The Newsnight debate

A few days ago I had an odd call. Would I like to appear on Newsnight to discuss Jack Straw’s decision over the Great train robber? “No” I said, “of course not”. I have never spoken, written or blogged about it. I have not studied it and do not think it an important issue compared with the state of the economy or the damage done to our government and constitution, which I write about regularly. Why didn’t they invite me on to talk of quantitative easing, unemployment, and the banking crisis? I expected nothing more.

I was therefore pleased that yesterday I was invited to take part in a discussion of the state of our economy on the back of some terrible unemployment figures. It was interesting to see the way the debate has been circumscribed by Labour spin, and to try to break through the prison of distorted opinion created by the government’s idiot soundbites.

It was a difficult task, as I received so little air time given the large number of points that needed correcting or challenging. Here are a few of the problems with the conventional explanation that dominated in the Newsnight introductory package and the views of the other three interviewees:

1. “This is a global crisis”. The implication is we imported the problem. Wasn’t Northern Rock a British bank lending to British people under a British regulator? Didn’t the UK authorities themselves hike interest rates too far, starve markets of money and bring on the UK crash?
Cursory study shows that India, China and much of the rest of the developing world does not have a banking crisis like the Uk or US one. The problems of the strong exporters like Japan and Germany are different from the problems of the big deficit importers, the US and the UK.
2. “Quantitative easing is not inflationary.” Couldn”t it become so? What if it started to work and the banks did kick in with substantial lending once they have hit the new exacting targets for liquidity? Why are commodity prices surging already? Could the pound have another nasty bout of weakness? Haven’t they noticed that UK inflation has remained much more persistent despite the economic collapse than elsewhere? How do we get out of it again?
3. “The problem is the banks refusal to lend.” The banks cannot lend more money to the private sector, because the authorities are demanding that they increase their liquidity and capital. If they want them to lend more they need to relax the regulations. It’s no good lecturing them to do one thing, and instructing them to do the opposite.
4. “The money has disappeared into the banking system and not come out. The banks should be criticised for this.”Yet the banks are lending it back to the government so they can run a huge deficit. Isn’t that what these people want, as they are so keen on the public spending?
5. Wouldn’t “Tory cuts” of “£5 Billion” do enormous damage now to prospects? There are no planned “Tory cuts of £5bn”. That is a Labour invention. There are clear statements that the Conservatives would bring the deficit down by doing more for less in the public sector. Far from causing damage, that would allow more of the money to pass into the private sector to create more private demand. Today’s public borrowing is tomorrow’s tax hike.


  1. Bernie Gudgeon
    August 13, 2009

    Am afraid you need to work on your image a little more and lighten up.

    1. Man in a Shed
      August 13, 2009

      I’m going to disagree with your Bernie. John gave me the impression of being just a bit cross with proceedings – good, so are the people of the UK.

      People are looking for someone to trust with integrity and conviction.

      That’s not going to look that light.

    2. figurewizard
      August 13, 2009

      What’s with the ‘image’ bit? I much prefer a politician who has the capacity to understand the problems as severe as those this country is facing at the moment with some idea as to what is needed to resolve them. Image is way down the list of priorities these days. After twelve years of government by smoke and mirrors I would like to bet that most people agree with that.

    3. Bernie Gudgeon
      August 14, 2009

      I’m right behind the lad, but it’s difficult to garner support when you’re forever frightening the horses – coming across a touch bitter and twisted. The girl Eagle was her usual sullen, resentful self, and a little charm could have worked wonders. But I suppose he’d then be accused of being patronising.

      1. Paul
        August 14, 2009

        Given the amount of time JR was allowed to talk for, the time spent on charm would have left zero time to discuss the economy – and it would have pushed the discussion in the wrong direction – to the Tory Cuts/Labour investment fantasy.

        I don’t agree that he comes over that badly on TV anyway. Even if he isn’t “media friendly” I’d rather listen to and be governed by someone who knows what he’s doing and has some direct ideas which address the problems than the manically spinning grin-a-thon that was Tony Blair.

        I think the country and its population are begging for intelligent government and honesty, and fortunately the Tories seem to be moving in this direction.

  2. Mike Stallard
    August 13, 2009

    I was just going up to bed when I caught sight of the back of your head on the TV screen, so I stayed to watch Newsnight.
    You are so right. Vince Cable, who can do no wrong loomed over the procedings like a benign uncle. Angela Eagle sat there ashen faced quoting minuscule figures and toeing the party line about cuts like a mantra. Kirsty Walk squalked and pretended to look interested although she was very busy rushing toward the more interesting story about Burma.
    You might have thought that the British economy was a sort of hors d’oevre to the main meal of Burma and whatever else followed.
    When you spoke sense, it was simply overruled and you couldn’t even make your point about cutting back without interruption.
    What we were left with was the ashen features of Angela Eagle, the “fascinated” face of Kirsty Walk and the utterly Godlike Vince Cable – oh, and to rub the pint in, the old carmudgeon staring bleakly at the camera at the end.
    NOW for the really interesting stuff: Burma and a Pretty Woman in Politics!!!!!
    At that point, I went to bed.

    Do you know what? I’ll bet more people read your totally sensible, and indeed urgent, remarks above than watched the show last night.

    1. Mike Stallard
      August 13, 2009

      PS The Yuan has appreciated a lot (since the crash) against the British pound. It is a sort of benchmark.

      1. Acorn
        August 13, 2009

        We are supposed to call it the Renminbi now; the peoples currency. Anyway, don’t use the Yuan / Ren-thingy as a bench mark. The Chinese have been printing the stuff like crazy to stop its value going up against the US Dollar. That’s the snag when all your exports are being bought with US Dollars.

        Back to QE. We now have ZaNuLabour telling us how bad it would have been if it were not for government “stimulus”. Not that they can prove it. The Fed has been trying, see fig 3 in the following.

        They are so convincing, are they not? They don’t mention what is likely to happen when the stimulus is removed from the “first receivers” of the stimulus money, see following.

        1. Mike Stallard
          August 13, 2009

          OK, thanks for that: in future, I’ll stick to measuring by gold and oil!

  3. Iain
    August 13, 2009

    Good to see you on Newsnight, even better to hear a different/more comprehensive economic argument being made rather than the Government spin or the BBC’s in house economic guru Vince Cable’s musings.

  4. Brian Tomkinson
    August 13, 2009

    You made a good attempt at getting your message across which was difficult because, as you remarked, the other three contributors were all singing from roughly the same hymn sheet. On that basis you were given insufficient time but Kirsty Wark didn’t show any hostility to your viewpoint in fact she seemed quite sympathetic.

  5. Dontmindme
    August 13, 2009

    At one point you looked reeady to tear off Kirsty’s hand you were so clearly irritated by the preamble to the discussion, and your long wait to speak did your famous calm no good either.

    Keep it up, we need you to speak forcefully against the disasterous consensus we are living under.

    1. Dr Bernard Juby
      August 13, 2009

      How can anyone possibly say that “quantitative easing” isn’t inflationary? It’s another name for printing more money, thus devaluing the pound. Haven’t they learned from Germany but why read the book when you can see what’s going on in Zimbabwe?

      1. Adrian Peirson
        August 16, 2009

        Just printing it wouldn’t be that bad, but these drongos are actually borrowing these worthless bits of paper AT INTEREST from Private offshore Banks, and we have to pay it back in Taxes !!!!!!!!!!!!!

        1. Dr Bernard Juby
          August 16, 2009

          Printing it is fine (it gives the printers a job) – it’s the issuing of it that matters! More money in circulation equals devaluing the pounds already in circulation, leading to higher prices and a further twist to the inflationary spiral.

  6. Nick
    August 13, 2009

    Thought your performance against Eagle and the totally overated Cable was the best I have seen from a Conservative MP in a long time. Quite rightly, you attempted to rebut every bogus point made by a c;learly out-of-her-depth Labour minister, who quickly resorted to the Labour Party auto cue on the 2world wide recession”. I hope your performance is shown at CCHQ as a lesson for the likes of Hammond and Duncan in HOW TO REBUT Labour falsehoods.

    Well done

  7. John Coles
    August 13, 2009

    Well done on last night’s showing on Newsnight. You came over well, head and shoulders above supply teacher Eagle and St. Vincent, and you minimised the effects of Wark’s rudeness.
    Why the hell you are languishing on the Back Benches, I know not.

  8. Iain
    August 13, 2009

    PS nice opening dig at the BBC ‘three supporters of the Government policy’ Angela Eagle, Vince Cable, and I presume you were including the BBC as the third.

  9. Richard
    August 13, 2009

    I watched the interview. As you say it was an absurdly short discussion for the complexity of the issues involved. I would add two points: there were 4 supporters of the Government ranged against you – you left out Kirsty Wark; also, it was striking that the Labour minister was like an automaton reciting from a script. I think many of these Labour ministers, especially the junior ones, simply have no idea what the words they are repeating actually mean, no understanding at all of the issues and therefore no ability to conduct any sort of debate. Hopefully viewers will have seen that you did make a coherent point & that Vince Cable, though he said he disagrees with you, did in fact agree with the point you were making.

    August 13, 2009

    We were pleasantly surprised to see you on the program, especially on a day of important financial news.

    One of the troubles with Newsnight – and other BBC interview programs – is that they try to cram in too many interviewees so nobody gets a proper chance to get a point across and, when an interviewer like Kirsty Wark regularly interjects, Diana’s ‘3-in-a-marriage’ seems positively uncluttered!

    Nevertheless you made your points well and the doleful Angela Eagles made heavy weather of her Labour ‘script’.

    Many of us would enjoy a head-to-head between you and Saint Vince – and without Wark or Paxman in attendance. Nick Robinson did a barnstorming job in that role recently.

  11. Demetrius
    August 13, 2009

    1. We did not import the problem. London was one of the key causes of the crisis, and the latest Wikileaks about Kaupthing and Iceland and the London connections make clear who are some of the people involved and they ae close to New Labour.
    2. If it is not inflationary then it will impose a huge real debt for decades to come. If it is it will wreck an already deformed economy.
    3. Read any 1950’s book on sound banking practice.
    4. The Government are forcing the banks to lend back to it. This is Old Mother Riley economics, taking in your own washing.
    5. There is a huge amount of “fat” in the system, an obesity created by a decade of easy money and government profiglacy, it will had to be be shed, and fast.

  12. Nick
    August 13, 2009

    It was the first time in a long time that I have seen a Conservative MP rebut Labour lies effectively. I particularly liked the way that Mr Redwood cut off Eagle when she resorted to her Brownite script on “savage Conservative cuts”.

    It seems to me that St Vincent of Twickenham has taken on a similar BBC role to that occupied by Old Ming during the Iraq War. A sanctimonious Newsnight demi God ,who can pontificate with the luxury of knowing that his batty views will never have to be tested in power.

    Given that Alan Duncan has made a fool of himself, again, how about replacing him with John Redwood ?

    1. Alan Phillips
      August 13, 2009

      Actually, I’d rather see George moved to shadow LotH and John Redwood take on the job of (for now) SCotE. Experience and substance in one neat bundle, that’s what I do call progressive.

  13. WitteringsfromWitney
    August 13, 2009

    Read your post and then went to watch the programme on i-player, came back and found the comments section flooded!

    Suffice to say I thought you were the voice of reason, although that must have been difficult to maintain when faced with two political ‘brick walls’!

    In answer to two comments above – nowt wrong with your ‘image’ – better a serious politician than the ‘Duncan clown’ alternative – and yes the sooner DC rethinks re-engaging JR, the better!

    1. StevenL
      August 14, 2009

      I didn’t see much wrong with what Alan Duncan did or said. For a start he (perhaps niavely) invited that bloke who dug up his lawn to talk about it. Then he expressed his opinion, albeit quite candidly over a drink.

      I did kind of agree with him that the expenses thing will put people from outside of the Westminster bubble becoming MP’s.

      How did he record him anyway? Shouldn’t covert recording equipment be picked up on all that airport security you have to go through to get in the Palace of Westminster?

    2. alan jutson
      August 14, 2009

      Just watched (after seeing it mentioned on your Blog John) Newsnight on I player, having been away for a few days.

      Agree with WW’s points, this is a serious business, which requires a serious presentation of facts.

      Shame you were not given time to expand on your thoughts.

  14. Bill
    August 13, 2009

    Good to see you on Newsnight. Your exposition was excellent (as usual) but especially given the limitations of the show. You make things so clear and simple and say what others want to hear. Well done.

  15. mart
    August 13, 2009

    Dear John,
    I am an expert in the media only insofar as I am an end-user. The following is offered in a constructive spirit.

    Firstly I would suggest that when appearing in the media for such a discussion, you mention that you regularly write about the issue on your private blog. Some might not know this, and might wish to look it up and read further.

    Further mention – if relevant – that the amount of time available for discussion of the detail of the matter prevents you from doing the subject any kind of justice on that programme. Again refer to the blog.

    Further, although your readers from here will easily “tune in” to what you are saying in the discussion, a lot of the public won’t. For the purposes of the broadcast media, a more didactic approach might win you more airtime or appearances (which might be of benefit to you and/or the ideas you are advancing). For the purposes of detailed discussion and adequate space for development of ideas, then there’s … yes, the blog.

    Keep up the good work!!

    1. Mike Stallard
      August 14, 2009

      It fascinates me that Dan Hannan, a totally obscure MEP, now seems to be the voice of the UK in USA because of his outstanding blog. You can tell it is outstanding because the EU people and the Labour people both loathe him!

  16. Jason
    August 13, 2009

    I agreed with all the points that you made in the interview, and indeed on your blog. Who was the Labour spokeswoman? Did she know what subject the programme was discussing?

    How do you solve a rising unemployment problem of over 2.4 million with a £1 billion pounds to help 100,000 people?

    Would it not be better to have a policy agenda to increase confidence in the private sector. Stop micro-managing employment plans and reduce the regulation and tax on business so they can invest in training people to their needs and not Labour’s

    reply: Of course. The lady was Angela Eagle, a government Minister in DWP – previously Treasury

    1. backofanenvelope
      August 13, 2009

      Don’t the Americans have a system where business employing less than a certain number of employees are exempt from a whole raft of employment laws? Cheap way to reduce costs.

  17. Alcuin
    August 13, 2009

    Well done John in difficult circumstances on Newsnight last night. Angela Eagles was quite pathetic, simply parrotting the government line, bemoaning how “working people” were going to be hurt, and fatuously claiming “the Conservatives would …” (eat your babies, or something, the usual FUD narrative). It was quite depressing to see Kirsty Wark listening attentively to a brain dead minister saying nothing over and over again.

    Your point that the government was ***still*** wasting money that the private sector is screaming for should have got far more prominence. Printing money is inflationary almost by definition. Let us hope the BoE is alert to the slightest signs of inflation with an interest rate hike in future. Vince offered his usual avuncular bromide, which was eagerly lapped up by the BBC, as usual. The only person making serious points, against the tide of soporific BBC mood music, was JR. I hope your moment comes, one day.

    Another point often missed is that there are limits to all this borrowing and printing money, and the government is far too casual about it. Keep doing it too long or too deep, and we shall get into a pit we cannot climb out of. How much is a judgement we do not seem to hear much about.

  18. James
    August 13, 2009

    You were excellent. Was excited by the prospect of a head-to-head with you and Vince. Despite being too short – it didn’t disappoint – at the end Vince seemed to be agreeing with everything you said.

    You even tamed Kirsty as she got off the Labour bandwagon and started taking it to the woeful Eagle.

    Well done.

  19. oldrightie
    August 13, 2009

    Yesterday’s, I think Fraser Nelson’s, point about the next Conservative Government having little power because of the placements made by Labour over the last, almost, 13 years, very alarming. Only a massive majority of seats will be enough to reverse this frightening scenario.

  20. adam
    August 13, 2009

    Well you came across okay.
    i wouldn’t worry over Newsnight, its a lost cause anyway.

    on Angela Eagle:

  21. David Logan
    August 13, 2009

    Is there a link to this? I would like to see it. I totally agree that Vince gets away with a lot in these types of discussions and his “middle way” fits far too easily with the BBC “consensus”. QE IS inflationary; what is happening at the moment is that this is being offset by deflationary pressures caused by excessive supply. This happy state of affairs will not continue indefinitely and I confess I am at a loss how a Government undoes QE at the same time as running a huge deficit. Creating money to buy their own bonds is one thng but are they really going to be able to sell more bonds than they need?
    Future inflation is inevitable and as you point out is bubbling under already.

  22. bois
    August 13, 2009

    Agree totally with Mr Redwood. He doesn’t need to ‘lighten up’ as this was s erious topic being given maximum spin by a Labour apparatchik supported by a Newsnight team who didn;t really show they could conduct a proper interview. JR you were right to interject with points as they would never have been made.
    Move over Alan – all presentation and no content – Duncan, and step forward John – I do my homework – Redwood.
    Well done

  23. Johnny Norfolk
    August 13, 2009

    To me John it just shows the bias in the BBC. It never has a full debate about this issue it just follows labours line. I was pleased to see you there and your understanding of the issue and your contempt for the Labour/BBC party line came over well.

    The problem the BBC must have with you is that you undestand the subject, say it as it is. and make it as clear as you can for a complicated topic. So in a long and proper debate you would win and that would never do for the BBC/Labour

  24. Adam Collyer
    August 13, 2009

    If the Tory cuts are only £5 billion you might as well not bother! Ten times that amount might do for starters, although even that would need to be followed up with more.

  25. Old Grumpy
    August 13, 2009

    I tuned in by accident and was pleasantly surprised, nay, shocked, since it’s been so long ago I heard a political programme like this where anyone actually said something meaningful.

    ZaNuLabour talks soundbites, information content zero. And it doesn’t matter how often the question is asked, because you still only get soundbites back in reply.

    But your point about regulatory requirements being opposed to stated rhetoric was clear and concise….no wonder the Government minister fudged even trying to answer the accusation

    John, why are you on the back benches? (No, I can answer that one…sorry…you’re too old and too unfunky for DC’s modernized party

    But I’m sure you’d do excellently well in UKIP….please?

    best wishes

  26. Paul
    August 13, 2009

    That was really embarrassing.

    Notwithstanding the appalling subdivision of time between the participants – neither JR or Vince Cable got a word in – the performance of the ‘minister’ was just awful.

    Meaninglessly parrotting the government line du jour – in such a flat dull way that sounded like a computer system on a sci-fi show – and absolutely nothing to add to the discussion.

    All we got was ‘global recession’ ‘tory cuts’ etc etc etc etc.

    JR made the good point about the banks being given contradictory demands, promptly backed up by Vince Cable, and then said what he would do about this. Zero effort to engage with this, or discuss it, or do anything.

  27. Donna W
    August 13, 2009

    For what it’s worth I thought you did well. No-one can hope to argue against the sainted Vince Cable and come out the clear winner, but you did well and Cable agreed with you on a number of points.

    Angela Eagle sat their looking like someone expecting to be taken out and shot at dawn any time soon. She was unconvincing and appeared to have memorised her lines without believing a word she was saying.

    My only criticism…. you show your impatience too easily. It can come across as patronising. You need to appreciate that not everyone understands financial markets or economics and take the time to explain the reasons for your point of view. Probably difficult on Newsnight where you have limited time to get your points across, but still, sitting there looking exasperated because you are arguing against an idiot (Eagle) doesn’t doesn’t come across well.

    I second the suggestion that the idiot Duncan should go and you should be appointed in his place.

    1. Johnny Norfolk
      August 13, 2009

      I am sure John would love the BBC to give him the time to explain the situation. the treatment John Redwood has had over the years from the BBC is nothing short of disgraceful.

      No wonder he looks a bit angry and frustrated.

      You notice he was given less time than everone else to talk as is the norm for any Tory, He had to fight to get any points over.

      1. Paul
        August 14, 2009

        I rather got the impression that he cut in a couple of times as well – simply because he would have been ignored otherwise.

        It was absurd. If Eagle had had *anything* to say it would have been perhaps tolerable, but she said nothing. I don’t know whether she was slavishly following the party line, is utterly stupid, or doesn’t care any more because Labour will lose (or possibly all three).

        I entirely sympathise with JR getting a bit fed up. There seems to be eons of time available on the BBC for politics, and ten times as much to discuss minute details of stupid Soap Operas, but no more than a few minutes available to debate this point, most of which was occupied by the buzz saw drone-a-thon.

        Any remotely competent interviewer, following the JR/VC point about the state owned banks, would have thrown the point back at the ‘Minister’.

  28. Adrian Peirson
    August 13, 2009

    Any fans out there who could set up some Video links to this and other appearances by Mr Redwood

  29. David
    August 14, 2009

    Excellent! I enjoyed the albeit short debate you had, about time some passion was injected into this mess.

    The government rep came across as not understanding the problem or issues and the presenter turned to the adults for a more reasoned perspective. What was telling was you talked about what should be done and Wark explicitly turned to you , not Cable, for solutions.

    The clear impression was that while Cable might also be an expert on the situation, you offered practical solutions based on sound reasoning versus the Labour dogma and platitudes.

  30. Bazman
    August 14, 2009

    Ronnie Biggs. Last of the non professional robbers who robbed from the rich and kept it for himself. His main crime not train robbery or being part of an attack on a train driver, but laughing at the establishment by escaping and flaunting his largely non existent wealth in exotic Rio in a time of drudgery and no jet travel. It is rumoured that the government of the time had thought about changing the currency to stop the robbers from spending it. Most was never recovered with the actual robbers seeing very little of their loot. Why let the truth spoil a good story? He was Rock & Roll with pictures in the papers of him holding up banknotes signed. ‘Property of Ronnie Biggs’

  31. Jeremy Poynton
    August 14, 2009

    Another spin being put about by the government – especially Lord Meddlesome (viz. his spat with Evan Davis y’day on Today), is that by their actions, they saved 500,000 jobs.

    No evidence is given to back this up. We all know that Brown has a problem differentiating between truth and lies (if it comes out of his mouth, it is true, as far as he is concerned), but why is this ridiculous figure not being laughed out of court.

    Whilst Alan Duncan’s comments on the life of an MP were not very clever – regardless of the circumstances – why is it that the media re frothing at the mouth about it, but ignore the fact that we have a PM who is (not telling the truth)?

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