a connection with higher international commodity prices – for example, cereals have gone up because of wheat price increases partly as a result of this summer’s forest fires in Russia.

But services inflation climbed to its highest rate since February 2009. It is now well above its low of 2.3pc in November. At least the Daily Telegraph noted that there might be a link with the upcoming jump in VAT (national sales tax). It quotes a retail expert, Neil Saunders of Verdict, suggesting that shops are already beginning to increase prices ahead of next year’s VAT increase to 20 percent.

Blue Book Shenanigans — But Why Illegal?

The Independent on Sunday newspaper has a fascinating article that spells trouble for Rupert Murdoch’s News International. The article discloses that journalists at the News of the World and other NI titles paid a private detective to provide hundreds of pieces of confidential information, often using illegal means.

The article is based on a confidential document the paper calls the “Blue Book”, a ledger of work carried out by PI Steve Whittamore for News International titles, detailing a series of transactions including obtaining ex-directory (unlisted) phone numbers, telephone accounts, criminal records checks and withheld mobile numbers.

The report will add fuel to the political fire raging in the UK over a phone-hacking scandal involving the News of the World and may well add further embarrassment for Prime Minister David Cameron, who has so far supported Andy Coulson, now his chief spin-doctor. Coulson resigned from the NoW in 2007 after one of his reporters, Clive Goodman, was jailed for tapping into telephone voicemails. Coulson has consistently denied any knowledge of illegal methods being used to secure information during his term as editor.

Labour MPs – often the targets of NI probes – are on the war-path. And so, of course, are NI newspaper rivals, such as the Independent and the Guardian. They would be “outraged” wouldn’t they? For years they have been green with envy at the better scoops NI titles secure.

While not condoning in anyway NI using illegal methods to secure information, I have to ask why it should be illegal to secure half of the information NI journalists were obtaining. Why should it be illegal to find out to whom a telephone number is registered or whether someone has a criminal record?

And why should it be illegal in the U.K. to check the points on a driving licence or trying to establish ownership of a vehicle from its number plate?

On the whole these activties would not be illegal in the U.S.. In my state of Maryland the courts kindly allow anyone to do an online search on civil and criminal court cases. The argument in the U.K. is all about privacy. But how about some transparency! It is always said that justice should be seen to be done, for example. But if you hide information about criminal court cases, how is that justice being seen to be done?

A 9/11 Memory

I was late talking my son to Takoma Park elementary school and was phoned by my foreign editor who said that in light of what had happened all editorial plans for the day were scrapped. Being the veteran I was I muttered, “Of course,” while wondering what the blazes he was on about. He asked me what I had heard and I said,”Bear with me, things are very fluid here and I need to make some more calls.”

The car radio in my old Fiat Spyder wasn’t working and I drove like the wind back to my home and switched on CNN in time to see the second plane strike the twin towers. I thought to myself, “Al Qaeda.” And then thought, “Life is going to be very different from now on.”

I then worked like fury. Business AM got a European press award for coverage that day. Much later in the day I toured the outside of the still-smoking Pentagon, had a drink on the way home in one of the few bars open in an eerily deserted DC and drafted in my mind my column for the Washington Times Corp. It was a plea not to throw out civil liberties in the fight against terrorism. Next day I tried to explain to my son about the bad people….

The Lost Communicator

Not so sure Michael Gerson is right when he says in a Washington Post column today that “it is the agenda that undermined the idiom” and blames President Obama’s politics for the loss of his communication power. On the other side of the aisle, partisan divisions over the role of government have been sharpened in the UK by the Coalition’s cost-cutting agenda but Prime Minister Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg are communicating far more effectively than Obama now and seem to be taking more people along with them.

Maybe we over-estimated Obama when we heard him out on the presidential campaign trail, mistaking rhetorical flash and dash for overall communication understanding and ability. Maybe we were overcome by the contrast between an eloquent Obama and a stumbling Bush — here was a man who could speak in grammatical, flowing sentences. Now Obama seems flat, professorial and ponderous.

And maybe Obama is losing confidence in speaking to the nation as a whole and is resorting to what most politicians do when under pressure — namely, speak just to their base, hence the narrow feel of his rhetoric now, the exclusivity as opposed to the inclusivity that was emphasized during the campaign. Gerson is surely right when he describes the President’s recent forays beyond Washington DC. “In Milwaukee, Obama was the feisty street fighter with a union card. But, without humor, his jabs seemed sour and mocking. In Cleveland, Obama personalized the economic argument by repeatedly attacking House Minority Leader John Boehner — as though Americans have any idea who this tanned and sinister figure might be.”

It isn’t just the President’s own performances that are off the mark. The communication strategy of he White House has been flawed from the start. Why not more about the economy from the moment Obama set foot in the White House, after all the polls consistently highlighted the economy and unemployment as the number one anxiety? Only now is Obama talking more about the economy and focusing on it. Neither of his two Oval Office addresses were on the economy. Has anyone over at the White House heard of FDR’s “fireside chats”?

Searching for the Model

“I’m not sure there’s any business out there that can credibly argue it’s figured out what it takes to support the journalistic ambitions of a magazine determined to take full advantage of the digital era,” writes the inestimable Susan Glasser, editor of Foreign Polcy magazine.

Her essay on what she and her colleagues have done over at the loss-making magazine and their morphing into a must-read international news online site makes for thought-provoking reading. As Glasser notes their funding relies on support not from readers or advertisers but from the backing of some deep-pocketed institutions – think tanks, universities and the Washington Post.  “Experiment is the key word. The Web certainly made it easy and inexpensive to find and grow our audience; it has also connected us to a network of new writers and readers in countries throughout the world. Advertising has grown, too.”

But no code-breaker. “Until then, an experiment it will remain.”

Blair Memoirs, Hague Denies — The UK Media

The British media is just getting sillier. I wasn’t sure it was possible but after watching and reading the coverage this week of Tony Blair’s memoirs and of the gay rumors swirling around the Foreign Secretary William Hague that is the only conclusion I can reach.

On Blair, the U.K. media has been focused mainly on the former Prime Minister’s disclosures about how poor his relationship was with the dour and obsessed Gordon Brown, his grim-faced Chancellor of the Exchequer. Poor old Tony had to put up with constant conpsiring by Brown and his gang – allegedly Brown even triggered the party investigation into the money-for-honors scandal that dogged 18 months of Blair’s premiership. Some commentators rightly castigated Blair for his playing the victim in his memoirs – ye Gods, he was the Prime Minister and should have sacked Brown.

But the news pages have been taken the Blair claims far too seriously instead of questioning far more strongly whether the former Prime Minister should be writing in the vein he does. Virtually all politeness and conventional form have been thrown out in the book by Blair – he dishes on former colleagues, reveals private conversations with members of the Royal family, etc. One expects this kind of thing from Labour’s gosipy “prince of darkness” Peter Mandelson but should a former Prime Minister be writing in this way?

Blair has produced a “soap book” — not a serious, substantial tome. His chapter on Iraq – and his refusal to accept that he and Bush made any mistakes – should have been the media focus and not the “Brown was mean to me” stuff.

And Hague? After putting up with weeks of a semi-public media whispering campaign, Hague decided earlier this week to rebut blog-launched allegations that he had slept with a male aide. To add credence to his rebutal he went into detail about the difficulties he and his wife have been facing in trying to conceive a child. Now the poor man has to put up with claims that his denial is a public relations blunder – too much information, according to The Times.

The BBC has been running the Hague story as its second lead most of the day with news anchors questioning public relations “experts” and spin-doctors. Sheila Gunn, a former colleague on The Times and now a political consultant, argued that Hague has just prolonged the story by “giving it oxygen.”

Well, it didn’t need any external oxygen before – the blogger Guido just carried on making the allegations with nothing to go on except a photograph showing the aide and Hague walking along the street dressed GQ casual and smiling and the fact – not connected with the picture — that during the election campaign they shared a room with twin beds in it. And with nothing to go on now, the media is keeping the gay allegations going by questioning the public relations efficacy of his denial. And this is journalism?

Hague was utterly right to issue a denial and I don’t see how disclosing the problems he and his wife are facing in trying to create a family will do him any harm with the public. As the newspapers watch their circulations decline — and as the BBC watches its standing fall — maybe they should all rethink how they cover the news.