Friday, 28 January 2011

Butterflies & Hurricanes

Of all the twists and turns this recession has taken, the collapse of a government in sub-Saharan Africa is surely a twist no-one saw coming.  Ireland, and the house of cards that is the Cowen regime, that one was coming.  But the collapse of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia?

Sousse Medina in 2006
Tunisia is an interesting and curious country.  An Islamic country which has retained a lot of the French influence, Tunisia can’t be easily described as one thing or another.  Street vendors sell crepes & Sharma's. Yet the image of Ben Ali is, if not everywhere then is seen in most places.  I suppose an element of dictatorship is a requirement, especially as Tunisia was the least troubled by hard-line Islamasists of the Arab countries. Possibly as a result of this, it, alongside Morocco and Egypt, Tunisia was a popular destination for holiday makers looking for something a wee bit different.  I visited in 2006 and certainly would have recommended a visit.

The unrest in Tunisia came out of the blue, sparked by a young unemployed man who set fire to himself after being deprived by town officials from selling vegetables.  Initially the protests were limited to Sidi Bouzid – a town who’s economy is based on agriculture – but these then spread before reaching their logical conclusion last week.  Similar unrest has occurred in Cairo over the past couple of days, as Egyptian protesters have similarly looked to topple their dictatorship.  The reason for these outbursts has been pinned on the frustration at a lack of freedom, and the excesses of the ruling classes.  I suspect that there is another reason.  It’s the economy stupid.

Greece, Portugal and Spain all found themselves in difficulty last year, with Greece forced into a bale-out from the European Central Bank.  All three were popular destinations for British people to go on holiday, and to put money into their economies.  Assuming that each couple spends £300 when they go abroad, then each plane would bring £60,000 for the local economy.  Being another popular holiday destination, Tunisia was always going to struggle with the lack of visitors to it’s country, and a diminishing flow of money into the country.  Hotels have to cater for people, so less people means less food to buy which brings us back to our unfortunate vegetable seller.
 
It’s now becoming clear that the lack of liquidity in the British economy is now having an effect on the countries that sees an influx of visitors from these shores. Glasgow Airport reported a drop in passenger numbers of 30,000 for July last year, the lowest figure in four years.  The lack of liquidity is already having an effect on the UK economy, with poor growth figures showing that the Britain is tottering on the brink of a second technical recession when the hangover from the first technical recession has not abated.  The problems with the British economy have shown that Boy George’s scorched earth policy is simply a non starter, and that’s before the cuts really bite.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Just A Thought

With the media's scrutiny rightly on whether BSkyB should be bought by News International, and whether that proposed take overshould be refered to the OFT.  Can someone remind me why the purchase of Channel 5 by Britain's pornographer in chief, Richard Desmond, in July last year somehow managed to garner less interest, and somehow evaded the regulatory bodies despite Desmond's record of OFCOM inforced fines?

Just a thought...

Thursday, 20 January 2011

AJ Not for Shadow Chancellor Then.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the charms, the talent, indeed the sheer bonhomie of the former Home Secretary Alan Johnson is something which seems to have passed me by.  Which is why i was perplexed by the AJ4PM campaign which started to gather some sort of pace in the Autumn of 2008.  Just being a safe pair of hands never seemed to me to be the best qualification to be Prime Minister or leader of your party.

Being a safe pair of hands has been exactly what Johnson has proved not to be when Ed Milliband appointed him to shadow Gideon Osborne as the oppositions main finance spokesman.  Speaking out against the 50% tax band was not a good start – especially as this was a policy that Milliband the younger wanted to pursue.  Making a series of gaffes was precisely what Johnson & Milliband did not need to look competent.  Johnson admitted that he would need to do his homework, but to make gaffes about NI rates seemed to show that Johnson was not on top of his brief.  His resignation avoids a potential headache for Milliband the younger down the line, with stories circulating that Johnson & Milliband had several disagreements over policy – tax and over Higher education funding.  Johnson, in short, was looking more and more out of his depth.  He was the present once…

Johnson’s replacement is Guido Fawkes favourite Labour politician, Ed Balls.  I wonder if his combative style might be best suited to shadowing Osborne (as opposed to being Chancellor), as I think that Osborne has had too much of an easy ride since the election.  It is worth noting however that those with the top jobs in Labour are all former Brown acolytes.  Balls and the new Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander both worked for Brown before the 1997 General Election, while Milliband also worked for Brown, while he was at the Treasury.  I can’t see the Blairite sect being happy.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A New Year and a New Start…

Firstly, can I say a happy new year!

2010 was one of those Fin de Si√®cle years where there were changes.  David Tennant’s Doctor gave way to Matt Smith, Jonathan Ross quit the Beeb, Gus MacPherson left the Buddies but the biggest changes came as a result of the Westminster election, which saw the last hurrah of Scottish Labour’s big beasts that emerged in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  Smith, Dewar & Cook all no longer with us, Robertson & Reid now enjoy life outside politics while in May Brown lost the General Election.

 

This air of change continued a couple of weeks ago with the re-design of the Sunday Herald.  The papers last change was when the paper downsized to a tabloid, just after most of the English based broadsheets did something similar.  This change however is a change that I don’t think has worked.  It is now essentially a 92 page “news magazine” – however there are several things that don’t work.

 

Firstly, because there are 92 pages, some things do not have the space that they had before.  Sport has been reduced to about 10 pages, political comment has also been reduced, and scattered around the 92 pages.  The letters section has also been reduced, not by much but the perception of a huge cut is there, this gives the impression of a views-paper who wants to talk but not to listen.  Television has been reduced from 16 pages to about 3 pages, Music reviews have been cut, while I am still to locate Theatre reviews.  Thankfully Joanna Blythman has been cut to just the restaurant review.  Rather mystifyingly the resident grump of the Herald newspapers, Iain Bell, sees an increase in his space (if last week is anything to go by).

 

The other thing that i think doesn’t work is the “quality newspaper” angle.  Subconsciously or otherwise, i think that the Journalists have began to produce journalism which is rather full of itself, a tad egotistical, and a bit snobby.  In short totally against everything that the old Sunday Herald produced.  I don’t think that you produce “quality” if you think about it,to use the old advertising slogan – “Just Do It”.  Subconsciously I suspect that the journalists have started to analyse whether their writing will appeal or not.  Rather bizarrely the most difficult articles to write are ones for the red-top tabloids, it is more difficult to write an article to explain things in an easily understood manner than it is to write an article full of jargon and obscure words.  I get the impression that in the race to give the veneer of “quality”, some of the writers have forgotten this.

 

The editorial on Sunday was ecstatic about its initial sales figures for a couple of weeks ago.  If Sunday was anything to go by, i would imagine that the sales figures would look less good.  I went down to the local shops late, and was surprised to find lots of unsold copies left – i normally struggle to get a copy after 11:30am.  2011 looks to be as turbulent as 2010 was, the media and the blogosphere are already gearing up to the forthcoming Holyrood elections.  Unfortunately one of Scotland’s national newspapers has decided to do the print equivalent of the self indulgent 5th album.  Not a good move at a crucial time for Scotland, and sadly not the brightest note to enter the fifth year of this blog.