Saturday, November 29, 2008

Let's buy more stuff

"From New Labour to hard labour" was Alex Salmond's verdict on the Chancellor's emergency budget last week. Actually there's not likely to be a lot of labour, hard or otherwise, since many of us will be unemployed by the time the Darling squeeze hits in two years time. .The rate of job losses in recent weeks has been astounding, with famous names like Woolies and MFI joining BT, AstraZeneca, Citigroup. You could be forgiven for thinking that the roof is falling in.

Of course, the government has tried to fix the roof (which they insist was in a very good state anyway) by the Chancellor's much-vaunted fiscal stimulus. Last week was supposed to be a give-away budget, but not a lot was given away - about £20bn - and most of us don't intend to spend it anyway. Given the state of the public finances, Darling's room for manoeuvre was not great. Then there's the issue of consumer fatigue.

In Keynsian economic theory - the government’s version of it anyway - the way to stop the economy from seizing up is to persuade people to buy more stuff. You may have wardrobes stuffed full of rubbish already. Primark clothing is clogging landfill sites. And the nation may be mired in debt as a result of retail therapy. But no: your duty is to consume. So get out there onto the Christmas front line and spend spend spend!

Except that if we have half a brain we won't. Spending more money we don't have on rubbish we don't need is not a rational response to this credit crisis. Nor is it a rational approach to the environment. And we're just too well informed nowadays to respond to crude Pavlovian stimuli like upfront tax cuts. We can all read on the internet that taxes are going to go up sharply in two years to take it all back. The only sensible thing to do right now is to save and pay off debt

But the government is determined to force us to spend even though they know, and we know, that the days of mindless consumerism are over. When this fiscal stimulus fails, as it did in America last year, the monetary authorities will turn to more pernicious ways of forcing us to spend. In the States, the Federal Reserve has turned to what they call "quantitative easing" and what the rest of us call printing money.

The Fed Chairman, Ben Berenanke, is often called "helicopter Ben" because he once said that, to head off deflation, he would drop piles of dollars on Wall Street by helicopter if necessary. The Fed is throwing hundreds of billions, indeed trillions of unfunded dollars at the broken banking system - buying up worthless mortgages and keeping bankrupt behemoths like AIG and Citigroup and Fannie and Freddie going. This will cause a fall in the purchasing power of the dollar, but the monetary authorities hope that this inflation will cut the value of the huge debts of banks and homeowners and make them more inclined to lend and borrow again. Inflation penalises savers, and forces them to spend because if they don't, and if interest rates are low, the value of their bank accounts will just dwindle to nothing.In other words, the cost of this bailout could be the impoverishment of millions of people who are about to retire and live on fixed incomes. Talk about moral hazard! Who is ever going to save again if all they do is reward people who get into debt?

Now, there is a lot to be said for Keynsianism, but a lot of things are being done in the late economist’s name of which he would surely disapprove. Irresponsible monetary inflation is one of them. Keynes advocated ‘deficit financing’ (government borrowing to invest) in very different circumstances to those operating today. In the 1930s, there was huge unused capacity ( factories and machines lying idle) in Britain and America. Today, most manufacturing has been out sourced to countries like India and China, where factories are becoming idle at a rate of a thousand a week. It isn't so easy to promote productive activity in an economy like ours which has become dominated by a huge parasitical financial services industry.

Government borrowing is looking bad enough already without any more deficits being financed The institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that the squeeze in public spending - the Chancellor wants it to fall to 1.1 percent in 2011-14 - will involve GBP37bn being cut from planned departmental budgets - more even than the Tories were calling for before the budget. Yes, while condemning George Osborne for seeking to cut schools and hospitals, Labour were planning to do exactly the same.

And that's on the Chancellor's best case scenario of the economy coming out of recession next year, which is complete fantasy. This recession is going to be long and deep. Moreover, the government figures don't include the cost of the banking bailouts, the PFI projects that have to come onto the public spending figures under new accounting rules next April, or the unfunded liabilities of public sector pensions. This amounts to a colossal risk added to the public accounts.

We are not talking of 'just' a doubling of public debt next year to GBP 118bn, but potentially very much more than that. This is why the international markets are turning against sterling. Really, we are in for very substantial spending cuts - far greater than the GBP 500m off the Scottish budget that the First Minister flagged up last week. This will lead to job losses in the labour intensive public sector just as the private sector is dumping hundreds of thousands on the dole.

Things are not good for UKPLC. Our delinquent banks have been borrowing beyond our means, turning Britain into something like a giant hedge fund. The emergency budget will make little difference. Financially, we are in a similar situation to Iceland before the crunch, and we cannot rule out sharing their fate. Hyperinflation could follow a brief deflation next year and there is likely to be a run on the pound. No one knows how to deal with this yet. Unlike the US, we cannot export our debt to other countries because sterling isn't a reserve currency.

There seems only one solution and that is to ask the EU very, very nicely if we could - ahem - join the security of the single currency without delay. All of Brown's 1997 'tests' are anyway met. The only thing he has to fear is fear itself.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Labour isn't working. Again

The poster that won the 1979 general election was, of course, a fake. The “Labour isn’t working” dole queue was actually composed of twenty fully-employed Hendon Conservatives photographed again and again. But there was nothing synthetic about the impact on Labour government of James Callaghan. Never again, Labour resolved, could the party afford to go to the country when the country was out of work. Yet that is what Gordon Brown risks doing if you believe the spin about the PM delaying the next general election until 2010. There is an unemployment tsunami hitting approaching Britain.

2008 was the year of the panic as oil prices spiked, banks exploded and stock markets collapsed. 2009 will be the year of the dole as unemployment, already higher than at any time since Labour came to office in 1997, climbs inexorably to 3 million by 2010, according to the CBI. The turnaround in the UK employment market has been astonishing. The pace of current job losses, led by the shakeout in the banking sector, has staggered analysts. 300,000 private sector jobs have gone in the last six months of this year alone (CEBR). The 3 million forecast made only ten days ago is almost certainly an underestimate, since the CBI based it on Britain’s GDP declining by 1.7% in 2009, and the Bank of England is now talking about the economy shrinking by 2% next year as Britain enters the worst recession since 1980 . And let’s not even mention that analysts like Stephen King of HSBC say that the official ILO unemployment figures exclude two million people who are economically inactive but would like a job.

What is undeniable is that British firms are indulging in an orgy of redundancy as the 'flexible' labour market allows them to fire first and think later. The good news is that the region hardest hit is likely to be the one most able to cope: the South East, and in particular the London area which is going to lose 650 thousand jobs according to the Local Government Association. This is the one of the wealthiest areas on the planet thanks to the financial services sector based in the City. Mind you, all those redundant middle class professionals might find life a little different on £60 a week job seekers allowance. But they can look after themselves. The people who will have their lives destroyed first are the legions of temporary and casual workers many of whom don’t figure on the unemployment figures because of their age or country of origin. Polish plumbers at least have somewhere to go home to.

Here there are signs that redundancies are being used by some firms as a means of communicating with shareholders and bolstering equity prices. When BT announced 10,000 redundancies two weeks ago it made no attempt to play down the human cost, and according to some analysts, even exaggerated the job losses for effect. Certainly, companies no longer feel they need to apologise for throwing workers on the scrap heap. Firms like Virgin, AstraZeneca, Rolls Royce, Yell, Wolesley, Citigroup have been falling over themselves to announce thousand-plus job reductions in the last fortnight alone. The flexible labour market, inspired by the Tories and realised by New Labour, has allowed contraction to be a first, rather than a last resort. It is the quickest way for a management in trouble to show that they are doing something.

The problem is that this job destruction, rather like banks refusing to lend to small business, is enormously destructive to the broader economy. After nearly three decades of de-industrialisation, the UK desperately needs to protect those skills it has, not allow them to decay on the dole queues. But with trades unions weak, employment law liberal and the government compliant, firms are being allowed to cut the seed corn of the future. This week, following the Pre Budget Report, we are looking to the state to counter the effect of this attrition, as the Chancellor’s tax cuts boost pre-Christmas demand in the high streets. But the government's ability to directly fill the job gap is severely limited. Yes, the public sector is still hiring, and has put on 50,000 jobs in six months according to CEBR. But with public borrowing likely to reach at least £118bn next year, there will have to be a retrenchment in the highly labour-intensive public sector to get public finances into some kind of order in the medium term. Make no mistake - this year's fiscal stimulus will likely be bought at the cost of public sector job losses, even with the Chancellor's heroic assumptions about an economic recovery in 2010.

Nor can the low pound be relied upon to boost employment in export industries in the meantime. This is a global recession, perhaps a global depression, and Britain cannot rely on international markets to replace lost domestic demand. There is also likely to be a wave of protectionism, starting in the US, as countries seek to save their own core industries by state subsidies and other anticompetitive practices. The world market may be a tougher sell in future. Anyway, Britain has lost most of its manufacturing base in the last three decades - down to 14% of GDP - and most of our "exports" in recent years have been in financial services, “invisibles”, the demand for which will be slight for the duration of the credit crunch.

We can be thankful at least that the right man is in the White House at the right time. The Chancellor has moved some way towards matching Barack Obama’s plan to create 2.5 million jobs over the next two years through public work projects and alternative energy investment. But this won’t happen overnight, and will do little to alter the job losses already in train. And in America, which is a 12 to 18 months ahead of Britain, things have already become desperate for people on the margin. U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last week that the number of children who went hungry in 2007 - the first year of the credit crunch - jumped by 50% to over 700,000. Overall, 12.2 of Americans, 36.2 million, "do not have the money or assistance to get enough food to maintain active, healthy lives." Don’t think it couldn’t happen here.

At the very least, Britain faces a return to the early Eighties: a period of sustained joblessness and the destructive psychology that accompanies it. Time perhaps to dig out those old newsreels of industrial armies facing the police lines as they fought to save their jobs. Except, of course, that it won't be like that this time round. There will be dole queues, of course, but the social composition of the new jobless - led by financial services, property, retail - will be very different. As a recent report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development argued, those at most risk in the coming “redundancy torrent” will be managers, professionals and skilled non manual workers.

The talk of a "white collar recession" is not all myopic hogwash by middle class journalists facing an insecure future. Just look at the tens of thousands of jobs about to evaporate from the British banks. Then multiply that by all the professional jobs that depended on those middle class incomes like estate agents and lawyers. Of course, in this recession, as in all previous ones, the first people to be hit will be those at he bottom . But they are likely to be joined by large numbers of articulate middle class individuals shaken out of sectors like finance, the media and the countless peripheral service occupations - from aromatherapy to management consultancy - which have grown up during the long boom.

This is going to be a severe shock to the self-confidence and self-esteem of the middle class - a social and cultural transformation that could have profound political implications. In the 1980s, the middle classes were still relatively secure in their career structures in management and the professions. They had homes, occupational pensions, assured promotion. Certainly, they were a world away from the trades unionists fighting for their jobs in the old industrial heartlands of Britain. Margaret Thatcher could rely on the middle class to support her war on the militants with their braziers - the people who were blamed for 80's recession. Well, the braziers are gone, and industrial working class has largely been dismantled, but so have the secure middle class career structures.

When i joined the BBC from university in the 80s, it was very much a job for life with annual pay increments, annual promotion, pension rights and a predictable future. Not any more. The modern media is a shifting sea of freelance and contract workers working for subcontractors to the large institutions. In the BBC there is a crust of highly paid performers like Jonathan Ross and all those anonymous executives who earn more than the Prime Minister, and a huge army of irregulars often on startlingly low salaries coming in and out of the corporation's revolving doors. The commercial sector has been relying on large numbers of underpaid or unpaid "interns" who will do anything to get a job. The flexible labour market operates in a particularly pernicious manner in the media for obvious reasons: a lot of people want to get a foothold in that world. But is not so different from the British economy as a whole.

After a couple of decades of deregulation and leveraged buy-outs by private equity, many firms have flattened their management structures considerably, often relying on outside consultants to get them through busy periods. Occupational pensions have become a rarity. Promotion has become intensely meritocratic. Companies have also begun to "offshore" many white collar functions to countries like India with an educated middle class willing to work for much lower wages than in the UK. Most of the job losses at BT are among self-employed contract workers in the UK, while the company has not axed any of the jobs it has outsourced to India. As a consequence of all this the middle classes are - outside the public sector - facing a very difficult time. Small wonder that there are record numbers of applicants for jobs like teaching and lecturing.

The group hit most hard are the under-thirty 35s, the sons and daughter of the post war baby-boom, who have emerged from university with large debts and even larger expectations. Sometimes called the "smug generation" these are the young people who have little experience of recession in their adult lives and none of mass unemployment. Neither have their parents, who lived sailed through the 70.s and 80s largely untouched by unemployment or debt. if there is going to be a political response to the new depression, it is likely to emerge from this group of déclassé graduates, many of whom now face a future without the middle class security they have been brought up to expect - who cannot afford to buy houses, are unable to establish a career. Indeed the under-35s have so much personal debt that their net wealth is actually negative. Locked out of the housing market, three quarters of under-35s are in the red, according to the Skipton Building Society, owing more than £9,000 on average. They will look to the state for security, but the state will not be able to deliver.

As I was researching this piece I came across a remarkable forecast from a Ministry of Defence think tank about the future of political militancy. Published in April 2007 this DCDC report speculated that in coming years “The world’s middle classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest,” and that, “The middle classes could become a revolutionary class taking the role envisaged for he proletariat by Marx...the growing gap between themselves and a small number of highly visible super-rich might fuel disillusion...” This was dismissed as idle futurology at the time, and the idea of Marxist revolution sweeping suburbia is faintly risible. But the MoD may have grasped an important truth about the nature of politics in the new global economy - that it has begun to erode class differentiation and left many middle income earners exposed to the kind of insecurities which formerly afflicted lower class workers. Clearly, the economic circumstances of management consultants cannot be compared directly with those of retail workers. But when they find themselves losing their jobs, they face now many of the same challenges: mortgage, debt, catastrophic loss of earnings and retraining. At the very least, it will be very much more difficult for political leader to find scapegoats as the current recession develops. Already the government is having to backtrack on attempts to force single parents, older workers and people with disabilities back into the labour force.

Part of the Conservative leader, David Cameron’s difficulty in developing a coherent political response to Gordon Brown’s neo-Keynsianism, is that the party of capital has lost its 'class enemy': the industrial working class. There is no trade union menace to blame for economic distress and the Conservatives have had to fall back on fiscal conservatism - spending down public debt - which is simply not a priority for an electorate which is looking to the state to protect it from the predations of the market. Equally, New Labour under Gordon Brown, has been forced almost against its will to become more critical of the plutocrats running the Banks, to accept nationalisation and greatly increased government spending. Gordon Brown has even abandoned one of the founding principles of New Labour by proposing higher taxes on the rich after the next general election.

The Conservatives, who have not entirely lost their Thatcherite reflexes, are looking to the middle classes to react against the new profligacy - but they will find it very difficult to do so. A unemployment mounts among the middle classes, especially among the under-35s, there is going to be a much stronger demand for policies which promote jobs and growth even at the cost of public borrowing. The Tories cannot afford to be on the wrong side of this battle. As Martin Hutchieson, author of Great Conservatives put it: “A world in which few if any have security in their livelihood is not conservative, it is anarchist. It is also deeply repugnant to the average voter”. If Labour isn't working, neither are the Conservatives.

Strictly One Chancer

Supporters of the star of “Strictly One Chancer”, Alex Salmond, are urging him to resist pressure to leave the Holyrood show following his recent poor performance. Judges are insisting that “Lecky” as he has come to be known by his many adoring fans, is not fit to remain in the contest and is becoming and embarrassment.

“Salmond just isn’t up to it”, said judge Jim Murphy. ‘He has tripped up over any number of issues, like local income tax and the futures trust”, “it’s time for Salmond to take a jump for the sake of the programme and make way for someone who doesn’t have two left feet ”

However, Holyrood commentators fear there could be a popular outcry if the Strictly star were driven out by judges just because he is useless. “Alex is just what the doctor ordered”, said a voter who didn’t want to be named. “His humour and his willingness to take the knocks show that he is just the man for these difficult times. I can’t stop laughing whenever he comes on stage! Go on yersel’ Lecky!”

Since he entered the Holyrood show in 2007, Salmond has wowed audiences with his fancy footwork and his often hilarious quips and asides, such as promising to save Scotland’s bankrupt banks at the cost of hundreds of billions of pounds. His popularity soared week after week. But the Strictly contender fell on his face trying to do the notoriously difficult “arc of prosperity” dance with his Icelandic partner who had to retire. When he attempted the Glenrothes reel single-handed, even some of his greatest fans thought the time had come for Salmond to hang up his dancing shoes. “Salmond got the choreography wrong. He has angered some of the other contenders who think they should be where he is now. No one likes a person who tries to hog the limelight”.

However, it is Salmond’s continuing popularity that has angered the Westminster judging panel. They fear that if he is allowed to remain in the limelight Salmond might be even win the contest when the people are asked to deliver their final verdict in a referendum in 2010. “That would be a catastrophe”, said another prominent Westminster judge. “Just because a lot of the public like him is no reason why he should be allowed to win. He should do the decent thing.”

As for Salmond, he says he’ll pick himself up, dust himself off and start all over again. “It’s the punters who call the shots in this game and, as they say in showbiz: while the band still plays, you just gotta dance”.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Labour ARE thinking of a Spring election

Labour can hardly dare to believe their luck; the nation’s misfortune has been their salvation. The greatest economic crisis in half a century (and counting) has transformed their leader’s performance and their electoral prospects. The opinion polls are going Gordon Brown’s way. The Tories are all over the place, the Liberal Democrats are sinking without trace, and even the SNP is back in its hole (for the moment) after Glenrothes.

Do not believe the hype - Labour ARE thinking about an early election, in fact they can think of very little else. Only the bitter memory of the ‘election that never was’ in 2007 has stopped Labour ministers and MPs screaming from the rooftops “we’re back!” and that an early election is a foregone conclusion. Indeed, that election campaign will effectively begin tomorrow with the Chancellor, Alistair Darling’s, Pre Budget report.

This will set the scene for an election-winning budget in March which will feature a programme of spending projects and tax cuts on the theme of getting Britain back to work. Pie in the sky it may be, playing dangerous games with the public finances too, perhaps - but it will sound like a Keynsian return to the politics of growth and jobs, a New Deal from the “global chancellor”. And with tax cuts too, from a Labour not a Tory government, and plausibly justified on the grounds of fiscal stimulus.

David Cameron and George Osborne, have rejected tax cuts - to the dismay of the Tory core - and have called instead for public spending cuts.(ok, they say that they only want to halt increases, not cut headline figures - but it comes to the same thing) This allows Gordon Brown to cast them as latter day Thatcherites who would break the productive economy on the wheel of fiscal conservatism. Labour will dig out grainy footage of the Tory recessions in the 1980s, and evoke memories of punk monetarism and millions on the dole to hammer home the point that the Tories cannot be trusted to keep Britain in work.

David Cameron may be right to warn that you can’t get out of a debt crisis by borrowing. Cameron is certainly correct in saying that any big spending programmes and tax cuts will have to be paid for by higher taxes in future, if the size of the state is not reduced. But this is an very difficult argument to make in a country which may be falling, not just into a recession, but into a depression. The case for fiscal stimulus is almost unanswerable: the private sector is in ruin and can no longer deliver, so the state has no choice but to step in.

Gordon Brown will appear with Barack Obama at the next G20 meeting of industrial nations in London in April to hammer it home. The PM will lead the call for a new global financial system and Keynsian government interventionism. He will be applauded by economics professors like Reich and Nobel Prize-winner, Paul Krugman who are advising Obama and have been praising the Prime Minister for his vision. Profligacy is the new prudence.

The G20 will be an opportunity for Gordon Brown to bask in the reflected glory of the Obama presidency, still in its heroic phase. It could be the ideal springboard for an election in the spring or early summer of 2009 on the theme of keeping Britain in work. The CBI is forecasting three million unemployed by 2010, and while this will probably be an underestimate, it’s clear that most redundancies will not hit until later in 2009. Next spring unemployment will still be something of a novelty for most people.

Cutting and running? Hardly - the present government will be four years old by May 2009 and the two previous Labour administrations lasted four year terms. Indeed, not going to the country next year might begin to look like self-indulgence, or even lack of confidence. And after the disaster of the ‘election-that-never-was’ in 2007 the PM has to do everything possible to look decisive and purposeful. He has to meet his electoral destiny sometime and the sooner now the better.

So, it seems to me that an election next spring is almost unavoidable. But would he win it? Well, the opinion polls are going the right way, with the Tory lead cut to three percent last week in a MORi poll <> It is too early to say that Brown would win a working majority, but he would be in with a chance. And even if he misses narrowly he could still fall back on an alliance with the Liberal Democrats - “uniting the two radical strands of UK politics” which was a part of the original Blairite project.

The PM could even enlist the Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman, Vince Cable, into his government of national unity. Cable and Brown go back a long way, since the former contributed to Brown’s “Red Paper on Scotland” back in the 1970s. The Libdem economics guru is not only an astute politician but one of the best economic commentators around and was warning about the credit crisis before anyone else. Cable has called for nothing short of a “war economy”. Enlisting him into the new Brown administration, perhaps as a revamped employment minister, would convey the right sense of wartime cooperation - of parties pulling together to get the economy right. It would be blood, sweat and tears as the nation spits in the teeth of economic depression.

All except the Tories, of course, who have opted to play scrooge with their horrid public spending cuts. The Conservatives would be cast as latter day Thatcherites, hopelessly out of tune with the times. And Brown wouldn’t have to worry about the SNP spoiling the show, since - following Glenrothes - it looks improbable that Alex Salmond will be able to deliver his 20 nationalist MPs in any general election in June 2009.

The SNP leader cannot be written off, of course, and nationalism isn’t over just because HBOS has died the death. But most nationalists agree that there was a marked change in the air after the Glenrothes by-election. Tens of thousands of jobs are likely to go in the near future, and just as the banking unions have looked south for guarantees on job losses, so many Scots will - rightly or wrongly - look to London for their security, at least in the short term. at the very least it will take time for the nationalists to re-boot their politics to take account of the new situation.

The only person whose nose might be out of joint is Peter Mandelson the Business Secretary Last week the Business Secretary expressed a wish to emulate John Sergeant’s success on Strictly Come Dancing. He will face the humiliation of sitting around the same cabinet table as Vince Cable who was a great success on the reality dance contest two years ago. It could be murder on the dance-floor. But it’s a price worth paying for getting Gordon his second term

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Call Johnathan Ross

Brrng Brrrng Hi this is Johnathan Ross but I’m out so please leave a message...

Hey Woss! Your wife is a fat slag with a mental condition and I’ve had sex with your daughters. Don’t worry, mate. Only a joke. Like your wife Jane - with her big boobs and orange hair. Talk about scary. Do you only let her out at Halloween? Ha ha No wonder she presents that programme on Living TV about the paranormal - she just needs to investigate herself. Just a laugh mate, no hard feelings. And what were you doing calling your daugher “Betty Kitten”. That mean she’s a pussy? Can I come and stroke her? Don’t worry, mate, this is just edgy groundbreaking comedy, like from your own shows.

So, Wossy, you’ve been suspended from the BBC because of that call to Andrew Sachs where you talked about soaking him in gin and then, er, pleasuring him. Bit of ‘Manuel relief’ you might say. Maybe we could come and do that to Jane? Better cut out the gin though given her spell at the Priory rehab clinic. No wonder being married to you - enough to give anyone a breakdown. Oh and Wossy, is she still going out with that bloke from the Barenaked Ladies. Takes one to know one. Ha Ha Ha. Oh, by the way - don’t mind if we broadcast this do you?

Wonder how Johnathan Ross would have reacted if he’d found that - all based on fact by the way - on his answerphone? Would he have laughed it off, or would he have gone all boring and unfunny and complained about invasion of privacy? Is it all that different from phoning up 78 year old Andrew Sachs and saying that you’ve f....d his daughter and want to break into his house? I suppose it’s the way you tell them.

Seriously though, it’s difficult to know what’s funny nowadays. Ross often makes jokes about his wife’s ample physique - he even asked Susannah Constantine on his show if he could feel her breasts to see if they were bigger than Jane’s. Then there's that joke from Mock the Week about the Queen's pussy being so old it was haunted that's caused the latest row. Can pussies be haunted?

As for the Sachs case, there was just a hint of hypocrisy in the nation’s press leaping to defend the honour of Georgina Baillie - a stripper with a troupe called The Satanic Sluts Xtreme who according to her website do: “violent, horrific and sexy burlesque shows”. Clerly a lady of impeccable virtue who needs protected from smackhead scum like Russell Brand.

No you couldn’t make it up. Tell you what the real joke is though : Mark Thompson. How could a glove puppet become Director General of the BBC?