Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Living in a fantasy world

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

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

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

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

he added that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the day 30th June 2015

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

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

Monday, June 29, 2015

Equal Marriage


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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Woodhead's last Q&A


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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

Quote of the day 29th June 2015

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, June 28, 2015

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

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



And remember, #SupportOption1

Final attempt to save St Bees School

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

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



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

‘what went wrong?’

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

‘how did the school lose control of bursaries?’

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

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

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

Her letter reads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the day 28th June 2015

 

 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

More on why the polls got it wrong

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

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

an international phenomenon:

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

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

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

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

Herding - did the pollsters lie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his words,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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



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

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

Putting everything together I come up with three conclusions

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

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

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

Quote of the day 27th June 2015

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 26, 2015

When Truth and Parody are almost indistinguishable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Labour and Business

As the Daily Telegraph pointed out recently,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the story at

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

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

EU Summit progress:

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

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

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

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

Quote of the day 26th June 2015


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Helping people to start businesses and create jobs


The Lib/Dem Gotterdammerung

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

Certainly for political anoraks like me it is compulsive reading.

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

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

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

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

Now compare that with this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


You can find this article at:

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

Did the polling companies skew their results ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the day 25th June 2015

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

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

David Cameron and Sayeeda Warsi are both right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of rich people, tax and hyprocrisy

I'm going to do something rare, and say a few words in defence of Lord Peter Mandelson.

The most frequently used and misleading out-of-context quote in modern politics has to be Margaret Thatcher's words "No such thing as society" which when ripped from the proper context that people should look after their neighbours rather than leave it to "society" to help them sounds like the exact opposite of what she was actually saying.

But a contender for the second-most-frequently used and misleading out-of-context quote is Peter Mandelson's words that the New Labour government was "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich" if the person quoting omits that he continued "as long as they pay their taxes."

Let me make this clear - I don't believe in the ridiculous version of "trickle-down theory" that much of the left is wrongly convinced people on the right believe, e.g. that making the rich richer will always also make the poor richer with no further action needed, and I've never met anyone who does.

I believe that taxes should be low enough to ensure that everyone always has an incentive to succeed - confiscatory taxation is not just unreasonable but self defeating - but high enough on all income above a certain level to ensure that a proportion of that income is used to support the needs of society such as schools and hospitals, and have as few loopholes as possible.

If you set tax rates at a sensible level, and enforce them properly, you can get a lot of tax revenue from very rich people to pay for things like schools and hospitals. If you try to take everything, you will find that you have killed the golden goose.

This is not the same as the "trickle down" theory but its' exact opposite because I am explaining how you extract the maximum amount of tax revenue from the rich.

There are of course some very wealthy people who make a big fuss about supporting the Labour party or people even more left wing. Some people on the right or in the press call them hypocrites. I don't see any need to be personally offensive about this.

If a rich socialist reduces tax through legal means, then it is as wrong for the right to criticise them for something we would do ourselves in the same position, as it is for a rich socialist whose own family has carefully reduced their own tax liability - such as Ed Miliband, for instance - to criticise Conservatives or business leaders for doing the same.

I don't smoke or drink. If I did either, I would have to pay tax on that activity. Does the fact that I don't smoke or drink therefore make me a tax avoider?

What IS entirely legitimate, however, when a rich socialist is campaigning for the Labour party or  even further left, and if that person has done something different in their own lives to what they urge on everyone else, is to point it out and remind everyone that actions speak louder than words.

And the actions of people like Charlotte Church and Martin Freeman are a much stronger argument showing why socialist policies are unworkable than any number of words or marches can make in the other direction.

Let's consider a few of those actions

Charlotte Church

Guido's article in the Sun on Charlotte Church's directorships.

Ms Church is a member of the "People’s Assembly against Austerity" – whose aims include ‘increasing taxes on the super-rich’ and ‘closing tax loopholes’

As Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes) points out in the Sun in the link above, that is difficult to reconcile with how this particular millionaire runs her own financial affairs.

Church is the director of five companies that are all registered to the London address of Thomas Harris Accountants.

“Lowering and deferring tax is, of course, a key aim” boasts the firm’s website, by “taking advantage of allowances and reliefs of which many people are unaware.”


Martin Freeman

Link to Daily Mail article on Martin Freeman's financial affairs,

The Daily Mail alleges that in 2008, the actor set up a company called Geoffrey Joseph Limited, which has been trading ever since. Freeman is its only director and shareholder.

This company was incorporated by an accountancy firm called Hogbens Dunphy, which claims to have expertise in helping wealthy entertainment figures deal with ‘income tax, capital gains tax, trusts and estates, and non-domiciliary tax issues’.
 
On its website, Hogbens Dunphy advertises for clients by claiming: ‘Every pound of income tax you save means more income at your disposal. Every well planned disposal of assets means minimal loss of capital gains, and every inheritance tax saving means more benefit for your beneficiaries.
 
The Daily Mail also alleges that he and his partner decided to let her go bankrupt in December 2012 to avoid paying a £120,000 tax bill, at a time when he reportedly had assets worth £10 million. (they add that the bill was subsequently paid in May 2013 after details of the bankruptcy were revealed by the press.)


Is there any precedent for a politician or campaigner paying more to the exchequer than they had to?

As a matter of fact, there is. At a time in the last century when the country was struggling with crippling debts, a prominent and wealthy politician wrote anonymous letters to The Times signed "FST" explaining that he thought the rich should voluntarily help pay off the country's debts. He tried to set an example by giving a fifth of his own considerable wealth.

So it is not quite unknown for a wealthy person to pay the government more than they have to, although it is not a very common occurrence.

So was it a member of the Labour party? Not in that case, no.

Was it any other left-winger? Again, in that particular case, no.

Many years later, I think after his death, it came out that "FST" was the Financial Secretary to Treasury - Stanley Baldwin, a Conservative who was later prime minister.

https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Stanley_Baldwin

Quote of the day 24th June 2014

“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”
  
( Ambrose Bierce )

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A surprise which should not have been

I was amused to hear it described on the radio this morning as a surprise that the Republican governor of South Carolina, Nikki R. Haley called on Monday for South Carolina to do what just a week ago seemed politically impossible — remove the Confederate battle flag from its perch in front of the State House building here.

Governor Haley, an Indian-American, is the first member of an ethnic minority to serve as governor of the state as well as the first woman.

She argued that a symbol long revered by many Southerners was for some, after the church massacre in Charleston, a

“deeply offensive symbol of a brutally offensive past”

and added that

“The events of this week call upon us to look at this in a different way.”

A few minutes ago the South Carolina House of Representatives voted 103 to 10 to debate Governor Haley's request. The state senate also agreed on a voice vote.

The only thing which was surprising about this was the fact that some people thought it was a surprise. I am indebted to Quentin Langley for some aspects of the history below


1860 - Republican President associated with opposition to slavery elected
1860 - in response Southern Democrats begin preparing plans to secede/rebel
1861 - Democrats first fly Confederate flag in South Carolina as symbol of secession/rebellion.
1865 - Confederates lose. Republican President removes flag of the defeated rebellion.
1962 - Democrats decide to fly the flag again
1995 - Republican governor removes it
2000 - Democrat legislature passes law, signed by a Democrat governor, requiring the flag be flown
2015 - Gunman murders nine black people. Arrested suspect had posed with Confederate flag
2015 - some Democrats demand to know why Republican governor is flying the flag
2015 - Republican governor asks state legislature for agreement to remove the flag.

Chris Woodhead RIP

Sir Chris Woodhead, England's former chief inspector of schools, has died.
 
Sir Chris, who was aged 68, was a high-profile head of the Ofsted education watchdog between 1994 and 2000. He had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2006.

Writing as the son, nephew, cousin, uncle and friend of teachers I am aware that Chris Woodhead's outspoken way of expressing his wish to improve standards for children sometimes made him a highly controversial figure.

But what cannot be contested is that he fought very hard with the aim of creating better opportunities for Britain's children. He argued: "I am paid to challenge mediocrity, failure and complacency."

Prime Minister David Cameron has tweeted: "Chris Woodhead started a crucial debate on school standards and reform. Meetings with him were never dull. My thoughts are with his family."
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan described him as an "immense figure in the world of education".
 
"His determination to ensure that every child had the best education possible raised aspirations and changed lives. He was someone unafraid to speak his mind or challenge established orthodoxies and our education system is the better for it," said Mrs Morgan.

After resigning from Ofsted in 2000, Sir Chris became a professor of education at the University of Buckingham. He was awarded a knighthood in 2011.

Sir Chris was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and later became patron of the campaign group Dignity in Dying.

Rest in Peace

Fisking Paul Krugman's Seriously Bad Ideas

A "New York Times" correspondent called Paul Krugman was in Oxford this month and write an article called "Seriously Bad Ideas," a title which is far more accurate as a description of the content of the article than of the ideas it was attacking.

For all I know he may have a good understanding of the US economy. But so far as Britain is concerned Mr Krugman is an even better candidate than Polly Toynbee if you are looking for a contrarian indicator - e.g. the main points he makes about this country, assume the opposite.

He starts with the perfectly valid point that the main cause of the crash from which we are now slowly recovering was "an inadequately regulated financial industry run wild" - although in my experience he is wrong to suggest anyone is seriously challenging that - but goes downhill from there.

He suggests that the "economic disaster" was "perpetuated by wrongheaded austerity policies"

So far as the Eurozone is concerned he has a point, though an overstated and grossly oversimplified one, because the ECB's policies did err on the side of monetary caution and were perhaps a little too rigid.

So far as Britain is concerned his statement bears no relationship whatsoever to reality. The fact, if not always the propaganda, was that the Treasury and the Bank of England were much more flexible in trying to gradually reduce the deficit without doing so in a deflationary way which might tip the economy into a worse recession than they are usually given credit for. Hence the continuation of carefully monitored Quantitative Easing and schemes like "Help to Buy."

Mr Krugman then accuses policy makers -and it's not clear whether he is talking about both sides of the Atlantic or just the States - of wrongly explaining the economic problems by arguing that

"the story must involve things like a skills gap — it’s not lack of jobs; we have the wrong workers for this high-technology globalized era, etc., etc. — even if there’s no evidence at all that such a gap is impeding recovery."

His link is to a page attacking policymakers in the USA who think there is a skills gap in that country, which he does not. The rest of his article is an attack on economic thinking in the UK, but Paul Krugman is not explicit about whether he thinks we have a skills gap here.

I think we do, and there is indeed evidence that our problems are not just macroeconomic. Indeed, Mr Krugman refers to one item of that evidence later in his own article, the fact that many parts of the British economy have a serious problem with productivity. More serious, in fact, than in any other major Western economy.

The UK's productivity problem is a big enough issue to warrant a major debate on its' own but there was a great piece on this in The Economist three weeks ago which you can read here.

Mr Krugman subtly misrepresents the way the press explained the recession, claiming that

"one important factor in the recent Conservative election triumph was the way Britain’s news media told voters, again and again, that excessive government spending under Labour caused the financial crisis."

No. Everyone accepts that what triggered the crisis was mismanagement by the world's financials services industry, particularly investment banking, and the first criticism of the previous Labour government was that the regulatory institutions Gordon Brown had put in place failed to stop this.

However, the burden of ballooning government debt did exacerbate and prolong the recession, and in turn the recession increased the problem of excessive debt which was already a problem in its' own right. That is the criticism of Labour overspending which was rightly made during the election.

Mr Krugman argues, based on comparisons published by the Bank of England over three centuries, that "Britain does not have a public debt problem."

Oh please. Historical comparisons like that one can occasionally be useful in explaining things you don't already understand. They are of no use whatsoever in trying to pretend that problems you obviously do have do not matter.

You can see an up-to-date figure for Britain's national debt at http://www.debtbombshell.com/

That page was written five years ago and most of the text is old but the graphics were updated in Feb 2015 and the figures on the ticking clock on the bombshell are up to date. As I write this post in June 2015 the UK public debt excluding bank bailouts, to the nearest billion pounds, is £1.496 trillion.

You can see the figure including bank bailouts at http://www.nationaldebtclock.co.uk/ and this is currently £1.549 trillion.

And the reason Britain does have a public debt problem is that the interest we have to pay on all that debt is enormous.

Even with interest rates at rock bottom levels, interest on the national debt is expected to be over £46 billion this year. It is expected to stay over £50 billion p.a. for at least the rest of the decade as you can read in a parliamentary report at

 http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN05745/SN05745.pdf

So even with interest rates at miniscule levels, the cost of interest on the government's debts is far more than we are spending on defence.

A modest rise in interest rates such as will be extremely likely as the economy recovers will see that cost quickly outstrip the combined total of present spending of the Home office and Department for Education.

In other words, with debt at the present level and at normal interest rates you can expect to pay more on interest on that debt than we are spending on schools, universities and policing put together.

And although the present government has cut the deficit by a third in absolute terms or by 50% as a proportion of GDP, it is still too large and consequently total debt is still going up.

The suggestion that we can afford to ignore this problem is the real Seriously Bad Idea.

This is what happens if you follow that policy indefinitely ...

David Cameron: Investing in the Drivers of Opportunity

The Prime minister speaking yesterday about extending opportunity, improving schools, and reforming welfare so as to make Britain a society based on high pay, low tax and low welfare with opportunity not for the few, but for everyone.




Quote of the day 23rd June 2015


Monday, June 22, 2015

The argument for Welfare Reform in three statistics

Britain accounts for:

1% of world population

4% of world GDP

7% of the world's total welfare spending.

(Source: yesterday's Sunday Times)

We must ensure the Welfare State continues to provide a safety net for those who really need it, but if we want to afford world class healthcare and education, the situation which those statistics represent is not sustainable.

The left is in retreat all over the world ...

Last month Labour suffered a stunning defeat in the UK election. Last week the left lost power in Denmark. Centre-right politicians have majorities in both houses of the US Congress and hold power  in Germany, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and much of the rest of the developed world. Where the left is still in power they are often in serious trouble

There is a great article by Tim Montgomerie at

http://www.capx.co/the-lefts-great-global-downturn/

which analyses three reasons for the left's current unpopularity in many reasons around the world.

He argues that

1) none of them have come up with a convincing answer to the question "what does it mean to be left-wing when the money runs out?"

2) all of them have trouble explaining where they stand in reference to patriotism, and

3) the left currently has worse problems than the right (not that we can afford to be complacent about this one either) with hard-line purists who would rather lose than compromise.

I strongly recommend a read to anyone who is interested in understanding the challenges facing left and right and has not yet read it.

Many a true word spoken in jest ...

I referred a couple of days ago to a "Daily Mash" article about how

Greek exit from the Eurozone could cause depression, war, famine and disruption to British holidays.

At the time I took this as a joke and I still think it was meant as one.

Then I read at the weekend that, even as the holiday companies are offering holidays in Greece at a bargain discount, there apparently really are plans being put in place for emergency action to bring stranded holidaymakers home from Greece if things go seriously wrong there ....

Quote of the day 22nd June 2015

"Sorry Greece, you lose, and it isn't a game"

(Headline in the Sunday Times yesterday on a Dominic Lawson piece about why the Syriza government of Greece was wrong to assume that the rest of the Eurozone would continue indefinitely handing them money without any effort to sort out their problems because the EU cannot afford to let them walk away.)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Occasional Sunday Music Slot - and now for something completely different

I usually like to listen to classical music, but here is an exception to my usual tastes - Village people miming to their hit "In the Navy" together with the cast of the Kelsey Grammer comedy "Down Periscope" for the end credits of that film.

Watch out for the point where Kelsey Grammer as the commander of the submarine looks through the periscope and sees "Village People" dancing on the upper deck - with himself.




And as the maternity review group meets this Thursday a message for them which we should all send:

WE NEED CONSULTANT-LED MATERNITY AT WCH & FGH

#SupportOption1

Quote of the day Sunday 21st June 2015


Saturday, June 20, 2015

David Cameron writes

The Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party writes



 

"I'm determined not to waste a second in delivering our manifesto commitments.
 
So since the election, we have:
  • Brought forward plans to help families who want to work hard and get on by giving 30 hours' free childcare to working parents of three- and four-year-olds
  • Announced new plans to turn all failing schools into Academies and to make sure all children study key academic subjects, so they get the skills they need
  • Carried on backing businesses so they can keep creating jobs - with 2 million more people in work since 2010
  • Announced important measures to cut down on waste in the NHS, so that every penny goes on getting patients the best possible treatments
  • Continued to help people secure a home of their own, with over 100,000 families now helped onto the housing ladder through our Help to Buy scheme
  • Introduced the Referendum Bill to Parliament to give everyone in Britain a say before the end of 2017
We will keep working through our plan to create more security and opportunity in our country - and, with your help, we can secure a brighter future for everyone in Britain.

Thank you,

David Cameron"

If you are not already a member please think about  joining the Conservative Party today – and together, we can build something special in this country.


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

Quote of the day 20th June 2015

"We embraced foggy thinking and unconvincing platitudes. As a party and a movement, we got what we deserved."

(Jamie Reed MP, writing about Labour's election campaign yesterday in "Progress.")

Friday, June 19, 2015

Jamie Reed takes truth drug

I suggested here that Labour's acting leader Harriet Harman must have taken a truth drug when she admitted in an interview in the "Independent" that Labour had the wrong message and was not trusted by the electorate: the interview produced the headline

"Harriet Harman interview: even labour supporters were glad we didn't win the election says interim leader."

Now it seems that Copeland MP Jamie Reed must also have been at the Sodium Pentathol: he writes "The Last Word" column in the "Progress" website and today's is a doozy.

http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2015/06/19/the-last-word-bring-out-your-dead/

The article is called "Bring Out Your Dead" and is full of such language, which appears deliberately designed to evoke a direct comparison between Labour's recent campaign and The Black Death.

Although I do not agree with everything Jamie says - in particular, he seems to be acutely aware of all Tony Blair's strengths and completely unable to perceive his weaknesses - he certainly does not pull any punches about the Labour campaign which he was very recently part of. He writes

"We chose not to undertake the heavy lifting necessary to rebuild public trust and re-energise a tired movement. We embraced foggy thinking and unconvincing platitudes. As a party and a movement, we got what we deserved."

In the ten years I have known Jamie Reed I have never agreed with anything he has ever said or written as much as I agree with that last sentence.

Are we heading for Grexit?

There is room for two opinions on whether a managed and agreed writing off of some of Greece's debts, and a managed and agreed "amicable divorce" of Greece from the Euro might be a good thing for both sides.

There are no two opinions that either of those happening in an unplanned way because Greece is forced out would be much more painful for everyone involved.

Personally I think a managed and agreed "Grexit" from the Euro combined with an agreed reschedule and write-off of some of the country's debts is probably the least worst option which is now available.

That could still happen. But unless something breaks the deadlock between Alexis Tsipras' government and Greece's creditors, it is looking increasingly more likely that sometime this summer Greece will be forced into default and out of the Eurozone.

If an unplanned forced exit is allowed to happen it will not mean the end of the Euro, nor will it bring down the rest of the continent's banking systems. But it will not be brilliant news for the economies of the rest of Europe and it is likely to be seriously disruptive for Greece.

The Daily Mash has a take on this which mocks the typical British propensity to view things happening in most of the world through the prism of how they affect us, at

http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/international/grexit-could-cause-depression-war-famine-and-disruption-to-british-holidays-2015061999425

Polling Problems

"Number Cruncher Politics" has a good piece at

http://www.ncpolitics.uk/2015/06/as-the-investigation-begins-a-summary-of-pollsters-views-on-the-failure.html/

which gives early reports on the excuses, sorry explanations, coming out of various polling companies' inquests on why they got the 2015 election so utterly wrong.

A short summary

* Survation and BES think there was a very late swing to the Conservatives

* YouGov blames "shy tories"

* Ipsos Mori and ComRes think their figures were thrown out by differential turnout (82% of people polled by the former company said they were "certain to vote" which is 16% higher than the share of the electorate who actually did.)

* ICM think the mix of voters in their sample had an imbalance of certain types of voter (C1 and C2s) and that they weighted them wrongly

I suspect all these factors may have had an influence.

I suspect everyone will also remember next time that polls are only a snapshot, not a prediction and that they can be wrong.

UKIP and North Korea

I have just been reading this leaked UKIP memo on Guido Fawkes' blog following the sacking of Suzanne Evans as a UKIP spokesperson.

Assuming that this email is genuine - and although it is a good idea never to take anything on absolute trust, Paul Staines (Guide's real name) has published a lot of leaked emails before which turned out to be genuine - it really does read as if UKIP is run like North Korea.

I can see why her remarks on "The Daily Politics" about who might lead the "No" campaign might be seen as unhelpful, although they were not that far out of line with what Nigel Farage himself had said.

In Margaret Thatcher's era Sir Bernard Ingham might have briefed the press that someone making such a remark was "semi-detatched" while Blair would have had Alistair Campbell tell them off the record that she was mentally unstable. In Brown's day Damian MacBride would perhaps have planted emails suggesting she had done unspeakable things with wombats.

In UKIP the instruction appears to have gone out that

"no one employed by the UKIP press office is to have any further contact with SE"

that

"she is not to be offered as an official UKIP spokesman"

and no one is to brief or advise her on any issue.

It all seems a bit 1984 ...


POSTSCRIPT

UKIP tweeted this afternoon that "Suzanne Evans has not been sacked as a UKIP spokesman. the email seen by the BBC was issued without proper authority"

That sounds to me like code for "Nigel has realised it looks dreadful and has decided to disavow it."

Quote of the Day 19th June 2015

Sam Tyler: "I think we need to explore whether this attempted murder was a hate crime."

Gene Hunt: "What, as opposed to one of those I-really-really-like-you sort of murders?"

(From "Life on Mars" season 2 episode 6)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

When politicians ignore scientific facts

It would be good for politics in this country and every other if people could move towards making their policies and decisions more evidence-based.

That includes being ready to challenge any orthodoxy including those which claim to be scientific if you have real evidence to back up the challenge, but the qualification is important.

Sadly too many of us find it easy to pay attention to the evidence that suits our preconceptions but ignore what doesn't.

One preconception many people have is that their own side pays attention to the evidence and the other doesn't; but the reality is that neither the political left nor right has a monopoly of wisdom.

A couple of interesting articles were drawn to my attention yesterday which address this from a US perspective. One was by a Democrat, but both point out that hostility to science is not the exclusive preserve of the right in the USA - any more than it is here.

The two articles can be found via the following links:

http://reason.com/archives/2015/06/17/the-lefts-bad-ideas-about-science-are-mo

http://tech.mit.edu/V135/N9/vierra.html

Quotes of the day 18th June 2015

On the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo:

"Hard pounding this, gentlemen; let's see who will pound longest." permalink

(Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington at the battle of Waterloo,18th June 2015)
 
 
"My heart is broken by the terrible loss I have sustained in my old friends and companions and my poor soldiers. Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won."

(First Duke of Wellington, Letter from the field of Waterloo (June 1815), as quoted in Decisive Battles of the World (1899) by Edward Shepherd Creasy)

"It has been a damned serious business... Blucher and I have lost 30,000 men. It has been a damned nice thing — the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life. … By God! I don't think it would have been done if I had not been there."

(First Duke of Wellington, remark after the battle to Thomas Creevey (18 June 1815), using the word nice in the old sense which means uncertain or delicately balanced)
 
 
"We always have been, we are, and I hope that we always shall be, detested in France." permalink
 
(Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington As quoted in Wellington and His Friends (1965) by Gerald Wellesley, 7th Duke of Wellington, p. 138, and in The Economist, 16 June 2005)
 
 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Guardian shoots itself in both feet as usual

The Guardian has been sounding off about how the country is too dominated by people from expensive public schools and Oxbridge and how you have to be posh to get a top job.

Hat tip to Guido Fawkes for pointing out this set of responses in their comments section:

After asking "Then why doesn't the Guardian take a lead on this?" the comment authors listed how a vast proportion of the Guardian's management, editorial team and senior journalists had attended expensive public schools or Oxbridge ...

Leading the Referendum Campaigns

As the  EU Referendum Bill moves forward:

The most difficult decision for the Electoral Commission and anyone trying to ensure that the EU referendum is seen as fair and effective may be to rule on any dispute within the "In" and "Out" camps on who gets to lead each campaign.

There is polling evidence to back up the view that if you wanted to sabotage the "Yes" campaign to stay in the EU, the most effective tactic would be to appoint Tony Blair to lead it - and if you wanted to sabotage the "No" campaign to leave, the most effective tactic would be to appoint Nigel Farage to lead that campaign.

Of the politicians who included in a recent survey of who the public trusts on EU membership, there were only two who were trusted by more than distrusted them, and those were David Cameron and Boris Johnson. But the really interesting thing was who trusted who.



DC, Nigel Farage, and Tony Blair had completely different patterns of trust.

Unsurprisingly, trust in  Nigel Farage is directly proportionate to how committed a voter is to voting to leave the EU. He enjoys a high level of trust among those who are already committed to voting for Brexit and is trusted by a majority among those who are leaning that way, but is strongly distrusted by those who are leaning toward a "Yes" vote and completely distrusted by those who are strongly inclined that way.

Equally unsurprising is that trust in Tony Blair varies in the opposite direction, though it is much lower. He is not trusted by a majority even of those who are committed EU membership supporters, though they distrust him least: floating voters distrust him a lot more and those strongly inclined to an out vote distrust Mr Blair almost as strongly as those equally inclined to vote to stay in distrust the UKIP leader.

David Cameron, however, while not trusted by a majority of those strongly committed to either side, gets his overall positive rating because he IS trusted by those who have not definitely decided.

I hope someone has shown these figures to Jean-Claude Juncker, Angela Merkel, and other EU leaders because it means that the PM is in one sense in quite a strong position.

Farage cannot swing the referendum because the people who trust him are the ones who have already decided to vote "No," but the floating voters the "No" campaign needs do not trust him.

Blair cannot swing the referendum because nobody trusts him. (Further proof that most of the electorate isn't stupid.)

DC could swing the referendum because most of the people who have not made their minds up do trust him. If the EU offers him some reasonable concessions - they will have to be a lot less cosmetic than the ones that Wilson got in 1975 but I think that some real progress can be made - and if DC recommends a "Yes" vote on that basis, he will probably win, especially if he has Boris onside.

If I had to guess, I'd say that is the most likely scenario, though it is by no means certain.

But if the EU offers the Prime Minister nothing substantial and he decides he has to recommend a "No" vote, especially if Boris goes the same way, that is the most likely pattern of events which could lead to Britain leaving the EU. And it could happen.

Repeating Wilson's trick of dressing up negligible reforms as a major change to win a referendum will not work again: but of course, different people may have very diverse ideas of what constitutes real change.

We all know perfectly well that if the EU gave firm commitments to double the British rebate, pay an additional £100 bonus directly to every UK voter, ensure that the Eurozone is not run in a way which damages the interests of non-Eurozone countries such as ourselves, and give Britain complete control over immigration, there would still be plenty of people who said that this was completely inadequate and they still wanted to leave. That is of course their right. Many of those people, including some in the Conservative party, are already preparing the ground to take that position and suggesting that David Cameron is not seriously negotiating for change.

There are plenty of other people who would never vote to leave under any circumstances and, as is their right, are already banging the drums about how catastrophic it would be for the British economy if we left. Usually rehearsing pretty much the same arguments the same people put forward fifteen years ago about what an economic disaster it would be if we didn't scrap the pound and join the Euro. A minority of them have even thought to try to explain why having been completely wrong about this in the past they should be taken any more seriously now.

Personally I am in neither of those camps. I'd like to see the PM negotiating as hard as possible for a Europe of co-operating but independent nation states.

A few years ago I quoted a couple of passages from Margaret Thatcher's Bruges speech to a friend who worked at the House of Commons as describing the sort of Europe I wanted. He replied,

"Ah, I see. You support what was actually said rather than what was meant."

And that was probably fair comment. But for the moment I want DC to have the strongest possible negotiating hand - and that has to mean the EU leadership taking seriously the possibility that Britain might leave.

Quote of the Day 17th June 2015

 
The above words were said by Wellington at the Duchess of Richmond's Ball on the eve of the battle of Quatre Bras, itself two days before the battle of Waterloo, when he discovered that Napoleon's army had moved.

Fortunately due to the heroism of the British, Dutch, and Hanoverian troops who held off greatly superior French forces at the Quatre Bras crossroads, the Allies won back that time.

Otherwise there might have been no victory at Waterloo.

I would have posted these words on Monday, 200 years after they were first spoken, except that that was also the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, and I already had three quotes for that day relating to the great charter!

So I'm taking Wellington's words from the eve of the warmup battle and quoting them on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the main battle of Waterloo itself, which was 200 years ago tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

“Never interfere with your enemy when he is making a mistake" - the Corbyn nomination

Napoleon's advice to his marshals appears very appropriate to Conservatives with the news that Jeremy Corbyn has been nominated as a candidate to be leader of the Labour party.

At first sight this may appear to be good news for Labour's opponents. Dan Hodges (who despite his disenchantment with Ed Miliband did vote Labour last month) wrote in the Telegraph that Jeremy Corbyn getting on to the ballot paper proves that

"The lunatic wing of the Labour Party is still calling the shots."

UKIP's one MP Douglas Carswell tweeted

"Please let it be Jeremy! I'm so hoping Mr Corbyn gets it! UKIP 2020 strategy to displace Labour wld get another boost"

Labour MP John Mann tweeted a similar opinion but the opposite attitude

"So to demonstrate our desire never to win again, Islington's Jeremy Corbyn is now a Labour leadership candidate"

Many Tories have gone wild with delight, and jokingly suggested - at least, I hope it was a joke - joining the Labour party temporarily at £3 each to vote Corbyn and ensure Labour stays unelectable.

(Some Greens are doing the same, because they are deluded enough to think Corbyn might win.)

HOLD ON GUYS!

Of course it should be obvious to anyone with better political judgement than a brain-damaged wombat, or most of the 35 Labour MPs who nominated him, that in the short-term this will be damaging to Labour, pulling the leadership debate away from those parts of the political landscape where most voters are and ensuring that press coverage will remind the majority of voters who did not support Labour last month of why they voted against the party.

And if Jeremy Corbyn were to actually win it would be an exact mirror-image of the election of IDS as Conservative leader in 2001. A result which would have destroyed the Conservative party had it not been reversed by the parliamentary party - and the Conservatives are better at sacking leaders than Labour are - and which did us so much damage in the meantime that Blair was able to be re-elected in 2005 despite the invasion of Iraq.

However, cheering on Labour candidates in this was might have any number of unfortunate results. For one thing, it might wake Labour up to the mistake they are in danger of making and frustrate the outcome the people doing it want - hence the Napoleon quote in the title of this post.

Secondly, it might encourage complacency. We have enough problems of our own.

We have to get the EU Referendum right - so that whatever outcome it produces both is and is seen by most Conservatives (we'll never convince some hardliners, of course) as a fair, democratic and representative outcome, and one which doesn't tear the Conservatives apart.

We have to make sure the economic recovery continues for as long as possible and make sure that when the next world recession arrives Britain is in a position to deal with it. Because sooner or later there will be another recession - the only chancellor stupid enough to think he had abolished Boom and Bust was Gordon Brown, and look what happened to him!

Last Friday's Economist had a very strong cover article on this, arguing that there is a danger that when the next recession comes the aftereffects of the last one may leave many countries in a poor position to deal with it. The cover illustration showed a knight walking away from a dead dragon (representing the last recession) with his sword and lance stuck in the deceased monster, leaving him only a dagger to fight the next dragon (recession) towards whose jaws he is walking.










Then there is the need to find millions of pounds to balance the budget without wrecking essential services or the economy, the need to ensure our country's defences are strong enough to stand up to Vladimir Putin, the need to deal with DAESH (which I refuse to call "Islamic State"), finding a constitutional settlement which is fair to Scotland and the rest of the UK - and the list goes on.

Harold MacMillan once described the biggest danger in politics as "Events, dear boy, Events."

There are plenty of events which the present government will have to watch out for, and we cannot afford to assume the incompetence of the Labour party will indefinitely excuse us from dealing with the electoral consequences of how those events are managed.

Incidentally, if anyone was serious about joining the Labour party to vote for Jeremy Corbyn,  to have people joining other parties to influence their selection of leader for the worse is a seriously bad idea. Particularly if, like me, you think moving towards primary elections would make British politics more democratic.

In the longer term the consequences of a Corbyn candidacy might even be good for Labour, if his decisive defeat marks a clear break with the left and gives the new Labour a "Kinnock v Militant" moment. This may be what one or two MPs who do have more intelligence than a brain-damaged wombat and still nominated Corbyn are privately hoping for. Or alternatively, if he becomes leader and is such a disaster that it forces the Labour party to wake up.

I don't think either of those scenarios is likely. But unless he wins, the unfortunate headlines Corbyn is going to generate for Labour this summer will be long forgotten when the next General Election come around, almost certainly in 2020.

At that time most people will vote on the progress that has been made since 2010 in dealing with the fundamentals of the economy and the country. If most of them are not looking good, heaven help the Conservatives - and heaven help the country.