Showing posts from June, 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 i

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.)

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 peo

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 nerv

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.)

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

Quote of the day 28th June 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 Finland – with 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

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 t

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 th

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 p

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 &quo

Quote of the day 26th June 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

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&

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  )

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 su

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 al

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  )

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 s

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&q

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

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


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 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

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.)

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


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

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 .")

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. 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'

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'

Polling Problems

"Number Cruncher Politics" has a good piece at 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,

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 t

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)

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://r

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 m

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. Unsu

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.