Sunday, July 12, 2009

Nick Davies On Truth

Interesting coincidence last week. Was sent a copy of Conversations on Truth by one of the editors, Chris Wilkinson. In it there is an interview with the journalist Peter Wilby in which he talks at some length about the impact of Alistair Campbell as someone who was able for several years to dominate press coverage thanks to his intimate understanding of its structure and practices. Campbell grasped how the Sunday papers set the tone for the coming week, he knew how to browbeat and intimidate journalists, exploit the ambition and the anxieties of the younger ones in particular, and so on.

At the same time I am reading this I am reading Nick Davies's Guardian story about the, how can one put this delicately, the culture of surveillance at the News of the World under its former editor, Andy Coulson. And of course Coulson is so valuable to Cameron because he can be expected to secure a lock on much of the media as Campbell did. Plus Coulson brings the extra background of a doubtless strong relationship with Murdoch. Murdoch likes tabloid hard cases as much as he likes anyone.

So the fate of Coulson has serious implications for the politics of the next few months, perhaps for years to come. Without Coulson it is not clear that Cameron can win. Certainly the sense air of inevitable Tory victory that has been building in the media will dissipate somewhat. And perhaps more than that, perhaps the Liberals and Labour will sense in the travails of the News of the World a chance to secure a non-Conservative government and electoral reform at the next election.

If the News of the World was engaged in systemic illegal activity then Coulson will have to go and Murdoch will be vulnerable in this country for the first time in decades. Maybe Nick Davies has hit the big one. I just wonder if the British public can be persuaded to shake off its passivity at last and see that a chance now exists for a fundamental realignment in British politics. Assuming, of course, that there was systemic illegal activity at a major British newspaper. And that will be something for the courts to decide, in the end.

Although the responsibility for Murdoch and the rest is ours in the end.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Where They Are Now, An Occasional Series

David Miles, the housing market expert and member of the Monetary Policy Committee has this week said that his 'hunch' was that 'we have seen most of the aggregate house price falls'.Much of the coverage has referred respectfully to Miles' work as the author of a 2004 report on the mortgage market. Now it would be easy to make fun of the Miles Review by pointing out that it didn't notice that the mortgage market was in the grip of an unsustainable and ultimately ruinous mania while it placidly made its recommendations. In fact I think we should make fun of it for precisely that reason. Given that his remit was consider whether there had been any 'market failure' in the mortgage sector, it is a shame that he didn't spot the imminent collapse of the mortgage market in the summer of 2007.

Still, even if we overlook the failure to spot the danger of a vast bubble in the housing market, it is interesting that the Miles Review recommended that building societies be allowed to raise a higher percentage of their funds from the wholesale markets rather than from depositors' funds. It was over-reliance on wholesale funds that did for the former building society Northern Rock, remember. It also contributed to the problems at the Dunfermline and West Bromwich Building Societies. If the rest of the mutual movement had increased its use of wholesale funds as Miles recommended, who knows, we might not have any building societies left at all.

Anyway, I have a 'hunch' that, with the economy shrinking at a terrifying rate, public finances looking like a bombsite and unemployment rising rapidly, the housing market still has some way to fall.