Thursday, November 26, 2015

Quote of the day 26th November 2015

"If I went to Brent Cross to buy a new sweater and decided not to get one because it was too expensive, would I be making an ideological statement about shopping?

Or Society?

Or the future of Mankind?

Or would I just be, like, putting up with my old sweater for the time being while I saved up for a new one?

In the past few years, whenever there has been a budget, or an autumn statement, I have been astonished to discover how ideological I am. Apparently my innocent view that it is a good idea to be able to pay for the goods you purchase makes me a small-state neo-liberal Tory free market fundamentalist. Which seems quite a complicated description for just wanting things to add up.

Austerity, apparently, is a philosophy, and you can be anti-it. But, really, who wants to be austere? We all like "stuff" and prefer not to be without it. We are all anti-austerity when the finances mean that we don't have to make difficult choices.

Today the Chancellor will announce the latest measures necessary for us to stop spending more than we are willing to pay for.

Already, in advance, this has been described as a vicious and unnecessary ideological attack on the state and our sense of communal obligation. Preposterously, one normally insightful columnist produced a piece of analysis headed 'Everything we hold dear is being cut to the bone. Weep for our country.' Blimey."

"The spearhead of this attack is the accusation (it is always made as an accusation) that the proportion of GDP spent by the sate will come down to something like 36 per cent whereas before 2010 it was more like 47 per cent. This call is supposed to show that the extremists (me for instance)are advancing the destruction of society through an ideological aversion to the state."

"Let's leave to one side the fact that 36 per cent of national income is quite a lot ... and consider the link being made between the 36 per cent figure and the size of the state. A moment's though reveals the attack as a confused mess.

First the proportion of national income spent by the state depends on two things. One of them, obviously, is the amount of government spending. the other - easy to miss, this one - is the amount of national income. When national income rises, a given amount of state spending will form a smaller proportion of GDP. But something else happens at the same time When national income rises, there are things that the government used to spend money on that it doesn't need to spend as much on. Benefits for unemployed people, for instance.

So the proportion of national income spent by the state is not a good measure of ideology."

"Tony Blair fought the 2001 election with his government spending a proportion of national income that was roughly 36 per cent, or perhaps a little less. Was this an ideological attempt to destroy the state?"

"The social structure wasn't collapsing in 2001 ... Yet now public spending will be the same proportion of a larger sum. We know, in other words, that we can afford reasonable services for the available sum because we had reasonable services in the past for less money."

"Yet clearly the autumn statement will involve choices. Between 2000 and 2006, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair engaged in a structural increase in public spending without a matching increase in taxation. You cannot do this for ever."

"Whatever the choice, one thing is clear. Two plus two has to equal four. However unpopular that is."

(Extracts from an article in The Times yesterday by Danny Finkelstein called "If you're anti-austerity, you can't do 2 + 2 = 4")

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Police Budgets protected in real terms

A little early to break out the champagne given that we still do not know exactly how the budget will be allocated between different police forces.

But on the face of it, the announcement in today's Autumn Statement that the overall police budget will be maintained in real terms should make it an awful lot more likely that the police forces in Cumbria and the rest of the North West will have enough money to maintain a first-class service to protect the public.

Obviously the government has decided that after what happened in Paris the other week this is not the time to be making big cuts in policing.

I welcome this and am sure that the thousands of residents of Cumbria who signed the petition to protect our police funding will feel the same way.

Of Trident Submarines, Robots and Cybernats ...

From the pages of Hansard reporting a debate which took place in the House of Commons yesterday on a motion about Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent proposed by the Scottish National Party.

The SNP, like the Leader of the Labour party although many of his MPs disagree, do not want Britain to have a nuclear deterrent. They want to scrap Trident, leaving Britain less effectively defended and with serious consequences for the jobs of many people in both Cumbria and Scotland.

The SNP had with incompetence which is wholly characteristic, proposed the motion that

"That this House believes that Trident should not be removed."

This turned out to be a typo, and they actually meant to propose

"That this House believes that Trident should not be renewed."

and argued that the nuclear deterrent should be scrapped. The Defence secretary replied and what he had to say included the following:

Michael Fallon:

"Successive Labour and Conservative Governments have judged that a minimum credible nuclear deterrent is critical to our national security—that a nuclear deterrent is the only assured way of deterring nuclear threats and blackmail by nuclear states. For more than 60 years, it has done that job.

Whatever side of the argument we are on, let us pay tribute to the crews of HMS Vanguard, Vengeance, Victorious and Vigilant, their families and all those who ensure, and have ensured, that one of those boats is on patrol 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

"The Government were elected on a manifesto commitment to replace the Vanguard submarines, and it takes over a decade to build and trial a nuclear submarine, so we have to take that decision in 2016. Design work is already far advanced, and in yesterday’s review we announced further investment of £600 million, which takes the assessment phase cost from £3.3 billion to £3.9 billion."

"I want to make three basic points about why renewal is vital. First, this is about realism. We are of course committed to creating the conditions where nuclear weapons will no longer be necessary. We have reduced our nuclear forces by well over half since the height of the cold war; this very year, I cut the number of deployed warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40, and by the mid-2020s, we will have reduced our overall stockpile of nuclear weapons to no more than 180 warheads."

"Unfortunately, those actions have not been matched by any other nuclear nation or stopped unstable nations seeking to acquire or develop nuclear weapons."

"My second point is about the practical effect of the deterrent. Our nuclear deterrent works. It deters aggression every single day. There have been many conflicts in the last six decades, and not one of them has involved a direct conflict between nuclear states. Not one country under the protection of an extended nuclear umbrella has been invaded. Our nuclear deterrent is operationally independent" ...  "and its command and control system as well as its decision-making apparatus are ours, and ours alone. It offers, of course, a second centre of decision making within NATO that will complicate an adversary’s plans. It is worth reminding ourselves that NATO is a nuclear alliance. One of the absurdities, if I may say so, of the Scottish National party’s position is that while opposing Trident it would—if voters had not rejected its separatism last year—have sought NATO membership and would then have benefited from its nuclear umbrella."

"The third reason we must renew our nuclear submarines is that there is no alternative at the moment. How do we know that? We commissioned the Trident alternatives review in 2013. Having looked at all the alternatives; non-submarine alternatives, other submarine alternatives, non-continuous deterrent; it demonstrated that no alternative system is as capable or cost-effective as the Trident-based deterrent. If we accept that there is a threat - perhaps the SNP does not - that needs to be deterred, and if we accept that our enemies work nights and weekends, we must also accept that there can be no half-measures. A four-boat continuous at-sea posture is the minimum way to offer the security we need."

"It is scarcely believable that other nations, hearing the news from 4 o’clock today in the House of Commons, will suddenly decide to disarm or stop seeking nuclear weapons. There are 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world today. We wish there were not, but there are. Anybody voting in the Division tonight has to answer who, after we had got rid of our nuclear weapons, would continue to provide the deterrent."

"There have been some wild reports, accentuated today, suggesting that the Trident replacement will cost £167 billion."

"Let us look at the facts. We estimate that four new submarines would cost £31 billion—a cost spread over 35 years, which amounts to an insurance policy of less than 0.2% per year of total Government spending for a capability that will remain in service until 2060."

Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab) asked him:

"Does the Secretary of State agree that, if we want to keep Britain safe, it is not a question of choosing between renewing our nuclear deterrent and taking the necessary action against ISIL—given that both are vital—and that it would be foolhardy, not to say arrogant, to believe that anyone in the House can predict the risks and threats that Britain will face in the next 30 or 40 years?"

Michael Fallon: "I could not have put it better. In our latest assessment, which is contained in the document that was published yesterday, we tried to estimate the threats to our country. We should be honest and humble about the fact that the 2010 review did not predict the resurgence of Russia and the action that it took in Crimea and Ukraine; nor did it predict the rise of ISIL. We try to predict, but we cannot be sure further ahead."

"This is not a time to gamble with our security; on the contrary, it is a time to safeguard this generation and generations to come. Let me put it as simply as the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) just put it to me. If Members on either side of the House can be absolutely sure that no nuclear threat to this country will emerge throughout the 2030s, the 2040s and the 2050s, they should vote for the motion. I cannot be sure of that, and Conservative Members are not prepared to gamble with our nation’s security."

Later it was noted that the SNP had not set out how they would deal with the costs in jobs or disposal of axing Trident but appeared to have tried to spend the money to be saved by axing Trident in several different ways:

Liz Kendall: "Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that even though the SNP called this debate, it has failed to set out its position either on how it would replace jobs or how it would dispose of the weapons? Should not the debate have been about its policy, as it called this debate today?"

Toby Perkins: "For the second time today, my hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. There is, of course, a whole series of inconsistencies in the SNP position. Today we were hearing that a decision to go forward with Trident would be choosing to buy nuclear capability on the backs of the poor, yet only half an hour before that we had heard SNP Members saying all the money being spent on Trident would instead be spent on conventional weapons. Either the money they are saving from Trident is going to be spent on hospitals, schools and transport, or it is going to be spent on conventional forces."

"No one can blame the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute" (the proposer of the SNP motion) "for being so confused, however, because if we look back through the history of the SNP, we see that this confusion is very long standing.

In 2012, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) was saying all the savings would be spent on conventional defence, then he and Nicola Sturgeon were saying in 2014 that they would be spending the money saved on Trident on childcare, then on “Good Morning Scotland” it was instead going to be spent on tackling youth unemployment and on colleges, and the Scottish Parliament motion in 2012 said it should be spent on welfare. So there is a long history of the SNP being utterly baffled about what this money is going to be spent on.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): "Would the hon. Gentleman be interested to hear that only a couple of weeks back I was being heckled that this magic money-tree could be spent on tax credits as well? That is another example to add to his long list."

Toby Perkins: "If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will put that on the end of my list."

Those were perhaps some  of the most important of the many serious contributions to the debate from all sides.

But a little later, while one of Cumbria's Labour MPs was speaking, lots of Scottish National Party MPs tried to intervene, which prompting this exchange which I repeat without comment:

John Woodcock: "You see, Madam Deputy Speaker, SNP Members do not like people holding them to account for their terrible failure. I was just explaining the disgraceful mess that they are making of schools in Scotland, where the poorest children are being left behind"

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP) rose
John Woodcock: "If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I am not giving way. I would have been happy to take an intervention from every single one of you robots—you are getting your instruction—but the proposer of the motion refused point blank to take my intervention, so I am not taking any from a single one of you."

John Nicolson: "On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May we have some clarification on whether the charming expression “robot” is parliamentary language or not?"
Madam Deputy Speaker: "Yes, Mr Nicolson, I was just turning over in my mind whether the description “robot” for a Member of this House would be considered derogatory. I have come to the conclusion that in some circumstances it might, and in some it might not. For the moment, I am concluding, for my own peace of mind, that the hon. Gentleman was thinking of a high-functioning, intelligent robot. Therefore, for the moment, I will not call him to order for the use of the word, but I am sure the House will be warned that we should be very careful in our use of language."
Ian Paisley (Junior): "Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek clarification: I thought the hon. Gentleman called the hon. Members “Roberts”, and anyone from Scotland should not mind that reference, bearing in mind Robbie the Bruce."
Madam Deputy Speaker: "No, on the contrary. As to Mr Paisley’s point of order, every eldest male member of my family for the past 100 years has been called Robert; it must be a good thing."
Mr Jamie Reed: "Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Given that colleagues from the SNP will misreport this debate on Twitter, would the use of the term “cybernat” be acceptable?"
Madam Deputy Speaker: "We will have no more points of order on this issue. Any term that is considered to be in any way derogatory towards an honourable Member of this House will not be allowed, and I will be listening very carefully for the rest of the debate."
John Woodcock: "Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am very happy to refer to SNP Members as honourable robots if that is any help, but robots they are, following their instructions in an extraordinary unity almost never seen before in this place.

I was making a point about the failure on hospitals over which the SNP is presiding—there is failure on waiting times, intolerable pressure on nurses and so on. Instead of addressing those points, the SNP seeks this parliamentary distraction of a debate on Trident, and we will not fall for it."

Later, winding up the debate, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, Philip Dunne, said

"I say to those Labour Members who share my concern to maintain continuous at-sea deterrence, Let your conscience guide you into the right Division Lobby this afternoon. I urge Members of both sides of the House to do the right thing for the whole of the UK, not just for today but for tomorrow, and restore the consensus that has kept us safe for decades."

George Osborne writes about today's Autumn Statement

The Chancellor of the Exchequer writes:

"The Autumn Statement I gave today delivers on the promise we made to the British people that we would put their security first:
  • To protect our economic security, by taking the difficult decisions to live within our means and bring our debts down. The public spending plans I set out today mean we will reach a surplus of £10.1 billion in 2019/20 – that’s higher than was forecast at the Budget and means Britain will be out of the red and into the black.
  • To protect our national security, by defending our country’s interests abroad and keeping our citizens safe at home. There will be no cuts in the police budget with real terms protection for police funding and we deliver on our commitment to spend 2 per cent of our national income on defence.
But this Spending Review does not just ensure the economic and national security of our country, it builds on that with:
  • Full funding for the Five Year Forward View that the NHS itself put forward as the plan for its future with the first £6 billion delivered up-front next year.
  • The biggest real terms increase to the basic State Pension in 15 years. Thanks to our commitment to the triple lock, next year the basic state pension will rise by £3.35 to £119.30 a week.
  • The biggest housebuilding programme by any government since the 1970s with a doubling of the housing budget to over £2 billion a year. Our bold plan to back families who aspire to buy their own home will deliver 400,000 new homes by the end of the decade.
  • The phasing out entirely of the local government grant. By the end of the parliament local government will keep all of the revenue from business rates. We will abolish the uniform business rate so councils will be able to cut rates to attract a new business to their area, but because the amount the government raises in business rates is much greater than the amount we give to local councils through the local government grant we will phase that grant out entirely and devolve additional responsibilities.
  • A new apprenticeship levy to deliver 3 million apprenticeships. This will ensure large businesses share the cost of training people, but no business with a pay bill below £3 million will have to pay. We will also increase the funding for each apprenticeship to make sure these are high quality apprenticeships.
  • Real terms protection of schools budget. We will maintain funding for free infant school meals, protect rates for the pupil premium, and increase the cash in the dedicated schools grant. We’re also going to open 500 new free schools and University Technical Colleges, and invest £23 billion in school buildings and 600,000 new school places.
  • The largest ever investment in free childcare so working families get the help they need. From 2017, we will fund 30 hours of free childcare for working families with 3 and 4 year olds. We’ll support £10,000 of childcare costs tax free and to support nurseries delivering more free places for parents we’ll increase the funding for the sector by £300 million.
  • The improvement in the nation’s finances used to help on tax credits. Because of the improvement in the public finances, the simplest thing to do is not to phase these changes in, but to avoid them altogether. Tax credits are being phased out anyway as we introduce universal credit.
  • An average saving of £30 from the projected energy bills of 24 million households by introducing a cheaper domestic energy efficiency scheme.
Five years ago, when I presented our first Spending Review, our economy was in crisis and as the letter Labour left behind said: there was no money left. Our job then was to rescue Britain. Today, our job is to rebuild Britain. Build our finances. Build our defences. Build our society.

Thank you,
George Osborne
Chancellor of the Exchequer"

Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

Brown's Poison Pills part 5: The Banking Crash

One of the mistakes which probably helped to cost Ed Miliband the 2015 election was when he was asked on TV “Do you accept that when Labour was last in power, it overspent?” and began his answer with the basically incredible response "No, I don't."

Cue gasps in the studio and headlines about how this showed Labour had not learned their lesson.

Ironically, that question had been anticipated by Labour's team and they had agreed a vastly more credible response - which although it would not have got them totally off the hook would have both demonstrated ability to learn and understand what went wrong while still minimising (and in my opinion understating) their responsibility for the recession.

According to  Patrick Wintour in The Guardian, the prepared response to that question had been along the following lines:

“I don’t think every penny was well spent. I can give you plenty of examples where the last Labour government did not spend money well and, as someone who believes that spending on health and education can change lives, it is incumbent on me to make sure that every pound is well spent. But if you are asking me, ‘Did that spending actually cause the crash?’, the answer is ‘No.’ The answer lies in failure to regulate the banks.”

Labour did overspend: that overspending made the recession much more painful than it would otherwise have been and was the main reason that the painful decisions usually described as "austerity" would have been pretty much unavoidable for whoever had won the 2010 and 2015 general elections.

Labour's prepared answer which Miliband was supposed to give was correct in that the actual trigger for the crash was a banking crisis following the failure of poor investments by a number of  banks, particularly in Britain and America, and a failure by government to properly regulate them.

However, this really does not exculpate the previous Labour government in general, or Gordon Brown in particular, of responsibility for a major share of blame for the recession.

Were Miliband's team hoping that the British electorate had forgotten who introduced the system of bank regulation which was in place at the time the decisions were made which led to the banking crisis?

They probably were, and some people probably had, but here is the answer in two words.


At almost exactly the time he gave the monetary policy committee of the Bank of England control over interest rates (one of the very few decisions by Gordon Brown which I strongly support) he also decided that, not wanting the Bank to have too much power, it should lose it's powers to regulate the banks.

So the very experienced and effective team at the Bank of England which had done an extremely good job of regulating the banks for decades was disbanded, and a set of new institutions set up.

To what extent the fact that this new system abysmally failed was due to mistakes by the new set of regulators, and to what extent it was due to the steer towards light regulation combined with institutional framework and the set of powers and resources they were given by the UK government (e.g. Gordon Brown) is beyond my expertise to judge. What is not in dispute, and certainly cannot be disputed by the Labour party given their view referred to above that it was the failure of bank regulation and not overspending which caused the crash, is that the system of bank regulation introduced by Gordon Brown was a catastrophic failure.

The recession was of course a global one, and Britain was not the only country which had failed to adequately regulate it's financial institutions, or the only one to suffer the consequences. Even if the British government and British banks had managed everything perfectly we would probably still have been affected, though possibly not as severely. The major part of the debt which results from the bank bailouts would not have been necessary, for a start.

But the British government and British banks did not manage everything perfectly and "it started in America" is up there with "The dog ate my homework" in the litany of pathetic excuses.

Insofar as any one person bears the primary responsibility for the specifically British mistakes which contributed to the crash, the recession, and all the pain which has resulted over the past few years - including the build up of debt and the "austerity" required to bring that under control - that person was Gordon Brown.

It is often said that the careers of chancellors careers end in failure, the rest get out in time. There is a certain amount of poetic justice that the reputation of Gordon Brown's premiership was largely destroyed because the mistakes he had made as chancellor came back to haunt him. What a pity that all the rest of the population of the UK also had to bear the consequences.

Dan Jarvis on Syria

Labour's leader appears to be unable to move out of his 70's hard left revival comfort zone, but there are some opposition MPs who are showing signs that a cross-party consensus may be available to take action against DA'ESH.

Labour MP and former soldier Dan Jarvis has an article in the Guardian, "My five tests for backing military action in Syria" which unlike his party's leader, makes sense. His article begins

"What heightens our grief and horror over the atrocities in Paris is the knowledge that they could easily have happened to us here in the UK. Our country experienced its own pain a few months ago when 30 British holidaymakers were murdered on the beaches of Tunisia. Both were strikes against all decent and civilised people.

  "They underline how Islamic State hates us for who we are, not for what we do. Any idea that these fanatical terrorists will leave us alone if we leave them alone is misguided. We must confront Isis and its poisonous ideology wherever we find them. That’s why I was one of 524 MPs who voted a year ago to support airstrikes targeting Isis’s strongholds in Iraq – at the invitation of the Iraqi government. There is no logic, however, in opposing the jihadists only in Iraq – especially when they do not recognise any border between their bases in Iraq and Syria."

After noting that

"the resolution unanimously agreed at the UN security council on Friday gives us a compelling mandate to act – legally and morally."

Jarvis sets out the basis on which he could support intervention - which appeared reasonable to my non-expert opinion - and concludes

"Much has been said in recent days of the importance of learning the lessons of recent conflicts. As someone who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict zones, memories weigh heavily on my mind. Of course we must learn from the past, but we must not become prisoners of it either.

"This is a moment when we should put party politics aside in the national interest. We have a duty to stand together and confront as one this common enemy. If the prime minister can show he has a wider strategy to do that, he will have my support."

Quote of the day 25th November 2015

(J.K.Rowling - quote from "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone")

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

David Cameron writes

At the election, Britain voted for strong leadership, a clear economic plan and a brighter, more secure future – I will not let you down.

It is thanks to your support that we are able to put Conservative policies into action: a clear plan to reduce the deficit, lower taxes for hardworking people, strong defence, and dignity and security in old age.
In contrast, the Labour Party have moved even further to the left. In just two months they have confirmed that if given the chance to govern again they would borrow more money, spend more on welfare, and even print money to pay for it.
Meanwhile, we are getting on with the job of delivering what we said we would do at the election: providing security at every stage of people’s lives.
We simply cannot let Labour back into power. Please donate today and let’s protect our country now and into the future.
Whatever you give will make a real and lasting difference to our campaign to secure Britain’s future.
With thanks and best wishes,
David Cameron
PS Thank you very much if you have already donated – your contribution will be a huge help to our campaign.

Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

The Times repeats the same trick that the Sun pulled yesterday:

Today The Times repeats the same misleading misrepresentation of an opinion poll to give an exaggerated impression of support among British Muslims for DA'ESH, (the so-called "Islamic State,") which The Sun published yesterday.

I suppose we should be grateful that this time the misleading headline appeared on page 11 and not the front page. However, like The Sun, they referred to the results of a Survation polling question which did not mention "ISIS" under that name or "IS," "ISIL," "DA'ESH" or any other of the names by which the organisation has been described, and misrepresented those results as suggesting that nearly a fifth of British Muslims has "sympathy for ISIS", which is not a safe inference from that poll.

It's just possible that the Sun's conduct could have been foolish rather than irresponsible. I can't believe whoever decided to repeat the story in The Times did not see any of the justified criticism which their sister paper's front page attracted. Shame on them.

No apology for repeating the link I used last night to a classic "Yes Prime Minister" clip on exactly this sort of opinion poll trick  ...

No apology either for repeating this graphic which shows how similar the views of British Muslims on the subject are to those of the rest of us:

Quote of the day 24th November

Interview on the Today programme yesterday about Jeremy Corbyn's leadership

Ed Miliband: “I’m not gonna be a back-seat driver.”
Jim Naughtie: “Well having crashed the car it’s difficult to do that.”
Ed Miliband: “Thanks.”

Monday, November 23, 2015

Did the Cinemas move the goalposts on the Church of England advert?

Taking this blog and facebook together, the majority of comments here and Facebook to my posts about the Church of England adverts have been from people supportive of the idea of banning political and religious adverts.

Though I am also told that there have been a lot of people including moderate atheists and representatives of other religions who have complained in no uncertain terms about the ban and said that they do not find the banned Church of England advert showing people reading the Lord's Prayer in any way offensive.

Both sides are entitled to their opinion and the cinemas are entitled to set their own policy, but on at least one important point, it is beginning to look very much as though the supporters of the cinema and critics of the Church were wrong on a point of fact, and one of posts on my blog supportive of the advert and against the DCM decision was right.

Several people have said there was a "pre-existing policy" to ban such adverts. Digital Cinema Media (DCM) certainly appeared to give that impression but in fact it would appear that this is not the case.

According to the Daily Telegraph,

"Email correspondence between the Church and DCM shows that in July a member of the company’s sales team offered the Church a 55 per cent discount if they signed a deal for the ad campaign, which it is understood would then have cost in the region of £250,000."

It was only a month later that the Church was told the cinemas could not carry the advertisement after all because they could not “carry any ads of a religious nature”.

The Church of England says that when their Director of Communications asked for a copy of the policy as recently as September 17 he was told by DCM’s finance director that “there is no formal policy document”.

This week DCM were pointing journalists to a policy which is now available on their website, but a company spokesman did not respond to requests from the Daily Telegraph to clarify when the policy had been drawn up.

I do not think Digital Cinema Media come very well out of this affair.

Classic "Yes Prime Minister" - Sir Humphrey on how to rig an opinion poll

Further to my previous post on the poll quoted on the front page of today's Sun newspaper, here is a brilliant piece from "Yes Prime Minister" in which Sir Humphrey demonstrates to Bernard how you get an opinion  poll to give whichever result you want ...

How not to help community relations and the fight against terrorism ...

One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with terrorist threats like Al Qaeda and DA'ESH (the so-called "Islamic State") is to effectively get over the message that because these murderous extremists are our enemy does not make ordinary decent Muslims our enemy.

One way to think of this, though the gulf is even wider, is to point out the parallel with the communal violence in Northern Ireland in our recent history. That conflict had a religious element and a political element although it was really a struggle between two communities. But one side was normally identified as Catholic and the other as Protestant.

Just as a few days ago at the Radison Blu in Mali, the Jihadi killers selected some of their potential victims on religions grounds - they asked them to recite the Shahada, a statement of Islamic beliefs, and spared those who could - there were instances during the troubles when gunmen asked people they were holding questions like "Are any of you Catholics?" and it could be fatal to give the wrong answer.

What is truly tragic about both those instances is that in both cases if the killers had tried to understand the religious statements concerned instead of checking whether people could give the right answer, they would not have been killing anybody.

I doubt if any Christians reading this blog would agree that the violence carried out by the IRA, or by so-called "loyalist" terrorists was supported in any way, shape or form in the bible or in the teaching of either the Roman Catholic Church or the protestant churches (whose priests and ministers in both cases regularly and unequivocally begged them to stop their campaigns of violence.)

Similarly, none of my Muslim friends and colleagues, none of the community leaders I have ever met, and none if the Imams, support the Jihadis. The Islamic Community in the West is much vigorous than they are often given credit for in disavowing Jihadi atrocities like the Paris attacks.

I'm afraid the media have a lot to answer for in not giving enough prominence to statements by Islamic citizens and representatives of the Muslim community and churches disavowing the crimes of the so-called "Islamic State" and other Jihadi murderers, and sometimes they are guilty of stoking problems not just by omission but by commission. "The Sun" front page this morning was an example.

Where you often get a contentious headline over a reasonable article, this one was the other way round. The headline reads

"1 in 5 Brit Muslim's sympathy for Jihadis"

which is more than a little inflammatory but the first line of the article was worse: it said

"Nearly one in five British Muslims has some sympathy for those who have fled the UK to fight for IS in Syria."

The reason this was a highly irresponsible things to write is that the opinion poll question which this allegation is based on did not mention IS - under that name or any other.

It asked respondents whether they had any sympathy for Brits who went to fight in Syria but did not specify whether they were talking about people who went to fight for the so-called "Islamic State" or any of the other groups in Syria such as our allies in the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

To avoid any confusion, the British government strongly advises all UK citizens not to go to Syria to join any of the factions there, even our allies, and I share that opinion, and even on the basis of the poll in the Sun this morning, so do more than 80% of British Muslims.

And it is really misleading to write a headline and an article starting with a first line which appears to suggest that a significant proportion of British Muslims sympathise with "IS" Jihadis when the polling question asked could equally have indicated sympathy for people who had gone to fight for one of the non-Jihadi factions in Syria such as the FSA.

The situation in Syria is extremely confused and complex, and there are more than two sides. Both the UK government and most non-Muslim Brits strongly disapprove of Bashir Assad's Syrian government who have used barrel bombs and poison gas against his own citizens.

I am grateful to Mike Smithson for sharing this graphic from Number Cruncher Politics which shows that the opinions of British Muslims quoted in the opinion poll on the front page of this morning's Sun are not very different at all from those of British non-Muslims when asked a similar question:

It's a difficult challenge to fight Jihadi extremism while maintaining good community cohesion. A responsible press should be trying to help, not making the problem harder.

Quote of the day 23rd November 2015

Many a true word ...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A summary of how things have been going for Labour ...

Thanks to Robert Barnes for sharing this picture which rather shows how things have been going for Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. Can they manage an even worse week in the coming seven days than they've had over the last week?

After the Ed stone, the Jez stone !

Brown's poison pills part 4: Tax Credits

Of all the dire legacies which Gordon Brown as Chancellor and then PM left behind, the Tax Credits mess is the most currently controversial, the most difficult and the hardest to resolve.

In theory tax credits would be a good idea if they made it possible to integrate tax and benefits in a way which ensured a seamless progress from receiving state help to paying tax in which the citizen always received an appropriate level of assistance, and which were withdrawn at a consistent and moderate rate as he or she grew better off so that there was always an incentive to earn more.

Unfortunately we are nowhere remotely near being able to implement that in practice and the existing Tax Credits system certainly does not achieve that.

So the problem we have is that people who are doing the right thing and trying to support themselves and their families are being made clients of the state through the tax credits system. Instead of being allowed to be independent they are made to pay tax, and then the government makes a performance of paying it back.

It is a classic example of the worst kind of political activism in which politicians try to make themselves look good in the eyes of the voters by handing their own money back to them as if it was a gift.

This was always going to be a particularly difficult landmine for whoever succeeded Gordon Brown as PM to defuse because the sheer sums of money involved make it very difficult to ignore given the challenge of getting the national finances straight, but the trouble is that the people who get hit if you cut tax credits are the very people - those who are working but on low incomes - who a sensible government would least want to hurt.

Clearly the issue of tax credits will have to be addressed but it has to be done in a way which does not harm the most vulnerable working people. The least worst solution may be to phase in a gradual reduction in tax credits which takes effect sufficiently slowly that the increase in tax thresholds and the impact of the higher minimum wage which the government is also pursuing offset the impact on working people with low incomes of reducing tax credits.

Church of England advert which has been banned from cinemas

In the interests of promoting debate and information, this is the Church of England advert featuring the Lord's prayer which has been banned from cinemas. Apparently the company which manages adverts in cinema has a policy of not running any adverts which feature religious material.

It says something interesting and in my opinion mildly alarming that something like this could be banned as potentially offensive.

And before you ask how I would react if Richard Dawkins' pals produced a cinema advert which in equally polite language argued for atheism - perhaps a cinematic version of the advert they put on the side of buses a while back - my answer is there has to be a level playing field but I would prefer for it to be possible to show either.

Sunday music slot: Bach's "Air on a G string" adapted for boy's voices

A haunting version of JS Bach's air from Suite No 3 in D sung by Libera

Sunday Reflection spot - Peace on Earth

Today is the last Sunday of the church's year. Next week is Advent Sunday which starts the countdown to Christmas - the coming of the Prince of Peace.

And therefore an appropriate time to reflect on how you manage your response to an organisation like DA'ESH or Nazi Germany to which the only response is to fight or to surrender to evil. As Thomas Sowell put it in one of my recent quotes of the day,

I was one of many people who was very impressed with Antoine Leiris's response, repeated below as my quote of the day for today, to the authors of the murderous attack in Paris in which his wife was one of the victims.

Some of the comments, however, when he appeared on Youtube reading it out were less supportive.

My impression is that the people who posted those comments had jumped to the conclusion that, because Leiris refused to respond to the murderous hatred of the murderers of his wife by hating them back, he was therefore not supporting any action being taken against them.

I did not take it that way. The open letter said nothing at all about what France or the West should do about DA'ESH and it neither called for not opposed any particular strategy. He simply said that he was not going to let hate poison his life.

I admire Mr Leiris because if some terrorist follower of a perverted version of any religion, or for that matter a terrorist killing in the name of any perverted political philosophy, were to murder my wife, son or daughter I doubt very much if I could have responded as calmly as he did or resist the temptation to hate those responsible. But although it is necessary to respond, it is not necessary to hate. I'm going to recycle another of my past quotes of the day, this one from Mark Twain:

To me it is perfectly possible to believe that both Thomas Sowell and Mark Twain were right. The fact that you have to defend civilisation and those you love does not mean you have to allow yourself to become ruled by anger and hatred.

As I have previously written, if any of the great powers whose citizens have been slaughtered by the movement which calls itself "Islamic State" shared their total disregard both for the value of human life and for normal limits to acceptable conduct and what other people think, Raqqa and the rest of their so-called Caliphate would now be a dead, radioactive wasteland which glowed in the dark.

I know that Britain, the USA and France have a whole series of safeguards in place to stop any one person, even the head of government, unleashing nuclear fire in a fit of rage or anger, and I presume (and hope!) that the Russian Federation and China have similar checks and balances.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am entirely in favour of the existence of such safeguards and believe that using nuclear weapons to incinerate the territory DA'ESH controls would be a grossly disproportionate response to their crimes because it would kill many thousands of innocent people along with the guilty. I cite the fact that any of the five great powers has the military capability to kill every living thing in the territory of the so-called "Islamic State" but none of them has been stupid or morally bankrupt enough to do such a thing, as evidence of the difference between the butchers of DA'ESH and the civilisations they have attacked, but also as an illustration of how horrendous the conflict could become if we allow ourselves to be blinded by hate and anger.

William Shakespeare once put into the mouths of one of his characters a very disturbing line which encapsulates how the world can become if we give in to those emotions:

We must respond to protect our people from the menace of DA'ESH. I don't see a way to do that without using force, but the West must use that force in a way which minimises the loss of innocent life and the number of fresh martyrs and injustices created. And the strategies we build to defend innocent people must be guided by reason, not the search for vengeance.

Chaos in the Labour party

John Rentoul:

Dan Hodges' latest piece on the travails of the Labour Leadership

They really have not had a good week.

John McDonnell's one-dimensional view of major businesses

Andrew Marr interviewed the real chancellor and shadow chancellor this morning ahead of the autumn statement.

John McDonnell had an interesting and rather one-dimensional view of the largest businesses operating in Britain which I do not recognise.

He criticised George Osborne for reducing Corporation Tax, saying that this will give millions to big business (it is, of course, being done in a way which takes some smaller businesses out of the net and also reduces tax paid by the slightly smaller ones.)

McDonnell did not identify the businesses he was talking about beyond indicating that they were the largest ones, particularly FT top 100 businesses. He appeared to accept Andrew Marr's characterisation that he was talking about businesses like Amazon and Google: whoever he was talking about, he said that the chancellor's corporation tax cuts were giving those companies millions but they were not investing in the UK.

Now of course, reality is much more complex than this. Some large companies pay a lot of corporation tax: some don't. Some large companies are investing billions in Britain: some are not.

But here's the thing. Those companies which arrange their affairs so as to pay very little tax are not the ones which benefit hugely from cutting tax rates: as they are not paying much in the first place there is not much less to pay. The companies which get to keep much more lots of money from the chancellor's corporation tax changes are the ones which have been paying up.

And funnily enough, like the company I work for which pays hundreds of millions in  tax,  they are also often the ones who are spending billions investing in Britain - in BT's case for instance, expanding high speed broadband.

Not everything which big businesses do is right: not everything they do is wrong either. A one-dimensional view of the matter is not how to run a successful global economy.

Quote of the day 22nd November 2015: "You will not have my hatred."

Antoine Leiris, a French journalist whose wife was murdered in Paris in the DA'ESH atrocity, wrote a moving open letter to his killers which includes the following.

“On Friday evening you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.

“I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God for whom you kill blindly made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife is a wound in his heart.

“So no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.”

“You would like me to be scared, for me to look at my fellow citizens with a suspicious eye, for me to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You have lost.

“I saw her this morning. At last, after nights and days of waiting. She was as beautiful as when she left on Friday evening, as beautiful as when I fell head over heels in love with her more than 12 years ago.

“Of course I am devastated with grief, I grant you this small victory, but it will be short-lived. I know she will be with us every day and we will find each other in heaven with free souls which you will never have.

“Us two, my son and I, we will be stronger than every army in the world. I cannot waste any more time on you as I must go back to [my son] who has just woken from his sleep. He is only just 17 months old, he is going to eat his snack just like every other day, then we are going to play like every other day and all his life this little boy will be happy and free. Because you will never have his hatred either.”

Here he reads his open letter.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Andrew Neil's splendid rant against "Islamist Scumbags" goes viral

Andrew Neil's comments as he opened "The week" saying exactly what he thinks about the people behind the Paris attacks, who he called "a bunch of loser jihadists" have gone viral on the internet.

I am certain that his view of DA'ESH (the so called "Islamic State" though he calls them IS for "Islamist Scumbags") as "A death cult barbarity which would shame the middle ages" is shared by many muslims. Indeed, many Muslims have strongly condemned the organisation which calls itself "Islamic State" and disassociated themselves from it.

For anyone who hasn't already seen it and missed the link on my earlier post, here is Andrew Neil's view of the so-called "Islamic State" again.

Winter is Icumen in ...

Parts of Cumbria awoke to snow this morning, while the water which had collected on a tarpaulin outside my front door had a layer of ice a few millimetres thick on top of it.

After the warmest October on record it appears that the winter which is just beginning might not be as mild and we are definitely into wrap-up-warm territory.


DC's statement on the UN Security Council resolution against DA'ESH

The Prime Minister has issued the following statement (also available on the No. 10 website here.)

"This is an important moment. Today, the world has united against ISIL. The international community has come together and has resolved to defeat this evil, which threatens people of every country and every religion.
"The United Nations Security Council has unanimously backed action against this evil death cult in both Syria and Iraq. It has also reiterated its determination to secure a political solution to the conflict in Syria.
"Today’s vote shows beyond doubt the breadth of international support for doing more in Syria and for decisive action to eradicate ISIL. Britain will continue to support our allies who are fighting ISIL in Syria. I will continue to make the case for us to do more and to build support in Parliament for the action that I believe is necessary for Britain to take to protect our own security, as part of a determined international strategy. We cannot expect others to shoulder the burdens and the risks of protecting this country."

UN Security Council backs action against DAESH

The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a French-drafted resolution to "redouble" action against DA'ESH, the so-called "Islamic State," following last week's deadly attacks in Paris.

This is, if course, hardly a surprise. Having previously murdered innocent civilians from Britain and America, in the last month or so DA'ESH has claimed responsibility for murdering hundreds of innocent civilians from first Russia and then France, and finally executed an innocent tourist from the one remaining permanent member of the UN security council, China.

But although it is easy to be cynical, the case for doing something is extremely strong, as long as we handle it better than some of the other interventions the great powers have made in the middle east.

The Sir Humphrey syllogism -

"We must do something, this is something, therefore we must do it!"

is to be avoided. That does not mean that sitting back to let DA'ESH proceed with their campaign of murder and hoping they will go away is a good idea either. We need effective action to deal with them which makes as few additional martyrs as possible.

The fact that, unlike the vast majority of Jihadi murder cults, DA'ESH has declared a caliphate and actually holds territory presents different challenges and opportunities.

Of course, if any of the great powers DA'ESH has attacked had as little regard for human life as DA'ESH does itself, the so-called "Islamic State" would no longer exist and Raqqa would be a radioactive hole in the desert. I am not for a moment advocating that approach because although we would not get another Caliphate to deal with for at least another century, we'd get far more Al Qaeda type movements and would also have set a terrible precedent.

But we do need to formulate an effective strategy to ensure that their territory is taken away from them - preferably with full involvement of local powers such as the Peshmerga and the elected government of Iraq.

Quote of the day Saturday 21st November 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Brown's Poison Pills part 3: Savings

This is the UK's national household savings ratio - the proportion of disposable income which is saved - since 1997.

Modern economies suffer from something called the "paradox of thrift" in that significant saving is necessary if households are to prepare adequately for retirement and for the economy to provide a source of funds for investment, but if everyone saves too much at once it can lead to a collapse in demand and cause a recession.

Alternatively everyone saving too much at once an make it much worse if the economy is already a recession, which is often associated with a massive increase in saving and as you can see from the chart above, that is exactly what happened in Britain in 2008.

However, Britain was not in a recession from the period of 1997 to 2007 during which Gordon Brown was chancellor. This period continued more than a decade of steady non-inflationary growth which had begun under Ken Clarke. But between 1997 and 2007 the savings ratio halved from over 12% to 6% with what was then an all-time low of 4.8% in late 2007.

Generally since WWII the savings ratio in Britain had been on an upward trend but clearly something happened to Britain as a country with a culture of saving and investment - and it coincided with Gordon Brown's time as chancellor.

If would be facile to suggest that any one person or any one policy did this. But I believe the single biggest reason was the catastrophic failure of pensions policy to encourage saving for retirement as a result of Gordon Brown's mistakes which I described in yesterday's post.

I also suspect that the taxation of savings during Gordon Brown's time as chancellor was far too complex and incomprehensible to many potential savers, and the simple fact is that forms of saving accessible to ordinary citizens produced little or no reward.

That the culture of saving has now gone can be seen from the fact that as Britain has emerged from the 2008 recession and a temporary high level of savings we are back at the 4-5% level. This needs to increase. The government has found imaginative means to encourage people to make more flexible use of pensions. But more will need to be done to recreate a culture of savings and, not for the first time, governments which do this will have to work to reverse a toxic Gordon Brown legacy.

North West Region Conservative elections - don't leave it too late to vote!

My voting papers have arrived today in the election of North West Region Conservative officers. They were all posted on Friday 13th so my set took a full week to get from Salford to Whitehaven.

My relief that they had arrived was initially tempered with irritation at the Royal Mail for the delay. Having looked into things I now realise that, for reasons we won't go into here, the RM did well to get the papers to me at all, but it does make the point that if something is time critical it's never a good idea leave sending it too late and blithely assume it will get there in a couple of days.

Ballot papers need to be returned to Regional Office by noon on Friday 27th November, so if you are a member of a Conservative Area Council in the North West of England and have not yet voted in the regional elections, it would be a good idea to get your papers filled in and posted quickly.

There are eight candidates for the three positions: I regard all the other seven as friends and am confident that all who have put their names forward would do a good job if elected.

I am not standing on a "slate" and if elected myself would be willing to work with whoever is elected to the other two positions. If I am not elected myself, then whoever does win will be able to count on my support.

The candidates standing are as follows.

For Regional Chairman:

Sir Robert Atkins
Richard Elliott
Michael Winstanley

For Regional Deputy Chairman, Political and Campaigns

Pam Hall
Amelia McCourty

For Regional Deputy Chairman, membership and finance

John Cunliffe
Caroline Henley.

What to call "Islamic State" - Andrew Neil's answer

Andrew Neil opened "The week" with a defiant message for the people behind the Paris attacks, who he called "a bunch of loser jihadists" and described the cause they were fighting for as "A death cult barbarity which would shame the middle ages"

It includes his own view on the vexed question of what their organisation should be called and what it stands for. He concludes by telling them


In a thousand years' time Paris, that glorious City of Light, will still be shining bright, as will every other city like it, while you will be as dust, along with the ragbag of Fascists, Nazis and Stalinists who have previously dared to challenge democracy, and failed."

Quote of the day 20th November 2015

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Brown's Poison Pills part 2: Pensions

There can be few greater examples of a great achievement heedlessly thrown aside than Gordon Brown's catastrophic mismanagement of Britain's pensions.

During the second parliament of the Thatcher administration, that government realised that Britain - like the rest of Europe - was heading for a demographic timebomb which would wreck our ability to pay for pensions. So in 1984 they did something about it.

It was obvious thirty-one years ago that as people were living longer and a smaller and smaller proportion of the populations of Europe would be people of traditional working age, the unfunded pension arrangements whereby each generation of workers paid the pensions of the previous generation was headed for collapse.

Tony Newton, then minister at the DHSS, took a series of positive and negative measures in 1984 designed to encourage people to save so as to move to a properly funded system of occupational pensions paid out of the pension pot put aside by the pensioner during his or her working life. By 1997 those arrangments had worked brilliantly and savers in Britain had put aside more money in occupational pension funds than the whole of the rest of Europe put together.

An then in one of his first acts as chancellor, the worst piece of economic vandalism in my lifetime, an act of criminal irresponsibility so vast that there are no adequate words to express what total lunacy it was, Gordon Brown threw that achievement away with his raid on pension funds.

That raid - £5 billion a year when it started, but with an impact that grew like to more like six or seven billion a year when Labour left office, was described at the time by the president of the national association of pension funds as

"the biggest attack on pensions in living memory. Even Robert Maxwell took only £450 million."

The person who came nearest to capturing in a few words the insanity of Brown's mishandling of pensions is actually a Labour MP Frank Field, who in 2006 condemned Gordon Brown's latest daft proposals on pensions as "not so much preposterous, as positively dangerous."

He also said that "When Labour came to office we had one of the strongest pension provisions in Europe and now probably we have some of the weakest."

Brown got away with it because to most journalists talk of "cutting the advanced corporation tax dividend credit for pension funds," which was the mechanism he used to steal people's pensions, sounds boring and irrelevant. Although the Conservatives rightly and much more clearly described it as a £5 billion a year raid on pension funds, people were not listening to the Conservatives in 1997.

But that action and his failure to properly correct for it at any time in the following years didn't just wreck the savings position on a once-off basis. It damaged the incentive to save for many, many years to come. Because now that the precedent has been set, it is not enough just to offer people a good incentive to save for their pensions - because how can they know that a future government won't repeat what Gordon Brown did and simply help itself to billions of pounds of the money that people saving for their pensions have put away?

The only way to put the pension system back on an even keel, a nettle mostly grasped under the coalition, was to raise the retiring age. This might ultimately have had to be done anyway, but probably not so fast as the combination of the 2008 recession and Brown's mismanagement of pensions made necessary.  And when the impact of making people retire later over the next twenty years is added up, it will effectively have cost pension savers the better part of a trillion pounds compared with what, at the start of their working lives, they would once have been entitled to expect.

A trillion pounds to clear up Brown's mess - that's the measure of how devastatingly bad his management of pensions was.

To find another decision by a British chancellor which even stands comparison in being as foolish and disastrously wrong as Gordon Brown's raid on pension funds, you have to go back sixty years before to Winston Churchill's mistake of putting Britain back on the gold standard, which Churchill later described as the greatest mistake of his life.

Although for a time Brown fooled a lot of people into regarding him as a successful chancellor, the harm done by his mismanagement of pensions was so vast, and will continue to affect so many people for so long, that this alone would debar him from being considered as the genius which his admirers once regarded him as being even had every other aspect of his stewardship of Britain's economy been as successful as he claimed. As we will see, this is very far from being the case.

Two more hostages murdered, and now DAESH has collected the full set ...

DAESH (the so-called "Islamic State") boasted today that it had murdered two more hostages - a Norwegian and a Chinese citizen.

In this manner DAESH collected the full set in that it has now murdered innocent civilian citizens of all five permanent members of the UN security council. First the late and definitely not lamented "Jihadi John" hacked off the heads of journalists and aid workers from the USA and Britain, and then in the last few days  DAESH has claimed responsibility for blowing a civilian airliner carrying more than 200 Russian men women and children out of the sky, the murderous outrage in Paris, and now for executing a Chinese civilian hostage as well.

China had announced in September that one of its citizens appeared to be in Islamic State captivity, and in a brief statement today, China's Foreign Ministry confirmed his identify, naming him as Fan Jinghui, and saying he had been "cruelly murdered".

Beijing said it had attempted to prevent their citizen's execution, but he was killed nevertheless in a "cold-blooded way", the ministry said. "The Chinese government strongly condemns this savage act devoid of humanity and will certainly bring the criminals to justice,"

One cannot avoid thinking that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and the rest of the leaders of the self-styled Islamic state are deliberately going out of their way to infuriate the leaders of all the most powerful people in the world to show that they fear nobody and nothing. Their sick and twisted minds are convinced that the universe was created and is run by a spirit which approves of them - though to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, if the universe were run by a being capable of picking DAESH  as his representatives on earth, such a being would not be a God, certainly not the compassionate, the merciful, but "an omnipotent fiend."

If any good can come out of all oceans of innocent blood which the so-called "Islamic State" has spilled in the last few days, it would be if the major powers of the world can agree and implement a common strategy to deal with this evil death cult. And if a new UN resolution is needed to get people to agree to take such action, I suspect that the chances of such a resolution being vetoed are now much less - as all five governments which have such a veto are now mourning harmless, innocent people murdered by the DAESH death-worshippers.

Quote of the day 19th November 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Conservative Future - Here we go again !

Problems with the youth wings of political parties are not at all new and not confined to the Conservative party.

When I was a student the Conservative student wing - then called the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) - kept lurching from one scandal to another and was all too often an embarrassment.

The words which encapsulate for me how often things went wrong were spoken in 1984 by Paul Goodman, now Executive Editor of Conservative Home and who has also been a Tory MP but who at the time was Chairman of FCS and had just seen a totally unsuitable candidate elected as his successor: he said "Here we go again!"

FCS ended up by being shut down by Norman Tebbit for being too right-wing, which sounds like a joke but wasn't very funny when it actually happened.

Shortly before that, when the party had to set up the third official party inquiry into FCS extremism, vote-rigging and general lunacy in four years, one of the party's senior officials allegedly joked "Shouldn't we make this a standing committee?"

Then some of the same people moved into the Young Conservatives, managed to get a strong foothold in that organisation, and it had to be shut down too and replaced with Conservative Future.

The problem has come around again and tonight the Conservative party has had to suspend the National Executive of Conservative Future. Here we go again!

To judge from my twitter feed, the decision to suspend the national leadership of CF has a lot of support from rank and file Conservative Future members and branches in the North West.

Just about the only good thing to come out of the battles within the Conservative youth wings in my own youth is that those of us who managed not to be driven out of politics by it had to grow a hide like Chobham armour and a knife-proof back, which were useful assets when we came to face the less pleasant elements of Labour and the Lib/Dems in grown up politics. And ironically, although quite a few of the people I considered looney tunes when they were students are still involved in politics, most of them have grown up in both senses of the word.

Mind you, what was going on in the youth wings of the Labour and Liberal parties was no different. The Union of Liberal Students was nicknamed "Usually Left of Steel" (David Steel was the Liberal party leader at the time) and the Young Liberals were nearly as notorious for wacky views as FCS, while both the Labour Party Young Socialists and the National Organisation of Labour Students had problems with Trotskyist infiltration in general and from Militant in particular.

Let's hope the problems with Conservative Future can be quickly sorted out for the benefit of the many great young people who are involved with the party. The behaviour described on Newsnight was just not acceptable and it has to be dealt with.

But whatever the problems the Conservative party has - and we must not be complacent about them - I'd much rather have our current problems than the difficulties of the Labour party right now, where the supposedly grown-ups are behaving in a way which would disgrace a kindergarten!

Brown's poison pills part 1: the worst Prime Minister of modern times

There is a lot of competition for the designation of worst PM since World War II.

* After the disastrous mishandling of Britain's involvement in Iraq, many people would nominate Tony Blair.

* Sir Harold Wilson has a strong claim - the Prime Minister who took the fall when the collapse of the British economy resulted in the worst spending cuts in history (far more severe than anything Maggie Thatcher or David Cameron has done) and the following "Winter of Discontent" in which the dead were left unburied, the rubbish uncollected and the sick refused medical treatment was Jim Callaghan, but the mistakes which created that situation were mostly made on Harold Wilson's watch.

* Many people would nominate Ted Heath, particularly those who don't think Britain should have joined what was then called the Common Market.

* I was not born at the time of the Suez debacle, but Anthony Eden certainly did not come out of it well.

* To the left it is of course an article of faith that absolutely everything which has gone wrong with Britain since 1979 is Margaret Thatcher's fault.

Obviously, some of the above cases I sympathise with and some I strongly disagree with. But the person who I would nominate as the worst Prime Minister since the war is the one who most perfectly reflects this comment from Thomas Sowell:

I cannot think of a better summary of Gordon Brown's premiership than the one which was given by a member of his own party, Hopi Sen, in an article called We need to talk about Gordon, in which he wrote:

"The premiership of Gordon Brown was a failure of such enormous proportions and devastating consequence that we in the Labour Party will not win a general election until we understand what went so terribly, terribly wrong."

Gordon Brown was responsible for a number of particularly atrocious decisions and actions.

His government was rightly condemned for managing it's relationship with the police in such a way that an opposition MP could be arrested for being too effective at embarrassing the government and his home raided by nine anti-terror police officers; the sort of thing which usually only happens in tin-pot despotisms or regimes like Apartheid South Africa. (Brown himself would have been arrested many times as an opposition MP if the police had been encouraged by Mrs Thatcher's government to treat the opposition the way they did while he was PM.)

Brown will also be remembered for selling off the country's gold reserves at rock bottom prices (this may have been a disguised way if subsidising the banks) for denying the voters the promised referendum on the EU constitution (later known as the Lisbon treaty) and by achieving the difficult feat of infuriating both Eurosceptics and pro-Europeans at once when he signed the treaty on his own, hours after all the other EU leaders had done so, apparently in the hope that nobody would notice he had signed it. Fat chance!

However, the worst series of decisions Brown made as Chancellor and PM are the ones that the country is still paying for five years after he left office and will still be paying for a decade from now, and there are a whole raft of them.

A cynic could look at several of the actions taken in the last couple of years of Brown's premiership and conclude that he had decided he was bound to lose the 2010 election and was trying to minimise that loss and maximise Labour's chances of returning at the following election by taking decisions designed to look good in the very short term at the price of consequences which would be extremely difficult to deal with in the future.

Whether or not this was the plan, the reality is that Gordon Brown left a whole string of "Poison Pills" for the governments which succeeded his. Most resulted from decisions taken in his final two years as PM though one was taken within weeks of his becoming chancellor and one - the deficit and debt - was built up throughout his time in power.

He did get two very important things right. He devolved responsibility for interest rates and inflation to the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, a very good decision which enabled the strong economy he inherited from Ken Clarke to last a great deal longer than it would have given all his other mistakes - though in the end it only delayed the time of reckoning. And he stopped Tony Blair from bouncing us into the Euro - the economic crisis which began in 2008 would have been much worse if we had not had our own currency and central bank and it is very hard to see how we could have emerged from it.

But aside from that he had a negative record which left a whole serious of calamitous problems for his successors.

This week I will be posting a series of articles about Brown's Poison Pills which looks at each aspect of his dire legacy in turn, and which will address:

  • Pensions
  • Savings
  • Tax Credits
  • The Banking crisis
  • PFI hospitals
  • Debt