Banks, Balls and those cuts

When will bankers pick up the bill for the financial crisis and the recession that they caused?

Two headlines from the front page of the Guardian/Observer website over the weekend caught my eye:

Public sector cuts wipe £1bn off building firms' stock market value

and

City banks squirrel away £5bn to pay for staff bonuses

Notice any glaring contradictions there? And who says that public-sector cuts are all about "bloat" and "inefficiency" in the state sector, and have no impact on the private sector? Tell that to the folks on the board of Taylor Wimpey, which has lost 30 per cent of its value over the past two months.

It is outrageous -- OUTRAGEOUS! -- for RBS, Barclays et al to set aside roughly a third of their income for bankers' pay and bonuses. Whatever happened to us all being "in this together"? Labour leadership candidates are right to urge this coalition government to extend the bankers' bonus tax into the next financial year. It's just a shame that the last Labour chancellor -- Alistair Darling -- went out of his way to make it a "one-off".

The fact is that both the public sector and private-sector companies such as Taylor Wimpey are paying the price for the sins of a reckless, irresponsible and greedy financial sector.

By the way, on the subject of Labour leadership candidates, have you read Ed Balls's comment piece in today's Guardian? It is a passionate, informed and well-argued riposte to those on the right, and in the centre, who are rushing to cut the deficit without stopping to learn the lessons of history (and is entitled "Don't repeat the 30s folly").

My favourite bit?

Yet there are Labour voices who believe our credibility depends on hitching ourselves to the coalition's handcart. That is wrong. I believe this risks condemning Britain to a decade of deflation, unemployment and social division.

There is an alternative. Like Keynes and Lloyd George, it is Labour's responsibility to set it out. It must be a clear plan for growth, a more sensible timetable for deficit reduction, and a robust explanation of why that will better support our economy and public finances.

More of this, please.

In terms of attacking and opposing the coalition and setting out an alternative to Con-Dem cuts, I think even the Miliband brothers would agree that Balls has dominated the party's leadership election so far. Indeed, the shadow education secretary's campaign team will be delighted by this passing remark in Julian Glover's column in the same newspaper:

This battle is real. Ed Balls is doing well, ripping into Michael Gove and VAT. Conservative theories as to which Labour leader would cause them most trouble have been revised as a result.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Getty
Show Hide image

Leader: Trump's dangerous nation

From North Korea to Virginia, the US increasingly resembles a rogue state.

When Donald Trump was elected as US president, some optimistically suggested that the White House would have a civilising effect on the erratic tycoon. Under the influence of his more experienced colleagues, they argued, he would gradually absorb the norms of international diplomacy.

After seven months, these hopes have been exposed as delusional. On 8 August, he responded to North Korea’s increasing nuclear capabilities by threatening “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. Three days later, he casually floated possible military action against Venezuela. Finally, on 12 August, he responded to a white supremacist rally in Virginia by condemning violence on “many sides” (only criticising the far right specifically after two days of outrage).

Even by Mr Trump’s low standards, it was an embarrassing week. Rather than normalising the president, elected office has merely inflated his self-regard. The consequences for the US and the world could be momentous.

North Korea’s reported acquisition of a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental missile (and potentially reach the US) demanded a serious response. Mr Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric was not it. His off-the-cuff remarks implied that the US could launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, leading various officials to “clarify” the US position. Kim Jong-un’s regime is rational enough to avoid a pre-emptive strike that would invite a devastating retaliation. However, there remains a risk that it misreads Mr Trump’s intentions and rushes to action.

Although the US should uphold the principle of nuclear deterrence, it must also, in good faith, pursue a diplomatic solution. The week before Mr Trump’s remarks, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, rightly ruled out “regime change” and held out the possibility of “a dialogue”.

The North Korean regime is typically depicted as crazed, but its pursuit of nuclear weapons rests on rational foundations. The project is designed to guarantee its survival and to strengthen its bargaining hand. As such, it must be given incentives to pursue a different path.

Mr Trump’s bellicose language overshadowed the successful agreement of new UN sanctions against North Korea (targeting a third of its $3bn exports). Should these prove insufficient, the US should resume the six-party talks of the mid-2000s and even consider direct negotiations.

A failure of diplomacy could be fatal. In his recent book Destined for War, the Harvard historian Graham Allison warns that the US and China could fall prey to “Thucydides’s trap”. According to this rule, dating from the clash between Athens and Sparta, war typically results when a dominant power is challenged by an ascendent rival. North Korea, Mr Bew writes, could provide the spark for a new “great power conflict” between the US and China.

Nuclear standoffs require immense patience, resourcefulness and tact – all qualities in which Mr Trump is lacking. Though the thought likely never passed his mind, his threats to North Korea and Venezuela provide those countries with a new justification for internal repression.

Under Mr Trump’s leadership, the US is becoming an ever more fraught, polarised nation. It was no accident that the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminating in the death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer, took place under his presidency. Mr Trump’s victory empowered every racist, misogynist and bigot in the land. It was doubtless this intimate connection that prevented him from immediately condemning the white supremacists. To denounce them is, in effect, to denounce himself.

The US hardly has an unblemished history. It has been guilty of reckless, immoral interventions in Vietnam, Latin America and Iraq. But never has it been led by a man so heedless of international and domestic norms. Those Republicans who enabled Mr Trump’s rise and preserve him in office must do so no longer. There is a heightened responsibility, too, on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, the president. The Brexiteers have allowed dreams of a future US-UK trade deal to impair their morality.

Under Mr Trump, the US increasingly resembles a breed it once denounced: a rogue state. His former rival Hillary Clinton’s past warning that “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” now appears alarmingly prescient.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear