Monday, September 30, 2013

A thank you to Manchester

One very good idea at this conference has been the issue of a delegate travelcard to people attending which gives free travel on local public transport in Manchester - buses, trams, and trains - for the duration of the conference.

Presume the justification for this is that it means delegates are not adding to the congestion in the city, already exacerbated by the road closures around the conference centre made necessary by security measures.

But it's certainly most useful for getting from one's hotel to the conference and back.

George Osborne writes: "A serious plan for a grown-up country"

At every conference since the election, the question for us and for me has been: ‘is your economic plan working?’
 
They aren’t asking that question now. The deficit is down by a third, exports to China have doubled, and businesses have created 1.4 million new jobs. Our plan is working. Thanks to the resolve and sacrifice of the people of this country, Britain is now turning a corner.
 
So now families, working hard and anxious about the future, are asking these questions: can we make the recovery last, and will they feel it in their pockets?
 
It is to them that I offer our economic plan for hardworking people.
  • We will deliver sound public finances. We say: never again. Instead of borrowing and spending in the good times, we will fix the roof when the sun is shining. That is why we have said that when we have dealt with Labour’s deficit, we will run a surplus in good times as insurance against the bad. And so that we invest for the future, we will grow capital spending at least in line with our national income. It is only if we properly fix our public finances that we will be able to keep lowering taxes for hardworking people in a way that lasts.
  • We are backing aspiration. We are the party of home ownership, and our Help to Buy scheme will help people make their dream of owning their own home a reality. We are backing small businesses, we have cut tax for millions of people, frozen council tax, and cut fuel duty. And as long as we can find the savings to pay for it, I want to freeze fuel duty for the rest of this Parliament.
  • Unlike previous governments, we are leaving no-one behind. We’ve capped benefits and are making sure that work always pays. And now, for the first time, long-term unemployed people will be asked to do something in exchange for their benefits to help them into work. There will be no more something for nothing.
  • And we are investing in the future, with support for infrastructure like HS2, science and shale gas. The world is changing, and it is a huge challenge for our country. But if we get it right, it is the key to our prosperity. Not for us the comfort of the past. Ours is the Britain of the future.
So let everyone know: this is a serious plan for a grown-up country. It is the only route to better living standards. We are laying sound economic foundations – without which better living standards cannot be built. 
We are turning Britain around. We rescued the economy together. We’re going to recover together. And together we’re going to share in the rewards.
George Osborne signature
George Osborne

Manchester conference diary - day two

Dashing between various fringe and social events yesterday evening and this lunchtime, and will be doing the same this evening.

Interesting session this morning on the environment, followed by George Osborne on the economy, and I will let him speak for himself in the next post.

Then on to a session on dealing with UKIP. One thing which came out of it was that parties which are successful at building their support often do so through energy and passion, and we need to do the same.

Another key point was that while many Conservative and UKIP supporters believe a lot of similar things, it's often only the Conservatives who can deliver them. There will not be a UKIP government after the next election. And only the Conservatives can deliver an In/Out referendum on Britain's future inside or outside the European Union.

Quote of the day 30th September 2013

"The desire to win is born in most of us. The will to win is a matter of training. The manner of winning is a matter of honour." (Denis Thatcher)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Manchester Conference Diary - day one

I had already written my "Quotes of the Day" for the conference week and loaded them onto the system timed to publish each morning before setting off for Manchester in case I had trouble getting onto one of the computers around "Manchester Central."

Now thinking I might have done betters to wait and use some of the quotes I've been hearing around the conference.

David Cameron was on form this morning at the meeting of the National Conservative Convention (a private meeting of Conservative Constituency, Area, and Regional chairmen). I particularly liked his two line demolition of most of the ideas put forward at Labour conference last week.

"The problems were caused by too much borrowing, too much spending, and too much debt. The answer last week was more borrowing, more spending, and more debt."

He also made a very powerful point in response to a (Scottish Unionist) questioner who asked what we can do to avoid the breakup of the UK in the Scottish independence referendum next year.

While the Scots have to make their own decision, he suggested it is important for the rest of the UK to say to Scotland,

"We don't want you to go"

because the United Kingdom has been a good thing for all four nations which have taken part in it: good for Scotland and good for England. We are, to coin a phrase "Better together."


It was a brave decision to start the conference with a moving tribute to the late Baroness Thatcher - it seems such a long time since her death that it feels strange to realise that she died earlier this year. I thought when it closed "Now follow that" and it could easily have made the rest of the opening session into an anticlimax.

In the event, Grant Shapps managed to avoid this by linking a lot of his own speech into things Mrs Thatcher had made possible and things she believed.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond reacted with calm unflappability when one gentleman grabbed a microphone during his speech and started shouting at the minister. Hammond calmly offered to meet him after the session. After a shouting for a more moments the protestor stalked out of the hall, followed by a mob of journalists and paparazzi, while 99% of the people in the hall quietly returned to listening to the secretary of state's speech.

I thought this illustrated one difference between the Conservatives and Labour. Last time someone did something similar to a Labour cabinet minister at their party conference -  I seem to recall that it was a concentration camp survivor called Walter Wolfgang - he was not just thrown out but arrested. Under the prevention of terrorism act I think, though he wasn't charged. Since he had accused the Labour Foreign secretary of making untrue statements about Iraq, they could probably have made a better case under section 2 of the official secrets act. But certainly no case under the libel laws, under which truth is a defence!

After speeches from the leaders of Britain's MEPs, the session finished with William Hague who gave a tour de force of foreign policy, including a description of the British initiative to outlaw the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Quote of the day 29th September 2013

"In politics, what begins in fear, usually ends in folly." (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The next election is still wide open


The result of the 2015 General Election could be anything from another hung parliament to an overall majority for either the Conservatives or Labour.

Despite the fact that the events of the last few weeks will have moved many people involved in or commenting on politics from a fear that Ed Miliband might be a rather poor Prime Minister to an absolute conviction that he would be a disaster - and the disillusionment with Miliband includes some on the left such as David Aaronovitch, (see previous post here) and Dan Hodges (who explained here why Miliband's behaviour drove him to resign from the Labour party) - and despite the fact that he has deliberately ignored one of the most important rules you usually have to follow to win elections in Britain, by moving away from the centre, a lot of the shrewdest analysts of British politics think he has increased his chances of becoming PM.

However, Miliband has also increased David Cameron's chances of getting a majority, especially if the Conservative party can raise our game, because there will be other voters who are desperate to stop Miliband and realise that the Conservatives are the only party who can do so.

Among those voters who remember the 1970's - which is not a big chunk of the electorate, but is a rather larger proportion of those who actually vote - the Conservatives must hammer home the message that a vote for anyone except David Cameron risks letting in Ed Miliband and a return to the seventies. Not least because it is true.

There have been very few instances of a "core vote" strategy winning an election in a western democracy. George W Bush managed something of the kind in 2004. But whatever the subsequent mythology put around by her supporters and detractors Mrs Thatcher sought to appeal to a wider range of people than just Conservatives, and the fact that she won three times was in spite of the fact that many people saw her as extreme rather than because of it. She was also helped immensely by the fact that many, probably a majority, saw Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock (1987 version) as even more extreme than she was.

But the fact that Ed Miliband has apparently abandoned the political centre does not mean he has abandoned policies with a wider appeal.

His energy price cap proposal is insane, but trying to do something to lower the cost of living and energy costs in particular is not: whichever party can convince the electorate they have the most realistic strategy to control energy costs will find this exceptionally popular.

Perhaps one of the most important messages the Conservatives would be wise to get over is what a substantial chunk of the energy bills of the typical household is due to "green" taxes introduced by a certain former Secretary of State for Energy called - wait for it - Ed Miliband.

There were two very astute articles on Political Betting yesterday called

Forget the 70s new voters can't even remember the 90s, by Henry Manson, and

Goodbye to the middle ground by David Herdson,

which explain why Labour's apparently suicidal surrendering of the middle ground might work.

Neither of the two most significant group of swing voters who Ed Miliband hopes will put him in 10 Downing Street and make Ed Balls chancellor - those wavering between Labour and the Lib/Dems, and those wavering between Conservative and UKIP - are particularly centrist.

But both would applaud lower energy prices if - and this is the really big if - they think Labour would really be able to deliver them.

So let's have the debate about what the parties are going to do to get growth onto a faster track, to increase productivity so that firms can finally start to pay higher wages, about how we can keep family's energy bills under control, cut the deficit down to the point where we are not saddling unborn children with preposterous levels of public debt, ensure that those who do the right thing are rewarded. To some of these questions Labour has no answer, to the rest ridiculous ones.

The coming election will be close, extremely exciting, very important, and is at this stage impossible to call. Those Tories who are saying things like "Miliband's done us a great favour" are judging too quickly. But that judgement might ultimately be right if we can prove to the British people that we have answers to the challenge - and Labour don't.

Quote of the Day 28th September 2013

"I've never understood why it should be necessary to become irrational to show that you care:

or even to show it at all."

(Line spoken by the character "Avon" on "Blakes Seven," created by Terry Nation)

Friday, September 27, 2013

"Four is not a number"


That was the error message I was given today by a computer system which I was trying to use to book a meeting room.

It wanted a detail of the booking in numerical rather than text format and was not sophisticated enough to recognise the word "four" as a number.

This wasn't a problem for me - I just deleted the word and put in the numeral "4" instead, although an older or less computer-literate user might have been stumped or annoyed.

Don't think computers will be taking over the world just yet.

Has anyone reading this had any daft messages from computers recently that they want to share?

Quote of the Day 27th September 2013

"Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war."

(Sir Winston Churchill)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thoughts on the German election result

The result of the German election has rightly been described as a personal triumph for Chancellor Angela Merkel but the impact of the arbitrary 5% threshold for representation in parliament under the particular system of  proportional representation used in Germany has caused what looks to British eyes like a very perverse result, and one which may even to some extent make her position weaker rather than stronger.

Frau Merkel's party, the equivalent of the Conservatives, won by far the largest share of the vote, and under the first past the post system she would almost certainly have won a healthy majority.

The daft thing about the result, however, which I am surprised more people have not noticed, is that parties which are not left-wing won an outright majority of votes cast but the electoral system gave parties of the left a slim margin in the Bundestag.

If you add together the votes for the Christian Democrats and CSU (think Conservatives), the Free Democrats (think Orange Book Lib/Dems) and AfD ("Alternative for Germany" - imagine the German equivalent of a more moderate and much more professionally run, if less entertaining, version of UKIP), between them they got 51% of the vote.

I presume AfD would vigorously deny being on the right or the left. There might be debate about the former, but I don't think anyone would describe them as a left wing party, so if you split the six main parties into the left and the non-left you would put them with the latter.

Had the threshold for additional member seats in the German Bundestag (parliament) been 4% rather than 5%, the non-left parties would between them have had a majority. But because it is 5% both the FPD or Free Democrats (junior partners in the outgoing coalition, who got 4.7% of the vote). and the AfD, (who polled 4.8%) narrowly failed to win any seats.

So Angela Merkel simultaneously increased her vote and won her party's best score since German reunification more than 20 years ago, but lost her coalition partners and with them her majority!

Because the vote of the three left wing parties, the Social Democrats (Labour), Greens and the Left party (Ex communist hard left), which came to about 43% in total, were more evenly spread, all three parties made it into the Bundestag (parliament), and between them have about 51% of the seats.

Because of differences between the Social Democrats, the Left party, and the Greens, it is most unlikely that a grand coalition of the left would be workable, so Frau Merkel will remain chancellor, but the coalition negotiations are going to be difficult to say the least.

Quote of the Day 26th September 2013

"We economists don't know much, but we do know how to create a shortage. If you want to create a shortage of tomatoes, for example, just pass a law that retailers can't sell tomatoes for more than two cents per pound. Instantly you'll have a tomato shortage. It's the same with oil or gas."

Milton Friedman.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Grant Shapps writes: so now it's official, Labour hasn't changed

Ed Miliband has finally admitted what we knew all along: that nothing has changed. This is the same old Labour.
In his hour-long speech yesterday, he set out NO plans to cut the deficit, NO plans to secure the recovery and NO plans to fix the welfare system.
Instead, he called for a damaging tax rise on businesses that would cost jobs and confirmed that Labour would spend more and borrow more.
His unworkable energy policy is also unravelling. He’s been forced to admit that energy companies could appeal to the Government to overturn the freeze - and had no answer when asked what would happen if prices were put up before a freeze.
The way to help hardworking people is to force energy companies to put customers on their cheapest tariffs – which is what we’re doing. The way to raise living standards is to grow the economy and keep spending and borrowing under control – which is what we’re doing.
Labour still want more spending, more borrowing and more debt – exactly what got us into a mess in the first place. And it’s hardworking people who would pay the price through higher taxes, higher mortgage rates and higher bills.
Grant Shapps signature
Grant Shapps

What happened last time someone tried Miliband's new energy policy.

Jan. 24, 2001: Energy Crisis in Calif. | Video - ABC News


I'm told that focus groups are reporting that approval of Ed miliband's new policy is "off the scale."

I'm sure it will stay that way with some people until the moment of the first power cut.

The bizare thing is, Ed Miliband cannot possibly be unaware that Britain has for years been in serious danger of power cuts. He was secretary of state for energy in the latter years of the last decade when projections were published suggesting that power cuts in this one were not just possible but likely.

Here's what I wrote on this blog at the time, four years ago:

When the lights go out.

Grateful to Tim Walker @ThatTimWalker who posted a link to this page on the ABC news archive with an eight minute 2001 report on what happened when California capped retail energy prices while making the false assumption that wholesale energy prices would go down, which they didn't.

Instead, and partly because of the policy, wholesale energy prices rose - sometimes well above the cap on retail prices, with the result that power retailers were forced to sell electricity for a considerably lower price than they were paying for it.

Yes, they ended up with rolling power blackouts lasting up to two hours, children trapped in lifts when the power went out, cars crashing when the traffic lights went out ...

As I have said, Miliband cannot possibly be unaware that Britain was already in danger of power cuts in the next parliament. Is it possible that he doesn't expect to be in power and is merely aiming to get as close to winning as possible without actually doing it?

Quote of the Day 25th September 2013

"You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot lift the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer.
You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away men's initiative
and independence.

You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could
and should do for themselves."


William Boetcker
(1873-1962) German-born Presbyterian clergyman, "The ten cannots" (1916)
Often attributed to Abraham Lincoln
 
 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad ...

We thought Godfrey Bloom had given a pretty good imitation of a Kamikazi pilot when he wrecked UKIP's conference.

However, the damage he did to UKIP's electoral chances are nothing to what Ed Miliband has done to Labour's - which in turn is nothing to the damage he would do to Britain if the voters are insane enough to elect him and if he implements the 70's Labour politics he outlined today.

When I picked my quote for today, Milton Friedman's saying that "Governments never learn: only people learn." I had no idea how apposite it would be.

But the present leader of the labour party certainly hasn't learned: like many socialists he has this in common with the Bourbons: he has forgotten nothing and learned nothing.

I was a teenager when the kind of policies now advocated by Ed Miliband were last tried. They ended with the dead unburied and rubbish left uncollected in the streets. With Britain having to go to the International Monetary Fund to beg for handouts to stave off national bankruptcy - at the price of the biggest spending cuts ever imposed in British history (bigger that either Mrs Thatcher's or those of the present coalition.) And it ended with such outrages as trade union leaders blocking health care for the sick and vulnerable, saying "If someone dies, so be it."

Those words were not abstract to me. That NHS shop steward was talking of the possibility that he could have caused the death of people like my father, who was rung up on the day he was due to go into hospital for a heart operation, and told that it had been vetoed by NUPE and COHSE shop stewards who thought they had a better idea than doctors what constituted a medical emergency.

Some of the things Ed Miliband promised today will be popular. But taken as a whole his speech represented a return to the politics of economic insanity, and if implemented would make Britain an economic basket case faster than you could say "Let's copy Greece."

Several commentators including Toby Young here and Dan Hodges, who recently resigned from the Labour party in disgust at Miliband, writing here, have pointed out the parallels between Ed Miliband's policies and the manifesto on which Michael Foot contested the 1983 general election - a manifesto rightly described at the time as "the longest suicide note in history."

It has also been pointed out, for example that Miliband's policy of freezing energy prices is one that he of all people, as the Energy secretary whose policies were a direct cause of many of the price increases people are complaining about, should know to be completely unworkable.

Ian King wrote in The Times that  "Labour’s insane energy policy could cause blackouts."

Actually, we were already in danger of blackouts before the end of this decade because of the failure to replace Britain's energy generation capacity, particularly under Labour (with Ed Miliband one of the prime culprits) but Ian King is certainly right that the energy policy Miliband outlined today would make them more likely still.

As the Telegraph put it here, Labour has returned to the politics of the 1970's, and

"what was as significant as what was said was what was unsaid.

Mr Miliband offered nothing on the deficit, or fiscal discipline, or welfare reform, or Europe, or the need to raise educational standards to compete with the best in the world. His comforting, illusory promise is that as prime minister he would be able to make the modern world go away, and restore a lost era of good jobs and high wages through the miracle of state intervention.

But we have played this tape before, and we know how it ends.

Yesterday, Mr Miliband offered one constant refrain: “Britain can do better.” With Labour in charge, it is difficult to see how. "

I have sometimes heard the opinion expressed, and it has occasionally been expressed by people commenting on this blog, that there is no difference between the Conserative and Labour parties. I don't see how any intelligent and reasonable person who was paying any attention to what Miliband was saying today can fail to realise that the difference between the Conservatives and Labour now is nearly as great as the difference between Margaret Thatcher and Michael Foot.

The heading of this blog post is a very old saying, usually attributed to the ancient greek poet Euripedes, that whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad.

If the voters are wise, Ed Miliband has destroyed Labour's chance of winning the next election.

If the voters are not wise, and Miliband gets to implement the policies he outlined today, they will destroy Britain's chances of avoiding a complete economic meltdown.

Quote of the day 24th September 2013

"Governments never learn. Only people learn."

(Milton Friedman)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Don't forget the small stuff

People involved in politics often get asked - especially by selection committees - questions along the lines of "what political achievement are you most proud of?"

There is a tendancy to cite something big - a major project you approved or managed to stop, a large reform you put in place - because it sounds so much more impressive.

But I wonder if actually the value of any contribution we can make is as much in doing as many small things as possible which can actually make a difference to improve people's lives.

The other day I was driving past a small but highly visible plot of land in Whitehaven - won't say where as I don't want to embarrass the people concerned.

Five or six years ago this little plot, which is owned by the council, was an absolute eyesore, partly because rubble from nearby developments had been left on it, partly because people passing by had dropped litter, partly because it was over-run with weeds.

A family who lived adjacent asked if they could buy or lease it from the council. When they didn't get an encouraging response they came to me - I was at the time a Whitehaven councillor.

There were reasons why the council were not willing to sell the freehold of the land and natural caution made them reluctant to rent it out.

I pointed out to officers that the plot was currently a ghastly eyesore, which was not bringing in a penny of return to the taxpayer or being used for any useful purpose, and was not very likely to be needed in the near future. I suggested that if the family who had asked to rent it as extra garden space were allowed to do so for a reasonable sum (e,g, the modest amount a family could afford) that sum would be better than the zero income which was coming in at the moment, and it would look infinitely better than the existing mess.

The officers eventually agreed and the family concerned duly kept their side of the bargain and turned what had been a horrible mess at a highly visible junction into a beautiful garden. I drove past the spot this weekend while they were sitting in the garden and enjoying the fruits of their hard work, and reflected on the fact that because someone now cared for that spot of land it has become something which contributes to this beautiful town rather than taking away from it.

Another example of how important the little things can be came this weekend when a member of the staff of an MP was asked how her job was going, and she mentioned that she'd had a real sense of satisfaction for doing some of the spadework when her boss managed to get a medal arranged for a veteran, to which he was fully entitled but which might otherwise have taken a long time to arrive, so that it reached him in time for a key milestone in his life

It also made me think that sometimes the "small stuff" which councillors and MPs occasionally manage to deliver for people - not as often as many of us would like, but most of us get the odd little victory occasionally - probably add up to a greater increase in the sum of human happiness than many of the major "vanity projects" which sound so much more impressive really deliver.

Quote of the day 23rd Sept 2013


"No man is good enough to govern another man without the other's consent"

(Abraham Lincoln)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Grant Shapps writes: Share the Facts

As the Labour Party gather for their annual Conference, their message to the country couldn't be simpler: more spending, more borrowing and more debt.
And, as we've learnt today, they've already committed themselves to nearly £28 billion of debt-funded spending - more than £1,000 of additional borrowing for every household.
Over the next few days, you'll hear a lot of speeches attacking the vital action we're taking to turn Britain around.
This is the same old Labour, opposing everything we are doing to mend the economy, cut the deficit, and fix the welfare system - while making nearly £28 billion of unfunded spending commitments.
Share The Facts Hashtag
Don't let Labour derail the important action we're taking.
Grant Shapps signature
Grant Shapps

P.S This is an important way you can help our campaign to win the next election – so please check out the website today.

Iron Discipline? No, it's the same old Labour

As Labour's conference begins the Conservatives have pointed out that their promises of fiscal discipline completely fail to reflect reality.

As they point out on the Share The Facts website at http://sharethefacts.conservatives.com/,


"On 3rd June this year, Ed Balls said that the Labour Party would need to show ‘an iron discipline’ on public spending. Ed Miliband followed up in a speech three days later: ‘The next Labour government will have less money to spend…we will have to be laser focused on how we spend every single pound’.

"Tough words, but not followed up with tough action. Since 3rd June, Labour’s frontbench have made policy commitments that would cost the country £27.9 billion in 2015/16 (read the dossier that proves the figures here).

"This is the equivalent of £1,059 additional borrowing for every household.

"Nothing has changed – it is the same old Labour Party, offering only more spending, more borrowing and more debt.

"It’s the kind of something for nothing economics that got us into a mess in the first place and it is hardworking people who would pay the price with higher taxes, higher mortgage rates and higher bills.

"Tell everyone you know about Labour’s plans by sharing the graphic below."



More joy in heaven over one sinner that repents ...

Another fascinating article on Conservative Home this weekend, this time from former Swedish MP and trade minister Maria Borelius, in which she does something very rare for a current or former politician and admits she was totally wrong about something important - in this case whether her country should join the Euro.

It is called  Why I was wrong on the Euro, am no longer a Europhile, and why Europe needs reform and you can read the whole thing here.

An extract from the start of the article reads as follows.

Ten years ago, Sweden held a referendum on joining the euro. I voted Yes – and I was not alone. A whole host of business leaders, including the Swedish CBI, the main political parties - both on left and right - and the major national newspapers, all were in favour of joining. The Swedish CBI put a record £45 million into the campaign to ditch the Swedish Krona, as the yes-side funding outspent the no-side by a factor of 10-1.

I still remember the shock when we realised we had lost ...  A clear majority of Swedes – 56 per cent versus 41 per cent - had defied the establishment and said No to the euro.


A week is a long time in politics, and ten years a lifetime. Today, over 80 per cent of Swedes oppose the country joining the eurozone. The issue is completely off the table, with the eurozone crisis in its third year. Greece, Cyprus, Spain and Portugal have been saved by the bell, in some cases more than once. Or rather by the little old ladies in Heidelberg and Helsinki, on whose tacit approval the bailout of weaker eurozone countries and the survival of the euro rests.
 
So how could I – and so many others – have be so wrong? It’s not as if there were no warnings. Some came from dissenting voices within the establishment, but most from ordinary citizens.
 
I vividly remember a conversation I had with a car dealer in rural Northern Sweden. “You know what”, he told me, “I won’t vote Yes because I don’t believe Greece will manage the convergence criteria.” That very simple and profound analysis proved bang on, but it eluded some of the country’s leading economists.

Our motives were noble. To us, the euro was a way of extending the common market, which was essential for our small country with many larger export-oriented companies, such as SAAB and Volvo. Ten per cent of all Swedish exports went to Germany, which was also the single largest market for both IKEA and H&M. The motives were also emotional. “Yes” was a way to end a sense of shame or alienation that had pervaded Sweden after our decision to remain neutral during World War II, a way to promote peace. Maybe my Yes was what psychologists would call a projection. I made the euro into what I wanted it to be. So part of the “Yes” was a dream, a Utopia in Brussels - but the devil is in the details. And they did not work.

Quote of the Day 22nd Sept 2013


"If politicians lived on praise and thanks they'd be forced into some other line of business."

(Ted Heath)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Vote on it again until you get it right ...


While I was treasurer of the University of Bristol Union I once asked for a recount on a very close vote by show of hands. The recount gave a different outcome, and one of the people who had voted for the original result accused me of operating the policy of "vote on it again until you get it right."

I don't think that is a fair characterisation of asking for a recount when there are only a handful of votes in it, but people do sometimes act like that, and the EU is a particular culprit.

However, I've had to confront twice in the past few days - once in the case of a comment on this blog, and once at a meeting which discussed the issue of Nuclear waste - that there are some issues which you can't just drop when the first proposal to be voted on falls.

Suppose there is a proposal to change the electoral system to AV or STV, to declare independence from some wider group, to sign a particular treaty, and it is voted down by a clear margin the electorate.

In any of these cases the response of a believer in democracy should be "the people have rejected it, drop it."

At the other extreme, many organisations have to set a budget, and it is by no means unheard of for the first proposed budget put forward to be voted down.

In this case it would be an act of complete insanity to say "the budget has been voted down so people don't want a budget and we're not going to have one." You have to keep trying to work out a compromise budget until you get one which can be agreed.

This isn't "Vote on it again until you get it right" but "Vote on budget options until you get a package which the majority can support."

There are other issues on which some positive decision has to be taken and the first proposal put forward being voted down does not mean that the issue can be dropped.

Dealing with the nuclear waste which already exists in this country, of which we have hundreds of tons, (most of it currently stored within fifteen miles of my home) is such an example.

That nuclear waste did not magically disappear when Cumbria County Council's cabinet voted against continuing with the original "Managing Radioactive Waste Safely" process.

The waste is still there, it will still exist whether or not we have a new generation of nuclear power plants, and any responsible government will still have a duty to work out what is the best place to deal with it.

I hope the government will make a genuine attempt to address the issues raised by Cumbria's cabinet when they voted to stop the previous process, such as providing a guarantee that a community which starts the process will be able to pull out if the deal on the table is not good enough.

I will be interested to see whether any council located in a part of the country other than West Cumbria comes forward. (But I would strongly advise ministers not to hold their breath while they wait.)

But the government is being right and responsible in continuing to trying to find a solution to the problem of nuclear waste. It isn't "Vote on it again until you get it right" but "Vote on options to deal with nuclear waste until you get a safe, long-term solution which the majority of people in the district where the waste ends up can support."

Quote of the day 21st Sept 2014


"An independent is the guy who wants to take the politics out of politics"

(Attributed to Sir Winston Churchill)

Conservative Home on "proper conservatives" vs. "The Economist"

I usually enjoy reading "The Economist" even though I often disagree with it. Particularly when it endorses left wing candidates in elections.

There is a fascinating "Heresy of the week" piece on Conservative Home today which examines and critiques why the Economist magazine might be tempted to do so, which you can read here.

I can't find a signature on the article but from discussions I had with him thirty years ago when we were both students I recognise the philosophy as very distinctively either that of Paul Goodman (now editor of Conservative Home) or someone who thinks very, very much like him.

The article includes a fascinating attempt to define what a "proper conservative" is - as someone who believes that

"humanity is fallible in every respect"

and that

"Only conservatism – true conservatism, that is – sees that the flaws in human nature compromise everything that we do and think. This is a hard truth to accept, which is why almost all of us carve out exceptions and place them on a pedestal they don’t deserve."

There is at least one problem with the analysis the author of the Conservative Home article derives from this -  there appears to be an unspoken implicit assumption that "proper conservatives" as defined above will be at least to some extent socially conservative and economically liberal.

In my own case this doesn't apply because I would count as a "proper conservative" by the above definition - I agree with the statements in bold above - but my "political compass" type scores are consistently "bottom right" e.g. both economically and socially liberal.

This is because my distrust of flawed humanity leads me to want to place limits on the powers of any human authority because I do not trust such authorities, either in the economic or social sphere, with unlimited power to tell other people what to do.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Quote of the day 20th September 2013)

"There is no art which one government sooner learns of another than that of draining money from the pockets of the people."
 
(Adam Smith, The Wealth Of Nations)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Latest YOUGOV poll has Conservatives and Labour neck and neck

It would be a huge mistake for Conservatives to start getting complacent about the next election - the latest Ashcroft marginal seats polling suggests that a combination of Tory vote share losses to UKIP, and Lib/Dem losses to Labour, in the most critical battleground constituencies means that Labour is currently in a better position in those key marginals than their national average vote share suggests.

Nevertheless Labour can't be complacent either, and they will not be delighted to learn as they head for their party conference that the YOUGOV poll released today in the Sun newspaper is the second major poll in a month to put Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck.

The figures are:

Conservative    36%
Labour              36%
UKIP                 12%
Lib/Dem            10%


This  is within the margin of error of recent YOUGOV polls which had a small Labour lead (though of course errors can go in either direction.) However the 14% lead Labour enjoyed a year ago has clearly gone.

This poll also has the Conservatives 2% ahead among voters aged 18-24 and level pegging with female voters. 

What this shows is that NO party has the next election in the bag - there is EVERYTHING to play for. A Conservative outright win, a Labour outright win, or a hung parliament are all real possibilities.

All the more need for all parties to listen to voters and try to address their most pressing concerns, especially on issues like the cost of living, jobs, taxes, immigration and health,

Quote of the Day 19th September

“The power to tax is the power to destroy.”
 
(John Marshall)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Seagulls in Whitehaven

"Don't Blame Innocent Gulls

Chris Whiteside is wrong to blame the seagulls"

(Whitehaven News, April 2007)

"War on seagull menace

Children being attacked

Angry Whitehaven residents are suffering a two-pronged attack from problem seagulls ... "


(Front page Whitehaven News headline this week)

It seems that the Whitehaven News has slightly changed their position on seagulls in the town since they stirred up an amazing amount of fuss six years ago with an attack on me, admittedly one which came over as partly tongue in cheek, over a few words in this blog about problem seagulls.

What I originally wrote here on 16th April 2007, reporting from feedback on the doorstep in Bransty during the 2007 council election campaign, was as follows:

"There are a lot of these birds in Whitehaven at the moment. You always expect some on coasts and around a harbour but the population is such that some are coming further inland. They can be noisy and aggressive, and in areas where rubbish is still collected in black bags rather than wheelie bins, seagulls have caused an environmental health hazard by tearing the bags open looking for food, and thereby strewing rubbish over the street.

"Copeland council is responsible for pest control; is it time for a set of measures to be taken to check the seagull population in Whitehaven?

"I would like to see an investigation into the environmental impact of the seagull population at it's present level, which should establish whether there is a case for a humane programme of population control."


I took a certain amount of flak over that at the time, and it didn't help that my actual position of supporting non-lethal and humane population control was misrepresented at best as a call for a gull cull and at worst as a proposal to exterminate the entire gull population of the town (which would of course be quite impossible.) However, when the subject has since been raised at council or public meetings, the majority view has nearly always been that the aggressive behaviour of the birds and their propensity for causing a mess were potential problems which need to be monitored and that the population might well need to be reduced.

There are some very strong expressions of concern on Hillcrest and in other parts of Whitehaven this week, both about gulls causing mess and apparently about them "bombing" residents including children. I will post a link when the article goes up on their website.

Watch this space.

Postscript: here is the link:

http://www.whitehavennews.co.uk/news/war-on-seagull-menace-1.1085513

I am also happy to clarify that the people who accused me of wanting a gull cull or trying to make Whitehaven a town without seagulls were correspondents on the Whitehaven News letters page, and not the editorial or news article or the paper itself.

A couple of weeks later, after I had made a joke about the humane non-lethal reduction in the population of Labour councillors, (at the election) one Labour candidate even accused me in the same forum of encouraging the assassination of my political opponents !!

On the Scottish Independence referendum a year from today:

"The nationalists only need to win once, and even then, by only a single vote, to bring to an end the most successful democratic and political union the world has ever seen."

(Alistair Darling on the Scottish Independence Referendum, as quoted in a Telegraph article by Tom Harris MP which you can read here.)

Humour in Politics


Charles Kennedy has lamented the limited amount of political humour on display at this years' Lib/Dem conference, saying that if reflects a defensive political mood in the country.

He told the BBC that "The public needed a bit of humour in a time of austerity."

This would be so easy to parody that I'm not going to bother, not least because he does actually have a point.

I would never have survived being involved in politics for thirty-five years (and counting) without a sense of humour. The ability to laugh at the situation - and ourselves - is one of the things that keeps life bearable and helps us to carry on.

Quote of the Day 18th September 2013

"Every sect is a moral check on its neighbor. Competition is as wholesome in religion as in commerce."

(WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR, Imaginary Conversations)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Making parliament more transparent.

The House of Commons Procedure Committee, chaired by Tory MP Charles Walker, has suggested several important changes to the way Parliament operates to try to make it more logical and accessible.

One idea is that there might be some form of vote allowing bills which command wide support to be brought forward, with some priority for debate (any MP can put down a Bill on any subject - the trick is to get priority for debating time, which is currently allocated by "ballot," which is parliament-speak for a lottery).

This would be a logical extension of the re-empowerment of the Commons which began in the backwash of the expenses scandal

They also suggest that the government would be required to produce a statement giving its view of any Bill set down for second reading, and that it should be possible to ask the House to move the third reading of a private member's bill to prime time, both of which would make the process a bit more sensible.

I would like to see all these ideas given more attention. It might also help the public to see and understand what is going on if MPs who were trying to kill a proposal did so more often by voting it down openly rather than "talking it out" by speaking for longer than was necessary on it, or indeed talking for a little bit longer than was necessary on the previous measure so there wasn't enough time left after the previous bill has gone through.

Intersting article by Mark D'Arcy on the subject on the BBC website  here.

Quote of the Day 17th Sept 2013

“You don't pay back your parents. You can't. The debt you owe them gets collected by your children, who hand it down in turn. It's a sort of entailment. Or if you don't have children of the body, it's left as a debt to your common humanity. Or to your God, if you possess or are possessed by one.

The family economy evades calculation in the gross planetary product. It's the only deal I know where, when you give more than you get, you aren't bankrupted - but rather, vastly enriched.”

 
(Lois McMaster Bujold, lines from the comedy SF romance A Civil Campaign which is a sort of Regency Romance set in space in the far future.)

Three Party consensus for nuclear power

The Lib/Dem vote on nuclear power means that Britain now has a three party consensus that nuclear power can form part of the energy mix.

This is a good thing. We urgently need new generating capacity, preferably of several different types to increase Britain's energy security, and including as much low-carbon generation as possible.

Including nuclear power in the mix ticks all those boxes.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on the veil controversy

I do not often agree with Yasmin Alibhai Brown, but I thought her article in the Independent, which you can read here, on the difficult question of full-face veils, was interesting and worth reading. It must have taken considerable courage and a lot of soul searching to write and publish this.

It isn't an issue on which there are any simple or easy answers.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Quote of the day 16th Sept 2013

“When you have got an elephant by the hind legs and he is trying to run away, it's best to let him run.”

(Abraham Lincoln)

Non-quote of the day

A list of actual (mostly) and alleged Abraham Lincoln quotes on the internet included the following

“The difficult thing with quotes on the internet is verifying them.” 

Hm. Don't need to ring up Nigel Rees to ask whether it was really Abraham Lincoln who said that one.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

All to play for - but watch the marginals

Considering that

 * there are nearly two years to go to the next General Election,

 * the government has had to carry out a lot of very painful measures to try to correct the dreadful debt mountain and deficit inherited from Labour in 2010, and

 * after five years of pain (starting well before the present government was elected) the economy is starting to turn round

Labour's lead in the opinion polls looks narrow and extremely fragile.

However, Lord Ashcroft's polling of marginal seats which you can find here suggests that the risk of a Miliband win in the next General Election - which would be an absolute disaster for Britain - is much greater than the headline Labour lead in the polls suggests.

Although Labour's overall percentage point leads in recent polls have been in low single figures, Lord Ashcroft's polling shows that in the 32 Conserative/Labour marginals within the most vulnerable 40 Conservative-held constituencies, in which we had an average lead of 3% at the 2010 general election Labour now has a lead of 14%. The most recent increase has not been due to an improvement in Labour's share of the vote: it is due to former Tory voters who are considering a vote for UKIP.

The original improvement in Labour's position in marginal seats was due to former Lib/Dems voters switching to Labour, a factor which seems to have been particularly pronounced in Con/Lab marginals.

VOTE UKIP - GET MILIBAND

As Michael Ashcroft points out, there is a danger that Conservative defectors to UKIP might put Ed Miliband and Ed Balls into Downing Street as Prime Minister and Chancellor. The Mail on Sunday picks up the same point in the second item on their leader page today, which you can read here.

However, wise Conservatives should take these poll results not as a counsel of despair but as a warning against complacency, which is certainly how Ashcoft himself sees it.

It indicates we have to listen harder than ever to ordinary voters and try to address their concerns.

That doesn't mean trying to copy UKIP's policies - this would lose as many votes to the Lib/Dems and Labour as we gained back from UKIP.

It does mean we must keep working to turn round Britain's economy, continue to create more jobs, cut red tape, get the balance right on welfare, bring immigration under control, cut crime, reduce the deficit - and make sure the voters are aware of what we are doing to make progress in all those areas.

It also indicates that we have to run a very focussed, disciplined campaign and not take anything, or any voter, for granted.

As Michael Ashcroft concluded his report,

"Labour struggled to establish their economic credentials, and now there is mounting evidence that things are looking up.

Miliband shows no sign of closing the leadership ratings gap with the incumbent, a factor that will come to matter more in the months before polling day.

For the Conservatives, the challenge of remaining in government, let alone winning an overall majority, is formidable. But I think the contest will be close and enthralling."

I agree entirely. The next election could be very close indeed and there is everything to play for.

British Journalism (2)

Lord Ashcroft's tweet about the Mirror missing out the word "no" was actually the second piece of shoddy journalism this weekend which made me think of the Humbert Wolfe quote about the British Journalist.

The first was an express headline claiming that the Prime Minister knew about allegations that the SAS had killed Princess Diana and failed to act on them.

Except that when you read beyond the first two lines of the article it doesn't prove anything of the sort.

Anyone with an interest in paranoid fantasies and mischief making can read the Daily Express article in full here but a little light fisking of some of the claims in the article follows.

Express: "DAVID CAMERON and the head of the Army knew the SAS were allegedly responsible for the murder of Princess Diana – but failed to tell police."

The article which follows provides no substantive evidence for either of those things.

Express:  "The Prime Minister and General Sir Peter Wall were sent copies of a letter claiming members of the elite regiment killed the princess."

The main purpose of the communication described in the article was a request for protection from the writer's husband, an SAS soldier, who she accused of mental and physical abuse and of threatening her life. The writer did mention her husband's allegations that the SAS was involved in the death of the Princess, but the context suggests that she was mainly concerned with what those comments imply about him being a current danger to herself. And if she is reporting him correctly, is such a loose cannon likely to be a reliable or well-informed witness about what happened sixteen years ago?

Express: "They and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, who also received the letter, now face being questioned by Scotland Yard over why they did not act and remained silent."

Not if Scotland Yard are remotely competent, they don't!

The hacks who wrote this nonsense are probably paid more than an MP. They know perfectly well that the Prime Minister of the day, the defence secretary, and the head of the army receive more mail and email every day than they can possibly read themselves. So they employ people to sift through them, decide what's important, and draw to the attention of the PM or other senior figure what they think he or she needs to see.

I would be prepared to bet that in the years since the death of Princess Diana, the offices of successive Prime Ministers, Defence secretaries, and Chiefs of the General Staff have received literally thousands of letters from conspiracy theorists alleging that the Princess was murdered by MI6, the SAS, the KGB, the CIA, the mafia, the masons, the illuminati, little green men from Mars, and uncle Tom Cobbley.

These offices are staffed by mortal human beings, and by the time they've been working there for any length of time, the reaction to another allegation that the SAS killed Princess Diana must be "Oh no, not another one."

If there is anything new in such an accusation they probably do pass it to the relevant police authorities but I don't believe for a moment that every letter making that kind of allegation sent to the PM's office gets anywhere near him or her. So the fact that such letters were sent to the PM, Defence Secretary, and head of the army and that their offices replied does not prove that David Cameron, or Philip Hammond ever saw them.

I suspect that the MAIN concern of the author of the letter, namely her safety, may well have been drawn to the PM's attention, but any conversation might have been something like this

"And next, Prime Minister, we have a copy of a letter to the chief of the general staff from the wife of an SAS soldier who is asking for protection from her husband - she says he has physically and emotionally abused her, and she's afraid he might try to kill her."

"I trust action will be taken to make sure she has any protection which is needed?"

"Yes Prime Minister, Sir Peter's office has already been in contact with her husband's regiment to see what can be done to ensure her safety.

"Good. Write to say that I'm sorry to hear of her difficulties. Next item ?"

The Chief of the General Staff did contact the commanding officer of the soldier concerned, and the head of special forces, so the allegation that the people who received the letter "did not act" does not stand up to scrutiny.

Express: "Number 10 and the Ministry of Defence were informed of the alleged crime in February by the wife of a former SAS soldier, the Daily Express can reveal. Scotland Yard is now investigating the murder claims but detectives only learned of the allegations following a complaint by Mohammed Al Fayed, whose son Dodi died alongside Diana."

But a few paragraphs later, the Express also quotes the February 2013 letter as saying that these same allegations had already been passed to the police in September 2011.

Since the letter told No 10 and the Ministry of Defence that these accusations had already been given to the police eighteen months previously, it seems somewhat dubious to blame Number Ten and the MoD if - and I take this with a bucketful of salt - Scotland Yard did not learn of the allegations until some later date.

It is really rather sad to see journalists who ought to know better to try to drag the present government and Chief of the Army General staff into these sensationalised reports.

British Journalism (1)

Humbert Wolfe once wrote

"You cannot hope to bribe or twist
(thank God!) the British journalist.
But, seeing what the man will do
unbribed, there's no occasion to."

Two extreme examples this weekend.

Referring to how the Mirror covered his most recent polling survey of the position in marginal seats (of which more anon), Lord Ashcroft posted the following tweet this morning:


I can't think of a worse form of misrepresentation than to quote someone but miss out a negative such as "no" or "not."

Quote of the Day 15th September 2013

"Many laws as certainly make bad men, as bad men make many laws."

(WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR, Imaginary Conversations)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Quote of the Day 14th September 2013

"Oh, it is excellent to have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant."

(WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Measure for Measure)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Barroso makes a fool of himself

Some of my colleagues were rather upset by the attack on British Conservaties in general, and Martin Callanan, Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in particular, by EU Commission president Manuel Barroso.

Personally I felt that Barroso's attacks on Martin and my colleagues were too silly to be worth getting upset about. And the chances of it losing the Conservatives any votes are somewhere between slim and none - most floating voters will not have picked up his remarks at all. And of those who do there will probably be as many who think getting attacked by the head of the commission indicates that your criticisms have hit a raw nerve as those who think this is something to be worried about.

He accused "Eurosceptics" of wanting Europe "back in the trenches" and delighting in Europe's difficulties.

No. Euro-phobes are the people who cheer when things go wrong in Europe and want to to back to the trenches.

Euro-sceptics are the people who put forward constructive criticism.

What did sadden me is that Manuel Barroso's inability to see the difference between Conservative and UKIP policies suggests he has lost sight of the difference. Which is not a good place for the head of the european civil service to be.

Quote of the Day 13th September 2013

"Delay of justice is injustice."

(WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR, Imaginary Conversations)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Anglicans in Wales vote for women bishops


In England as in Wales, the overwhelming majority of members of the Anglican church support the consecration of women as bishops, and by the same proportion as the general public - nearly three to one.

Almost all the existing bishops support this, a majority of clergy support it, and a majority of lay representatives in the General Synod support it.

I was horrified when by just four votes the "Stop the world, God wants us to get off" tendancy managed to get a blocking third in one of the three houses of the General Synod to stop the proposal, which needed a two-thirds majority in all three chambers. Thus creating the unfair but understandable impression for the general public that the Church of England is a bunch of dinosaurs left over from the last millenium and with nothing useful to say about this one.

So I welcome the long overdue decision by the Church in Wales to consecrate women as bishops and I hope the Church of England will do the same in the near future.

When the original debate about whether to ordain women as priests took place I can remember that there were strong and sincere arguments put forward by both sides. One of relatively few areas of common ground - indeed, it was used as an argument by the opponents of change - was that the ordination of women priests would make inevitable the eventual consecration of women bishops. I have to confess myself absolutely astonished that thirty years later it hasn't happened.

And while I could respect those who argued against the ordination of women even while I disagreed with them, there is no possible shred of inellectual coherence in the idea that God would call women to be priests but not bishops.

Lib/Dem minister says he didn't claim God is a Lib/Dem

I had to laugh at the BBC headline

"God not a Lib/Dem says minister."

"You're telling me!" I thought.

In fact the headline is slightly unfair, and the minister concerned, Lib/Dem Steve Webb, was trying to draw a distinction between what he had said, that God is liberal and what he hadn't, that God is a Liberal Democrat.

If there really is a god, I suspect that He would not neatly fit into almost any human category, though I can think of at least one controversial issue on which He might actually be more liberal than Steve Webb, if not most of his party.

Judging by how consistently Jesus refused to go along with those who tried to condemn people because of their sexuality - once stopping a lynch mob cold with the words "Let him who has no sin throw the first stone" - I suspect some of the critics of equal marriage may be very surprised by what He has to say to them when they meet.

DC writes: tell us about a great small business in your area

Prime Minister David Cameron writes:

"While there is still a long way to go, our economy is turning a corner – and Britain’s small businesses can claim a big share in this revival.
"Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy – providing nearly half of all private sector jobs. And since 2010 we’ve seen over 300,000 of them start up.
"This Government is getting behind Britain’s entrepreneurs in every way possible: from Start-Up Loans to help new businesses get off the ground – to our New Enterprise Allowance for those who are unemployed and want to set up on their own.
"Today in Downing Street I met just a few of the people who have made use of that help: Tom from Warwickshire who’s recently set up a micro brewery with his younger brother; Jessica from Newcastle who’s gone into business selling children’s clothes; Richard from York who in his sixties has started up his own florist.
"Let’s celebrate these people – and everyone who is driving Britain’s recovery. Today we’re stepping up our Supporting Small Business campaign to do just that.
"Entrepreneurship is at the heart of my vision for Britain: a nation brimming full of aspiration, jobs and opportunity - a country where everyone who works hard can make it in life. This Government is backing small businesses every step of the way."
Yours,
David Cameron signature
David Cameron



Anyone wishing to take the Prime minister up on this suggestion can do so at

http://www.yourfavouritesmallbusiness.com/




Quote of the Day 12th September 2013

"It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live."
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(Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

George Osborne writes: Britain is turning the corner

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne writes ...
"These are still the early stages of the economic recovery and many risks remain, but thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of the British people, Britain is turning a corner.
"New figures out today show that unemployment has fallen again and the private sector has created more than 1.4 million new jobs over the past three years.
Stop the Militax

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"We must now continue to stick to our economic plan. The best way to improve living standards is to tackle our deep economic problems head on and build an economy where those who aspire to work hard and do the right thing are rewarded.
"Amazingly, Labour still want more government spending, more borrowing and more debt. This would undermine the recovery and put up mortgage rates and bills, squeezing living standards for hardworking people.
"We can’t let them get away with it. Share this graphic on Facebook and Twitter today and help show how the Conservatives are building an economy that works for everyone."
George Osborne signature
George Osborne

Governments propose further cuts to 2014 EU budget

The EU Commission proposed a budget of €136.06bn for 2014, but the Council - which represents member states - has voted to cut this by €1.06bn.

This has generated some flak from the commission.

Presenting the Council's position on 10 September 2013, Lithuanian Finance Minister Algimantas Rimkunas said he supported a "realistic and balanced" budget.

He insisted that there were no "general and unjustified cuts" proposed, saying that all planned reductions were on the basis of "detailed analysis of operational expenditure".

However the Council's position was criticised by the EU's Budgets Commissioner, Janusz Lewandowski, who accused EU governments of "going their traditional way of cutting".

I only wish that were their traditional way, but there is more joy in heaven over a sinner who repents ...

MEPs are expected to reach their position on the budget by the end of October. If - as usually happens - there are differences between the Parliament and the Council's position, a three week "conciliation" period will commence, with a view to the budget being formally signed during the December plenary session.

There has also been discussion in the EU parliament of a so-called "amending budget" for 2013, with the European Commission saying an extra €3bn was needed to cover shortfalls in the current budget.

British Conservative MEP Marta Andreasen said that the need for amending budget was a "sign of failure, a failure to ensure that taxpayers' money is properly spent".

For more details see the BBC Democracy live website here.

Quote of the Day 11th Sept 2013

"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty or justice.

But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary."

(Adam Smith, "The Wealth of Nations")

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

EU's own lawyers say the proposed EU "Tobin Tax" is illegal

A 14-page legal opinion suggests that the proposed "Financial Transactions Tax" (FTT) to be introduced by eleven EU member states is unlawful in that it would exceed member states' tax powers and is also incompatible with the EU treaty.

The FTT, also known as the Robin Hood tax and Tobin tax, is set to be adopted by Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Portugal, Greece, Slovenia, Slovakia and Estonia.

A number of other states, including the UK, are strongly opposed to the plan.

According to press reports the legal document drawn up by the EU Council legal services says the transaction tax plan "exceeds member states' jurisdiction for taxation under the norms of international customary law."

and that the proposal

"infringes upon the taxing competences of non-participating member states,"

making it incompatible with the EU treaty. Also, because only 11 EU members are signed up, this  would make the tax

"discriminatory and likely to lead to distortion of competition to the detriment of non participating member states."

BBC World Service economics correspondent Andrew Walker says the countries concerned can press ahead, as this is just a non-binding legal opinion, but it is a warning that they would risk losing if it were to end up in court.

"This legal opinion is a very serious setback for the 11 countries' plans," he said.


British government ministers fear the tax could be imposed on British firms trading with businesses based in one of those states. In April, Britain launched a legal challenge to the plans in the European Court of Justice.

The City of London could be hit by the tax if, for example, a British firm trades with branches of French or German banks based in the capital.

The British government would have to collect the tax, but would not be allowed to keep it.

Business lobby groups are concerned that British companies trading with the UK branches of French or German banks could be hit by the tax.

In response to the EU lawyers' opinion, the CBI's head of financial services and corporate governance, Leo Ringer, said:

"This opinion recognises that the FTT would have damaging implications for growth, jobs and investment beyond the member states involved, so now is the time to draw a line under this flawed proposal.

"It also makes clear that moves towards further integration between a number of EU countries can't be taken forward if they impact on the rights of all member states, unless all states affected have signed up."

A bunch of economic illiterates calling themselves "The Robin Hood Tax campaign group" said the UK's legal move was about "defending one rather rich square mile".

Presumably these toytown trots either do not realise, or don't care, the extent to which the earnings of that one square mile kept much of the rest of the UK economy afloat during the recent recessions.

It's fashionable to despise bankers - and heaven knows there are some bankers who have a lot to answer for. That does not alter the fact that if we were stupid enough to drive large chunks of the City of London's business to New York, Zurich, Singapore or Tokyo, which is precisely what idiotic measures like the unilateral adoption by the EU of punitive taxes on banking might do, then bankers would not be the only people in the UK who would suffer.

A serious loss of income, such as Britain would experience if a transactions tax drove a significant part of the City of London's income to financial centres in other countries outside the EU where the  the tax did not apply would hit ordinary British people as well as "fat cats."

It would mean that ordinary British working men and women would lose their jobs. It would mean less taxes to pay for schools and hospitals. It would mean even more cuts in welfare. It would mean that the "Squeezed Middle" would be squeezed even harder.

I hope this opinion drives the EU countries which are part of the proposed FTT to think again.

Quote of the Day 10th September 2013

"There is no such thing as a good tax."

(Sir Winston Churchill)

Monday, September 09, 2013

Minecraft

I have long suspected that I am far from the only parent who is concerned about the amount of time their offspring spend playing the online game "Minecraft" or watching Youtube videos of other people playing the game.

An article by BBC Technology correspondent Mark Ward on the BBC website here confirms this and explains "Why Minecraft is more than just another video game."

Apparently Minecraft has a huge following estimated at about 33 million users worldwide - that's the number of copies of the game the creators have sold - particularly among children aged between about nine and fifteen, mainly but not exclusively boys. Among the keenest officionados Mark Ward describes the game as "almost a religion."

This is a remarkable level of growth for a game which is about two years old: Minecraft was

  • Developed in Sweden by Markus Persson and his company Mojang - officially released in 2011

  • Minecraft has spawned a number of spin-off businesses: for example, Bristol-based Yogscast, which produces commentary videos, became the first British Youtube channel to achieve 1bn views.


  • In Minecraft's favour, the game provides far more of an intellectual challenge than slouching in front of the TV would. The complexity of the worlds, structures and tools created by many players, and the sophistication of their strategies, can be remarkable. In the society which today's children will inhabit, where online skills may be critical to their success, this game is likely to be helping to develop some abilities which the players will need in the future.

    The problem is deciding where the balance lies: I would not want my children or anyone else's to spend so much time in front of the computer screen that they become physically unfit or lose the ability to relate to real people or the outside world.

    Again, I suspect I am not the only parent who has had some full and frank discussions with their children, and had to lay down rules, about how much time it is reasonable for them to spend on the computer. I suspect there is no right answer on how much time is right for any given child, and the only rule which is universally applicable is to keep a close eye on what your children are doing online.