Saturday, October 31, 2015

A mythical creature returns for Halloween

Today is Halloween, and a mythical creature was resurrected in a humorous tweet which was repeated by a certain Cumbrian journalist.

The mythical creature I am writing about is the person who believes in the "trickle down economics" straw man.

This is the idea that if you give more money to the rich some of it will "trickle down" to the poor.

I have never met anyone who believes this, but I have come across many people who are under the false impression that other people believe it. In the words of the distinguished US economist Thomas Sowell, in his book "Basic Economics"

"Whether in the United States or in India, and whether in the past or in the present, ‘trickle down’ has been a characterisation and rejection of what somebody else supposedly believed. Moreover, it has been considered unnecessary to cite any given person who had actually advocated any such thing."

"The phrase ‘trickle down’ often comes up in discussions of tax policies.Tax revenues have in a number of instances gone up when tax rates have been reduced. But any proposal by economists or others to cut tax rates, including reducing the tax rates on higher incomes or on capital gains, can lead to accusations that those making such proposals must believe that benefits should be given to the wealthy in general or to business in particular, in order that these benefits will eventually ‘trickle down’ to the masses of ordinary people."

"But no recognised economist of any school of thought has ever had any such theory or made any such proposal. It is a straw man. It cannot be found in even the most voluminous and learned histories of economic theories."

"What is sought by those who advocate lower rates of taxation or other reductions of government’s role in the economy is not the transfer of existing wealth to higher income earners or businesses but the creation of additional wealth when businesses are less hampered by government controls or by increasing government appropriation of that additional wealth under steeply progressive taxation laws."

 "Whatever the merits or demerits of this view, this is the argument that is made – and which is not confronted, but evaded, by talk of a non-existent ‘trickle down’ theory."


Where confiscatory rates of taxation have been reduced - as when Margaret Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe reduced the higher marginal tax rate in the UK from over 80% (and up to 98 pence in the pound on so-called "unearned income") down to 40% - the total amount of tax paid by the rich, and the proportion of tax paid by the rich, actually went UP.

The rich may have been paying lower tax rates but they paid more money in total and a higher proportion of tax revenue.

The same thing has happened under David Cameron (in this case the fact that the rich are paying a higher proportion of tax is also partly because the coalition government took many people on low incomes out of the tax net and the present government has continued that policy.)

This is the exact opposite of "trickle down theory" because it is not a policy designed to get the rich to pay a smaller total tax bill. It is a policy which has succeeded in getting rich people to pay more tax in total and a higher proportion of tax in total.

Here is link to a Spectator article with more quotes on the subject from Sowell's "Basic Economics"

http://blogs.new.spectator.co.uk/2015/04/sorry-but-trickle-down-economics-doesnt-exist-and-never-has-done/

And here is a video clip of him explaining his views on the subject.


Taxpayers' money.

Former Labour MP Chris Williamson, who was voted out by the electors of Bury North in May this year, caused rather a lot of discussion when he posted on Twitter this morning that

"Taxes are the price we pay for a civilised society. So tax due isn't 'taxpayers' money' it's the govt's"

Chris Williamson's tweet was quoting and referred to a blog post here on Richard Murphy's "Tax Research UK" blog which makes essentially the same argument in much more detail.

This is basically saying three things, one of which I and most of the people who challenged Mr Williamson have no problem with, one which is legally true but I would have worded differently, and one which people are really objecting to.

1) Taxes are the price we pay for a civilised society.

I don't challenge that and I've not seen anyone else do so either, since taxes pay for things like courts, schools, hospitals which a civilised society needs.

2) Mr Williamson objects to money raised from taxation being described as 'taxpayers' money.'

 This is the bit I disagree with for reasons I will come back to in a moment.

3) Tax due belongs to the government.

If you accept that the elected government has the right to raise tax - and I didn't see anyone challenge that and certainly didn't challenge it myself - then of course this is legally true, but the moral position is that all money raised by the government is held in trust on behalf of all citizens.

The government certainly does not own that money in the sense of being entitled to do whatever they like with it.


Richard Murphy's original blog post took the argument that the state can decide it owns anything and everything to it's logical conclusion, stating that

"I would suggest that we don’t as such pay taxes. The funds that they represent are, I suggest, in fact the property of the state. After all, if we give the state the power to define what we can own, how we can own it and what we can do with it – and we do – then  I would argue that we also give the state the right to say that some part of what we earn or own is actually its rightful property and that we have no choice but pay that tax owed as the quid pro quo of the benefit we enjoy from living in community."

Murphy contrasts this view with it's polar opposite, the "neoliberal" who thinks that taxation is theft, but I'd argue that you don't have to be anywhere near that extreme an individualist to recoil in shock at the idea that "the state" can unilaterally decide that anything we think we own, "the state" owns.

There was a time when Kings thought that they were the state, and they had a divine right to anything we had. Part of in the struggle between Kings and parliament was the struggle to establish the principle that everyone has rights and nobody, not even the monarch, is above the law. That principle still applies to a democratic government and to parliament itself,

Murphy's blog post is a perfect illustration of a saying, sometimes ascribed to Ronald Reagan or Davy Crockett but which I believe was actually first said by Thomas Jefferson:




Let me come back to why I argued against Chris Williamson's first tweet.

In my experience, when someone describes public money as taxpayer's money they are invariably doing to so to make one or both of two points, both of which I believe to be entirely valid

a) Public funds do not come from some kind of magic money tree. It was all raised from somebody, nearly always through taxes, which means telling taxpayers to hand over a share of the money they have earned through their own efforts to be spent by someone else for the public good. Those who are deciding how to spend public money should remember the cost that spending imposes on taxpayers, who are not all billionaires - many of them are ordinary people working all the hours God sends to keep their families fed and clothed.

b)  Public money does not belong to the individual members of any government, council or public body, they hold it in trust for the rest of society and have a duty to the whole of society, especially but not exclusively to those who actually paid it, to see that the money is spent wisely on the purposes for which it is raised.

Incidentally there is nothing necessarily right-wing about either of those arguments. I would have expected 90% of Labour MPs to agree with them and can think of at least one of the MPs who nominated Jeremy Corbyn who I would be astonished to learn disagreed with what I have written above

Unless you can find a hole in either of the principles laid out as a) and b) above - and I don't believe there is one - the political point being made by those who describe public money as "taxpayers' money" is valid. The attempt by Richard Murphy and Chris Williamson to de-legitimise this use of that expression is therefore, in my humble opinion misguided.

My disagreement with Messrs Murphy and Williamson's objection to calling public money "taxpayers' money" and to Richard Murphy's statement that "we don't as such pay taxes," because the government can decide it owns anything we have, is NOT based on opposition to the principle that the government has the right, if it believes it to be in the public interest, to legislate through due process of law to raise taxes and enforce the collection of those taxes.

It is based on the belief that governments of whatever persuasion are more likely to govern fairly and well if they remember who paid the money they obtained from taxes, and that it is not their own money but is held in trust for the people.

And for at least 700 of the past 800 years, that opinion would NOT have been labelled "right-wing."


That's the main point I wanted to make but it is perhaps worth adding a few words about what was subsequently posted on twitter.

All the responses to Mr Williamson's post which I've seen were perfectly civil, and all of them disagreed with to the argument that government money should not be called taxpayer's money rather than the "taxes are the price we pay for a civil society" point.

That, of course, did not fit the narrative he wanted to paint when trying to defend himself, so instead he tweeted first that "rightwing trolls were out in force" and "Tory trolls" had shown amazing vitriol "because I had the temerity to say that taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilised society."

Without apparent irony, and again referring to the people who disagreed with him as trolls, Chris Williamson then tweeted a picture of Nye Bevan's "lower than vermin" quote - an insult which Bevan applied to the entire Conservative party - and suggested that this quote was still apposite.

Let's just take a reality check here. First of all, if anyone has expressed an aversion to using taxes to create a civilised society, I have not seen any such comment: what I have seen is people disagreeing, reasonably politely, with his objection to the use of the expression "taxpayers' money."

If any of the people who responded to Chris Williamson's tweet did so in an offensive or abusive manner, I would condemn that, whoever it was. I didn't see that. I did see people who merely disagreed with him, and they were entitled to do so. That does not make them trolls.

Second, someone who calls an entire political party "lower than vermin," irrespective of whether it is done by regurgitating a quote from a long-dead politician, because of some tweets he disagrees with, is on very shaky ground calling anyone else a troll.

Quote of the day 31st October 2015

"It’s clear George Osborne is going to look at ways of mitigating the impact of his tax credit changes. “I said I would listen to the concerns being raised and that is precisely what I will do” was his response to the Lords defeat. But mitigation is what is on the table. Not reversal.

Osborne is going to push ahead with his tax credit policy for two reasons. One is that he believes it’s right in principle. Or more specifically, he thinks its wrong for taxpayers to be assisting employers by effectively subsidising low wages, a view that actually brings him into alignment with many on the Left. In 2013 John McDonnell described tax credits as “just another way of subsidising bad employers”.

The second is that when he says he plans to eradicate the deficit during the lifetime of this parliament, he does actually mean it. There’s been a lot of talk about what was and wasn’t promised by the Conservative party in the run up to the election. But one pledge was issued with unambiguous clarity – vote Conservative and we will cut the remaining half of the deficit."

(Dan Hodges, in a Telegraph article called "Nothing George Osborne does about tax credits can make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister.")

Friday, October 30, 2015

Alex Massie eviscerates Jeremy Corbyn in the Speccie

Alex Massie - who wrote a few weeks ago that he still has a Labour party membership card though "Momentum" will probably try to take it off him if he keeps writing columns like today's - has a piece commenting on Jeremy Corbyn's speech to Labour's Scottish conference.

At least Labour got to hold theirs, but the extremist thugs and bullies who forced the Conservative West of Scotland conference to go underground were probably ignoring the Scottish Labour gathering because they don't think they have any reason to be afraid that Labour might win any elections in the next nine and a half years or so.

Alex's article is called Jeremy Corbyn comes to Scotland and discovers he has nothing to say.

Here are a few extracts ..

"One thing was made clear in Perth today: Jeremy Corbyn is not the answer. But then you knew that already. His speech was, er, remarkable. It was a speech aimed at – and let’s be generous here – 15 percent of voters.
Those voters who think a Spartist shouting “SOCIALISM” is the winning response to a Natjob crying FREEDOM”.

"Or, as Corbyn put it, according to the version of his speech distributed to journalists this afternoon, “Friends, if you want socialist change, if you want a left wing alternative, you have to vote for it.”

"The trouble is that a) this is exactly the sort of thing Tommy Sheridan has been saying for 20 years and b) the people don’t actually want ‘socialist change’. Apart from that, it’s a great line"

"Corbyn appears to think people have deserted the Labour party because it was insufficiently left-wing. Perhaps some poor souls have done so for that reason but rather more have abandoned Labour because Labour long ago ran out of things to say."

I love that expression "Natjob," by the way. I may start using it ...

Humour as an essential survival mechanism

I believe that it is almost impossible for an intelligent and reasonably sensitive person to retain their sanity in today's world without a functioning sense of humour. A sense of humour was probably equally essential in all earlier ages as well.

And yet different people's senses of humour are sufficiently individual that different people can and do wrongly perceive each other as not possessing one.

Many years ago the student electorate at Bristol University, in what may have been several hundred people's idea of a joke or reflect the fact that they didn't want their preferred candidate for President of the Union to have things all her own way, elected people from two diametrically opposed slates, (one of those elected being myself), to positions which forced us to work closely together for a year.

Early in that sometimes challenging relationship, one colleague warned me to be careful because a person who I shall call X had, quote, "No sense of Humour."

I wasn't sure that was right, but I did note that the individual concerned did have a tendancy to miss irony and take offence at certain jokes, so I was careful what I said around her.

That may have been one of the reasons why the individual herself accused me several times towards the end of the year of having no sense of humour, thereby becoming literally the only person in my half-century of life out of all the tens of thousands I have met who has made that accusation.

I asked the person who had originally said that X didn't have a sense of humour whether, after nearly a year of working with her, he still thought this and added that she had said I didn't have one. His reply was "You both have blind areas of humour."

I suspect most people do, and where one person thinks another has no sense of humour it is perhaps most often because the "blind" and most acute aspects of their respective senses of humour overlap.

Or because their "deadpan" ability, e,g, skill in saying something which is intended humorously but requires you to think at first that they are deadly serious is just too good.

I also worked for several years on a school governing body with someone who in her professional life was a very senior health and safety inspector and at the end of that time could not make up my mind whether she had absolutely no sense of humour at all or a very good one indeed. I was however pretty certain she wasn't anywhere between those extremes!

There is an interesting article in the Guardian by Jonathan Coe which appears at first to be a response to Martin Amis accusing Jeremy Corbyn of having no sense of humour but is actually mostly a philosophical reflection on the importance of humour, and which asks whether social media and the increasing pace of modern life and electronic communication is undermining it.

For all our sakes I hope the answer is no.

Progress towards devolution of powers to local authorities in Cumbria

The BBC's report Cooper has tweeted a short clip of  Northern Powerhouse minister James Wharton MP  @jameswhartonuk talking about a possible Cumbria devolution package which I know they have been talking to council leaders in Cumbria about.

Apparently there will be more about this on the Sunday Politics show on BBC One at 11am on Sunday.

pic.twitter.com/iA4lUwmYcy

If only it were true ...

According to Owen Jones, Guardianista journalist and high priest of Corbynism, we live in a world dominated by "neoliberalism."

Jones wrote in his recent book The Establishment that a commitment to "neoliberalism" is the ideology that dominates our elites and politics. According to him, the last three decades have seen an unprecedented experiment in a radical slashing of state spending, an erosion of the welfare state, privatisation, outsourcing and deregulation.

My reaction is to wish that if only this were true - not, incidentally because I would want the Welfare state to cease to be there as a safety net for those who need it, but because it should not be a lifestyle choice for those who would be far better off looking after themselves.

As Ryan Bourne points out on CAPX here, the idea that we live in a world dominated by neoliberalism or any other form of liberalism is, unfortunately, laughable.

On the positive side, since the 1980s global trade has become freer and capital more mobile, while Britain has removed controls on prices and incomes, privatised the old nationalised industries, reduced the power of trade unions and allowed resources to flow freely into and out of the UK.

But sadly despite these moves in the right direction, the a long-term trend over the past century of greater government control – of politicians and civil servants centralising power and spending, and taking decisions away from individuals, families, civil society institutions and local government. As a proportion of total output, government spending is as big as it ever was.

As a proportion of GDP at factor cost (to allow accurate long-term comparisons given changed tax regimes) government spending has increased from around 10 per cent of GDP at the beginning of the 20th century to 47 per cent last year. This was higher than in any year between 1947 and 1979.

In the 1920s and 1930s, local government accounted for 45 per cent of total government spending. Now it is just 25 per cent and much of that is effectively ring-fenced or controlled by national government policy.

The best measure of the degree of legislative control is probably the combined number of pages of acts and statutory instruments. This has increased by a factor of 20.

13 per cent of all UK jobs now require some form of licensing, registration or certification from government – a proportion that has doubled in the last decade or so.

Far from living in a world dominated by neo-Liberalism, we live in a society where the all-pervasive activities of central government has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.

Conservative Conference in Scotland has to be moved to a secret venue on police advice.

What does it say about Britain's commitment to democracy when this is allowed to happen?

The Scottish Conservatives sought police advice after finding the websites which the hard left were using to orchestrate protests against the annual West of Scotland Conservative Conference next month, designed to replicate the scenes in Manchester when just about everyone attending CPC15 - including minimum wage cleaners, caterers, and stage assemblers, and journalists covering the conference - had obscenities screamed at them, and some people were also spat at, jostled, or pelted with eggs or plastic balls.

If the report in the Scottish Daily Mail which I have linked to above is correct, the Police Scotland response was that that unless the party could supply its' own security force they would recommend cancellation of the event.

I will not post here the highly critical comments I would make about Police Scotland if I were absolutely certain that this is true, because I don't have concrete proof that it is. The Police Scotland statement said that

"The decision regarding the event was taken by the event organisers in consultation with the proposed venue. Police Scotland officers spoke with the event organisers as a matter of course when a number of options were presented as to the appropriate stewarding requirements for the event."

What is certainly true is that the event was cancelled at the original venue and, I understand, will be reorganised as a private event at an undisclosed location.

It is a sad day for Scotland and for democracy when a mainstream political party - whether it is that  which currently forms the government of the UK or any other mainstream party - cannot organise a conference at a public venue for reasons of security and safety.

It was a Tory conference this time. Next it might be a Labour, Lib/Dem, SNP or UKIP event. Whoever the protests are aimed at, allowing them to drive democracy underground is fundamentally wrong.

Quote of the day 30th October 2015

"Several shadow ministers told me that Corbyn’s support would shrink as members realised that he was hopeless at opposing the government. In the long run, his own incompetence would do for him, they said.

"Whether Labour has the luxury of waiting years for its members to realise that Corbyn is not the fighter they thought him to be was not a question they either posed or answered. In the long run we are all dead, said Lord Keynes. For Labour, it may be sooner than that."

(Nick Cohen, in a Spectator article apparently arguing for a palace coup within the Labour party)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Chilcot finally to report - in June or July 2016.

Apparently the long awaited report of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war may finally be published in Summer next year and run to two million words or so. Daily Telegraph report on the story here.

Twitter today is full of comparison of the length of time it will have taken to prepare the report with various major events like the second world war (it will have lasted longer) and comparing the length of the report with various substantial documents (for example it is apparently three times the length of "War and Peace.")

It was also noted that the prediction of publication on that timetable was heavily qualified: a published letter from Sir John Chilcot to the PM said that it "should be possible" to put forward a date within that timescale for agreement.

I will hold fire until we see the report next year but I am not surprised that this is causing comment!

Some of those comments have come from the PM himself who provided the reply given below underneath the letter to him from Sir John setting out the timetable:


Sir John Chilcot. Photo: Getty Images

 
 

PM's letter:

David Cameron has said he is "disappointed" that the Iraq Inquiry report cannot be published until summer 2016.
Quote Sir John,

Thank you for your letter of 28 October setting out a timetable for the completion of the work of the Iraq Inquiry.

Whilst it is welcome of course that there is now a clear end in sight for your Inquiry, I am disappointed – and I know the families of those who served in Iraq will also be disappointed – that you do not believe it will be possible logistically to publish your report until early summer.

I recognise that you have a significant task, but would welcome any further steps you can take to expedite the final stages of the Inquiry. I have seen your letter of 28 October to the Cabinet Secretary requesting additional resource to support the publication process, which I can confirm that we are happy to provide. As I have underlined previously, we remain ready to provide whatever further assistance we can in order to support the conclusion of your work, and I am very happy to provide more resource if it would allow the Report to be published more quickly.

In relation to National Security checking, the Government will aim to complete the process as quickly as possible. As you know, National Security checking for the Savile Inquiry took two weeks to complete. It would certainly be our plan and expectation to take no longer than this, and we will look to complete the process more quickly.

I am content for you to publish this letter alongside yours.

Yours sincerely,

David Cameron

David Cameron: We are creating a new era of transparency

The full letter from Sir John Chilcot to the PM 


The Iraq Inquiry, Chilcot to Cameron

Quote of the Day 29th October 2015


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Supporting Cumbria's Police

The new formula proposed by the Home Office to fund police forces does not take enough account of the needs of Cumbria. The present Police and Crime Commissioner, Richard Rhodes opposes it as do all Cumbria's MPs of all three parties.

At the selection of the new Conservative candidate for PCC all the candidates made clear that they would work with the present PCC for a better deal for Cumbria and I know Richard Rhodes and Peter McCall will fight this battle vigorously.

Here is John Stevenson MP at number ten with the petition signed by 12,000 residents of Cumbria for a fairer funding deal for Cumbria's police

Labour admits that they don't know how to fund NHS spending

Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has appeared to admit that Labour does not know how it would fund the extra money they want to spend on the NHS.

She said in an interview in the Guardian that the NHS would need more than the £8 billion extra the government has committed to spending by 2020.

 However when pushed about how Labour would fund the increased spending, she said: “I don’t know the answer to that”.
 
So six months after Labour was defeated at the election and six weeks after Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership the party does still not have a plan for funding the NHS.

This does not surprise me in the slightest. What astonishes me is that they've admitted it.

A constructive way forward on Tax Credits

First of all, the tax credits system inherited from Gordon Brown is a bureaucratic and expensive nightmare which takes people who are doing the right thing and should be independent of the government, and turns them into clients of the state.

It was absolutely right to try to find a way to get away from that situation, but offset the losses to working people on low incomes caused by tax credit cuts with tax cuts aimed at the same people e.g. an increase in tax thresholds.

However, it was always important to listen to what people are saying about this and to try to implement the policy in a compassionate way. Following the House of Lords defeat we need to find a positive way forward. And however much the government may have a case in constitutional terms to argue that it was a misuse of the unelected chamber's powers to vote the way they did, it would be a serious political mistake to appear to be ignoring the concerns raised.

Although I disagree with some of what Tim Montgomerie has said on this subject up to now, his CapX article today with ten suggestions for a way forward on tax credits makes a lot of sense and I hope the government will take them very seriously.

Gerald Kaufman condemned by Board of Deputies of British Jews

Former Labour minister Sir Gerald Kaufman has been condemned by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and other bodies campaigning against anti-semitism for some extraordinary comments which included accusing the victims of stabbing attacks in Israel of having "fabricated" these attacks.

President Jonathan Arkush, President of the BDBJ, said
“We condemn Sir Gerald’s outrageous comments. We challenge him to travel to Israel immediately to ride around with the emergency services and to see for himself whether it is possible to fabricate knife attacks when victims are lying on the ground with blood pouring from their wounds. We also invite the Labour Party to initiate disciplinary proceedings to investigate his disgraceful words.”
What on earth was Kaufman thinking?

Quote of the day 28th November 2015


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Funny how some people have changed their minds ..

Hat tip to Guido Fawkes for pointing out how last night's vote in the House of Lords has caused several people to make a 180 degree turn about the validity of the unelected chamber ...

Tim Farron said after last night's vote that he was very proud of Lib/Dem lords, adding that

“We have sent a clear signal… Tonight’s vote gives people hope”.

Yet a few months ago Farron's  view on the second chamber was that it is
“a system which is rotten to the core and allows unelected, unaccountable people to think they are above the law… Nothing will be achieved until Parliamentarians vote in favour of abolition”
As Guido asks, what was it about the LibDem wipeout in democratic elections that caused Farron to change his mind about the “rotten, unelected, unaccountable” second chamber?

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell is no different.

Last night he praised the "huge blow in the House of Lords" , claiming the vote showed “people are waking up to what Labour has been warning".

That is the same John McDonnell who voted to abolish the Lords in 2003. 

“Only the Labour Lords motion could deliver the results needed,” said Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign team last night.

That’s despite Corbyn vowing just two months ago to block new peers in a bid to increase pressure in favour of abolition of the House of Lords. 

Picture Quiz

Is this picture


1) The Leader of the Labour party preparing his next major appointment

2) The Shadow Chancellor preparing his next announcement of a Labour U-turn on economic policy,

3) Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation trust writing an options paper on how to deliver hospital services in Cumbria after taking over North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust,

4) Lib/Dem peers challenging the government to reform the House of Lords, or

5) All of the above?

Take on the Lords if they keep ignoring constitutional conventions - but not over Tax Credits

Attempts to reform the House of Lords have a long history of being voted down by unholy alliances,  most often between those who want far more radical reforms and those who don't want any. When a similar fate destroyed the coalition government's attempt to replace the House of Lords with an elected second chamber, David Cameron would have undoubtedly preferred to leave the issue alone for the rest of his premiership.

Unfortunately the House of Lords was not prepared to stay within the conventions which would enable it to be left alone.

One of the interesting aspects of tonight's House of Lords vote to delay cuts to Tax Credits is that some people who I normally agree with were inclined to sympathise with the Lords because they saw it as being about tax credits while some who I normally don't agree with recognised that, as one of them put it after making clear that he doesn't like the government's tax credits proposal,

"constitutionally the House of Lords are on very shaky ground."

There is a convention, called the Salisbury-Addison convention after an agreement following the 1945 general election between the Fifth Marquis of Salisbury who as Lord Cranborne was leader of the Conservative peers and Lord Addison who was leader of the 16 Labour peers, that the House of Lords would not try to block measures which had been included in an elected governments' manifesto.

(There are some fascinating parallels between the careers of the Fifth Marquis of Salisbury and his grandson, the present Seventh Marquis of Salisbury, with whom he had in common that they were both leader of the Conservative peers while known as Lord Cranborne and serving in the Lords under a device called a writ of acceleration before succeeding their respective fathers as Marquis. However, as you could write extensive books on the impact of the Cecil family on British political history over the past 450 years, that will have to be a discussion for another occasion.)

There was also a rule that the House of Lords does not interfere with financial matters which have for centuries been the exclusive preserve of the House of Commons. Last night's vote was possible because what is in reality a financial measure had been proposed to be implemented under a statutory instrument rather than within the budget.

Nevertheless if this was a one-off I would be inclined to recommend that the government let it go.

The problem is, it isn't, and this is not just about tax credits.

According to an article in yesterday's Times by (Lord) Matt Ridley, the elected government has lost three quarters of votes since the general election in the unelected House of Lords, in which it does not have a majority. This was mostly through the 111 Lib/Dem and 212 Labour peers joining together on party lines to outvote the 249 Conservative peers, which they can do unless the great majority of crossbench peers and bishops back the government.

If you look at the particular motion passed by the House of Lords on tax credits in isolation, it could appear to be the House of Lords scrutinising legislation on a particularly controversial measure, and that is how most of the media have reported it, although the Lib/Dem attempt to throw out the tax credits altogether certainly does not fit that description.

But if you look at all the measures on which the House of Lords has outvoted the government since May, you get a different picture: as Matt Ridley puts it

"the losers of the election are exercising, from an unelected chamber, a continual power of veto over the will of the elected chamber."

This cannot go on. But tax credits are not the issue on which to take a stand.

There are those within the House of Lords who have been discussing the possibility of the upper house reforming itself to make it more representative and effective. Any moves in this direction should be welcomed and encouraged.

If that does not happen, and the House of Lords continues to ignore the constitutional conventions, then the government will need to ensure it can get its budget and programme through.

One option discussed this week is to create more Conservative peers (what an irony that an elected Conservative government should have to make against Lib/Dem opposition in the Lords a threat identical to one first made by an elected Liberal government against Conservative opposition in the Lords a little over a hundred years ago).

Another option would be to write the conventions under which the House of Lords has worked into law - using the parliament act (under which the Commons can over-rule the Lords) if necessary to push that law through.

But tax credit cuts - which are seen as hitting the working poor - are not the issue on which to do this.

As Jamie Foster wrote last night in my quote for today, if the House of Lords tries to take up the slack left by an incompetent and ineffective Labour opposition, we really will have a constitutional crisis.

Let's make sure that if this happens, everyone is clear where the blame lies. If they carry on regularly outvoting the government like this, it will not be long before Labour and Lib/Dem peers try to block a measure on which the government has much more support than it has over tax credits. And that will be the moment to take action to reform the House of Lords.

Quote of the day 27th October 2015

"If the House of Lords decides to take up the slack caused by an entirely ineffective opposition we really will have a constitutional crisis."

(Jamie Foster @1jamiefoster on twitter last night.)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Statement from the Conservative candidate to be Cumbria's Next Police and Crime Commissioner

Peter McCall, who was selected last week as the Conservative candidate to be Cumbria's next Police and Crime Commissioner and will stand in the election for that post in May 2016, issued the following message to Conservative members on his selection.

"I am excited, thrilled and humbled to have been selected tonight as your candidate for the next PCC election in May next year. I mentioned at the hustings the motto of the army officer cadre of "Serve to lead" and after a career in military service I hope to serve the county as PCC."

I would like to publicly thank both John Mallinson and Oliver Henley for being formidable but most generous and magnanimous competitors, and I hope to call on their vast experience as we enter the election campaign.

I will be doing all I can to meet as many members as possible over the next months and look forward to serving the party and working with you all to keep Cumbria safe from crime and a county where Crime Will Not Pay.

Peter McCall.

Quote of the day 26th October 2015


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Who would have been the best leader at Agincourt?

Today is of course, the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, when Henry V rescued himself from a campaign which was strategically a total mess by means of an extraordinary display of tactical skill and extreme ruthlessness, and by making use of the devastating power of skilled longbowmen.

Earlier this year, a couple of months before the General Election, a Survation poll on behalf of the Mail on Sunday asked which of Britain's then political leaders voters throught would have been best qualified to lead England's Army (I do mean England) against the French at Agincourt.

The result was interesting ...

 
 
Nearly half of respondents ticked the "Don't know" option but of those who did express a preference the plurality opted for Nigel Farage.

There was, of course, a time when a record of defeating the French in battle was a great asset when standing for political office in Britain, witness that the Duke of Wellington became Prime Minister. However I suspect the result of the election proves that the person regarded as best qualified to put the French to the sword on the battlefield might not be the best suited to use diplomacy to negotiate with them in peacetime ...

Told you so!

My review of the Economist's Special report last week, "The Reluctant European" about the arguments for and against British exit from the EU, (available here as a sequence of articles and here as a PDF) predicted that both sides would quote extensively but selectively from it.

I've already been proved right about one side.

My Labour MP and various others have tweeted quoting the statistics in the article contrasting the proportion of British exports of goods which go to the EU (51.4%) with the proportion of exports of other EU countries which come to Britain (6.6%) and suggesting that this demolishes the economic case for Brexit.



This fact certainly does seriously damage some of the "Leave" side's economic arguments - particularly the argument that trade with Britain is so important to the rest of the EU that we will be able to negotiate a particularly good deal if we don't want to go for the Norwegian solution - and it is true that overall The Economist came out for "Remain"

However, I note that EU membership supporters are carefully NOT quoting the article in "Insider dealing" from the special report, in which the magazine recognises that

"There is one issue where Eurosceptics may have a more persuasive case for leaving the EU: the relationship between those inside and outside the euro zone."

I doubt if it will be long before some of the more alert supporters of "Leave" note what was in that article and do the reverse, quoting selectively from it and ignoring the rest of the special report.

For those who have already made their choice of "Leave" or "Remain" on political grounds, it is comparatively simple. For those of us for whom the political arguments are not overwhelming - or at least not yet - and the economics are extremely important, it is important to listen very carefully to exactly what each side is saying, and what they are leaving out.

Sunday Music slot: Gloria in Excelsis Deo by Vivaldi

This is the first movement of Vivaldi's Gloria played on period instruments.

A fantastic piece of music.


Sunday reflection spot

There is a memorial stone on the wall of St James' church Whitehaven, in a position which makes it almost impossible for me not to see it on my way back to the pew after taking communion when I worship there.

It was erected in his memory by the grieving parents of Alexander Hammond, a young man from Whitehaven who was aged twenty when he was on board a barque called Swallow which sailed on 15th July 1840 and was never heard from again. The ship was assumed to have been lost with the loss of everyone on board, but nobody in Whitehaven ever found out exactly what happened.

This week my family are mourning the death of a much loved relative, but she died rich in years and peacefully in her sleep. I cannot imagine how much worse it must have been for the families of Alexander Hammond and everyone else on the Swallow and other ships which were lost without trace. But I know it must have been truly terrible for them.

We are fortunate enough to live in an age when such mysterious disappearances are very rare indeed and when one does happen - Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 - is the only comparable case which springs to mind this century - people from every major power in the world start looking for the missing plane or ship.

But such things can still happen.

In his sermon this morning the Revd. Rob Jackson quoted from Helen Keller's book "Three days to see" in which she advised sighted people to value their eyes and live as if they might lose their sight tomorrow.

It is equally true that all of us should try to live each day as if it might be our last. Not that this should make us afraid to do things - quite the contrary. But because all human life is of limited span in a world of unlimited wonder, and deserves to be properly valued.

Quote of the Day 25th October 2015 (600th anniversary of Agincourt)

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;


And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day."


(William Shakespeare, the "St Crispin's day speech" from Act IV of his play "Henry V" as supposedly given to his troops before the battle of Agincourt. Below is the speech as performed by Kenneth Branagh in the film version of the play.)


Saturday, October 24, 2015

A year of anniversaries

There have been an extraordinary number of significant anniversaries this year.

We have had

The 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta

The 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo

The 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign

Within WWII we have had the 75th anniversaries of the Dunkirk evacuation and Battle of Britain, and the 70th anniversaries of VE day, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb attacks, and VJ day.

The year also sees the 300th anniversary of the first Jacobite rising, culminating in the Jacobite defeat at the battle of Preston which we will commemorate on 14th November

And tomorrow is of course the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

According to this morning's Times the French, having previously attempted to claim that Waterloo should not really be considered a French defeat (see "How the French won Waterloo (or think they did) by Stephen Clarke" for an amusing take on this,) are now trying to make a celebration of Agincourt on the grounds that the provost-marshal of the defeated French army, Gallois de Fougieres, was the first Gendarme, and therefore they are celebrating 600 years of the French Gendarmarie ...

Only in France ...

Don't forget the clocks go back tonight!

We get an extra hour's sleep tonight as the clocks go back an bour.

Manners, Trolls, and Free Speech

It's a tough balancing act at the moment if you both believe in free speech and believe in common courtesy and respect.

I've tried to resist schadenfreude this week as two people active in Copeland politics who have in the past put their names to or otherwise been involved in some quite nasty personal attacks against me have complained about being on the receiving end themselves.

One of the ironies of the recent Demonstrations at Conservative Conference was that until last year those protestors whose behaviour was insulting but non violent - those who hurled insults but not eggs for instance - would have been breaking Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 which both I and many of the other people on the receiving end of such conduct campaigned successfully to reform.

Similarly there is a danger that the word "Troll" may be defined in practice as

"anyone posting material on the internet which I disagree with and is critical of someone I like."

I don't believe in insulting people but I don't believe in over-reacting either.

There was a facebook post this morning which repeated a tweet sent by my Labour MP in which he appears to have posted a rather strong response to Corbynistas who had been having a go at him.

If you imagine you detect a certain ironic tone in my choice of words, you might very well think that, and I couldn't possibly comment.

I spent a few minutes looking through my Labour MP's twitter feed to see what had provoked his response. It was an interesting insight into the civil war currently going on in the Labour party. I don't think the people on either side come out of this smelling of roses but at the moment both the pro-Corbyn and anti-Corbyn wings of the Labour seem to be throwing more bile and vitriol at each other than either is throwing at the Conservatives - and that, incidentally, is saying something.

Meanwhile the battle for and against Free Speech continues on our university campuses, with the main front at the moment still being the propensity of feminists to try to ban one another over their attitudes to transgender people, with Germaine Greer the latest target of an attempt to ban her from other feminists for "transphobia."

In Ms Greer's words

“What they are saying is that because I don’t think surgery will turn a man into a woman I should not be allowed to speak anywhere.”

Greer said that she did not understand the mindset of those who had signed the petition, adding: “I do not know why universities cannot hear unpopular views and think about what they mean.”

As Nick Cohen pointed out in February (and in other articles since), "What could be more ridiculous than censorship on campus?"

But sadly all too many people just don't get the argument for free speech which has to be made again in every generation.

The reality is, that believing in Free Speech does not mean you have to agree with those who use it to abuse people, and there has been far too much of from every section of the political spectrum.

I had noted and posted a welcome earlier this week for the fact that Nicola Sturgeon had posted a tweet attempting to rein in supporters of Scottish Independence from abusing their opponents. She wrote

"Note to my fellow independence supporters. People who disagree are not anti Scottish. Does our cause no good to hurl abuse (& it's wrong)"

I found out the context this morning. The author JK Rowling - who has lived and paid tax in Scotland for 23 years but supported the "No" campaign - was at Twickenham on Sunday, cheering on Scotland in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Australia. She tweeted her support for Scotland and was roundly abused for it by Cybernats who think that only people who agree with them are allowed to support Scotland in sporting events.

That's what Nicola Sturgeon was replying to. It is only fair to note that some of those who took to twitter on the other side also went over the top

Following on from the unfortunate and entirely counterproductive exchange of insults provoked by nothing more than an author tweeting her support for Scotland's rugby team, I was also interested to read what the Scottish journalist Kenneth Roy, who is pro nationalist but in an independent-minded way, wrote in the Scottish Review about what it was like when the Cybernats came after him.

"I must also get used to the idea that I am now officially an enemy of Miss Sturgeon's one-party state," he wrote.

"Until recently, I seemed to be regarded as a critical friend of the nationalist movement."

But now, as he put it,

"Like many before me, I am discovering that if you're not totally for them, you're totally against them. In Miss Sturgeon's one-party state, in the party and out of the party, dissent – any dissent – is simply not tolerated."

If that sounds over the top,  read his article to see the rather chilling threats which provoked him to write it. It is not just on campus and from the post-Leveson UK regulator that there is a battle to be won to defend Free Speech.

Quote of the day 24th October 2015


Link to the Amazon page for The Elements of Style by William Strunk and EB White.

Do you remember a few years ago when we used to get several chain email hoax warnings a week forwarded by na├»ve but well meaning friends, telling us to beware of frightening but non-existent computer viruses and asking us to forward the warning to everyone we know? One of the two funniest was the Strunkenwhite virus hoax warning of a fictional virus named after this book which supposedly would not let you send out any emails containing grammatical errors.

The strunkenwhite virus had supposedly made thousands of people who had lost the ability to wrote good grammatical English unable to communicate by email.

Much funnier than "this will destroy your hard drive" and I almost could not help wishing it actually did exist.

The other one that had me rolling about laughing, though I managed to resist the temptation to forward it, was the spoof Trojan Horse warning, complete with spoof put down answer, which I repeat here ...

"From: Laocoon
To: Laocoon
BCC: Everyone in my address book

Re: Greeks Bearing Gifts

IF YOU RECEIVE A GIFT IN THE SHAPE OF A LARGE WOODEN HORSE DO NOT DOWNLOAD IT!!!! It is EXTREMELY DESTRUCTIVE and will overwrite your ENTIRE CITY!

The "gift" is disguised as a large wooden horse about two stories tall. It tends to show up outside the city gates and appears to be abandoned. DO NOT let it through the gates! It contains hardware that is incompatible with Trojan programming, including a crowd of heavily armed Greek warriors that will destroy your army, sack your town, and kill your women and children. If you have already received such a gift, DO NOT OPEN IT! Take it back out of the city unopened and set fire to it by the beach. FORWARD THIS MESSAGE TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!

Poseidon

******************************
RE: Greeks bearing gifts

Laocoon,

I hate to break it to you, but this is one of the oldest hoaxes there is. I've seen lots of variants on this warning, one involving some kind of fruit that was supposed to kill the people who ate it and one having to do with something called the "Midas Touch." Here are a few tip-offs that this is a hoax:

1) This "Forward this message to everyone you know" business. If it were really meant as a warning about the Greek army, why tell anyone to send it to the Phoenicians, Babylonians, and Egyptians?
2) Use of exclamation points. Always a giveaway.
3) It's signed "from Poseidon." Granted he's had his problems with Odysseus but he's one of their guys, isn't he? Besides, the lack of a real header with a detailed address makes me suspicious.
4) Technically speaking, there is no way for a horse to overwrite your entire city. A horse is just an animal, after all.

Next time you get a message like this, just delete it. I appreciate your concern, but once you've been around the block a couple times you'll realize how annoying this kind of stuff is. Bye now,

Hector"

Friday, October 23, 2015

Dan Hannan on an idiot's guide to overcoming BBC Bias

Good piece by Dan Hannan MEP here on how broadcasters should avoid bias while covering the forthcoming EU Referendum:

1. If you pigeonhole your guests, be even-handed
2. Match opponents evenly
3. Show the full spectrum of opinion
4. Ask the right questions
5. Follow the money
6. Remember your non-news departments

Lake District National Park to be extended

DEFRA has today announced an extension will be made to the boundary of the Lake District National Park, following a recommendation from Natural England.

This will include an area in the east from Birkbeck Fells Common to Whinfell Common, and an area in the south from Helsington Barrows to Sizergh Fell, and part of the Lyth Valley. The total extension will account for an increase of approximately 3% in the area covered by the park and will come into effect in 2016.

The aim of the extension to the Lake District National Park is to create a boundary line that is most appropriate for the landscape and to maintain and improve the environment in these areas, particularly rights of ways, for the benefit of everyone who enjoys the Lake District and surrounding areas. The boundaries of the LDNP were initially set in 1951, when the Lake District National Park was created. At that time, they were set to follow local political administrative boundaries, rather than the more natural geography of the landscape.

Martin Holdgate, President of Friends of the Lake District, said:

“Of course we are delighted that the Secretary of State has finally confirmed the designation orders for the extensions to the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks. These are, and always have been, areas of superb scenery that deserved National Park status years ago. Friends of the Lake District has worked for years to achieve this outcome, and we are pleased that our efforts have borne fruit but now everyone must work together to ensure we reap the benefits.”

Douglas Chalmers, Director of Friends of the Lake District added:

“This really is a momentous decision, and one that reflects the wishes of many people. And now the real work starts. Everyone has been saying that designating this land will bring additional economic, environmental and community benefits to the area, and we now have to make sure that this happens."

The statement by Secretary of State Liz Truss MP included the following:

“National parks are fabulous national assets that welcome over 90 million tourists and contribute to our vibrant rural economy – we are committed to helping them thrive.”

More details from Cumbria Crack at http://www.cumbriacrack.com/2015/10/23/lake-district-boundary-extension-given-green-light/

English Votes for English Laws

MPs last night approved a very modest measure moving Britain closer slightly closer towards a fair Federal system.

All laws will still need support from a majority of all MPs to pass, but a new stage will be added to the process for those laws which only affect England and which will now also need to win a  majority among MPs representing English constituencies.

Similarly laws which affect England and Wales but not Scotland will now need to win a majority among MPs representing England and Wales as well as one among all MPs.

This is in line with the recommendations of the Mckay Commission.

It will reduce the anomaly where Scottish MPs in Westminster can vote on matters such as health or education in England, but English MPs cannot do likewise on issues devolved to the Scottish Parliament. This is known as the West Lothian question at the suggestion of Enoch Powell because the MP who first asked it, Tam Dalyell, was member for West Lothian in Scotland and framed it in terms of whether it would be reasonable after devolution for him to have a vote on measures affecting Blackburn, Lancashire on those matters where he no longer had a vote on equivalent measures affecting the people in Blackburn, West Lothian which was part of the constituency who actually elected him.

Mr Grayling told MPs: "These proposed changes enable us to give an answer to the West Lothian question, they enable us to give an answer to our constituents, to say England will have its own piece of our devolution settlement."

He rejected as "nonsense" claims that it would create "two classes of MPs" adding that the measures were "fair, sensible and I'm entirely comfortable as a unionist presenting them to this House".

He added: "It can't be in anyone's interest to see English people becoming cynical about the union... it isn't tenable to have devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and for England to have no powers at all."

There has been a regrettable but entirely predictable outpouring of utterly ridiculous posturing from the SNP against this very modest measure, despite the fact that the proposed change will NOT remove the ability of Westminster MPs for Scottish constituencies to vote against any attempt to slip something damaging to Scotland through in an "English only" bill.

This could make it difficult for a UK government which did not have a majority in England to impose on England policies which the English people don't want. But isn't that merely giving the people of England a small measure of exactly the same kind of control over their own affairs which the SNP has been demanding for decades for Scotland?

However, this measure does not take away one atom of control over their own affairs from the people of Scotland. It is a very moderate measure of devolution for England and is not in any way, shape or form anti-Scottish, anti-Welsh, or anti-Irish.

The bill will be attacked by supporters of an English parliament for not going far enough as it has been attacked by the SNP for going too far. The former will have a coherent intellectual case, although I personally believe this is an honourable compromise which delivers what the Prime Minister promised. The arguments presented by the SNP do not hold water.

Bury Labour? Hell, Yes!

Bury CLP apparently did not think through how this banner could be taken ...


(Hat tip to Robert Barnes for sharing on Facebook)

And "Bury Labour" is exactly what the voters of Tottington Ward of Bury council did yesterday.

This is a marginal ward in one of the most marginal constituencies in the country - David Nuttall MP held Bury North for the Conservatives by just 378 votes in May this year.

Hence the Conservative gain from Labour in Tottington ward was the best of several excellent results for the Conservatives in local by-elections this week. I've seen it suggested that this must be a record swing to a governing party in a marginal council ward in a marginal constituency at this stage of the electoral cycle ...

Quote of the day 23rd October 2015


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Police and Crime Commissioner candidate chosen:

Congratulations to Colonel Peter McCall who was selected by the votes of Conservative members in Cumbria attending two meetings last night and this evening to be the Conservative candidate to succeed Richard Rhodes as Cumbria's Police and Crime Commissioner.

The next commissioner will be elected in May 2016. Richard Rhodes is not seeking re-election.

Peter McCall was selected from a strong field of three excellent candidates who addressed well-attended meetings at the Greenhill Hotel, Wigton on Wednesday night and the Low Wood Hotel, Windermere this evening.

Colonel McCall is currently is currently the human resources director of the Royal Logistic Corps and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

His 34-years of service in the Army come to a close in a few months’ time, freeing him to work full-time as Police and Crime Commissioner if elected.

I believe he will be a very strong candidate for the position of Police and Crime Commissioner for Cumbria and if elected will do an excellent job for the people of the County.

"Dad's Army" to return

I don't know what to make of the fact that Universal Pictures is doing a very star-studded remake of "Dad's Army."

It could be brilliant: it could be terrible. My problem when watching the trailer was that although Toby Jones and Bill Nighy are superb actors they do not bear much resemblance to the late Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier, and the rest of the cast don't look much like their predecessors either.

Having said that it would be unfair to judge how well they recreate the characters on a few seconds and if anyone can bring off the job of creating the Walmington-on Sea platoon again it is the cast they have doing it.

We will have to await the film with interest!

Dan Hannan's Ici Londres: The miracle of the market

A brilliant presentation from Dan Hannan MEP on how the combination of the free market, and property rights backed up by independent courts, were an integral part of lifting mankind out of a situation which had existed for most of history in which most people were serfs or slaves.


Jeremy Corbyn's latest interesting appointment

Jeremy Corbyn's appointment of Seumas Milne as the Labour party's new Head of Communications has caused quite a few raised eyebrows.

Mr Milne's views are far enough from the mainstream as to make Corbyn's appointment of John McDonnell as shadow chancellor look tame by comparison.

Here is a column by Michael Moynihan on the subject of Labour's new PR chief.

Quote of the day 22nd October 2015


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Do divided parties lose? Continued

This is a follow-on post to my comments this afternoon about whether parties which are seen to contain a multiplicity of views can win elections.

My previous post contained links to three people who challenged the prevailing wisdom that electors do not vote for parties which are seen as divided.

I think that John Rentoul and Janan Ganesh are on to something and I suspect the prize offered by Professor Tim Bale ‏to anyone who can produce evidence which supports the prevailing wisdom may go unclaimed.

However, the prevailing wisdom is not so much completely wrong as grossly oversimplified.

It is time to discard the habit of thinking that assumes the slightest sign of open disagreement within a party is evidence of bad management and electorally damaging. This model leads to control freakery and stifles imagination and debate. In the early days of the Blair government there was a joke about the difference between a supermarket trolley in need of oiling and a New Labour MP - that the supermarket trolley had a mind of its' own. Did the attitudes which made that joke funny serve Britain well? Definitely not. Did they serve Labour well?

At the time I thought so but I am changing my mind.

Rather than working on the theory that all open disagreement is electorally disastrous, I suggest a more accurate model would be that there is an optimum range of disagreement - with the lower end of the optimum range set at the point below which you look like a bunch of robots who blindly do what they are told and never listen to any different ideas, and the upper end of the optimum range at the point above which you cannot manage the disagreements in a constructive way and it starts to harm the process of government or degenerate into a vicious faction-fight.

So lets consider how this works in practice. Is it really going to harm the Conservative party in Cumbria that local Conservatives are standing up for their area by making every effort to persuade the Home office that the cuts currently proposed in the county's police budget are too severe? Does it harm a party when it's local representatives fight to keep services at the local hospital? Or when they are seen to be expressing reservations over a controversial policy like Tax Credit cuts?

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the answer is no, provided that the disagreement is managed in a way which does not paralyse the government.

The same applies both to backbenchers actually carrying out their duty to hold the executive to account and scrutinise legislation, and to differences within the government.

Within the past few days there have been signs of debate within the government over the policies to be pursued in relation to Saudi Arabia, and public debate in the country about out approach to China.

Is it a bad thing that there are both voices at the cabinet table who want to protect the interests of British interests and British jobs, and voices who want to make sure we do so in a way which has not lost sight of right and wrong? Surely there should be such a debate.

However, there is undoubtedly a point where an excessive level of division within a government leads to paralysis and chaos. When that point is passed there is no doubt in my mind that the "conventional wisdom" that such division will repel voters is correct - and indeed, that voters are right to be repelled.

The Conservatives do need to watch the divisions in the party about Europe, because in the 1990's those divisions nearly tore the party apart and the electorate is understandably on the lookout for anything like that happening again. That is why it is vitally important that the forthcoming EU referendum campaign, in which there will be Conservatives on both sides, is conducted in a positive and constructive manner with both groups of Tories showing respect for each other.

Similarly on the Labour side, everyone always knew that there were tensions between Blair and Brown, but while those tensions were contained and did not interfere too much with the business of government, the electorate did not care. After 2005 the Blair/Brown schism became exceptionally bitter and did start to increasingly damage the work of government, and if they had fought an election in that state I think it would have cost them votes.

And of course, the schism which currently exists between on the one hand Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and the relatively small group of MPs who voted for him, and on the other hand most other Labour MPs, makes the battles inside the Conservative party in the 1990's look like a little local difficulty. You don't have to take my word for it - look at what my Labour MP wrote in his Progress column or what Labour MP Simon Danczuk wrote in the Mail on Sunday.

When the level of dissent and faction-fighting within a party gets as bitter as it did for the Conservatives over Europe in 1992-97, let alone to something as close to civil war as what the Labour party is going through now, the received wisdom is right: parties that badly divided do not win elections.

So the challenge for a party, particularly one in government, is to allow enough dissent to ensure that you are open to ideas, able to respond to public pressure, and avoid looking like a collection of daleks, but not so much that you descent into a paralysing level of in-fighting.

What I've just written sounds simple, but the history of British politics over the past thirty years suggests that achieving it is not as simple as it sounds.

On the other hand, if you are not clever enough to manage a decent stab at that kind of balance, you probably should not be running Britain.

A spoof post for "Back to the Future Day"

News thump has two spoof posts for today, one of which suggests we're living in a messed-up timeline actually created by Marty McFly, and this one, which I am not going to spoil by describing it but strongly recommend you read.

Can parties which contain a mix of views win elections?

It is received wisdom that people do not vote for divided parties.

Indeed, it is also received wisdom that there is a disconnect between what people say they want and how they actually vote on this subject.

People certainly say they want political leaders with minds of their own, not robots who, in the words Gilbert put into the mouth of Sir Joseph Porter in HMS Pinafore,

"Always voted at my party's call and I never thought of thinking for myself at all."

And yet there is a perception that if a party's MPs don't act like robots it means that the party is in trouble and more likely to lose an election. Certainly the opposition will shout about it.

Had it not been for the total disarray in the Labour party, it is fairly likely that both they and the press would have made a lot more fuss about the fact that the Conservative party has had to delay several key votes since the election because of disagreements on the Conservative side, one or two on quite important issues such as

* English Votes for English Laws (though that comes back this week)
* A British Bill of rights
* the promised free vote on whether to repeal the ban on hunting foxes with dogs

It also means that the government is having to tread very carefully indeed on whether to ask parliament for the authority to start air strikes against DA'ESH (the self-styled "Islamic State") in Syria, and on tax credits, where some Conservatives are providing a far more effective opposition to George Osborne than Labour is.

But let's pause for a moment.

If it means that the government is having to work hard to build a greater measure of consensus on these important and controversial issues and spend more time on the details of the legislation to get them right - is that really a bad thing for the country?

As a small-government Conservative who does not believe in constantly forcing as much new law as possible through the parliamentary sausage machine, even one who is broadly supportive of the government line on all the issues above, I have no hesitation in answering: absolutely not.

And if it is good for the country to take a second look at these things, why is everyone convinced it must always be bad for the party?

If you will excuse a couple of quotes within a quote, two journalists and an academic challenged this received wisdom yesterday

This is John Rentoul in his daily catch-up:

"Another fine column by Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times today. "Labour could become a play that nobody wants to watch," he says.

Politics is full of truisms that are not actually true. A week is not a long time in politics; much more stays the same than changes. People do not vote for hope and vision, but for the lesser evil. And nobody really minds a divided party. Division, managed properly, can convey vitality while draining opponents of a reason to exist. There is no solace for Labour in the Tories’ coming strife.

Professor Tim Bale ‏agrees with him: "If anyone can show me research which proves division harms parties' electoral chances, there's a prize."

They have a key point. Surely the key thing which puts off voters is not that parties are open to more than one monolithic view, have minds of their own, and have debates about the best thing to do.

It is if they cannot responsibly manage their disagreements, and degenerate into civil war or fighting like ferrets in a sack, in a way which disrupts the process of government (or would if they were in office) which is a problem. 

Second Quote of the day 21st October 2015 - the 210th anniversary of Trafalgar



Quote of the day 21st October 2015 ("Back to the Future day")

"AGE IS JUST A NUMBER"

(from the film "Back to the Future")


Marty McFly: Where are we? When are we?
Doc: We're descending toward Hill Valley, California, at 4:29 pm, on Wednesday, October 21st, 2015.
Marty McFly: 2015? You mean we're in the future?
Jennifer: Future? Marty, what do you mean? How can we be in the future?
Marty McFly: Uh, Jennifer, um, I don't know how to tell you this, but I... you're in a time machine.
Jennifer: And this is the year '2015'?
Doc: October 21st, 2015.

(From "Back to the Future II)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Slow traffic on A595 this morning

The A595 southbound is more congested than usual this morning in the Whitehaven area, particularly around the hospital roundabout area, with traffic backing up across the roundabout.

Allow extra time for your journey this morning if possible if you have to take the A595 south through Whitehaven during rush hour.

Quote of the day 20th October 2015

“Over the last month I’ve seen opponents, supporters and political commentators reduced to laughter over the antics at the top of the Labour Party."

“We’re not talking about a bemused chuckle either. I’m talking tear-streaming, side-splitting, deep, uncontrollable belly laughter. After another week of chaos, the sound of mocking laughter is fast becoming the soundtrack to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership."

“Amidst much hilarity in Westminster, each shambolic announcement, every piece of confused choreography has been treated as though it were vintage slapstick comedy, not serious opposition politics."

"In the last week alone we’ve had chaotic interviews, U-turns, rebellions and a disastrous Parliamentary Labour Party meeting, described by one former minister as a ‘total ******* shambles’."

“Farce doesn’t begin to describe our position any more. It’s the political equivalent of all the slapstick staples rolled into one. The Three Stooges pie fight. Stan Laurel stuck up a ladder. The house collapsing on Buster Keaton."

“It’s like we’re carving out a new comedy franchise. Carry on Protesting. And right now the sound of Sid James’s dirty cackle just about sums up where Labour’s at."

“We’re having zero impact. Prime Minister’s Questions is a breeze for Cameron and Labour cannot take the fight to the Tories because Corbyn and McDonnell are forever lurching from one crisis to another."

"Right now Boris Johnson is piling more pressure on George Osborne than Jeremy Corbyn is."
“The full tragedy of this summer’s experiment to elect someone completely unsuited for the job of Labour leader is yet to unfold."

“Next week perhaps Corbyn should let his trousers fall down and John McDonnell plant a custard pie in his face. Because the day the truth gets out on the real demise of the Labour Party is the day we’re all in trouble.”

(Labour MP - yes, Labour MP, at least until "Momentum" get him deselected - Simon Danczuk writing in the Mail on Sunday about the current leadership of his party which he regards as "a laughable shambles." You can read more here or here.)

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Economist view on the arguments for and against Brexit

The current issue of The Economist magazine has an very carefully thought though Special Report of the situation of Britain, "The Reluctant European" in the run up to the EU membership referendum.

It includes half a dozen articles looking at different aspects of the choice facing the UK, and it is the first serious attempt I have seen by a newspaper or magazine, rather than campaigners for one side or the other, to assess the case thoroughly and consider all aspects including what the options for British relations with Europe are if the country does vote to leave the EU.

If you are convinced that the supporters of Britain's EU membership have a monopoly of wisdom you will probably hate some aspects of the Economist's article, and if you are a convinced supporter of the "Leave" campaign you will probably hate the rest. But if you have an open mind you probably ought to read it. I suspect both campaigns will find sections of this report that they will quote extensively and others they will have to try to counter.

NB - I am publicising this as a contribution to debate, not because I have necessarily arrived at all the same conclusions.

The online version on "The Economist" website gives you the option to scroll through the articles in the special report in sequence: It begins with an article by John Peet with the same name as the special report as a whole, "The Reluctant European" and has a concluding article about the fact that most of Britain's friends would prefer the country to remain part of the EU which you can read here.

A inferred above I do not agree with everything in this report and it is more negative in tone than I would prefer, although at the end it stresses the need for both sides to express their views in a positive manner.

However, this is not a "Project Fear" article because the authors have clearly tried hard to give both sides of each aspect of the case and to avoid the worst scaremongering and exaggerations of either side. Referring to the costs and benefits of Brexit they write:

"Different people have done the sums in a variety of ways and the results have often been remarkable, not to say incredible. Some advocates of staying in have claimed that 3m jobs would be lost if Britain left, and some who want it to leave have talked of a potential 25% gain in GDP per person."

The inference is that neither of these positions is credible, and I agree.

It is an inadequate argument for "Remain" supporters to simply cite the (enormous) amount of business and jobs dependent on Britain's trade with Europe as if Brexit would automatically mean that all this must be lost: whether it is put at risk depends very much on what relationship Britain then has with countries which stay in the EU. However, some exit options - relying purely on WTO rules for access to the Single Market, for instance - certainly would carry a serious risk of damaging our export trade with Europe.

The Economist argues that the issue on which advocates of Brexit have the strongest case concerns the future development of the Euro, and particularly the danger that Eurozone countries, who together have a qualified majority vote enabling them to outvote the rest of the EU, might push through measures which are not in the interests of non-Euro members. In particular

"Britain, the biggest out, is home to much the largest financial centre in the EU, which also handles the lion’s share of wholesale cross-border euro business. Within the euro zone this is widely seen as anomalous. The European Central Bank tried at one point to insist that clearing houses for euro securities trading should be based in the euro zone, although in March the British government won a case against this in the European Court of Justice. The British government cites other examples of interference, including a successful campaign by the European Parliament to cap bankers’ bonuses and a so far unsuccessful attempt to impose a financial-transfer tax on transactions. And in August the euro zone, acting as a qualified majority, overturned a European Council ruling to draw on an EU-wide bail-out fund, the European Financial Stability Mechanism, to lend money to Greece without telling non-euro countries."
 
"Given such examples, Britain is understandably worried about possible threats to the City of London. As Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform puts it, “other EU countries that know little about finance—or that seek to favour their own financial centres—could vote for rules that harm [the City’s] competitiveness.”

Unlike the vast majority of articles on the subject other than those by campaigners to leave, the Economist article actually mentions Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, the most likely path to exit.

Having looked at all the options, The Economist points out the biggest single problem with the case for Brexit - the fact that although most of the things the "Leave" campaign offer might individually be attainable depending on which alternative option is selected, it is unlikely that we could obtain all of them. The magazine writes

"To voters who want less immigration, the Eurosceptics say: you can have it only if you leave the EU. To small businesses fed up with too much red tape, their message is: so long as you do not trade with the rest of the EU, you can tear it all up. To people who worry about being shackled to a continent still suffering from the aftermath of the euro crisis, they offer a nimble Britain that can shift trade to faster-growing markets in Asia and the Americas. And to believers in democracy at national level, they promise that once Britain has escaped the clutches of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, its lawmaking will return to where it belongs, the Westminster parliament. They also throw in the need to escape from the pernicious European Court of Human Rights, even though it has nothing to do with the EU."

"It sounds too good to be true, and it is, for these arguments are full of inconsistencies."

The Economist challenges head on an argument often put by advocates of British exit from the EU, that despite not being in the EU the rules still give Norway and other EEA members some influence over what those rules are. When he was an academic, Norway's present attorney general led a study of the relationship between the country and the EU which reported "serious democratic concerns because Norway was forced to implement laws that it had no say in making."

The magazine quotes Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s Europe minister, as saying that because his country is not represented in the Brussels institutions, it often finds it difficult even to discover what laws are being proposed and adopted. They say that the Norwegian Prime Minister and Attorney general have advised Britain "to steer clear of the Norwegian model at all costs."

The written article tried very hard to give both sides of the story. The Economist has also produced a short video summary which makes some fair points but with rather less effort to give both sides. Basically this is a 160-second distillation of the case for "Remain." Don't watch if you are a "Leave" supporter and easily annoyed.