Tuesday, July 07, 2015

A remarkable shortage of logic in the homeland of logic

After the Greek vote in which Turkeys delivered a shock vote against Christmas and Eurozone leaders gave Greece until Sunday to come up with a solution to their debt problem, I remain baffled by the fact that so many people in Greece both want their country to remain in the Eurozone but also want a totally different economic policy to that of the European Central Bank."

I can understand why someone who believes that Greece needs a strong dose of financial discipline might want to remain in the Eurozone.

I can understand why supporters of "an end to Austerity" and radical left-wing policies might want to see a managed and negotiated Greek Exit from the single currency.

And of course, there are probably millions of Greeks who take one of these internally consistent positions

But the fact that large majorities in Greece both oppose the policies of the European  Central Bank but also support continued membership of a system which means that the ECB will control their country's currency and interest rates - and this from the country where logic was invented - indicates a catastrophic failure of intellectual consistency on the part of those Greeks who are part of both those majorities.

This is a cognitive dissonance beside which the people who told pollsters in Britain that they wanted and expected David Cameron to remain Prime Minister but that they wanted and expected a Labour government pales into insignificance.

It is about as rational as the old joke about the political party manifesto which promised legislation to guarantee every citizen an above-average standard of living.

You cannot share the same currency without at least a substantial convergence of economic policy.

This is of course, one of the main reasons that I and many of those like me who campaigned to keep the pound, did not want Britain to join the Euro.

Goodness knows that the ECB and Eurozone leadership have made mistakes and I would not necessarily agree with everything they have suggested for Greece.

But it is a fundamental misreading of the situation to suggest that the Eurozone are recommending austerity and severe measures to Greece because they want to "punish" Greece or the Tsipras administration or like suffering for the sake of it, or even that they are trying to impose from outside an overall policy envelope different to what they want for themselves.

The ECB and Eurozone leaders have pushed the measures they recommended to Greece because they believe that a policy of balancing the books is necessary to protect the interests of the Eurozone as a whole including their own countries, and you cannot operate a currency union in which some of the members are following one economic policy and others are following a totally different one.

Remembering the victims

This morning at 11.30 am Britain held a minute's silence in memory of the 52 victims  of the July 7th terrorist bombings.

The meeting which I was attending today was adjourned at 11.30 so that everyone could take part.

It says something very sad about the world in which we are living that twice in three working days I and my colleagues have paused our work to remember the innocent people who were foully murdered or injured, in two terrible terrorist atrocities ten years apart. and their families.

The people who were murdered both on the beach in Tunisia and on tubes trains or the bus in London will be remembered with love. W must also do everything we can to support those who were injured or bereaved.

The people who killed them achieved nothing but to bring the religion in whose name they thought they were acting into disrepute - which is very unfair to the millions of decent people who follow that religion and would never dream of supporting terrorist murder.

Great piece in Political Betting on "herding" pressures on Pollsters

I will be careful not to pay too much attention to the opinion the polls in 2020, and sadly an excellent article by Nick Sparrow on Political Betting here tends to confirm me in that view.

Nick, former head of polling at ICM, says that

"A pollster with results diverging from the average will be asked by their client and others to examine every aspect of the methods for anything that might be “wrong”.  A pollster with results on the average can relax."

He quotes the Market Research Society in the report published after 1992, the last time the polls got it as badly wrong as they did this time:
“We would encourage methodological pluralism; as long as we cannot be certain which techniques are best, uniformity must be a millstone – a danger signal rather than an indication of health.  We should applaud diversity; in a progressive industry experimentation is a means of development.  No pollster should feel the need to be defensive about responsible attempts to explore in a new direction …

Unfortunately this is easier to say than to do. When he instituted new methods in the run up to 1997's election (in which ICM was closer than other pollsters), 

"in the run up to polling day the pressure to adopt the alternative, less accurate average of the rest, was intense."

He concludes

"Now, as then, pollsters should be seeking new solutions, and be unafraid of producing results very different to each other.  The average is clearly not to be trusted.  Sadly, I suggest, the likelihood is that come 2020 both pollsters and political commentators will again be converging on the average."

Quote of the day 7th July 2015

“Be as decent as you can.

Don't believe without evidence.

Treat things divine with marked respect — don't have anything to do with them.

Do not trust humanity without collateral security; it will play you some scurvy trick.

Remember that it hurts no one to be treated as an enemy entitled to respect until he shall prove himself a friend worthy of affection.

Cultivate a taste for distasteful truths.

And, finally, most important of all, endeavour to see things as they are, not as they ought to be.”
  
( Ambrose Bierce )


For the avoidance of doubt the above are Bierce's views rather than my own and there is among these seven maxims one which I disagree with, But they hang together as such a perfect summary of the old cynic's approach to life, and taken as a whole contain so much wisdom, that I preferred to quote the whole than take out the part I disagree with.

Monday, July 06, 2015

The decline and fall of the Scandinavian Economic model

Allister Heath, editor of City AM, had a very good review last week in the Daily Telegraph here about a book by Swedish author Nima Sanandaji which was recently published by the IEA, and rejoices in the someone academic-sounding title

"Scandinavian unexceptionalism: Culture, Markets and the failure of third-way Socialism."

Allister points out that the supposed success of the Scandinavian model is often quoted by critics of so-called "austerity" in Greece and Britain or those who supported Syriza, Ed Miliband, or anyone further left. As he puts it

"Many people believe that the Scandinavian economies have managed to combine high taxes, hugely generous welfare states and prosperity. They therefore wonder why Britain or Greece cannot do the same, and thus instinctively reject any talk of austerity or spending cuts. If Sweden can be rich and spend such a large proportion of its GDP, why cannot Britain or Greece?"

Yet the voters of Scandinavia themselves seem to be rejecting the Scandinavian model: the recent defeat of Denmark's left-wing government leaves three of the four Scandinavian countries with centre-right governments.

Nima Sanandaji has been asking whether the "big state" Scandinavian experiment has been as successful as it had been made out to be and has assembled some very interesting statistics.

For example, between 1870 and 1936, Sweden was the country with the highest growth rate in the industrialised world; its economy continued to be managed along conventional lines for several decades after the Second World War. In 1960, the tax burden ranged between 25pc of GDP in Denmark to 32pc in Norway, roughly the same as in other Western countries and a very low number by contemporary European standards.

Then in the 1970s Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries embraced big-state policies.

That is well known. What is less well appreciated is that these were not always seen as successful in those countries, and began to be reversed, starting in the 1990s.

Private sector employment didn’t grow at all in Sweden between 1950 and 2000, while the biggest employers were long-established companies. It became almost impossible for disruptive start-ups to rise to the top, a situation which has now ended thanks to the partial deregulation and opening of many Scandinavian economies.

Crucially, the report argues, the original pre-1970s free-market Scandinavian model went hand in hand with high levels of trust, a remarkable work ethic and various positive cultural attributes. At first, these remained when socialism was introduced; hence the view among those in the UK and elsewhere who think that Scandinavia provides evidence that socialism can work that there was no disincentive effect of high taxes.

This might have been true for a short period of time but the author argues that it no longer is. Scandinavia’s social capital has been dramatically eroded by the rise of the welfare state: the IEA report points to the fact that the Netherlands is the only country that spends more on incapacity-related unemployment than Scandinavia.

Mr Sanandaji also highlights a survey that showed that 44pc of workers believe that it is fine to claim sickness benefits in the event of one’s dissatisfaction with one’s working environment.

In the 1981-84 World Values survey, 82pc of Swedes agreed that “claiming government benefits to which you are not entitled is never justifiable”; when this survey was repeated in 2010-14 version, the figure was down to a worryingly low 55pc.

In 1960, Norway had the highest life expectancy in the OECD, with Sweden, Iceland and Denmark ranked third, fourth and fifth. Today, the gap with other countries, including the UK, has shrunk dramatically.

As Heath and Sanandaji argue, the big-government, high-tax model doesn’t work: even in homogenous, hard-working countries like Sweden, Denmark or Norway, the imposition of incentive-destroying policies eventually derails the economy and leads to massive social problems.

Quote of the day 6th July 2015

“Self-evident, adj. Evident to one's self and to nobody else.”
  
( Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary )

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Occasional Sunday music slot - "Not the Black Horse"

This magnificent piece of music is a set of variations which JS Bach wrote around the theme of the cantata "Wachet Auf" (Usually translated as "Wake, Oh Wake" or sometimes as "Sleepers Wake")

I refer to the orchestra-only version of the first variation, my favourite of the orchestra tunes played during these variations, as "Not the Black Horse" to contrast it to the tune the orchestra plays in the best known variation - an entirely different tune but which, like the orchestral part to this, was also written to be played with the "Wachet Auf" theme - and which was used a few years ago by Lloyds bank in their "Black Horse" adverts.

The tune Lloyds used in their "Black Horse" adverts is played by the orchestra during the third variation, which starts 13 minutes and 32 seconds into this performance.

The last variation which starts 24 minutes and 26 seconds into the performance has in my opinion the best choir part.



And by the way, #SupportOption1

The year civilisation collapsed

I want to quote from the preface of a book I am currently reading.

"The economy of Greece is in shambles. Internal rebellions have engulfed Libya, Syria and Egypt, with outsiders and foreign warriors fanning the flames. Turkey fears it will become involved, as does Israel. Jordan is crowded with refugees. Iran is bellicose and threatening, while Iraq is in turmoil"

Sound like a description of the present situation?

"Yes. But it was also the situation in 1177 BC, more than three thousand years ago, when the Bronze Age Mediterranean civilisations collapsed one after the other."

I can recommend "1177 BC, The Year Civilization Collapsed" by Eric Cline as an interesting read in its' own right but also because the period described has so many parallels to our own age.

Differing views on the Labour leadership election

I have been following the Labour and Lib/Dem leadership elections because which candidates are successful will affect the positioning of all parties in 2020. We cannot assume we can just re-fight the 2015 campaign, things will change based on a whole raft of things not all of which can be predicted in July 2015.

Interesting however to see how different the perceptions of some candidates are.

"Political Betting" had an interesting post here inspired by a tweet from Stephen Bush, editor of the "Staggers" blog at the New Statesman, suggesting parallels between Ken Clarke's bids for the Conservative leadership between 1997 and 2005 and Liz Kendall's current bid for the Labour leadership.

I do think he has a point, And although I do not believe Ken Clarke or any other alternative Conservative leader could have won the 2001 General Election, the selection by the Conservatives of IDS over Ken Clarke in the leadership election which followed has to be up there with Michael Foot's defeat of Denis Healey in 1980 as one of the two most disastrous leadership choices made by the two largest British parties since World War II.

The New Statesman also published a survey comparing the views of Conservative councillors about which Labour leadership candidate they think would be the most formidable opponent with the views of Labour councillors about who they want to see as their leader, which you can read  at

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/07/liz-kendall-and-caroline-flint-are-team-fear-say-conservative-councillors

I am fairly certain that the Conservative councillors polled were mostly saying what they really think and not answering in hope that Labour would listen to the results of the survey and do the opposite.

A straw in the wind about how Labour's leadership election will actually go can be seen from the fact that the Blairite MP for Copeland, who initially floated the idea of standing himself and who I didn't see on any of the published lists of who backed whom as having nominated anyone else, has now come off the fence and backed Andy Burnham, arguing in a remarkably sycophantic piece that

Andy Burnham isn't continuity Miliband, he's Blair mark II.

To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I can't claim to have known Tony Blair or worked with Tony Blair, and Tony Blair is no friend of mine, but Andy Burnham is no Tony Blair.

If I said "David Cameron is no Tony Blair" it would be meant as a complement to DC. Saying the same thing about Andy Burnham is not.

Quote of the day 5th July 2015

"He who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false is guilty of falsehood, and the accidental truth of the assertion does not justify or excuse him."

(Abraham Lincoln)

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Another promise which you can bet will be broken

If you think politicians are bad at keeping promises, just look at the record of those made by journalists and celebrities.

Russell Brand has apparently promised to move to Syria if someone buys him a first class ticket.

If I thought for an instant that he meant it I'd be very tempted to dip into my savings for the cost of a one-way plane ticket.

Tempted, but not enough to do it, however. That's the sort of thing which works better as a joke about hypothetical actions than as something actually done in the real world.

I have zero respect for Russell Brand, but do not hate him enough to want him to be the central attraction on Jihadi John's next snuff video, which might well be the consequence if he did go to Syria. The fact that he is a critic of the government would mean absolutely nothing to the butchers of the so-called "Islamic State" who would undoubtedly have a spontaneous orgasm at the thought of beheading a British "celebrity."

Of course, there is a rather long list of recent foolish promises by various commentators and journalists as well as "celebrities" to move abroad or take various actions in a state of nature given particular elections. The track record of keeping such promises is rather worse that that of promises in election manifestoes being implemented.

Paul O'Grady AKA Lily Savage appears to be still in the UK and appears to have broken his promise to leave Britain for Venice if the Conservatives win the election.

Katie Hopkins did not have to act on her promise to leave the country if Labour won, as they didn't. She also promised to dance naked if Ed Balls lost his seat, which of course he did, but as the exact promise was to "dance naked round my house" she may well have kept it and the rest of us would be none the wiser.

Dan Hodges promised three years ago to "streak naked down Whitehall in a Nigel Farage mask whilst singing Land of Hope and Glory" if UKIP surpassed 6% of the vote in 2015

After UKIP did get double that share, he has promised to do something of the sort as a charity event, though I am not aware that this has happened yet.

Paddy Ashdown ate a chocolate hat after promising to eat his hat if the BBC Exit poll was accurate. Alistair Campbell was presented with a chocolate kilt on the same programme for a similar reason.



You can read a summary here which the Telegraph put together shortly after the election on the status of such promises. To the best of my knowledge there has been no change on the status of any of these promises since early May when this was published.

The cost of socialism, Greek style

This is the message you currently get if you try to use at ATM in Greece

https://instagram.com/p/4ttCO4km14/

David Cameron writes on home ownership and helping people to get on

The Prime Minister writes:

"At a time of uncertainty abroad, here at home we will be delivering a budget next week with economic stability at its heart, offering security for working people.

Encouraging home ownership is central to that. Having your own place is an important stake in our economy. It’s also one of the best expressions of the aspirational country we want to build, where hard work is rewarded.

It’s also about social justice. We don’t want this to be a country where if you’re rich you can buy a home, but if you’re less well off you can’t. We want it to be One Nation, where whoever you are, you can get on in life.

In the past five years, we got builders building, lenders lending, and government-backed schemes alone helped more than 200,000 people on to the property ladder.

The next five will be about going much further. We will help people to reach their dreams by keeping Help to Buy until 2020 and extending the Right to Buy to 1.3 million housing association tenants. They will get a discount of up to 70 per cent to buy their own home, and we will open a register of interest so that thousands can sign up in the first year.

And once you’ve got your home, you’ll be able to pass it on. As we promised in our manifesto, we’ll take the family home out of inheritance tax for all but the richest — and it’s a promise we will keep. As we said we would, we’ll pay for this reform by limiting the pension tax relief to those who are earning more than £150,000. It can only be right that when you’ve worked hard to own your own home, it will go to your family and not the taxman.

We will also boost supply. We will build 200,000 starter homes by 2020, sold at below market rate and for first-time buyers under the age of 40. To deliver on this commitment, we will ensure every reasonably sized housing site includes a proportion of these homes for young people.

We will also say to local councils: you must give land with planning permission to people who want to build or commission their own homes. Custom-built homes account for 60 per cent of all of Germany’s new housing stock, and our plans will double the number in our country. We will also undertake a massive programme of regeneration around our train stations, as part of a wider drive to release public sector land for 150,000 homes.

We will also make the planning system more effective. We will set out more detail next week, as part of our productivity plan. It is unacceptable, for example, that many councils are still not close to having a plan for delivering the homes their communities need. We will take action, in consultation with local communities, to deliver the plans for those areas which have failed to do so.

Of course, there will be opponents of much of the above. We are determined to take them on.

First, the opponents of Right to Buy. There are those who think it’s unfair on private renters, who don’t get these discounts. But we’re offering them help through schemes such as shared ownership and Help to Buy. Let’s now help others, some of whom are the least well-off in our country. We’re proud that it’s the Conservatives who are giving them some hope, and if anyone wants to argue with us on that, we say bring it on.

Then there are those who oppose Right to Buy because they think it won’t work, and will reduce housing stock. But the system right now doesn’t work. One of the main ways to encourage housing associations to build more homes is to increase their revenue. That means increasing social rents. And that means increasing housing benefit — which comes from either taxing or borrowing more. This is another of the Labour-inspired merry-go-rounds we need to get off. Housing benefit already costs us £24 billion a year, two thirds of what we spend on defence. That figure needs to come down. And despite housing benefit revenue doubling in the past 13 years, some housing associations aren’t building enough homes — indeed, some aren’t building at all.

We have a better model. By helping people to own their own home, through Right to Buy, we can turn tenants into homeowners and reduce housing benefit bills. And by selling off the most expensive council houses when they become vacant we can replace every home we sell — whether an expensive council house or one through Right to Buy. And we will do so quicker than the current three-year rule requires.

So we will transform Britain: from a lower-home-ownership, higher-tax, higher-housing-benefit country to one that encourages home ownership, reduces taxes, lowers housing benefit bills and builds more homes.

Second, there will be the opponents of planning reform. We will always protect the green belt and make sure planning decisions are made by local people.

But the fact is that just 10 per cent of England is developed. There is capacity for 400,000 homes on brownfield land — we need to get building. And as we do, we will make sure the homes look good.
We have already given local people the power to create neighbourhood plans; more than 1,000 are well under way. This gives local people an even greater ability to decide where new homes go and what they look like. And we will go further in the coming months.

But that all requires planning reform. It’s simple: you are either pro-reform, or not; for building homes, or not; on the side of young people, or not. We know our position. As a One Nation government, we will always be squarely on the side of those who want to get on."

David  Cameron
Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister

Whitehaven Carnival today

Looking forward to a great time today (4th July 2015) at Whitehaven Carnival: fingers crossed (one always has to say that when talking about the weather in West Cumbria) but it looks like last night's thunderstorm has cleared the air set things up for a fantastic day.

The Parade to Castle Park is due to move off at 1.30pm this afternoon.

Thanks and well done to Whitehaven Lions, who always do a great job, for everything they have done in organising the event.

Have a great time if you can join us!

Quote of the day 4th July 2015


Friday, July 03, 2015

Whitehaven Carnival tomorrow

Whitehaven's annual summer carnival will take place tomorrow(Saturday 4th July).

The annual parade will start at 1.30pm

A Minute's Silence at noon today in memory of the Tunisia Massacre victims

There will be a minute's silence across the UK at midday today to remember the 38 people - including 30 British citizens - killed in the Tunisia beach attack a week ago.

Flags will be flown at half-mast over Whitehall and Buckingham Palace, while play at Wimbledon will be delayed.

The Queen and Prime Minister David Cameron will join the silence.

English Votes for English Laws: detailed proposals published

More details of the proposals to give MPs representing English constituencies a veto over legislation which only affects England are now available.



An explanatory guide to the EVEL proposals can be found here.

A more detailed outline of the proposals can be read here.

You can indicate your support for the proposals at

https://www.conservatives.com/englishlaws

Sir Nicholas Winton RIP

Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved 669 Jewish children from almost certain death at the hands of the Nazi regime, died peacefully in his sleep this week at the age of 106.

A young stockbroker in London in 1938 he dropped everything to go to occupied Prague to help refugees escape. He had to fight Nazi bureaucracy on the continent and the inertia of British bureaucracy to get refugees in to Britain without always having documents, but he was successful.

Sir Nicholas, a very modest man, kept quiet for decades about the action he took in organising eight trains to evacuate Jewish children to Britain from occupied Czechoslovakia, but when the news came out he was knighted and widely praised for his actions.

Former Labour MP  Lord Dubs, one of the children who Sir Nicholas rescued, described him as

"just one of those very special human beings"

"The real fact is that he was a man who saved my life and a lot of us who came on the Kindertransport owe him an enormous debt.

"His legacy is that when there is a need for you to do something for your fellow human beings, you have got to do it," he added.

David Cameron paid tribute to Sir Nicholas, tweeting:

"The world has lost a great man. We must never forget Sir Nicholas Winton's humanity in saving so many children from the Holocaust."

Daniel Taub, Israel's ambassador to the UK, said:

"He was a hero of our time, having saved 669 Jewish children from the Nazi regime. His legacy, as a point of light in an era of darkness, will forever be remembered".

Indeed, all those who had met him spoke of Sir Nicholas in the most glowing terms of praise: obituary notices and eulogies are often full of such praise, much of it justified, but in this case it certainly seems that the praise was particularly deserved.

A short BBC obituary article can be seen here.

Rest in Peace

Quote of the day Friday 3rd July 2015


Thursday, July 02, 2015

Rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic 2015 style ...

 
 
The satirical News Thump site has a spoof article here saying that the SS Titanic will hold a referendum this weekend on whether to rearrange the deckchairs.

Can't imagine who they are taking the mickey out of ...

English Votes for English Laws

I believe in Equal Citizenship for the four nations of the UK so far as it can be practically obtained at a reasonable cost.

If it is wrong for English voters to impose their view on Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland on any given issue, and that issue has therefore been devolved in those countries, then it is equally wrong for the equivalent decision in England to be imposed by Scottish, or Welsh, or Northern Ireland MPs.

Because the powers of the devolved assemblies are not equal - and I believe we should move as far as practical towards a position where they are - this is also sometimes an issue in Wales and Northern Ireland.

The first step to correcting it is about to be proposed by the Conservatives, and involves an extra legislative stage for England-only legislation which gives MPs elected by English constituencies a veto.

This is not, as one utterly bonkers Labour MP suggested, racist - it is an attempt to put the four home nations on a similar basis.

More detail will be announced very shortly, but you can support the principle at

https://www.conservatives.com/englishlaws

Quote of the day 2nd July 2015


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Don't feed the seagulls

Today's "News and Star" reports that seagulls have attacked junior school pupils on their way to St Jericho's school in Whitehaven.

I first mentioned the problems of aggressive seagulls on this blog eight years ago when it had been raised with me during the 2007 local elections.

I have always favoured the use of non-lethal methods to control seagulls rather than a cull, and I would prefer to continue that approach, but it is clear that we need to manage the relationship between humans and seagulls if we are to avoid unacceptable outcomes - like children having to run the gauntlet of these birds on their way to school,

The first thing which has to be said is that these birds do not have any need whatsoever either of legal protection or of food from humans. They are in the rudest of rude health and it would be a very bad thing for both humans and seagulls if the birds come to associate humans with food as has happened elsewhere. I would prefer a voluntary approach dissuading people from feeding seagulls but if that does not work then, sadly, it will be necessary to introduce by-laws banning the practice.

We also need to ensure that refuse collection is operated in a way which does not encourage seagulls to scavenge - since I first raised the issue the change to wheelie bins has helped with this.

And I believe the law needs to be changed to make it easier to remove nests which are a potential hazard to children.

On past form there will be people who will criticise these essential measures as an attempt to remove seagulls from this seaside town. They are not, and such an objective would be unachieveable if it were desirable, which is isn't.

What we need is an attempt to build a new balance between human and seagull.

Greek questions which make no sense 2: How not to run a referendum

Another Hellenic question which makes little if any sense ...

Britain has begun, and will doubtless continue to have, a serious debate about how the question should be worded for the forthcoming referendum on whether Britain should remain a member of the EU and what the rules are about the campaign.

That is as it should be.

It is really important that we get as close as possible to the situation where everyone on both sides accepts that the election has been conducted fairly. I think all sides will recognise this and after a frank exchange of views we will reach a broad consensus on how to do that which will deal with most of the complaints which have been made.

The Greek government seems to be rather less bothered by this. Courtesy of the BBC, here is a translation of the question on their bailout ballot paper



As the BBC put it, there is still a question over when and how voters will be presented with those two documents referred to in the referendum question, "and whether world-class economists will be on hand at polling stations to explain them."

Let's just hope we can all learn a few lessons from this nonsense when it comes to the debate about our own referendum.

Greek Questions which make no sense 1: the Epimenides paradox

In the past 24 hours I have been struck by two variants of Hellenic questions which make no sense.

The first is the latest form of the ancient Epimenides paradox - a Facebook post about facebook posts being rubbish ...

More than 2,600 years ago the Hellenic philosopher Epimenides of Knossos referred to Cretans as "always liars" thus giving rise to the paradox which is still sometimes referred to with his name (also known as a paradox of self reference.)

In context he was referring to those of his fellow-Cretans who disputed the immortality of Zeus and he probably did not intend to inspire the logical paradox for which he is remembered: as Thomas Fowler put it,

"Epimenides the Cretan says, 'that all the Cretans are liars,' but Epimenides is himself a Cretan; therefore he is himself a liar. But if he be a liar, what he says is untrue, and consequently the Cretans are veracious; but Epimenides is a Cretan, and therefore what he says is true; saying the Cretans are liars, Epimenides is himself a liar, and what he says is untrue. Thus we may go on alternately proving that Epimenides and the Cretans are truthful and untruthful."

 
In the form in which is was originally put by Fowler there are at least two easy solutions.
 
It's only a logical paradox both if "liar" is defined as someone who always lies and never tells the truth, AND if any statement about the truthfulness of Cretans applies equally to all Cretans. If you define a liar as someone who sometimes tells lies, or admit the possibility that the truthfulness of Cretans might vary, then it is possible that

1) the statement could be true, and this was one occasion when Epimenides, who told lies on other occasions, was being truthful for once, or
 
 2) it could be false to say that ALL Cretans are liars but true to say that some are, and Epimenides was one of them, and his statement that Cretans are "always liars" was one occasion when he lied.
 
Of course, you can put the paradox in a form which does not permit of a rational solution: for example, the third Doctor Who, portrayed by Jon Pertwee, once gave this example of a paradox:
 
"The next thing I say will be true. But the last thing I said was a lie."
 
Fascinated to see if anyone can give an answer to this one but I think it cannot be resolved and I understand those who consider themselves experts agree with me.
The NewsThump Facebook post at
 
 
which inspired this thought has a loophole which avoids a paradox: it only says that 95% of FB posts are drivel.
 
However it served the purpose of moving me on to another more modern Greek question to which there is no sensible response - see next post ...

Greece misses payment deadline

Greece has missed the deadline for a €1.5bn (£1.1bn) payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), hours after eurozone ministers refused to extend the bailout.
 
The EU ministers say they will discuss a last-minute request from Greece for a new two-year bailout on Wednesday.

Greece is the first advanced country to fail to repay a loan to the IMF and is now formally in arrears.

The IMF confirmed that Greece had failed to make the payment, shortly after 22:00 GMT on Tuesday.
"We have informed our Executive Board that Greece is now in arrears and can only receive IMF financing once the arrears are cleared," said IMF spokesman Gerry Rice.

Mr Rice confirmed the IMF had received a request from Greece to extend the payment deadline, which he said would go to the board "in due course".

With the eurozone bailout on hold pending the referendum called by Alexis Tsipra's government, Greece could not meet its IMF repayment.

The European Central Bank (ECB) has also frozen its liquidity lifeline to Greek banks. Meanwhile, ratings agencies have further downgraded the country's debt.

As the dividing line between truth and parody gets narrower and narrower, News Thump's take on the missed payment can be read here.

Quote of the day 1st July 2015


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Living in a fantasy world

There have been a number of prominent people who this week have made remarkably silly statements.

First there was Richard Branson's claim that "The UK would be better off in the Eurozone." The Virgin founder told the BBC that

"If we were part of the euro right now, our currency would be a lot cheaper,” and

“Great Britain would be doing that much better in trading in Europe.”

he added that

“Because the pound is a lot stronger than the euro, it makes it more difficult for us.”

Branson is a great businessman but would be the first to admit that he is not a politician. His statement that it would be easier to trade in Europe if our currency had been dragged down like that of the Eurozone is true so far as it goes, but unfortunately for his argument this is very far from being the whole story.

It causes problems if your currency is too high or too low. Too high makes it hard to sell abroad: too low pushes up your costs and leads to inflation.

Britain is a world trading nation: about half our trade is with countries which use or are linked to the Eurozone and the other half with countries which use or are linked to the dollar.

As we found out the hard way in the run up to Black Wednesday, it is an absolute disaster for the UK if we are aligned with one of those zones but not the other.

We went into the precursor to the Euro, a fixed currency regime called the European Monetary System or EMS, at an exchange rate which worked for our trade with Europe - exactly as Branson is arguing for now - but was way out in terms of our position in respect of the rest of the world. Except that back then the problem was that the German Mark was very high relative to the dollar, and now the Euro is very low relative to the dollar. The results for the UK economy were dire.

Britain needs to have a sensible overall currency level, and that means adjusting relative to both the dollar and the Euro. When one is high and the other low, we float between them and it balances out. Which we cannot do if we are in the Euro. I'm astonished that Richard Branson doesn't get that.

But he's not the only person expressing very odd views this week. even as almost everyone else, including Angela Merkel's deputy, the President of France and the Prime Minister of Italy - says that a "No" vote in the Greek referendum means leaving the Euro, EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker continues to insist that a Greek exit from the Eurozone is not an option.

Not only is it very much an option, it is entirely possible that within the next few months - and possibly even this week - we may reach the situation where it is unavoidable.

But an even stronger candidate for the daftest statement of the week has to be the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras who argues that

"They will not kick us out of the eurozone because the cost is immense."

He's right that they don't want to, but the idea that the other Eurozone countries will not let Greece leave under any circumstances, regardless of how his government behaves, is complacent to the point of fantasy. Greece is very close to the point where they may have no choice.

Quote of the day 30th June 2015

"This may be inevitable.
   I have yet to be convinced that it is progress."

(Chris Woodhead, former Chief Inspector of Schools, final words of one of his last articles published just before he died, referring to the drift in schools away from pen, paper and books in favour of IT.)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Equal Marriage


Most people will reading this will probably have worked out where I stand on this incredibly difficult issue from the language I used in the title of the post alone.

I am in favour of both the recent UK legislation on equal marriage and the US Supreme Court decision for exactly the same reason that many opponents give for taking the opposite position.
I don't believe that it is the business of the state to tell two people who love each other and want to share their lives whether they can get married or not. Nor is it the business of the state to tell churches what they should believe and practice about marriage.

And the law that we had until the equal marriage act had precisely that problem - the law refused to let some consenting adult couples who wished to do so to call their relationship a marriage, and refused to let any church which might be willing to marry them to do so.

Let me make crystal clear that I do not believe that any church should be forced to marry two people if that is not in accordance with that church's beliefs about right and wrong, and I am in favour of protecting the religious freedom of those who don't wish in their own church to use the freedoms which the UK government through the equal marriage act, and the US Supreme court, have given.

Those who do not believe in equal marriage should not be persecuted in any way, shape or form - although expressing a different opinion is not persecution.

I have not adopted the "rainbow" personal image on Facebook on aesthetic grounds because I think it looks hideous, but this is not a reflection of my views on equal marriage!

Chris Woodhead's last Q&A


I was putting away last weekend's newspapers for recycling, and did a double take on noting a Q&A article in the Sunday Times by Chris Woodhead, former inspector of schools - who has, of course, just died, a few days after the article was published.

He was a controversial figure but one who made huge efforts to improve standards in schools.

As these were presumably among his last words published in his lifetime, it seems appropriate to repeat them here.


QN "My eight-year-old daughter came home upset last week because her teacher had reprimanded her in front of the class for forgetting her homework, admittedly for the third time in a row. I raised it with the head teacher, who said teachers had a right to mention misdemeanours in a whole-class setting.  I think the teacher should have spoken to her in private. What do you think?"

CW "It depends on the personality and age of the child and the nature of the misdemeanour. I wouldn't want a shy or nervous eight-year-old to be humiliated publicly for the sake of it, but if everyone can learn from what she has done wrong and it is handled sensitively, there could be an argument for a reprimand in front of the class. I imagine the need to present homework on time might be a problem a number of children in your daughter's class needed to be reminded of."



QN "Between Christmas and last month, my daughter's state primary school focussed almost exclusively on SATS, with regular mock exams and even a compulsory after-school maths class every week. Although she has always loved maths my daughter has now lost enthusiasm for it.

"Now SATS are over, there is little challenging work for the level 6 children. With three months until secondary school, I am concerned they will become bored and forget everything that has been drummed into them for six months. An approach to the school was rebuffed - should we be worried?"

 CW "You should indeed. In its' relentless pursuit of league table success, your daughter's school has managed to crush her enthusiasm for maths. Now, when the tests are over, it is making no effort, it seems, to challenge and inspire its' more able students. I continue to believe that SATS are essential if we are to have any sense of what individual primary schools are achieving but I have to confess that stories like yours fill me with despair." 



QN "My two grandsons are in years 4 and 5 at a junior school in Norfolk. They stay with us one night a week and we supervise their homework, but I find it strange that they don't work from textbooks, but either from the internet or sheet handouts from school. Is this normal in schools nowadays?"

 CW "Some teachers argue that no textbooks present the right information in the right way. They prefer to produce their own worksheets. Some can be very good, but there are excellent textbooks on the market too, and I wonder whether it makes sense for individual teachers to burn the midnight oil producing individual solutions to what are, after all, common challenges. Schools vary in the extent to which their teachers and pupils use technology, but the drift, of course, is for books, pens and paper to disappear into the mists of time.

"This may be inevitable. I have yet to be convinced that it is progress."

Quote of the day 29th June 2015

"There are a surprisingly large number of Greek holidays available. Maybe something to do with the idea that the airport staff won't turn up for work if the government tries to pay them in drachma.

"Also a lot of Turkish holidays. Nothing to do with it bordering on Iraq ...

"I am presuming that the holidays in Tunisia just haven't been taken down yet.

"Honestly, you need a Masters in geopolitics before you get a bit of sun these days."


(Extracts from a post by "DavidL" on Political Betting yesterday.)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Occasional Sunday Music Slot - and now for something else completely different

In this case, the music which was once associated with the words "And now for something completely different" but in this case what is different is that the performance is not a comic one but celebrates something very important - freedom and liberty. as "The Presidents' own" perform John Philip Sousa's "The Liberty Bell" with a short explanatory intro at the beginning.



And remember, #SupportOption1

Final attempt to save St Bees School

Campaigners working to save St Bees school put forward a motion yesterday at the Annual General Meeting of the St Beghian Society (the organisation for former pupils at the school) calling on the society to support the campaign to keep the school open and also proposing a motion of no confidence in the present governing body.

I have not seen any formal announcement of the result but if I correctly understand the most recent posts made on the Save St Bees School facebook page it appears the St Beghian Society did back their campaign.



Campaigners – including pupils wearing their school uniform – handed out leaflets stating that governors have ‘badly mishandled’ the situation and ask questions including

‘what went wrong?’

‘why was the school on a spending spree in the last two years’ and

‘how did the school lose control of bursaries?’

They suggested a parent-operated school as a way forward.

A heart-felt plea penned by a 10-year-old girl who has already written to the Queen to inform her of the announcement which has rocked the village and school community has appeared in the News and Star.

Prep school pupil Olivia Marsden says she is ‘scared’ about her future and that their vote is now campaigners’ ‘last chance to keep St Bees School alive’.

Her letter reads:

“I have cried every night since my Mummy and Daddy told me the news on that awful Friday.

“A lot of my friends have already left and it is very sad because they didn’t want to go and we are all worried we will not see each other again. I am scared what is going to happen to me next year and when I have to go to senior school.

“I don’t want to have to try and make new friends and I don’t want to go to a big strange senior school. I have some little medical and learning problems and I’m worried no other school will be able to offer me the help and support I get at St Bees.”

She added: “We have done everything we can to try to save our school. I have written to all the governors, to the Bishop and even to the Queen but nobody seems able to help. 

“Please help us as you are now our last chance to keep St Bees School alive and keep this amazing school open for us and all the other children for the next 432 years.”

Meanwhile the interim bursar and clerk to the governors of St Bees School has said it could be ‘some time’ before an independent report into governors’ actions is published.

Quote of the day 28th June 2015

 

 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

More on why the polls got it wrong

A very good guest slot on Political Betting here on the state of the debate about why the opinion polls were so badly out in the general election.

The anonymous author points out that polling errors underestimating support for centre-right parties seem to be

an international phenomenon:

"similar polling errors have occurred in other national elections this year.

In Israel, Likud were predicted to gain 22 seats (of 120) and ended up with 30, and last week in Denmark the blue block were expected to win by 1 or 2% and actually won by 5% – with the populist DPP notably outperforming their eve-of-election polling by 3% (21% to 18%).

On more limited polling, the same pattern can be seen in Finlandwith the Centre Party overestimated by about 3% at the expense of the populist True Finns and centre-right National Coalition Party; in Estonia, where the winning centre-right Reform Party were underestimated; in the Croatian presidential election, where the polls didn’t give the narrow winner Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović much of a chance (though interestingly the exit polls nailed it); and in Poland’s presidential election, where Andrzej Duda’s first round victory came as a total shock.

The author of the PB article (who uses the nom-de-plume "Tissue Price") then refers to a number of articles with differing opinions on what went wrong (most of which have already been linked to on this blog.)

Herding - did the pollsters lie?

For example there was the original Dan Hodges article which said that the pollsters lied.

There has been a reply to this by Matt Singh of "Number Cruncher Politics." Where Dan Hodges accused the pollsters of adjusting their results so they "herded" together, predicting Conservatives and Labour neck-and-neck so they could claim it was "too close to call" if they got it wrong, Matt argues, making a strong but not completely conclusive case, that

"the polling failure was an industry-wide problem and the evidence doesn't support the view that herding was a cause."

Dan in turn has come back and is sticking firmly to his guns, arguing

"Yes, the pollsters lied and here's the proof."

On balance I'd say that although Dan hasn't proved deliberate deceit the balance of argument is slightly more on his side, and one particularly powerful bit of evidence which I'm surprised neither mentioned but which was rightly raised in the comments thread was the Survation poll.

As Damian Lyons Lowe, founder and CEO of Survation blogged "here," his company carried out an eve-of poll survey on 6th May which found support as follows:

CON 37%
LAB 31%
LD 10
UKIP 11
GRE 5
Others (including the SNP) 6%

e.g. very close indeed to what actually happened the following day.

In his words,

'the results seemed so “out of line” with all the polling conducted by ourselves and our peers – what poll commentators would term an “outlier” – that I “chickened out” of publishing the figures – something I’m sure I’ll always regret.'

I'm minded to believe Damian's explanation of why he didn't publish that poll, which would make  this an example of herding due to (unjustified) lack of confidence in his findings rather than deliberate dishonesty.

Nevertheless, if the fact that the Survation eve-of-poll survey was pulled, and Damian's comments about why, do not constitute conclusive proof that Dan Hodges is right that there was at least some "herding" I don't know what would.

Going back to the "Tissue Price" article ...

He or she is in agreement with Peter Kellner's article, "We got it wrong. Why?" that the main problem was a classic case of so-called "shy tory" syndrome, partly caused because people did not want to stick their heads above the parapet and face hostility from left-wing friends.

Paraphrasing wildly, possibly also because some of the people who voted Conservative did not really want to admit this even to themselves, as their vote was not based on liking the Conservatives, but because when they had the pencil in one hand and the ballot paper in the other they were too scared of what Labour might do to the economy to be able to risk voting in any way that might let Labour - or worse, Labour and the SNP - into power.

The article includes several graphics, the first a tongue-in-cheek and relatively self explanatory Venn Diagram which I understand originated with Dan Hannan MEP explaining why posts on twitter were not representative of what was about to happen in the election.




Backing up the point there were also graphs relating to data from the British Election Study posted by Philip Cowley of Nottingham University which further explained why political material on Twitter and Facebook was not representative of what was about to happen in the election: supporters of the Nationalist parties - SNP and Plaid - and the Greens were proportionately most likely to post political comment on Twitter and Facebook, then Labour supporters. Conservative, UKIP and Lib/Dem supporters were less likely than any of these to post their political views, with Conservatives the least likely of the three.



And that is in the context that the Conservative Campaign Centre was sending out vast quantities of what I think were pretty good campaign material to post on Twitter and Facebook, and most actual Conservative activists like myself were posting it.

Which must mean that by comparison with people on the left, Conservative voters other than activists were comparatively quiet. It does back up the "shy Tory" narrative.

Putting everything together I come up with three conclusions

1) Polls can be useful but do not put too much trust in them - they can also be wrong

2) Try to get your information and views from a range of sources and not just the "echo chamber" you already agree with. This particularly applies to social media (but it can apply to face-to-face conversations with friends as well.)

3) Never take an election (or referendum) result for granted.

Quote of the day 27th June 2015

"It is so riddled with loopholes and exemptions that those who can afford to find them will be able to. It's time for a radical simplification ... to make the line between 'avoidance' and 'evasion' more obvious, and with fairer and lower taxes across the board."

(Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the Taxpayers' alliance, on the tax system.)

He was speaking following the publication of Amazon's 2014 tax returns. The quote seemed apposite again this week following the news just released this week that Amazon reported just £34 million of profit in the UK and therefore paid £11.9 million in tax against UK revenues of £5.3 billion last year.

To be clear about what concerns me on this. If Amazon really only made £34 million profit on £5.3 billion of UK revenue then the shareholders of Amazon should fire their managers for incompetence. If their true profit on UK operations was, as I think far more likely, between four and ten times larger than that, then there is a problem with our Tax system, exactly as Jonathan Isaby says. and the government should urgently act on his advice.

Friday, June 26, 2015

When Truth and Parody are almost indistinguishable

It is often said that "Many a true word is spoken in jest."

I have learned the hard way that you have to be extremely careful when you use irony, because if it is remotely possible for anyone to take you at your word, then someone will do so. Indeed, if you are up against an unscrupulous opponent, the fact that no reasonable and intelligent person could possibly interpret your remarks in a particular way will not always stop them doing so.

I recall once comparing a humane and non-lethal programme (e.g. not a cull) to check Whitehaven's seagull problem to Labour councillors losing their seats. The fact that I had specifically used the words "non-lethal" did not stop Copeland Labour party from planting a letter in the Whitehaven news accusing me of joking about the assassination of Labour councillors.

Earlier this evening I posted a link on Facebook to an article on a parody site about Greece getting their 1274th final warning.

It was funny because all the references in the article to "We really mean it this time, honest. Probably" were ridiculous but yet carried the ring of truth.

And yet in another sense it wasn't funny because you get the impression that the Greek government thought that despite all the "final warnings" they would never actually be allowed to crash out of the Euro. And I think they're wrong.

Sometimes it is very hard to spot where reality ends and humour begins



Labour and Business

As the Daily Telegraph pointed out recently,

"There seems to be little need for the Conservatives to criticise Labour any more. Labour does the job for them."

Mary Creagh, who did not get enough nominations to stand to be leader of the Labour party, has revealed a story of what happened late last year, when Labour was considering adopting the policy of devolving the regulation of bus services.

Ms Creagh, then shadow transport secretary, supported the policy on her view of its' merits but realised that it might have an impact upon service providers’ profits.

She therefore, as an act of courtesy, telephoned the bus companies to brief them.

Miliband's office asked Mary Creagh why she had done this. She explained that A Labour government would need to work closely with the bus companies of they were implementing such a policy to see that everything went to plan.

But, complained the leadership, what they really wanted to do was “pick a fight” with the service providers to give the impression that Labour was taking on vested interests.

Ed Miliband and his close associates were more interested in the political benefit they thought they would get from manufacturing a row with business than with the nuts and bolts of whether the policy would actually work or benefit consumers.

You can read the story at

 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/11672892/Labour-shows-that-it-is-no-friend-to-working-people.html

An excellent illustration of why the Labour party under Ed Miliban's leadership was not fit to run the country and would have been a disaster if they had been elected last month.

EU Summit progress:

DavidCameron, who wants to reform the UK's membership of the EU before holding an in/out referendum of the British public by the end of 2017, tweeted that "significant progress" had been made in Brussels at this week's EU summit.

The prime minister, who is does not want to undermine his negotiating position by being too explicit about what concession he might or might not be willing to make, has not set out in full detail what he wants but his key demands include:
  • An opt-out on the core EU aim of "ever closer union"
  • The sovereignty of national parliaments to be boosted, so groups of them can block proposed EU legislation
  • Safeguard the City of London and other financial centres outside the eurozone
  • Curb EU immigration by cutting benefits
  • Make the EU more streamlined and competitive
To get what it wants the UK believes it will need to rewrite treaties agreed by all 28 EU members.

Downing Street has said the prime minister remains committed to "proper, full-on treaty change" but it has acknowledged this is unlikely by the end of 2017 since it would trigger referendums in other EU countries as well.

The BBC says the UK government is understood to be seeking "legally-binding" guarantees by the time of the referendum that EU treaties would be changed at some point in the future.

Quote of the day 26th June 2015


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Helping people to start businesses and create jobs


The Lib/Dem Gotterdammerung

"Political Betting" this morning recommends the account by Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt in this morning's Guardian of the downfall of the Lib/Dems, "The Clegg Catastrophe," as a "must read."

Certainly for political anoraks like me it is compulsive reading.

The most striking thing about it is the similarities between the Lib/Dem collapse between 2010 and May 2015 and the Conservative collapse between Black Wednesday and the 1997 election.

I particularly noted the similarity of a comment I remember being made in 1997 to the conclusion of this article.

The biggest strength of the "First Past the Post" system is that by magnifying the impact of changes in support it effectively gives the electorate a megaphone and forces politicians to pay attention to the consequences if they do things which annoy voters. In general I regard that as a very good thing but it can be cruel at times. On this subject I recall that in 1997 someone wrote along the lines that

The voters politely asked the Conservative government to leave. The electoral system machine-gunned everyone wearing a blue rosette and left them lying, riddled with bullet holes, in the gutter.

Now compare that with this:

“Recently, Clegg was approached by a distressed woman while shopping on his local high street in Putney. Speaking through tears, she told Clegg that his party did not deserve the battering it had received from the British electorate. Buoyed by the heartfelt sympathy from a wellwisher, Clegg told the woman not to worry and thanked her for supporting the Lib Dems – only to be told that she had voted Green.

'People were quite angry,' Coetzee [a Lib/Dem strategist] said. 'They wanted to dish out a slap on the wrist – and then found they’d cut the hand off and were quite horrified by what had happened. Then they went around saying: ‘Oh I’m terribly sorry, I’ve cut your hand off.’'”

But such defeats are an inescapable aspect of democratic politics and anyone who cannot cope with it should not be involved in politics. Democracy is preferable to any other form of politics, not least because in some of them you can end up riddled with real bullet holes, not just metaphorical ones.

Or as Winston Churchill put it, democracy is the worst system there is, except for all the others.

The article covers the attempted Oakeshott coup, the development of Lib/Dem strategy before and after the election and various possible theories about why they did so badly.

Everyone knew even before the 2010 election that if there ever was a hung parliament the Lib/Dems would have to decide which way to jump and any decision would cost them votes.

If they went into any government they would lose the "none of the above" protest vote, but if they were offered a chance to go into government and turned out down they would lose much of their "grown-up" support from people who wanted them to make a real change. If they went into a government with the Conservatives they would lose most of their left-wing support, if they went into one with Labour they would lose the centre-right.

But even so, nobody expected them to lose quite so much support and so badly. And reading through the article what crystallised my thoughts on the issue is that it may have been the impact of the Student Fees issue on Trust.

Labour had previously got away doing exactly the same as the Lib/Dems did on university fees, not once but twice (breaking promises about student tuition fees made at both the 1997 and 2001 elections.) Indeed, when I watched Labour's "incredible shrinking Clegg" PPB my reaction was not contempt for the Lib/Dem leader but for the Labour hypocrites who made and signed off that broadcast, since their own party had twice been guilty of exactly the same betrayal for which they were personally maligning Nick Clegg,

I think the reason Labour largely got away with this and the Lib/Dems didn't may have been a difference in the USP (unique selling point) of the two parties. Labour's appeal is based on support for the idea of what they see as a fairer distribution of wealth, a romanticised idea of support for the ordinary working man, and support for the public sector. Neither Labour nor any other party can avoid taking a hit if the public become convinced that they are totally untrustworthy, or much worse than the other parties, but Labour can survive being seen to break the odd promise if their own supporters and potential supporters think they will deliver what they might call "a fairer society."

The Lib/Dems, however, had made being trustworthy, honest brokers, and more honest than most parties a big part of their pitch. Being seen to break one of their most high-profile promises hurt them badly on the issue of trust, a hit from which they have yet to recover.

Which brings me back to the parallels with between 2010 to 2015 and 1992 to 1997.

The damage to the Lib/Dems reputation for trustworthiness caused by student tuition fees holed them below the waterline in exactly the same way that Black Wednesday wrecked the Conservatives' reputation for economic competence and holed not just John Major's government, but the party, below the waterline.

The good news for the Lib/Dems is that the 2015 election shows that the Conservatives have finally managed to restore our reputation for economic competence, which demonstrates that such holes can eventually be repaired. The bad news is that it took us 23 years to do it.

Four years of excellent economic management under Ken Clarke from 1993 to 1997 was not enough: it took until the economy went off a cliff on Labour's watch and the repair process was seen to begin under a Conservative chancellor that it again became natural for people to regard the Conservatives as  the best party to run the economy.

The lesson here for the Lib/Dems is that they need to rebuild a reputation for being trustworthy, which will be very hard in opposition, but they must start by making sure their election promises are things they would be able to deliver.

The lesson here for the Conservatives is that now that George Osborne has with considerable effort in very difficult circumstances, won back our reputation for running the economy well, we absolutely cannot afford to lose it again.

So I'm going to finish this blog post by linking for the second time to an Economist article on being ready for the next recession, which any Conservative who has not yet seen it should read.


You can find this article at:

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21654053-it-only-matter-time-next-recession-strikes-rich-world-not-ready-watch.

Did the polling companies skew their results ?

I usually operate on the basis that nine times out of ten a "cock-up theory" will be closer to the truth than a "conspiracy theory." As the saying sometimes called "Hanlon's Razor" puts it,

"Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence."

Yesterday in his Telegraph blog Dan Hodges accused the polling companies of lying, saying that they "clustered" at the end of the campaign.

As he quite rightly says, the question after the election was "why were the polls so wrong?" but during the campaign itself the question we were asking was "why are the polls all over the place?"

His answer is that towards the end of the campaign they deliberately made sure they were producing similar answers as close as possible to each other and to the "too close to call" space so that each company would minimise the risk of looking uniquely incompetent if that position were wrong.

I don't know that I agree with the word "lying" as they may have genuinely been in doubt about why their numbers were at variance with each other. For example, the polling company who said just after the election that they had declined to publish a poll on the eve of the election which subsequently turned out to be almost exactly right, because they thought it was an "outlier," may have been telling the truth about their motives.

However, it would have been better had they been more open about the degree of doubt they felt in that case. And one lesson of the election should be that this kind of suppression or adjustment of data may be a very bad idea.

Whether or not you think there was deliberate cheating involved, it has to be said that looking at the range of outcomes predicted in the early stages of the campaign, and how they converged at the end,  Dan makes an extremely strong argument.

The polling data appears to have been, shall we say, "adjusted" in a way which may or may not have been deliberately dishonest but was certainly unwise.

Quote of the day 25th June 2015

“Cynic, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are not as they ought to be.”
  
( Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary )

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

David Cameron and Sayeeda Warsi are both right

The Prime Minister and Baroness Warsi both made carefully nuanced, responsible speeches this week about what we can do concerning terrorism.

Unfortunately the way both speeches were reported was not entirely helpful and could easily give someone who only glimpsed the headlines the impression that they were saying entirely opposed things. They were not, and I agree with what both actually said.

Dan Hannan MEP has an excellent Conservative Home column which addresses the similarities between the radical Muslim loonies who support groups like ISIS and similar loonies of other races and creeds such as the South Carolina gunman:

"British Jihadis and the Charleston murderer have more in common than they might like to admit."

This is what he says about how the nuances disappeared from both DC's and Sayeeda Warsi's speeches in the way they were reported:

"As is so often the case in politics, both made more balanced and measured arguments than the headlines suggested. The Prime Minister, speaking at a security conference in Bratislava, correctly recognised that the lure of revolutionary violence was not new: “We’ve always had angry young men and women buying into supposedly revolutionary causes.”

"He then addressed the problem of those Muslim radicals who, as he put it, “don’t go as far as advocating violence, but who do buy into some of these prejudices giving the extreme Islamist narrative weight and telling fellow Muslims, you are part of this’”.

"Inevitably, the newspapers summarised his intervention as telling Muslims that they ought to be doing more to rein in the jihadis. Which, if you think about it, would be as silly as telling white people that they ought to do more to rein in the next Dylann Roof. "

"In reality, the Prime Minister did no such thing. He is well aware that mosques up and down Britain regularly condemn ISIS. Several British imams have gone so far as to pronounce fatwas against the young people drawn to its black flag. David Cameron was not addressing British Muslims en bloc. He was talking about the hate preachers who, though few, engender much misery."

"Sayeeda Warsi, for her part, acknowledged the truth of much of what the Prime Minister was saying, but fretted that the overall impression – British leader goes overseas to lecture Muslims – might vindicate part of the jihadi narrative, namely the belief that there is a conflict between being a good Muslim and being a valued citizen of a Western democracy."

"You can see her point, too. The radicals who incite the grievances of troubled young people, while themselves remaining comfortable in Western homes, are monsters; but they and their sympathisers are sparse."