Friday, 27 November 2015

Why Corbyn is wrong about Syria

I respect Jeremy Corbyn's principled argument against extending bombing into Syria. I don't agree with him, but I understand his position, and respect the sincerity with which he argues it. I think his stance is misguided, as with many of the other idealist positions he takes on muddy real-world problems.

Yes, Iraq descended into chaos because there was inadequate planning for how to "win the peace" and rebuild after 2003. Intervention using force in another country is regrettable and carries a heavy weight of responsibility. Looking at Syria today, it is many times more difficult than it was for Iraq a decade ago to foresee how to rebuild after the war, or even who will hold most of the territory (and hence the cards in any political settlement), once the Daesh Caliphate has been erased.

But erased it still must be. I do not view inability to foresee what happens next as a justification for doing nothing now. Unlike Iraq then, what is going on in Syria has already torn the country apart and put it in the hands of a great evil; IS makes terror plans from Raqqa that extend beyond the territory it holds to within our own borders; and the more we can do to disrupt its plans, and progress towards retaking its territory, the better. 

Of course it matters whether that is by Assad's Russian-backed government troops, Kurdish Peshmerga, US-armed Free Syria Army forces, or Iranian-backed forces. Nobody has forgotten that Assad used chemical weapons and barrel bombs to try to win his civil war. But every one of those myriad groups, even Assad's men, represents a better option than the IS Caliphate.

If politics is the art of the possible, then the same must be said of international relations. Foreign policy is often about choosing the lesser of many evils. It should always have a core of ideals and values, but its application is also hostage to pragmatism. I don't think Corbyn's idealism provides the necessary flexibility for that.

For example, I'm all for raising a debate on whether we should scale down our alliance and cooperation with Saudi Arabia's oppressive regime, perhaps going as far as sanctions and dropping lucrative defence deals that create jobs and wealth in the UK. To prop up their corrupt monarchy the Saudis have done much to encourage extremism.

But any debate on that issue would again be about pragmatism: do we gain enough from the relationship to tolerate them; and does it outweigh what it costs us in security and hypocrisy. It's an open question, but it isn't enough to answer it with principles alone. Costs and benefits are paramount, particularly when the calculation is about our national security.

And on national security, the other aspect why I disagree with Corbyn is his natural pacifist leaning. I suspect he would hesitate to employ military force even if the case were remarkably clear cut. He is instinctively against the role of defence, deterrence, and the threat and use of force, within a robust international policy, which accepts that Britain has a major role to play and responsibilities in the world beyond our own shores.

Corbyn would end any expeditionary capability in our defence, as well as removing or undermining our nuclear deterrent (the whole point of which is that it is never used). He would rather see our Armed Forces cut down to a narrow vision of defence, restricted to our own shores, while questioning any weapons that could be used more offensively. If the world were a safe place, I might agree with him. But it isn't. Threats abound from those who would harm us. Threats also change rapidly. I can't predict them; he can't; nobody can. It would be breathtakingly naive to disarm today, only to leave ourselves unprotected against new threats tomorrow.

The reality is that for the past two centuries, only two powers have policed the globe effectively: ensuring long periods of relative peace spanning many decades; encouraging the development of the globalised international system we know today; and making sure the right side emerged victorious when major conflicts have punctuated the peace. Those countries are the US and UK.

Self-interest has always been a strong motivation in that policing role, but our moral principles (though often flawed and deployed inconsistently) are also traceable throughout. Stepping back always creates a vacuum that others can fill. I believe in the values Britain stands for, and I would rather we play our role in the world, than outsource it to others, or, worse, allow evil to fill it.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Question for Millennials: How do we get rid of IS?

I’m writing this blog out of exasperation. I’m utterly baffled and frustrated by the attitudes of so many millennials in response to IS: in the aftermath of the tragic Paris attacks; the killing of Jihadi John; the Russian airliner shot down over Sinai; and the ongoing bombing campaign over Iraq and Syria.

Let’s list three things first about which I hope all free minded souls can unite and agree on.

Firstly, we want rid of IS; we want its toxic evil brand wiped out of existence; we want its hateful ideology destroyed; and we want its horrific barbaric acts confined to history.

Secondly, the deliberate, cold-blooded murder of innocents – whether in Paris, Lebanon, or wherever – by these thugs and their affiliates is a tragedy that deserves our shared mourning and thoughts with those people bereaved and communities left shocked by what’s happened. We’re united in that.

Thirdly, we need to make sure that our response to attacks on the fabric of Western society does not play into the hands of terrorists: staying strong as a community, righteous in cherishing liberal values, such as tolerance, pluralism and democracy; uniting against those who would do us harm, rather than being torn apart by our many differences; and loving our neighbour rather than falling into suspicion, xenophobia, bigotry or racism.

Now. Why am I frustrated? The first point: we want IS destroyed: yes. We want to pull together and share our grief: yes. We agree our liberal, pluralist democratic societies point the way forward, away from the abyss represented by the murdering extremists: yes.

Okay, then. So turn those fine feelings into useful, practical, grounded, realistic aims that we expect our leaders to implement as policy. Mourning and sharing grief are vital social behaviours, they provide comforting, easy solidarity, but this is passive and is not going to win the battle. What we do next is the more important question.

If we want rid of IS within the next five or ten years then that by necessity means removing their self-proclaimed Caliphate from the map. It currently controls large chunks of Iraq and Syria. Its territory has shrunk slightly in recent months, but there has been no decisive victory. The situation against IS in Iraq and Syria is something between stalemate and some localised victories.

How can we go about getting rid of their hateful Caliphate? Well, there are certainly sound reasons why we should transition from the relative passivity of grief and shock to actually taking steps to win the struggle, not just in our own countries, but to defeat IS totally.

Firstly, to address the aspect of the problem which millennials seem (thankfully) united behind. We can only stop extremism within our own societies, by making sure that the 0.05% of first, second or third generation young Muslim men living in the West do not fall foul of toxic, intolerant and murderous Islamist Jihad. We need to be inclusive, integrationist, work to prevent ghettos, make sure minorities to not feel like aliens, and that poor young people seeking jobs do not become angry young men under the spell of evil.

If we get all of that right, how soon will it result in real, practical victory against IS and its Caliphate? Not any time soon. It will help. It will slow the flow of foreign fighters reinforcing its ranks, making the task easier for the myriad groups doing the fighting on the ground in Iraq and Syria – whether its Assad’s army; Kurdish fighters, Iraqi soldiers, Iranian-backed Iraqi militia or various Syrian resistance groups.

But in order for IS to be destroyed – let’s not be shy about mincing our words, for once – we or somebody fighting on our behalf, will need to kill them. Those IS fighters (or enough of them) will need to be killed. It's not nice, but it's the truth. It doesn’t matter that they will claim they are being martyred for their hideous cause, that doesn't negate the necessity to eliminate them.

However, we have shown our unwillingness as a society to send large-scale Western armies back in to police chaotic Arab countries such as Iraq, where they were (unsurprisingly) resented as unwanted and illegitimate occupiers.

So that leaves the task to those doing the fighting right now. True, we don’t like some of them very much. Assad’s troops have murdered civilians with chemical weapons. Iran’s backing for Iraqi militias is borne of self-interest by the Islamic Republic in asserting its influence in Iraq – itself representing an intolerance, contrary to western liberal ideals.

As Russia’s Vladimir Putin has (uncomfortably) noted in recent days: the West needs to work out what it wants and make alliances with people it doesn’t like in order to get rid of IS. That means Assad in Syria, Putin in Moscow, just as geopolitics has made uncomfortable bedfellows in previous generations – with Pinochet’s murderous Chilean regime against Communism or with Josef Stalin against Adolf Hitler.

This needs serious debate. People are right to criticise Western ties with Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, which has been an indispensable ally for the US and UK in the Middle East, while actively peddling extremism in its theocratic domestic policies that transparently represents the same enemy that the West has faced in Iraq, Afghanistan and on the streets of Paris, London and New York.

But the reality of the situation is that if we accept that full-scale intervention by our own Armed Forces has not worked to produce the outcomes we wanted for Iraq and Afghanistan, and is off the table as an option now for Syria and Iraq, what are our options for defeating IS?

Combating extremism here will cut off some foreign fighters reaching Syria, but it isn’t going to take the territory, towns and cities currently under the control of IS. Nor can the IS fighters within those areas be rounded up and arrested by our police or soldiers as peacekeepers.

To stop those IS fighters from continuing to behead and murder thousands of innocent Iraqis, Syrians and foreign hostages, somebody is going to have to take back the territory they control, and by necessity, if they resist, deploy the use of force and kill them. It’s unpalatable but it is also the truth, even if my generation would rather not dirty its hands by uttering such sentiments.

Air strikes by Russia are enabling Assad’s forces to advance. Air strikes by the US and its coalition enabled the Kurds to hold out and win battles like Kobani. They are also allowing the Iraqi Army to advance towards Ramadi in the country’s Anbar province.

There is no point in self-righteousness and pure idealism if it results in inaction and inertia. The long decade of bloody flawed interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan form the poisonous context for so much debate among millennials today.

When I was a student it was mandatory to fume at George W Bush and the boneheaded decisions taken in the years after 9/11: particularly the reasons for going to war in Iraq, and the utter lack of strategy for how to win the peace afterwards. Anti-Americanism isn't clever; it's the bugbear of my generation.

Citing previous American foreign policy mistakes, or focusing on geopolitical deal-making with "frenemies" like Saudi Arabia, are just convenient tangents and historical side-issues. These things will in themselves not determine whether IS can be defeated in months, years or decades, any more than the issue of whether or not a higher or lower number of Syrian refugees are allowed to settle within our borders in the next year.

Edmund Burke wrote that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” So, I think my generation needs to take a long hard look at itself to answer that challenge. We need to give our leaders the mandate to do more in Iraq and Syria: more planes flying airstrikes; more drones in the air; more special forces operations; and more financial, military, logistical and training support for the groups fighting IS on the ground.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Holding the line: the UK Defence Budget

After five years on tenterhooks, Wednesday’s Budget speech from George Osborne, felt like welcome relief for those grown weary with worrying about UK defence and security. SDSR 2015 might not be a bloodbath, after all. The swinging axe of cuts, beginning with the last SDSR’s cull of Fixed Wing Aviation for the Navy five years ago, and since then leading to the Army’s numbers fall to 82,000, appears to have run its course.

Most importantly, the Chancellor committed to meeting the Nato defence spending target of 2% of GDP for every year until 2020. That rise means a 0.5% increase in the defence budget every year for the next decade in real terms.

Army numbers have bottomed out at 82,000, Osborne promised. A joint security fund of £1.5bn per year will be created by the end of the present Parliament to pay for increased spending on the military and intelligence agencies. The overall counter-terrorism budget – £2bn spent annually across departments, agencies and the police – is to be protected.

When the Prime Minister faced MP’s questions, David Cameron also included further assurance for the Navy’s centrepiece aircraft carrier and submarine projects, around which the future fleet – including planes, frigates and destroyers – is to be anchored.

“We made some very clear commitments about the size of our armed forces, about the successor to the Trident submarine and also the vital equipment programme, where we have the aircraft carriers and the other equipment vital to our armed services that are coming through,” said Cameron.

Whatever the savings and efficiencies Osborne might seek to wring out of Ministry of Defence spending from now on, they will mean money is allocated elsewhere within the defence budget to reboot or regenerate ailing or slipped capabilities.

“Britain has always been resolute in defence of liberty and the promotion of stability around the world. And with this government it will always remain so,” said Osborne. “So today I commit additional resources to the defence and security of the realm.”

What is most astounding, though, is to consider what this halt to defence cuts really means. We should be thankful, but pensive, about who is to thank and why.

It should be recognised that after five years of brass hats repeatedly head banging about “cutting defence to the bone” and “hollowing out capability”, Osborne is not belatedly heeding their warnings. The howls of ex Army chiefs Lord Dannatt, Lord Richards and Sir Peter Wall, and former Navy chief Lord West are not the reason.

“We will ensure that this commitment is properly measured, because we know that while those commitments don't come cheap, the alternatives are far more costly,” said Osborne.

The alternative – losing long held perceptions of Britain’s global power as well as its immeasurable diplomatic clout and influence – would indeed be dire to the UK.

As was pointed out to the Government on Budget Day: Putin is knocking at the door of Continental Europe as Nato’s first creditable threat since its 1991 victory over the Soviet Union; ISIS and the forces of Islamist terrorism run rampant in the Middle East and North Africa; and domestic terrorism and cyber threats mean the home defence of the realm is no longer that of an island.

These threats are the sensible rationale for ring-fencing defence, of course. But Washington, DC is the real root cause of the UK’s fulcrum in defence spending. The US, shocked at the willingness of its special relationship global policing partner to swing the axe at its own defence, over the past five years, stepped in, not for the first time, to warn Britain against self harm.

At the G7 summit in June, US President Barack Obama, at the behest of his worried Pentagon advisors, lobbied hard to get David Cameron to commit to meeting the 2% spend Nato commitment. Clearly he got his way.

And America is right. Not only is the logic there to boost defence against increased risk in the world, but it is Britain and America's shared role to play global policeman for the past two centuries. It is a necessary job, and nobody else, except perhaps France in Africa, is remotely as good at it. Russia doesn't have the same enviable expeditionary capabilities to use around the globe, beyond bullying its "near abroad" in Ukraine or Georgia. Neither does China: its writ, at most, ends at the Malacca Strait; boxed in by India, another regional power. As a country obsessed with its own grandiose history and managing its post-imperial self-image, the UK is right to hold to its habitual role as global diplomat and policeman.

The US faces tough defence spending constraints itself. The US Army has just trimmed its ranks by 40,000 personnel, reducing in size to 450,000.  The US Air Force (and Navy and Marine Corps) faces ongoing struggle to bring in the new F35 as near to on time, on capability and on budget as can be managed. And the US Navy faces a strain in carrier strike capability set to worsen.

With the Americans estimating they fall short by one or two aircraft carriers – vital, globally, in a crisis situation – they will want to make certain the UK has its own two carriers in service, and therefore at least one free for operations, with enough F35s to operate from it. It might require an escorting US and/or French warship, with the anorexic UK roster of 19 fleet destroyers and frigates in service, but the core carrier strike capability will be there.

So there you have it, the stretched, thin red line of UK defence holds, against the forces of modern budgetary Conservatism. This year's SDSR does not look like the rout it might have been. Indeed the defence bulwark will strengthen some in the coming years, doubtless with further nudging encouragement from our American friends. So the US can, in its way, once again claim to have played a role in riding to Britain’s rescue to rally UK defence in crisis – albeit this time just politically – saving us from ourselves.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Six celebrity political endorsements from the UK 2015 election

Much is made of UK elections becoming more like their US counterparts. The personality-driven leadership debates are presidential; the campaigns grow longer; and big budgets mean money talks. Then there are the celebrity endorsements. We know who they're going to back before they open their mouths, usually the left and loudly. But do these celebrity pitches alter our voting behaviour? The election result, anecdotally at least, suggests not.

First I'll focus on three major leftwing endorsements I saw that could have been influential: Brit Award winning singer Paloma Faith; comic actor Steve Coogan; and egregious arsehole Russell Brand. All three came out to advocate voting for Labour and the left. All woke up disappointed on the morning of May 8th.

Paloma Faith - Source: author's own
1. Paloma Faith. The first endorsement on my list is Paloma Faith. She didn't quite spell out Labour, just that she grew up surrounded by socialism, hating evil Maggie Thatcher, and that Tories are selfish beings lacking in social responsibility or even basic empathy.

I'm a huge fan of Paloma's music, but less so her political posturing, or the warm up act booked when I saw her sing in March. Left-wing activist Owen Jones treated the 20,000 fans at the London O2 to a socialist monologue which was awkward to cringeworthy for anyone to the right of Fidel Castro.

I don't want to abuse Paloma Faith for speaking out about her own politics, as she mentioned at her gig she had already come in for some stick. However, while she's welcome to nail a red flag to the mast, she might want to reconsider her statements about those who seek similar societal ends (aspiration and social mobility) but by different (right-of-centre) political means. It also felt awkwardly un-English to subject paying fans to a political rally before the payoff of the gig itself. Luckily the music more than compensated for the crap before. Paloma, like most patronising celebrity lefties, has already vented her disappointment at the perceived lack of wisdom of the electorate.

Steve Coogan  - Source: The Labour Party
2. Steve Coogan. Much posted by left-leaning friends via Facebook, this was a clear "Vote Labour" pitch. As a huge fan of Steve Coogan's comedy, particularly Alan Partridge and The Trip, this was an awkward endorsement for me to sit through. But I did, because Coogan's a comedy genius and I'm interested in listening to what intelligent remarks he has to contribute, even if it has little chance in influencing my vote.

Coogan's pre-election message was a well phrased endorsement of the left's approach to furthering social justice and aspiration for all, by "not just about looking at number one" (like the Tories do). Indeed, his polished Labour endorsement video was such a professional political performance that to me it only drew attention by association to Ed Miliband's underwhelming stage presence as Labour leader.

Coogan stressed Labour commitment to fairness. Like most people on the right, I don't think the left is disingenuous, but rather I disagree about how resources can be used best to encourage individuals' social mobility, aspiration and enterprise. The sign-off slogan of "A better plan. A better future" to me highlighted the lack of a credible Labour plan on the crucial elephant in the room: competently running the UK economy, balancing the books and sustaining economic recovery, by encouraging business to generate real wealth, before Labour tries to redistribute it and tax it away.

Russell Brand - Source: Russell Brand - The Trews
3. Russell Brand. Now for a man who doesn't want to just remodel British capitalism, but dismantle it entirely, presumably to make way for a temple to his own hubris.

Ed Miliband's visit to Russell Brand's home was a risible act of political farce but entertaining to watch, as one moderate socialist (Ed) talked the self-styled leftist revolutionary demagogue into political engagement and endorsing the Labour vote. Again the talk was about social justice, but lacking any credible plan to deliver those ends with sustainable growth, aside from tax, borrow and spend.

I still can't put it any better than a maths-guy-turned-journalist-turned-economist friend of mine did, via Facebook at the time: 
"Obviously the immediate effect may be a jump in the Massive-Fucking-Fatuous-Moron vote; but there may equally be a counter-jump in the People-Who-Realise-Long-Words-Are-Not-The-Same-As-Content-And-Being-Angry-About-Something-Doesn't-Particularly-Help-Solve-It vote. But what if they become complacent, too many stay at home, and as a result there is a higher than expected Fuckwits-Who-Want-To-Wish-Away-Social-Problems-With-Magical-Money-Farting-Unicorns vote? Mind you, The Greens have been polling well for a while anyway."
Typically, Brand's gigantic ego has now has since claimed personal responsibility for Miliband's election failure. I would suggest that the "fatuous moron vote" - already followers of Brand - were always likely to vote Labour or Green or SNP anyway. (Not that all those who vote those parties belong to that demographic.) Brand's love of long words and lack of content was unlikely to win new voters to Labour.

Karren Brady - Source: John Morris Flikr
4. Karren Brady. There were, predictably, far fewer celebrity advocates for the Conservatives. The perceived stigma attached and risk of social media condemnation may be still high enough to put many off. Then there were three others that pointed to the right, although not particularly effectively.

Bizarrely, all three were made famous (or more famous) by appearing on The Apprentice (UK) in recent years. The first was businesswoman and Conservative peer Baroness Brady of Knightsbridge. Brady was one of 103 business leaders who signed a public letter in support of Conservative government in the run up to the election, to show "the UK is open for business".

Katie Hopkins - Source: ITV
5. Katie Hopkins. Hateful columnist Katie Hopkins, who claimed she'd leave Britain if Ed Miliband got into Downing Street, also found fame via The Apprentice. A terrible advert for right wing policies, she has uttered some truly awful remarks about immigration and Europe's ongoing "boat people" humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Her promise to leave in the event of Labour victory would certainly have cheered me up if Red Ed had gotten to Number 10. I would also quite like to see Charlotte Church line up against her in the ring.

Lord Sugar - Source: Damien Everett
6. Alan Sugar.  Labour peer Lord Sugar. Okay, so I half lied about the last one, but his lack of Labour endorsement was noteworthy. And by quitting Labour shortly after the election, he has gone some way towards the position of his Apprentice colleague Brady by implication endorsing Conservative policy on promoting business and free enterprise.

East-end-boy-made-good Sugar has said he had purposefully stayed quiet during the election because he disagreed with Ed Miliband's "anti-enterprise" rhetoric. While he's no Tory, following his public disassociation from the Labour party, does he still count as a Labour peer?

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Re: Is there any such thing as a career in digital journalism?

Like many aspirant journalists, I began my early twenties with romantic notions of what a career in journalism might mean for me.

Truthfully, I did hope I might find myself writing politics for The Economist, or become an intrepid war correspondent for The Telegraph. I snigger at that level of naivety now, but most youngsters start like that.

I was just watching a video of a lecture given by Felix Salmon, on the dearth of careers potential in journalism, to the Perugia International Journalism festival, called "Is there any such thing as a career in digital journalism?It is really an add on to his February "dear budding journalist" (don't do it) blog post. There is some hard truth to Mr Salmon's words, though they make for bitter listening. It's worth adding some more words, however.

I'm one of Mr Salmon's many followers on TwitterHe used to write for the same company I work for: Euromoney, the trade specialised financial publishing arm of DMGT. Mr Salmon has made a name for himself, mostly by his reporting on the financial crisis, nowadays for opinionated freelance, online and bloggingI enjoy his not-too-serious online aesthetic, particularly the Withnail & I ("I'm going to be a star!") Twitter cover image. 

agree with most of what Mr Salmon says about the poor prospects for today's crop of cub online reporters, working in the unforgiving environment of digital journalism, the odds within which you can rely will stay stacked against their success. He must view himself as an exception to the rule, perhaps even in the "top 1%": those "star journalists" at the apex of the hack pantheon.

I recently reached thirty years of age. I've been working in journalism for eight of those years. In that time, whether by luck or guile, I think I've been moderately successful, although largely not in the ways I'd once hoped. I don't write for one of the nationals, and I don't report from conflict zones. 

Instead, I'm the editor of a niche financial magazine (digital and monthly print), based in the City of London. I'm fairly well travelled (my grubby, soon-to-expire passport has few unstamped pages left).

I've gone some way to specialising in writing about risks, their management, transfer, and related rule-making, for a corporate readershipAnd I have somehow squirrelled enough away to recently switch from forking out rent to paying off a sizeable mortgage.

So that is my first rebuttal, represented by me. There is not just Mr Salmon's "top 1%" of celebrity success story journalists who can monetise "personal brand", followed by the 99% mass of doomed youth, struggling to pay their bills or else have moved back home with parents.

There is a sizeable middle group of inbetweeners, who do manage to stick it out with reasonable (if not stellar) earnings and job opportunities. That said, earnings are still better elsewhere, so the size of this middle group is  regulated by the lure of the siren call into PR, at one stage or other (never say never).

Trade journalism is a relative haven in this space. Salaries, while nothing to scream about relative to other graduate career choicesare generally higher than the paltry sums offered at struggling local newspapers.

When Mr Salmon talks about a "glimmer of hope" (aside from the 1% of star reportersand "deep subject matter expertise" as a traditional advantage, this is what he means. 

Finance, energy and technology are among the best paying industries to write for. I know several reporters who left jobs at local news rags (still seen as the feeding schools for the big papers), because the salaries were too low to live well. Trade was the happy medium.

It was trade specialty journalismafter all, in which Mr Salmon originally got established, before being plucked from relative obscurity by the global financial crisis to more mainstream blogging and the events circuit.

"The way I got scrambling up the ladder was because I happened to have a bunch of expertise about debt markets at the time when there was a big financial crisis, and that was really useful for my career, even though it was really dreadful for the planet," he notes.

Secondly, the socioeconomic background of journalists is becoming increasingly skewed. This is bad news if consumers (of whatever sort) want a better, more representative press community to reflect society's broader makeup. This problem seems to me a regional issue and a social class issue, with London as the case in point.

In London, high rents and costs of living make for less idealistic young career choices. In this harsh environment (which Mr Salmon alludes to) the prospects for young journalists are largely dictated by the location and assets of their parents, becoming in parts a regional issue and class issue.

There has always been nepotism, of course, while the immediate preference for Oxford and Cambridge graduateamong the big mainstream news organisations does play a part in encouraging public school types. (Full disclosure: I attended a fee-paying public school, before studying at King's College, London.) 

When I started on a graduate scheme at another financial publishing house, in 2007, the  starting salary was barely enough. You could afford beer after work, live in a dive, and maybe one week's cheap annual overseas holiday. Saving meaningful amounts of money in London was out of the question unless you were prepared to live a miserable existence. Some people soon dropped by the wayside, mostly into slightly better paid entry level PR and marketing jobs.

Well-to-do parents help: they can pay their kids' rental costs; provide monthly top ups; give them 'savings' to burn through; or provide a rent free base if mummy and daddy live in the London suburbs or within the prosperous home counties' London commuting orbit.

In those circumstances, the dynamics change dramatically in their offspring's favour. Suddenly it becomes possible for the aspirant hack to avoid paying rent and save or spend a reasonable level of disposable income. While the upper middle class can afford this, the rest can't. Furthermore, companies will keep hiring young, cheap reporters increasingly drawn from this demographic.

Follow me on Twitter @David_Benyon.