Monday, September 22, 2014

Quote of the day 22nd September 2014

"It is actually pretty remarkable that a state can say 'We are not going to compel part of what has been our country but perhaps didn't want to remain part of our country, we are not going to compel them to do so. We are going to allow the democratic process.'

"To do that, you have to be a country that has enormous confidence in its own democratic institutions."

(Sir Stephen Wall, a former British Ambassador)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Remembering Arnheim

This weekend we have been remembering operation Market Garden, which took place seventy years ago.

Two people I knew very well, both of whom died of old age in this decade, were serving in the 1st Airborne division at the time. My uncle Ron missed the battle because he was not well enough to jump: he lost a lot of friends there.

A close friend, the late Geoffrey Brown, took part in the battle of Arnheim as a soldier in the 1st Airlanding Light Artillery (known to him and others at the time as "Sheriff Thompson's regiment.)

I have noticed from the pageview stats that the Obit post I put up when Geoffrey died three years ago has been one of the most read posts on this blog over the past few days.

I presume this may be because the post included a story Geoffrey used to tell of his time at Cambridge.

A tutor was describing the Battle of Arnheim and made a number of statements which Geoffrey did not consider to give a true picture of the battle, so he challenged him.

"It wasn't like that, it was like this" he said when describing the conversation some years later.

"What's your basis for that view?" asked the teacher

"I was bloody there!" replied Geoffrey.

A lot of brave men, Brits and Poles at Arnheim and Americans at Eindhoven and Nijmegen, jumped into enemy territory or were landed by gliders seventy years ago as part of the effort to liberate Europe from fascism. All too many of them gave their lives fighting against German forces, particularly against the superior fire power of two Waffen SS Panzer divisions that had moved into Arnheim shortly before the first parachute drop and were soon reinforced to outnumber the allied forces by three to one. The bravery of those men must not be forgotten.

Manufacturing an unnecessary argument

When the Prime Minister responded to the Scottish referendum result, he said that we should not look at a fair constitutional settlement for all four parts of the United Kingdon.

He was right to do so.

However, the promises made to the Scottish people must be hunoured.

These two views are not imcompatible, and those people who are starting to suggest there might be a danger that the promises made during the referendum might not be honoured are jumping the gun.

Downing Street sources told the BBC's political correspondent Ross Hawkins that although Mr Cameron had said that devolution over the whole UK should be discussed on the same timetable as that for Scotland, implementation of the promises made to Scotland would not be held up by progress on devolution for the rest of the UK: 10 sources made clear that "the one is not conditional upon the other".

David Cameron wants to give the peoples of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and, yes, England more control of their own affairs without breaking up the British family of nations and it is surely right that we look at the picture of the UK as a whole in doing so. Don't lets forget that DC had a fundamentally sound reason for not making "Devo-max" part of the Scottish referendum and it was this.

The decision on whether Scotland left the UK had to be a matter for the people of Scotland. The decision on what level of devolution exists within the UK has to be a decision for the whole of the UK.

A Scot who does not support devolution pointed out to me this morning with a great deal of justice that people like him feel totally marginalised by what has just happened - there was no way to vote for the status quo even if you lived in Scotland, and no way for anyone else to express any view at all about what kind of UK we want. That is a genuine problem.

The fact remains that all three UK party leaders made a set of solemn promises, they had good reasons to make those promises, and they have to honoured if the political system is to retain any credibility. I believe they will be.

We can, and should discuss how the new structure for the whole of the UK will work at the same time as we discuss how to implement the promises made to Scotland without making good faith on the implementation of those promises conditional on reaching agreement on how to provide similar reform in England.

One of the other things my Scottish friend said to me this morning is that we all ought to calm down and proceed on the basis of sober reflection. I think that is very good advice indeed.

Quote of the day 21st September 2014

These quotes about the USA from a speech in Iowa were made about the USA this week but IMHO they also have some relevance to Britain:

"We are less sexist, racist, and homophobic than we've ever been"

... but ...

"We don't want to be around anyone who disagrees with us"

(Former US President Bill Clinton)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The cashless society?

Yesterday's edition of "The Economist" had an interesting article, which you can read online in full at

http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21618886-abolishing-notes-and-coins-would-bring-huge-economic-benefits-leaving-dead

and which argues for the complete abolition of notes and coins as forms of money.

At first this idea will seem to be completely off-the-wall, but some of the ideas in it are actually very powerful.

Once apon a time currencies were supported by the value of the metal in the coins. The first paper money was backed by a promise to exchange it for precious metal. Even today, a five pound note contains in small writing the following commitment from the Bank of England

"I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds."

I read in one of my economics textbooks as a student that if you try to take them up on it you'll be issued with another five pound note. But it originally meant you would be issued with five pounds' weight of sterling silver. It  is still just about within living memory that in the 20's Winston Churchill, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, put Britain on the "gold Standard" for the last time, linking our currency to precious metals.

These days most money consists of bank deposits, and accounts of one kind or another without physical form. This is not necessarily a problem if they are managed responsibly, though it certainly can be if they are not or if people lose confidence in financial institutions.

At the end of the day, currencies only work because people have confidence that they will be able to exchange them for something they value. I have heard this described as a "confidence trick" and it could equally be described as herd behaviour - any type of money has value because, and only because, people believe it has.

Throughout history the biggest threat to that confidence has been dishonesty or foolishness on behalf of those in power - debasing the coinage in the case of old currencies based on precious metal coins, failing to have sufficient assets to support the liabilities of the banks and of the government in more recent times.

From time to time someone proposes making the currency stronger by linking it to something tangible like gold or silver. Churchill was the last minister in the UK to actually attempt it.

When I was a student I had a fantasy of linking the currency to something more suitable to the modern economy - and I was in favour of using a fixed unit of energy, probably the Kilowatt Hour.

By the time I graduated and collected my degrees in economics, I understood that in the real world there are all sorts of issues with that, but if we ever had a fundamental collapse of confidence in the world's currencies, we would have to restore it either by goiong back to Gold, or do something like my KiloWatt Hour idea.

"The Economist" makes a remarkably strong argument that much of the strength of demand for cash, apart from the fact that it is sometimes convenient, is people who don't want governments to know what they are doing.

And do you know what? Where the people concerned are not fraudsters, bank robbers, thieves, paedophiles or drug-runners, I rather like the idea of them being able to use their own money in ways the government cannot track. The state is far too powerful already without knowing how we spend every penny we earn.

"The Economist" also weakened their argument in my eyes by suggesting that the abolition of cash would make it easier to allow interest rates to go negative.

No thank you - negative real interest rates have already done far too much damage. We need a culture which encourages and rewards sensible financial planning including steady saving for retirement, and anything which made negative nominal rates more practical is a thoroughly bad idea.


One interesting thing is this. Most honest people can go through their lives without ever seeing a high value banknote such as a five-hundred Euro note. I seem to recall that I have seen a few such notes once or twice, but have never used them myself. But they are very useful for criminals.  They argue that

"There are €295 billion ($382 billion) of €500 notes in circulation. Yet most Europeans have never seen one: criminals hog them, as they are so useful for moving ill-gotten gains around. (€1m-worth of €500 bills weighs just 2.2kg.)"

They conclude the article by suggesting as a compromise that higher denomination notes, from about £500 or €500 upwards, should be phsed out, saying

"That would allow small transactions to be kept completely private, while making life much trickier for all but the pettiest of criminals."

At face value (sorry!) there does seem to be a strong case for that proposal.

Quote of the day 20th September 2014

“Life would be tragic if it weren't funny.”
 
( Stephen Hawking )

Friday, September 19, 2014

Congratulations and good luck to Kevin

This evening I completed my term as Chairman of the Conservative party's Cumbria area, and handed over to Kevin Beaty.

It has been a privilege to be chairman of Cumbria Conservatives over three very eventful years.

Best wishes and congratulations to Kevin and his team: thanks to everyone who helped me during my term. Now on to challenges anew ...

Cycling safety

And now for something completely different ...

I had an experience on the A66 this afternoon which brought home to me the need for cycle lanes on dual carriageway roads and for cyclists to wear high visibility clothing or helmets.

I was fully alert, was not speeding (I was driving a few mph below the 70mph limit on the relevant dual carriageway section of road), and visibility was generally pretty good. I was in the left hand lane of the Westbound carriageway, and a car was overtaking me in the right hand lane.

It may have been a factor that I was driving west, with bright late afternoon sunshine coming from West-South-West, and a line of trees on the South side of the A66 was casting a shadow on the left hand side of the road, in which a cyclist was riding.

At the moment I spotted the cyclist he was about 100 yards ahead of me. I had two of three seconds to check the position of the overtaking car, and move safely to the right hand side of my lane, before I passed the cyclist.

If I had been speeding, or if the cyclist had not been wearing the bright yellow safety helmet which enabled me to spot him when I did, there could easily have been a very nasty accident.

It certainly brought home to me that we need to think more about cycling safety - I think that road, and many others, is in dire need of a cycle lane.

Moving forward

My final post on the Indyref - though I think there will be a lot more to come on the new constitutional settlement.

The great majority of campaigners on both sides put their case in a positive, constructive, and democratic way. The 85% turnout which resulted, and the fact that so many people got involved, were fantastic things.

I thought a really good point was made on the BBC website. They noted that many countries, particularly some of those which don't exactly have strong democratic traditions, were astonished that Britain let Scotland hold this vote, and more astonished when they realised that there was a possibility that it would produce a "Yes" and that that decision would have been respected. Then they added:

'While many countries may have found it incomprehensible that Westminster agreed to let the Scots hold this vote, another former British Ambassador, Sir Stephen Wall, points out that it does show British democracy is alive and well.'

"It is actually pretty remarkable that a state can say 'We are not going to compel part of what has been our country but perhaps didn't want to remain part of our country, we are not going to compel them to do so. We are going to allow the democratic process.'

"To do that, you have to be a country that has enormous confidence in its own democratic institutions."

It is a shame that some people on both sides resported to abuse and bully-boy tactics. Just to give two examples, it was wrong for "Yes" trolls to be nasty about J.K.Rowling and wrong for "No" trolls to be nasty about Andy Murray. Both were entirely entitled to express their views. Neither is a traitor to Scotland or the UK for doing so.

I hope we can keep the positive energy which came out of the campaign going ande move forward in a spirit of reconciliation while putting the nastiness behind us.

DC on the Indyref result and the future of the UK:

Prime Minister David Cameron writes:

"The people of Scotland have spoken. It is a clear result. They have kept our country of four nations together.

"Like millions of other people, I'm delighted. It would have broken my heart to see our United Kingdom come to an end.

"And that sentiment was shared by people not just across our country, but also around the world - because of what we've achieved together in the past and what we can do together in the future.

"So now it is time for our United Kingdom to come together, and to move forward.

"We have a chance - a great opportunity - to change the way the British people are governed, and change it for the better.

"Political leaders on all sides must work together to advance the interests of people in Scotland, as well as those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"Because it is absolutely right that a new and fair settlement for Scotland should be accompanied by a new and fair settlement that applies to all parts of the United Kingdom.

"I have long believed that a crucial part missing from this national discussion is England.

"We have heard the voice of Scotland - and now the millions of voices of England must not go ignored.

"So, just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish Parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues - and all this must take place in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland.

"This referendum has caught the imagination of people across the whole of our United Kingdom.

"Now we must look forward, and turn this into the moment when everyone - whichever way they voted - comes together to build a better, brighter future for our entire United Kingdom.

"And I want to know what you think - so please leave a message on my Facebook page and tell me your views on these crucial matters.

Yours,

David Cameron"

Facebook.com/DavidCameronOfficial

That referendum result in full:

The final result:

No 2,001,926

Yes 1,617,989

Phew!

I doubt if there will ever have been a result which will leave not just David Cameron and also Ed Miliband, but also Jean-Claude Junker and Barak Obama, as very relieved men, as the SCottish referendum result.

At the time of writing this I have not heard the final figures as one counting area was still outstanding but it is clear that Scots have voted, on an extremely high turnout of around 85%, to stay within the United Kingdom. The vote was around 55% to 45% - clear enough to put the issue to bed for a generation.

Now the issues which made 45% of Scots want to leave - and which were clearly of concern to many of the majority who voted to stay - must be addressed.

The promises made to Scotland during the campaign must be kept.

The greater self-government promised to Scotland must now be given to all four of the nations of the UK. Preferably without creating another layer of politicians.

It's not going to be easy or simple, and the timetable laid out is going to be challenging. But with good will and reconciliation - something very much needed this morning - it can be done.

Quote of the day 19th September 2014

"The people of Scotland have spoken, and it is a clear result. They have kept our country of four nations together."

(David Cameron)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Latest Employment Figures

New figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance has fallen below one million for the first time since 2008 – with unemployment seeing its biggest fall on record.

Yesterday’s strong jobs numbers show our long-term economic plan is working, building a stronger, healthier economy, where fewer people are relying on benefits and more have the security of work.

To make this happen the Conservative-led coalition government has been backing businesses with better infrastructure and lower jobs taxes to create more jobs as part of our plan, while driving a programme of welfare reform. And it’s clear from these figures that it’s working, with the number of people claiming JSA below one million for the first time since 2008, and near record levels of employment.

There is still more to do. We know that families are still feeling the effects of Labour’s Great Recession and we want to make sure living standards go up for the long-term. But the only way to do this is to keep moving towards our target of full employment. The biggest risk to families’ economic security would be abandoning the plan which is getting us there.


Key statistics

· Employment: 30.6 million (up 74,000 this quarter and up 1.8 million since the election).

· Employment rate: 73.0 per cent (up 0.1 points this quarter and up 2.7 points since the election).

· Unemployment: 2.02 million (down 146,000 this quarter and down 475,000 since the election).

· Unemployment rate: 6.2 per cent (down 0.4 points this quarter and down 1.8 points since the election).

· Claimant count: 966,500 in August (down 37,200 on July and down 528,300 since the election).

· Total weekly pay: in July 2014 this was up by 0.7 per cent over the year.

Decision Day

After all the years of argument and campaigning, today is the day that Scotland votes on whether to remain in the British family of nations.

Whatever the result, let us hope that after all the disagreements of the past few weeks, from tomorrow we can all accept the result and work together for a prosperous and successful common future.

Quote of the day 18th September 2014

“The true champions of a nation's freedom are those who reject the limitations of stereotypes and affirm the rich diversity of human nature to be found.”

(Vasily Grossman)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scotland and Europe continued

It isn't just Scotland and the rest of the UK who will have a lot of challenges as a result of tomorrow's Scottish Independence referendum, whichever way it goes.

Brussels is, if anything, even more alarmed than London, though most of them have the sense to realise that the best thing they could do is keep quiet. But there is a very interesting article here on the ITV News website.

I wrote that most of them are keeping quiet and trying to appear neutral but as the article reports, the Spaniards are not: the Spanish PM described Scottish Independence yesterday as

“a torpedo aimed at the European spirit”.

Yesterday his Europe minister spoke of a delay of at least five years before Scottish readmission, and even then only on the proviso that Edinburgh commit to joining the Euro, joining Schengen and losing its share of the UK budget rebate.

And these are not empty threats, because Spain (like each of the 28 members) has an absolute right of veto over the admission of any new member. The reason Spain is seriously upset about the Scottish Referendum is the impact on Catalonia.

On Friday the Catalan Government in Barcelona is to pass a law authorising a non-binding referendum (referred to as a a ‘public consultation’) on separation from Spain, scheduled for November 9.

The timing is no accident.

Just five days ago 1.8 million people were on the streets of Barcelona demanding to be given the same opportunity as Scotland to decide their future.

And it's not just Spain. On the very day that Scotland votes, Flemish separatists are to rally on the streets of Brussels demanding the break-up of Belgium.

If Scotland votes "Yes" tomorrow I will deeply regret it but we must respect their decision and work to make the separation as harmless as possible. I don't believe that the remainder of the UK should try to make things more difficult for Scotland - though that does not mean we should agree to things which are not in Scottish or UK interests, such as sharing the pound without a common fiscal policy.

But there will be ramifications all over Europe. And it won't just be with the rest of the UK that an independent Scotland would have some very difficult negotiations to conduct.

Straws in the wind ...

It's fascinating to see which posts on this blog attract most traffic. Sometimes things come out of left field.

For the past few days a lot of the visitors to this blog have been picking up the page I posted in July 2012 - at the time of the Olympics - about the full words to the British National Anthem.

The post concerned lists the full words for the five verses of "God Save the Queen" which are still current.

But what was in it that should come up now?

Then I realised. It includes a "PS" about the fact that someone had hacked the Daily Telegraph page with the official words for use at Jubilee celebrations, or else someone at the paper was being naughty, because that page also gave the 18th century anti-Jacobite verse. I wonder if this is what some people were looking for.

In the original 18th century context, the anti-Jacobite verse would have been understood not as an insult to all Scots, but specifically to those ultra-reactionary romantic idiots who were trying to restore probably the most incompetent, disastrous, and dictatorial dynasty ever to rule Scotland, England, or any other part of the British Isles.

The House of Stuart provoked literally dozens of civil wars in Scotland, not to mentione the big one in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, often by over-ruling the parliaments of both England and Scotland and trying to force their religious ideas on all four nations, usually against the will of the majority. "Bonnie Prince Charlie" might have been a romantic figure but the people of the time had very good reason to regard a Stuart restoration as a seriously bad idea and many Scots were just as keen as the English to see that rebellion defeated. That's why many Scots fought against the Jacobites.

However, outside the 18th century context the verse certainly comes over as an insult to Scots in general so I will not be quoting it here or including a link!

Professor Ronald MacDonald on the Economic consequences of Scottish Independence

This video of a talk by Professor Ronald Macdonald, who holds the Adam Smith chair of Political Economy at the University of Glasgow, and was previously Professor of International Finance at the University of Strathclyde. It lasts about 18 minutes but is well worth listening to in terms of one reputable expert view with unimpeachable Scottish credentials on what the impact of tomorrow's vote on both Scotland and the rest of the UK might be.

The talk is called "The numbers don't add up."

Scotland and Europe

I think we can take it for granted that those Scots who elected a UKIP Member of the European Parliament earlier this year are not bothered about the probability that Mr Salmond is being entirely too sanguine about the prospects for an Independent Scotland's membership of the EU. But those Scots who want to stay in the EU, and even more so if they want to keep things like the British rebate and opt-out from having to join the Euro, should be.

He's probably right to assume that most Scots would want an Independent Scotland to be a member of the European Union if they leave the British one. Which appears an utterly inconsistent position to me - why on earth do you want Brussels telling you what to do if you're understandably fed up with London doing it - but it does appear to be what most potential "Yes" voters want.

(FWIW my ideal positions on Scotland vis-a-vis the UK and Britain in respect of Europe are identical: I would like to see all four parts of the UK given more autonomy while remaining within the British family of nations, and I would like to see Britain and other member states given more autonomy while remaining within the European family of nations. I know most BOO and UKIP supporters don't think the latter part of that is possible but that is an argument for another day.)

Most of the EU establishment hates the idea of any area leaving, and the SNP are undoubtedly right that some EU officials would like to give an Independent Scotland a "fast track" to membership.

But not all and - here's the rub - all EU countries including the Spaniards have a veto.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind pointed out the other day that the veto is only one of a number of tactics the Spaniards and anyone else worried about a chunk of their own country breaking away might deploy against Scotland to send a signal to their own separatists. For example, - they could easily exacerbate the usual problems of inertia within any huge organisation to make Scotland's entry negotiations drag on for years.

Mr Salmond told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show at the weekend that he had spoken to the Spanish, French, Italians and Belgians about his assertion that a separate Scotland would start life in the EU.

He repeated his claim that Scotland would not need to apply from scratch and would instead negotiate entry between a Yes vote tomorrow and actual separation in March 2016.

But Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, the Spanish Foreign Minister, rejected Mr Salmond’s version of events, telling the Telegraph that he had not even spoken to the SNP leader in two years.

He said Scottish independence would be a “bad result” for the EU as the “Balkanisation” of Europe was contrary to the organisation’s aims.

The French and Belgian governments also said they had held no discussions with the First Minister or the Scottish Government, while the Italians could not find any evidence of talks.

In a further challenge to the SNP position, Inigo Mendez de Vigo, the Spanish European Affairs Minister, said an independent Scotland would be forced to wait at least five years to join the EU and would then have to sign up to the euro.

Gianni Pitella, president of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, a political group in the European Parliament, also warned that an independent Scotland would have no automatic rights to the UK's opt-outs and predicted the application process would “take years”.

As the song goes, Breaking up is hard to do ...

Quote of the day 17th September 2014

"In business, in media, in government service, and in the Army, Scots still prosper as part of a United Kingdom, with opportunities and skies far wider than those that will come from a fragmented patchwork of cold, damp and powerless nation-statelets.

"Where Brown, Blair and Cameron all have Scots blood and Scots names, another generation of Scots waits to take over the reins of power. While even the distant prospect of, say, Michael Gove as prime minister may not fill many Scots (myself among them) with delight, his career to date from an adopted working-class child from Aberdeen through Oxford to the top of the Cabinet is evidence of the sort of opportunities the Union affords ambitious Scots.

"The sound of Scottish accents on every other BBC broadcast – whether as presenters of Today, comics and actors – as well as editors of newspapers and chairmen of banks, is another token of how far we have boarded and taken over the vessel to which we attached ourselves in 1707.

"Less visible, but no less powerful, are those Scots who fill places as ambassadors to the UN, Washington and Paris, and who run the Foreign Office, Civil Service and the British Army. Leave Britain and our Army and Diplomatic Service will be level pegging with that of Luxembourg and Ireland for influence abroad. Even if we do make it into Europe – and that is not certain, given the sensitivities of the Spanish and Italians to national fragmentation – we can forget having any sort of special relationship with the White House or a place on the Security Council.

"And this seems to be the crux. We Scots are far from an oppressed minority. In domestic matters we already run ourselves, and since devolution has given us control on almost all domestic issues, it is only on our place in the world that this vote will have any tangible effect.

"While I am proud of some of the moral stands made by the Scottish Parliament – such as giving asylum to Palestinians from Gaza, and the opposition the Scots Nationalists made to Tony Blair’s wrongheaded invasion of Iraq – we can continue to make those important moral stands in the Scottish Parliament while also influencing the real world from No 10 Downing Street.

"Independence probably won’t be a catastrophe. We are a talented nation. Scots remain as ambitious and highly educated as ever. Emotionally I fully understand the excitement that the prospect of independence brings, and if it does come I will proudly apply for my Scottish passport.

"Nevertheless, if the drumbeat of freedom excites my heart, my head remains extremely wary. Pragmatism has always been an excellent Scottish quality and it seems to me that independence will be both a massive and unnecessary gamble, socially and politically divisive, and something that will limit rather than enhance the opportunities open to my children and grandchildren.

"After centuries of Anglo-Scottish warfare, which led to many more Floddens than Bannockburns, the success of a united Great Britain was no small achievement for the Scots. It made us richer, and it made us bigger. For the first time in our history we played a major role in the world.

"I strongly fear that the siren song of independence, attractive and alluring as it is, will lead less to any new and tangible freedoms and instead will turn us inward, indulging in narcissistic nationalism – for such is the pride of small nations everywhere: a Small Scotland attached physically, but no longer politically, to a diminished Little Britain. That would be a great and wholly unnecessary tragedy. After all, we’ve run the English very efficiently for 300 years. I see no good reason to stop now."


(William Dalryumple, whose nine-greats grandfather Sir Hew Dalrymple was one of the Commissioners who negotiated and signed the original Act of Union three hundred years ago, writing in the Telegraph on why he believes it is still in Scotland's interests today.)

You can read the whole article at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/11092392/Do-the-Scots-really-want-to-stop-running-Britain.html.

I quote this in the full knowledge that the jokes Dalrymple makes about Scots running England contain enough truth that they will infuriate some English nationalists. As someone who by ancestry is part English and part Scot, proud of both, regularly visits many parts of the British isles including Scotland and thinks of myself as British, I think we need to get back to the situation where we can joke and talk honestly about the contributions all parts of the UK have made to the union and work to give all four countries more autonomy - preferably in ways which do not involve more layers of politicians.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rory Stewart writes about the "Beacon of Hope" event at Gretna at 8pm this evening

There will be a "Beacon of Hope" event this evening at the "Auld Acquaintance" cairn at Gretna between 8pm and 10pm. Rory Stewart MP writes:

Beacon of Hope at 8pm Tonight
























Our Beacon of Hope event will run from 8pm - 10pm tonight (Tuesday 16th of September).

Please also watch our beautiful photo montage of all the thousands of stones which have recently been placed on the cairn, here.



Here is Belfast Poet Charlotte Higgins' latest poem:

http://handsacrosstheborder.co.uk/two-million-steps/


Best wishes,



Rory

Quote of the day 16th September 201

"I think it's terrible if a person who wants to work cannot find a job. You have no self-respect, you haven't got the respect of your family, if somehow you cannot earn yourself a living and them a living too."

(Margaret Thatcher)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Quote of the day 15th September 2014

“British Muslims condemn unreservedly the murder of our fellow Briton, David Haines. Our deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and family of Mr Haines.”

“David Haines went out to the region to help the people of the region. That extremists chose to murder him only shows once again the depravity of their warped ideology. They have killed so many innocent people in the region, and they perform such murders only to draw attention to their cause of destruction.”

“These extremists in Iraq and Syria claim to be acting in the name of Islam. But there is nothing in our faith that condones such behaviour. Muslims in Britain and around the world have condemned these people, and the arguments they use have been refuted comprehensively as being far from the religion of Islam.”

“At this terrible time, it is important that we all come together in solidarity. These extremists wish to draw attention and recruits to their cause by sowing division and fear between people here in Britain. Let us deny them that luxury. The best way to defeat their extremism is to build even stronger bonds between communities here in Britain."

(Dr Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, speaking yesterday on behalf of the MCB)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

David Haines RIP

David Haines had once served his country in the RAF, but he did not go to Syria to fight anyone or to hurt anyone.

Nor did he go to promote or oppose any religious view.

For the last fifteen years he had dedicated his life to working to help and protect the victims of war. In that time he had worked with refugees in the former Yugoslavia, disabled people in Libya and ceasefire monitors in South Sudan.

He went to Syria as a humanitarian, to give aid and comfort to vulnerable, innocent people who had been harmed by the fighting, to help set up refegee camps for them.

His murder leaves two children fatherless - the younger of those children is four years old.

The people who carried out this sickening crime must have known all these things, but they did not care. They claimed to act for a religion which is called by a name which means "Peace" and on behalf of a God whose followers describe him as "The Compassionate, the Merciful." Their actions prove that they have no idea what the concepts of Peace, Compassion, or Mercy actually mean.

I am certain that the last thing David Haines would want would be for Britain to over-react and harm the innocent as well as the guilty in seeking revenge for his death.

Nevertheless, the people who took his life were testing the resolve of the West, and the worst thing we could possibly do is give the least sign that that resolve will falter. These people rule by fear, and the more they are allowed to establish that rule the harder they will be to defeat and the more damage they will do.

David Haines was described as a "fantastic man and father." He knew he was going into danger when he went to Syria, but he took that risk, and gave his life to protect the vulnerable and those who needed help.

"Greater Love hath no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day 14th September 2014

“Intelligence is not how much you know, but how you use it.”

(Maryann Austin)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

On the Economic consequences of Scottish Independence

The vote next week is a decision for the people of Scotland.

If I lived there I would be casting a positive vote to keep the UK together because I believe that all four nations are stronger and better off as part of a common family.

There has been a certain amount of scaremongering on both sides - for example, there is no other way to describe the ridiculous nonsense which the SNP has put out about the NHS - but the irony of the economic arguments is that, while a well-run Scotland might well be economically successful, the economically illiterate plans of the SNP are a recipe for disappointment.

Three good articles today on the subject: a humorous and a serious commentary on the suggestion by RBS and others that they might move their HQs to England in the event of a "Yes" vote, and an article on the danger that Salmond's policies might drive away the business investment he would need.

Alistair Heath writes convincingly about what an independent Scotland would need to do to be economically successful, and argues  here that instead "Alex Salmond is chasing away the private sector firms he so desperately needs."

The Daily Mash has an extremely funny piece here about the fact that the Royal Bank of Scotland would move their HQ to England in the event of a "Yes" vote. But many a true word is spoken in jest.

I particularly commend, however, to anyone who is thinking about how to vote in the Indyref this article by Andrew Lilico, who is an Economist with Europe Economics, and Chairman of the IEA Shadow Monetary Policy Committee.

Andrew begins by pointing out that

"One of the most remarkable features of the Scottish independence debate has been the total disregard the Yes campaign has had for expert opinion."

Quite. He carries on ...

"When experts such as the Permanent Secretary to HM Treasury advised against a currency union with an independent Scotland, when all the main political parties said there would be no such currency union and when all the expert political and finance commentators said there was no way the UK government and political parties, having rejected joining the euro precisely because currency unions can't work without political union, would reverse that opinion when it came to a currency union with Scotland, the SNP says everyone is "bluffing".

"When the banking analysts, economists and the Financial Conduct Authority said the SNP's alternative currency plan of using Sterling without a currency union would mean the departure of all the large Scottish banks and many other financial institutions they were told that was "scare-mongering".

"When fiscal experts said an independent Scotland that was sterlingized or that had its own new currency would have to have additional austerity they were ignored or called liars.

"When government sovereign debt experts warned that if a newly independent Scotland walked away from its share of UK debt that would have implications for the price at which it could raise new debt thereafter that was skipped past.

"When the President of the European Commission said an independent Scotland would not automatically be a member of the EU and would have to re-apply the SNP just asserted he was wrong.

"When the former European Commissioner for Monetary Affairs said that if an independent Scotland used Sterling without a currency union (and hence no central bank) that would be incompatible with joining the EU and noted that both Iceland and Montenegro had been required to have their own central bank to apply for EU membership that was swept aside as an old question.

"The British establishment has struggled with the shamelessness of the SNP here. The SNP really does not seem to care about expert opinion."

You can read the full article here.

Quote of the day 12th September 2014, and Exchange of the week

On Political Betting (known as PB to its' regulars) this week a poster called Scott_P said:

'If Salmond hadn't lost the plot before he has now. Unstatesmanlike wittering about leak inquiries and "BBC bias"'

A poster called "DecrepitJohnL" replied that

"To be fair to Salmond, if blaming BBC bias disqualified anyone from office, we'd have no MPs and precious few pb posters."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Quote of the day 11th September 2014 - INVICTUS


"Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

"In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

"Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

"It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul."


(By William Ernest Henley 1849–1903)


My congratulations to all those involved in setting up the Invictus games for wounded war veterans which opened in London last night, and my warmest good wishes to all the participants.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Britain's EU commissioner gets key economic role ...

The President-elect of the EU commission has obviously decided that it would be helpful to mend some fences with Britain and has offered Lord Hill, the new British EU Commissioner, the important newly-created role of running the EU's work on Financial stability, financial services and capital markets.

Now I know and understand that among large sections of the British population the activities of a relatively small proportion of those employed in banking have given the entire sector a reputation which is rather worse than that of anthrax.

The fact remains that most people who work in banking are ordinary decent people working hard at an important job and not being paid a ridiculously overgenerous wage for it, and furthermore that the financial services sector both brings in a huge proportion of Britain's earnings of foreign exchange, and pays a lot of tax which in turn funds a big chunk of the cost of our schools and hospitals.


Lord Hill's appointment to this role greatly reduces the danger of Brussels putting anything forward which would kneecap the UK economy by sabotaging the banking sector, and for that reason I unreservedly welcome it.

It will be interesting to see if any of the bloggers who were posting with what seemed like gleeful anticipation the rumours that Juncker would give Lord Hill a job of not much more significance than making the tea will have the grace to say that they were glad to be proved wrong.

Quote of the day 10th September 2014

“The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on.”
  
( Joseph Heller, Catch-22 )

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

You couldn't make it up: "The Far Side" gets ever closer..

Between the Islamic State (formerly ISIS), Rotherham, and various other horrible stories there wasn't much of a "silly season" this summer but I noticed one story which almost could have been one.

Cartoonist Gary Larson's "Far Side" strip projected a future "Age of Cows" and it seems that high tech cows are getting closer and closer.

Earlier this year details of a scheme for "Connected Cows" through a product called Silent herdsman" was announced here, with the tagline Connected cows produce more milk."

Now it seems that the National Trust has given BT a contract to put large numbers of rare cattle on the phone, but putting a SIM card in their collars to track them.

The mind boggles ...

Quote of the day 9th September 2014

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”
  
(
Charles Darwin )

Monday, September 08, 2014

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan: our children are our future


Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for education, writes;





Every child deserves a great education and the chance to get on in life.

So, as part of our plan for education, we're making sure children have the best teachers - recruiting inspiring people who might not have considered teaching before but have so much to offer in the classroom.

We're working with school heads to restore discipline and improve standards - and 80,000 more children are starting secondary school with a good understanding of English and Maths than under Labour.

We're opening a record number of new schools - and more children than ever before are attending schools ranked as 'good' or 'outstanding'.

Delivering the best schools and skills for children and young people is a central part of our long-term economic plan. If you support our plan, and want to help secure a better future for Britain, donate £20 today.

Labour were in power for 13 long years - and under them, schools standards fell and youth unemployment rose.

But we're making sure young people can fulfil their potential: creating millions of new apprenticeships that allow them to learn a trade - and backing businesses, so they can create the jobs and opportunities young people need.

Thanks to our plan, the number of young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs) is at its lowest since records began.

We have to keep going to secure a better future for our children and grandchildren.

Please play your part by making a donation today:

Donate today

Thanks,

Nicky Morgan MP
Education Secretary
 

Quote of the day 8th September 2014

“Humor keeps us alive. Humor and food. Don't forget food. You can go a week without laughing.”
  
(Joss Whedon)

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Wake Up Call

A 1% lead for "Yes" well within the margin of error, in one YouGov poll in the Sunday Times, is proof that the Indyref could produce a vote for Scottish Independence, not proof that it will.

But this really ought to be a wake-up call for everyone on both sides of the Border.

Those North of the border must realise that this is not just an opportunity for a protest vote - the breakup of the UK could actually happen.

If that's what you really want, fine, but think long and hard about it - because I don't believe anyone on either side fully undedrstands all the ramifications.

For all of us on both sides of the border, this should wake us up to the fact that the UK has been too centralised for too long.

If it survives the next fortnight we should work out a proper Federal structure for the British family of nations and work out what should be dealt with at UK level - presumably Foreign affrairs, Defence, Trade, and at least top level budgetting and economics - and what should be devolved to the four nations - Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and yes, England.

We don't need another layer of politicians, least of all based on artificial and arbitrary aggregations like the English Regions. But we can and should devolve more to our Shires/Counties, Cities and Boroughs.

Matthew's biggest mistake since his Council House letter

Matthew Parris is a very clever, interesting, honest, and usually very wise man, who is very perceptive most of the time and on the rare occasions when I violently disagree with him, his views are usually worth reading.

But as he himself sometimes make a joke of when booked as a speaker, his career includes some very unfortunate faux pas.

Up until this week, probably the worst was when he was working in the office of the then Leader of the Opposition, Margaret Thatcher, in the run up to the 1979 election. A council house tenant wrote to Maggie about Conservative policy towards housing, and he wrote a letter back about the subsidy provided to council housing which said what he actually thought, not what was tactful.

The letter was enough of a gift to Labour that they printed off thousands of copies and circulated it in some constituencies. That was my first election and I still remember it, and I recall my then MP cursing Matthew after he had people chasing after him while canvassing marginal areas shouting "Mrs Thatcher doesn't like Council House Tenants."

With slightly less excuse, (as Matthew is now a journalist and no longer a staffer for the Leader of the Conservative Party, or a Tory MP) Matthew has just for the second time in his career written something which is likely to be circulated by a party he would certainly not want to help, this time UKIP.

He has written an article in The Times about Clacton which is all too easy to present as writing off a large section of the struggling white working class, and residents of Clacton in particular, as unqualified people with tattoos, in wheelchairs or on crutches, whose opinions should be ignored.

Some of the responses to Matthew's article make it out to be more nasty than I think it was meant to be, but he does refer to the fact that 40% of the population have no qualifications, to the number with tattoos, to the fact that

"Only in Asmara after Eritrea’s bloody war have I encountered a greater proportion of citizens on crutches or in wheelchairs"

and he says

“I am not arguing that we should be careless of the needs of struggling people and places such as Clacton. But I am arguing — if I am honest — that we should be careless of their opinions.”

A representative example of the response to this can be found in the Telegraph here.


Matthew, correct me if my memory is playing tricks on me about a speech you made nearly twenty years ago, but when you next saw Maggie after you-know-what hit the fan following your council house letter, I seem to recall you saying that she looked at you in a deeply hurt way, and said something like "Matthew, Why, Why, Why?"

That's what a large part of the Conservative Party, and indeed especially those whose views about Europe are closest to your own, are thinking about your Clacton article.

And just in case anyone else is reading this who is in any doubt and is prepared to listen, Matthew's views in his Clacton article, do not represent me, and I'm convinced they don't represent those of David Cameron on anyone else in the Conservative party either.

Quote of the day 7th September August 2014

“The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius.”
 
( Oscar Wilde )

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Economists write in the FT - Scotland can't have both the pound and genuine independence

There is an excellent set of assessments by leading economists of the currency options for an Independent Scotland in the Financial Times here.

The six contributors, several of whom have strong Scottish credentials, are:

Dame DeAnne Julius, former Monetary Policy Committee member and Bank of England court director

Sam Bowman, research director at the Adam Smith Institute

* Professor Anton Muscatelli, University of Glasgow

Tony Yates, Reader in Economics at University of Bristol

* Angus Armstrong, director of macroeconomics at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research

* Ronald MacDonald, professor, Adam Smith chair of political economy, University of Glasgow

They don't all have the same view of the merits of the different options, but all of them have interesting things to say.

The main view common to most of these economists, if expressed in significantly different ways, is that if Scotland wants to have a form of Independence which means very much, they should go for a new separate currency for Scotland.

What follows here is my own opinion, but if you follow the link above you will find it is not out of line with most of the arguments in the FT article.

The leader of the Scottish Labour party said a few months ago, and it is one of the few statements by a Labour politician that I strongly agree with, that "Yes" campaigners who want to keep the pound are like someone who is initiating a divorce but who wants to keep the joint bank account.

The idea that Scotland could follow the sort of radically different economic strategy from the rest of the UK which First Minister Salmond says he wants, while keeping the pound, is straight out of cloud-cuckoo land. That applies whether or not there is an agreed currency union.

An agreed currency union would require mechanisms to co-ordinate the two economies, just has the Euro has (and they have not worked very well). For Scotland to keep the pound without such an agreement would amount to surrendering even the share in control over their currency that they have now.

The inconsistency at the heart of the "Yes" campaign between their plans for an independent economic policy and wish to retain a currency union is not just glaring but pitiful and amounts to an insult to the intelligence of the people of Scotland.

Unlike either the SNP or UKIP, I am consistent in my attitudes to Britain as part of the EU and Scotland as part of Britain. Just as I have argued for nearly two decades that if Britain wants our own economic policy we need to keep the pound rather than join the Euro, if Scotland wants to have an economic policy separate from that of the rest of Britain, they too need their own currency.

If the Royal Navy went politically-correct ...

Since at least the time I was at University in the eighties, an element of the "stop the world, I want to get off" ultra-naive left has been slagging off our armed forces for not complying with various aspects of what would now be called politic correctness.

A surprising percentage of this comes from people who owe their very lives to the British armed forces, without whom they or their parents or grandparents would have been murdered. E.g. from individuals who belong to one or more of the groups who would have been exterminated by the pro-Nazi puppet regime which we would presumably have had our armed forces not stopped Hitler and helped to defeat him.

There was a very amusing post on "Political Betting" yesterday by a poster using the name MikeK, about what would happen to the Royal Navy if some of these demands were conceded. Here are some extracts ...

"The Royal Navy is proud to announce its new fleet of Type 45 destroyers. Having initially named the first two ships HMS Daring and HMS Dauntless,the Naming Committee has, after intensive pressure from Brussels, renamed them HMS Cautious and HMS Prudence.

"The next five ships are to be HMS Empathy, HMS Circumspect, HMS Nervous, HMS Timorous and HMS Apologist.

"Costing £850 million each, they comply with the very latest employment, equality, health & safety and human rights laws. The Royal Navy fully expects any future enemy to be jolly decent and to employ with the same high standards of behaviour.

"The new user-friendly crow’s nest has excellent wheelchair access.

"Live ammunition has been replaced with paintballs to reduce the risk of anyone getting hurt and to cut down on the number of compensation claims. Stress counsellors and lawyers will be on board, as will a full sympathetic industrial tribunal.

"The crew will be 50/50 men and women, and will contain the correct balance of race, gender, sexuality and disability.

"Sailors will only work a maximum of 37hrs per week as per Brussels Rules on Working Hours, even in wartime.

"Saluting of officers is now considered elitist and has been replaced by “Hello Sailor”.

"All information on notice boards will be in 37 different languages and Braille.

"Crew members will now no longer have to ask permission to grow beards and/or moustaches. This applies equally to female crew.

"The MoD is inviting suggestions for a “non-specific” flag because the White Ensign may offend minorities. The Union Jack must never be seen."


The whole post can be found on this thread.

Quote of the day 6th September 2014

While commandant of the Army's staff college in 1910, Brigadier Henry Wilson predicted that a major European war was likely. A student disagreed and ventured the opinion that only "inconceivable stupidity" on the part of statesmen could precipitate a general war.

General Wilson laughed derisively and replied,

"Inconceivable stupidity is just what you're going to get."

(He was, of course, proved right four years later, a hundred years ago this year.)

Friday, September 05, 2014

Feeding the Monster

There are websites on which I can hardly bear to read the comments section because of the level of vitriol and hatred which radiates from the screen. Fortunately, although I have occasionally had to block individual comments on this site or threaten to do so, the vast majority of contributors have been civilised and made interesting points.

One of the things which has struck me as a matter of great concern in relation to the debate about Scottish Independence as we head into the last few days before the referendum, is how angry and unpleasant some of that debate has been.

It would be facile, and just plain unfair, to attribute all of this to one side. There have been plenty of campaigners on both sides who have managed to be civilised and put forward constructive and positive arguments, some of which deserve to be addressed whichever way the vote goes.

Nevertheless, I have noticed that the tone of the debate has often been nasty, and although the majority is not guilty of this on either side, and some voices for a "No" vote have been just as bad, the sheer nastiness of some of the people calling for a "Yes" is most unpleasant and does not redound to the credit of their case. For example, some of this week's comment thread on the "Political Betting" website which is normally one of the most interesting political reads have been dominated to a most unpleasant extent by gratuitous insults hurled between two or three Scot Nats and almost everyone else on the site.

Just to give an example of one of the least offensive exchanges, one of the "Yes" supporters started a particular round of insults with the words

"You're not going to successfully claim the moral high ground with the Orange Order, the EDL, and the BNP going for No."

When someone turned this one back with the words

"Nationalist parties are always pretty vile, shame you can't see that"

the person who had started this sort of comparison in the first place got most upset and started talking about "smears" and how "absolutely ridiculous" it was to "equate" the SNP with a fascist group, without the least apparent hint of irony or apparent recognition that exactly the same guilt by association tactic which he or she had initiated in the first place had merely been turned around and aimed at the person who started it.

Mind you, that one was mild compared with all the accusations of being a "turnip", cretin, or anti-semite on what is usually a civilised and friendly blog.

Not that it is just online that there has been thuggish behaviour. One "Yes" supporter was given 80 hours of public service by a court for throwing an egg, and Murdo Fraser, someone not usually known for eagerness to jump to the defence of Labour MPs describes here some of the abusive behaviour directed at Jim Murphy MP.

Neither Murdo Fraser not I are suggesting that all or even a majority of "Yes" supporters like this sort of thing, nor that all the "No" supporters are angels. But the level of nastiness is worrying, and regardless of the result of the vote in a fortnight's time, does not bode well for Scotland, or for Scotland's relationship, either as a foreign country or part of the same one, with the rest of the UK.

The anger which is very evident amoung some Scottish Nationalists is very similar to the anger which is often displayed by some - not all of the supporters of UKIP, two parties which have a great deal more in common than either wishes to admit.

Yes, of course many of their policies and some of the philosophy are radically different, but IMHO the Scot Nats are tapping into a set of grievances against London among those who identify primarily with Scotland which have some uncanny parallels with the passions and resentments that UKIP is tapping into against both Brussels and the present establishment in London among those who identify primarily with Britain or England.

Graeme Archer has a very thought provoking piece on Conservative Home here which discusses the nationalist anger being stoked up. He argues that neither Nigel Farage nor Douglas Carswell is a monster,

"but they're feeding one. The same one.   And the rest of us are going to have to live with the consequences, in what’s left of our nation of nations, when they’re done."

Read the article "Suppose, nevertheless, that there are such things as monsters."

I've a horrible feeling that Graeme has a point.

Quote of the day 5th September 2014

"There is a certain irony in the Tories holding an internet driven open primary in Clacton to select their candidate and UKIP HQ imposing Douglas Carswell, the prophet of iDemocracy, as their candidate."

(Paul Staines, a.k.a. Guido Fawkes, in a blog post  here.)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

GDP Figures revised upwards

The UK’s GDP has been significantly revised up by the Office for National Statistics - growth since 2010 is now estimated to have been 1 percentage point higher than previously thought, showing that our long-term plan is building a stronger and healthier economy.

This encouraging news is further evidence that our long-term economic plan to secure a healthy economy is working. That means more jobs and greater security and peace of mind for hardworking British taxpayers.

The GDP figure revisions shows that since 2010 this country has grown faster than France, faster than Germany, and faster than any major economy apart from Canada and the United States of America.

The deficit has been cut by over a third, there are over two million more private sector jobs and 400,000 more businesses.

However, we cannot afford an atom of complacency, because, as the previous post illustrated, the job is not yet done. The Great Recession remains the deepest since records began, and risks to the recovery from Europe and elsewhere remain.

That is why we must continue to work through the long-term economic plan, which is the only way to a better and brighter future for people up and down the country.

The Economics of Fantasyland

If I were a resident of Scotland who was a pragmatic supporter of the principle of independence, but willing to make a decision one the basis of an open-minded look at the practicalities of what is currently proposed, I think I would by now have reluctantly decided to vote "No" becauset for all their bluster and increasingly ludicrous claims to the contrary, the package that "Yes" is trying to sell to the Scots people is not properly thought through or prepared and would lead to all kinds of chaos.

But there are a lot of straws in the wind which suggest that the fantasyland economics put forward by the SNP is having much more impactg than it should. There is a very well argued piece on the "Think Scotland" site here, written by Bill Jamieson, which poitns out that even the British economic recovery, though their are genuine encouraging signs and is much better than the position of the rest of the EU, is not as secure as we would like, and has "fantastical elements."

He goes on to argue that that the claims of the SNP are "Fantasy Economics" but that this pales in comparison to the Fantasy Economics prevailing in some parts of the European Union.

As he points out,

"The Euro-zone's feeble recovery sputtered to a halt in the second quarter of this year. The continent’s economy is stagnating.

There were some bright spots – Spanish growth quickened from 0.4 per cent in the first three months of the year. And both Dutch and Portuguese GDP, which had contracted in the first quarter, are now above these lows.

But the euro area is being held back by poor performances in its three biggest economies. GDP fell in Germany, the biggest, and in Italy, the third largest, it contracted by 0.2 per cent in the second quarter, while the manufacturing purchasing managers’ index has collapsed to a 15-month low. France, the second largest economy, reports a GDP standstill.
Investment bank Citigroup has cut its German growth forecasts once again, to 1.3 per cent for 2014 and 1.6 per cent for 2015 – from 1.6 per cent and 2.0 per cent previously.

The lacklustre recovery has barely dented unemployment across the euro zone. Now there is growing frustration over the timid response so far by the European Central Bank. “Berlin fiddles while Rome burns” would be a fair summation. There is clamour for more effective action – specifically measures to counter low inflation by adopting a programme of quantitative easing.

As The Economist warned, “low inflation and negligible growth are a potentially lethal combination for countries weighed down by debt, as many are in the euro area. Moreover, the problem arises not just from high levels of public debt but also from excessive debt owed by households and firms. Even if inflation remains merely low it presents a problem for borrowers whose incomes are rising much more slowly, if at all, than they expected when they took out their loans. And if prices start generally to fall, this raises the real burden of debt.”

So evident has the deterioration become – despite that fantastical blue-sky depiction of the European Commission – that EU leaders have called an emergency summit on promoting growth and jobs on October 7, highlighting their concerns over the fragile economic recovery. The statement announcing the summit baldy stated that “the recovery, particularly in the euro area, is weak, inflation exceptionally low and unemployment unacceptably high.”


In this context, it is a remarkable achievement that the British economy is doing as well as it is. But we cannot afford an atom of complacency.

In particular, we really, really, really cannot afford a Miliband government in which Gordon Brown's main lieutenants when he previously trashed Britain's economy get to be PM and chancellor. The previous post by Sajid Javid illustrates this point perfectly.

There are many people - a dangerous number - who sincerely believe that there is little difference between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. For the sake of this country's solvency, I pray that they don't get to find out in ten months' time how very wrong they are.

Sajid Javid MP writes on Labour's Summer Spending Spree:

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid writes ...

Whatever you did over the summer, I'm guessing you didn't go on a £21 billion spending spree. But, unbelievably, that's exactly what Labour did.

They made a host of promises - including more spending on benefits - which analysis shows would cost hardworking taxpayers £20.955 billion. In return, they only set out £105 million worth of spending cuts to pay for them.

£20.955 billion of spending minus £105 million of savings = £20.850 billion of unfunded spending commitments, which hardworking families would pay for with higher taxes and more debt.

We've got to stop Labour getting into power and wrecking our economy again.

Labour STILL haven't learnt their lesson.

After taking Britain's economy to the brink and opposing every spending reduction we've made, Labour have spent the summer promising billions of pounds of inefficient and ineffective spending.

With just eight months to go until the General Election, it's clear that all Ed Miliband offers is more spending, higher taxes and more debt than our children could ever hope to repay.

We can't let him get his way.

Let's carry on working through the long-term economic plan that is building a stronger, healthier economy and securing a better future for Britain:

Thanks,

Sajid Javid MP

Quote of the day 4th September 2014

Friends are people who know you really well and like you anyway. (Greg Tamblyn)

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Yorkshire Post view of Rotherham

The Yorkshire Post has a good analysis of what went wrong in Rotherham and what needs to be done about it, in respect of the council and South Yorkshire police, not to mention local and national political leadership, which you can read here.

Inquiries will be necessary but they must not be used as a means of kicking the issue into the long grass. Action must be taken to reduce the risk of thing like this happening again - and it is not just Rotherham and South Yorkshire that need to learn the lessons.

A Science Fiction post: how the Safehold series won't finish ...

This post will probably be of no interest to those who don't read science fiction, but I was most amused to spot this humorous item on David Weber's website about how his long-running "Safehold" series of books will not finish.

If you have been following the story of "Nimue Alban" which begins with "Off Armageddon Reef," and especially if you have also read the "Dahak" trilogy which began with "Mutineer's Moon," there is a good chance that you will find the above item highly amusing.

If you have not read any of Mr Weber's books, please ignore this post.

UK moves up a place in World Business table

The UK has moved up a place to 9th in the rankings of the best places to do business in the world – meaning more jobs and a better future for families.

It is great news that Britain is becoming an even better to place to start and run a business because that helps get more people into work. That means more people with the security of getting paid each month and being able to look after their families.

The government is backing small business and enterprise with lower taxes on jobs, the lowest corporation tax in the G20 and by getting rid of unnecessary red tape to the tune of over £1.5 billion a year – freeing up business to focus on expansion.

These figures show that the government's long-term economic plan is working, building a stronger, healthier economy that is securing a better and brighter future for people up and down the country.

Quote of the day 3rd September 2014

"My entire position is based on a cool assessment of the reality. UKIP is helping Labour and may well put Ed Miliband into No 10. That's great if you share Ed Miliband's worldview, but I don't, and nor do those who support UKIP.

"The argument which is put forward by the Kippers (apparently sincerely, at least in some cases) is that this is a price worth paying because a few years of Miliband will cause the Conservative Party to collapse and merge with UKIP, and this new coalition (which used to be called the 'Conservative Party' when Hague and IDS ran it) will triumphantly storm to victory, perhaps as early as 2020. The very best you can say about that is that it is unbelievably high-risk as a strategy. A more realistic assessment is that it is cloud-cuckoo-land, which will lead to a decade or more of disunity and a disastrous Labour government which we won't be able to shift, even though it will be very unpopular.

"It's not as though we haven't seen the same thing before on the other side of the electoral divide, with the SDP. So you can't say I'm scaremongering on no evidence. I am speaking from experience."

(Richard Navabi, posting on  Political Betting this week.)

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Rotherham - government sets up probe

The failings exposed by the Rotherham inquiry are appalling and the Government is absolutely clear that the lessons of past failures must be learned.

That is why the government is establishing an independent inquiry panel of experts in the law and child protection to consider whether public bodies - and other non-state institutions - have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse. The government has also set up a Home Office led National Group, through which agencies are working together to better identify those at risk and create a more victim-focused culture within the police, health and children’s services.

The government will continue to work to ensure victims are not left to suffer in silence and those who exploit them are brought to justice.

£160 million added to Cancer Drugs Fund

Helping more patients benefit from life-saving drugs.

There are few things more distressing than being diagnosed with cancer – and it’s vital that as many patients as possible have access to the latest, best drugs. Because the Government has taken difficult decisions to cut inefficient, wasteful spending elsewhere, they are now in a position to spend more in this most important of areas.

So this week it was announcing that a further £160 million is going into the Cancer Drugs Fund – a Government backed fund which is used to buy the best pioneering, life enhancing medication on the market. All of this contributes to the goal of making Britain the best place in Europe to survive cancer.

Since 2011 the Cancer Drugs Fund has given new hope to thousands of people suffering from painful, difficult types of cancer. This extension of funding - which is only possible because of a long-term economic plan and careful management of the nation’s finances - will bring that hope to many more.

When the pendulum swings too far ...

The trouble with social changes is that they are often far too much like a pendulum.

When a physical pendulum starts to move, it never stops at the balance point at the bottom of the swing, it always goes over onto the other side.

So with social change: when there has been a bias in one direction, and it is finally corrected, all too often things go too far in the opposite direction.

I'm not going to go in detail in this post into the relative treatment by the legal system of men and women because the issue is too complex: A hundred and fifty years ago there was a massive imbalance in favour of men, fifty years ago that was probably still true but to a much lesser extent, but today there are probably some aspects where the law treats men more favourably but others - though it is hard to be sure because of the secrecy surrounding family courts - which have probably passed the balance point and become a problem in the opposite direction.

If there is one thing that the disaster at Rotherham proves, it is that, insofar as MacPherson was right about an "institutional racism" problem within the police, the pendulum has swung to the opposite direction to a wholly unacceptable degree. Criminals who were engaging in the rape and terrorising of women on an industrial were able to get the police to back off by threatening to accuse them of racial harrassment.

We need to ensure that the pendulum swings back to the point where everyone is treated equally regardless of the colour of their skin. And no further.

Quote of the day 2nd September 2014

"Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won.

"We have known the bitterness of defeat and the exultation of triumph, and from both we have learned there can be no turning back. We must go forward to preserve in peace what we won in war."

(Douglas MacArthur's victory broadcast after the surrender of Japan, 2nd September 1945.)