Archives for February 2011

We clearly have an 'inflation problem'

Andrew Neil | 10:28 UK time, Tuesday, 15 February 2011


Mervyn King

Mervyn King had to get out his impressive Bank of England headed notepaper this morning and write a letter to the Chancellor explaining why the Consumer Price Index (CPI) hit 4% in January -- 100% higher than the 2% inflation target the Bank is meant to hit.

I suspect it won't be long before interest rates come down the pike.

The Treasury is getting used to these little billet doux from the Governor -- last year Mr King had to write three of them. The Bank will no doubt stick to its line that it's really all a blip and that inflation will soon fall back. But even core inflation (stripping out short-term factors) is at 3% (50% higher than the Bank's target).

Mr King has had to concede that the CPI will stay at between 4 and 5% for the rest of the year ie it will get worse in 2011 before it gets better. The Retail Price Index (RPI), which includes housing costs and is seen as a better guide to rising prices for the average consumer, already hit 5.1% in January.

The usual suspects -- rising oil, commodity and food prices, the increase in Vat -- are being blamed. But (bar the Vat rise) all major economies are being battered by these trends. Yet compared with the US or the Eurozone, UK inflation is distinctly higher. Unlike our major competitors we clearly have an "inflation problem".

It will become more of a problem if these price rises are reflected in wage settlements, in which case inflation will become entrenched and the Governor's blip theory will be in shreds. There's a tight pay policy in the public sector -- but that will test the government's will if it leads to widespread strikes. Private sector pay rises are still muted. But big companies are flush with cash and might decide to meet pay demands rather than endure industrial disruption.

Mr King's reputation and credibility is on the line here, not just in Britain but abroad too. The New York Times Business Section recently published a less than complimentary analysis of his record. Meanwhile, back in Blighty, living standards are about to be squeezed even tighter, which means consumer spending is hardly likely to lead the recovery.

Oh yes, and the markets are pricing in a quarter-point rate rise by May, and at least one more by the end of the year.

Work experience matters more than ever

Andrew Neil | 12:18 UK time, Sunday, 13 February 2011


In my recent BBC2 documentary, Posh & Posher, I explained how networking and contacts played a crucial role in giving those with the right connections an early leg up in their careers.

Internships and work experience are proving increasingly crucial to opening doors and opportunities in later life. Many have expressed the view that the best intern and work experience opportunities in fields like politics, finance and the media are going disproportionately to those who are already privileged and well-connected. From what I've seen myself in recent years I suspect that to be true.

The Mail on Sunday gives a classic example (and a potentially embarrassing one for the Tories) of how it can work. At the Conservative Black & White Party (they don't call it a ball anymore) last week they had an auction to raise party funds. Fair enough. All parties do that.

But a number of the lots for auction included internships and work experience at some of the country's top financial institutions. The well-heeled Tory faithful bid around £3,000 each for their offspring to spend a couple of weeks at various prestigious hedge funds, City PR companies, trading houses and finance houses.

The experience and contacts made there will no doubt be invaluable to the youngsters lucky enough to have parents who won the bidding. But note how those from already privileged backgrounds -- attending the party cost a minimum of £400 per head -- are able to skew matters to their further advantage, not just in terms of the schools they can afford or the top universities they can get into but in something so basic as work experience.

In today's incredibly competitive labour markets work experience matters more than ever when it comes to securing that first rung on the ladder. Companies might like to think how they make their internships open to as wide a selection of the talented from all backgrounds as they can. I suggest that internships granted on the basis of parents who can afford £400 a head for dinner then £3,000 per internship cannot be regarded as entirely fair or meritocratic.

More about the Muslim Brotherhood

Andrew Neil | 18:29 UK time, Thursday, 3 February 2011


Kamal El Helbawy and Douglas Alexander

On today's programme (Thursday, February 3rd) I promised to find out more about the Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt) and post it for you.

I did so because I was suspicious that our guest from the Brotherhood, London-based Kamal El Helbawy, was painting a misleadingly moderate picture of what the Brotherhood stood for.

Pinning down the Brotherhood's positions, however, is not easy because they don't put their own materials online and they hardly ever translate anything into English. But here's a very straight write-through of the Brotherhood's 2007 manifesto, from AP, the reliable and authoritative wire service, published in the Boston Globe.

Described as the Brotherhood's "first detailed political platform" the manifesto would "bar women and Christians from becoming Egypt's president and establish a board of Muslim clerics to oversee the government, reminiscent of Iran's Islamic state" -- something Kamal El Helbawy denied today (claiming the Brotherhood would be happy with an Egyptian Thatcher as leader!).

The article states that there were a minority of moderates in the Brotherhood who preferred a civic government which respected Islamic principles but that the "hardline trend" had won out. It explains the manifesto was a draft for a Brotherhood political party, which the Mubarak government never allowed to develop. This might explain why our guest claimed the manifesto was never adopted. But there seems little doubt it sums up what the Brotherhood thinks.

AP reports that the manifesto calls for "the formation of a commission of senior religious scholars, chosen in national elections, to advise parliament and the president ... The commission's position on government and parliament decisions would be the "recommended one," suggesting it could veto those decisions.

The platform says parliament could overrule the board but not in issues governed by "proven texts" of Islamic Sharia law, a vague phrase that could apply to a wide range of issues."

The president cannot be a woman, says the manifesto, because the post's religious and military duties "contradict with her nature, social and other humanitarian roles." The blueprint recognizes the "equality between men and women in terms of their human dignity," but also warns against "burdening women with duties against their nature or role in the family.

Here's another article on the draft manifesto that suggests the Brotherhood is not quite the beacon of Western liberalism that our guest would have us believe.

And finally here's a research paper which suggests the Muslim Brotherhood's attitude toward minorities is not exactly progressive. It reveals that when Alexandria's Administrative Court issued a ruling on April 4, 2006 instructing the Interior Ministry to allow a citizen's identity card to state that the holder was a Baha'i [a religious sect], the Brotherhood reacted with outrage.

In the May 3, 2006 parliamentary debate on the ruling, MB deputies said that the Baha'is were apostates who should be killed. Quoting a hadith attributed to the Prophet Mohammed to support their position, they declared that they would draft a law making Baha'ism a crime and branding the Baha'is apostates.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.