Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tory Minister sacked for pro Murdoch gaffe

A Conservative Minister's front bench career was over last night after it was revealed he had been secretly recorded boasting that he would  approve Rupert Murdoch's take-over of BSkyB regardless of the evidence put before him.

"Am I at war with Rupert Murdoch?" He said on the tape "Far from it, if anything I would say I love News Corp and Rupert, perhaps a little too much, ha ha"

Is what the papers would have been reporting had the Business Minister been a Conservative and he'd been caught saying the opposite of Vince Cable. For what Vince said, was no worse than the quote above, yet he maintains his ministerial position (albeit with a bit of power cut from it) and there is no outpouring of rage over his lack of impartiality from the anti-mudoch media.

If the situation had been reversed and it had been revealed that the Business Minister was pro Murdoch you can gurantee that the columnists would still be screaming now. Instead we have the Telegraph claiming that it had always intended to publish the full transcript and that tidbit, really we did, honest, there was no agenda in leaving it out, none whatsoever. All in all simply appaling journalistic ethics.

Worse still by keeping Vince as a minister all that is happening is a reinforcement of his delusion that he's in some way too important to be sacked and a stoking of his monster, I predicted the recession, ego. Yes I understand that he holds a large sway over the left of the party but by not removing him, and in broad terms barely sanctioning him, all that has happened is that power has been reinforced.

Since Vince came to office he has enjoyed the privilege of pushing his left leaning views out there, playing to his left base within the Liberal party, who lets face it are really Labour voters too afraid to vote Labour. Coming alongside his constant banker bashing and his crazy anti captialism speech at the Lib Dem conference this whole fiasco has turned into just another chance for him to play to the gallery.

Footnote:
For a fantastic take on the Cable story check out satirical website The Daily Mash

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why Labour are really against Elected Police Commissioners

"At the heart of objections to the Bill lies a deeply worrying philosophy. It is the view that one cannot trust the people. Heaven forfend that they might elect someone who represents their views. Those are the same disreputable arguments that were mounted against enfranchising the general public and women. The same attitude pervades opposition to the Bill-that one cannot trust the electorate. It is as undemocratic as it is elitist to argue that the public should have no say, and that our public services would be run so much better by people who are unaccountable and who know better than them."

Nick Herbet, Policing Minister

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Student fee protests are offensive to the poor

Another day another student fees protest. I’m on my way up to Parliament and the Intranet is warning me of potential road closures and entrance closures as a result of another fees protest. This will be protest number three in Westminster alongside the numerous university sit-ins and yesterday’s attempted sit-in at Top Shop (nothing to do with student fees, but I believe they think that in the current climate of austerity a 10% NUS discount just isn’t enough)

Taking inspiration from the 80's their message is simple “Just say no”. Say no to pretty much everything proposed. Don’t read the proposals, which show that they are actually progressive and will result in an increase to UK government debt of £13bn at a time we can scant afford it, just say no to reform of the university finance system full stop. Oh and remember to say that this means that university will only be for the rich.

It is this point that we are constantly hearing from middle class students who feel they have to go out and look after the poor because seemingly they’re unable to talk for themselves. None of the students interviewed ad naseum on the news can say that if fees were higher they wouldn’t have gone, they just all point to the mythical student from a poorer background who will be put off by fees increases.

It is this idea that is offensive. What is says is that someone from a less well off background is unable to understand the argument and logic that says that you borrow money now to invest for the future, and that if you make the right investment you will be rewarded by a higher salary. However don’t forget it’s probably one of the safest investments around as you don’t have to pay anything at all now, and if it all goes wrong and you never earn enough money you don’t have to pay it back anyway.

A pretty simple argument, but according to the NUS and every fees protestor the rich can understand it, but those who are less well off can’t. That’s not very progressive is it?

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lord Young vs Lord Sugar, Offensive fight off

Lord Young's comments were offensive so he had to resign. That's what everyone on both sides of the Chamber say and that's why he went ahead and resigned. If anyone in a position like his was to say something that belittled the recession and the effects it's having on people then they should do the right thing and fall on their sword. Yes?

Well clearly no, it actually depends on who you are and whose experience you are belittling. You see back in Gordon Brown's "government of all the talents" days he appointed the first enterprise tzar / advisor in the form of Everyone's favourite "businessman" Alan Sugar.

A few days into the job he was approached by a BBC journalist and asked what could be done to help businesses in that area to get out of the recession. His response? Well the clip that was played every week on Have I Got News for You said it all, "for f**ks sake" he said as he stormed off, before coming back and delivering this:
"Can't we get off this recession kick once and for all? I don't think we're in one now, ok?"
"I can honestly say a lot of problems you hear from people who are moaning are from companies I would not lend a penny to.
"They are bust. The moaners are bust. They are bust and they don't need the bank - they need an insolvency practitioner."

First off we were very much still in recession then, secondly what he said was offensive, very offensive in fact to those businesses that were struggling to raise finance to trade and improve their situation.

Was he sacked or forced to resign though? In short, no. Labour said nothing, and the Conservatives and Lib Dems were more worried about his BBC TV show and if it was right to be in government. Why? Because it's seemingly fine to say something offensive as a government advisor if you're 1) a bit of a cheeky chappy and a no nonsense sort and 2) if you're being offensive about business people. If you wear a bow tie and offend the "everyday" man though then off you go. Those business people are made of sterner stuff after all.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Bankers Bonuses

At the weekend I read a fantastic article from Fraser Nelson which pointed out that the 50% tax bracket was the Coalition government’s most expensive policy. Perhaps Alan Johnson should direct Ed Milliband at it to help bring him around to his way of thinking.

Now I’m no fan of that policy, I agree with Fraser, and the wealth of evidence that shows that excessively high tax rates result in lower tax collection, however I understand the justification of keeping it for now.

Plus if we’ve got it let’s use it to our advantage. How? Well let’s look at Bankers bonuses. It’s reported in today’s media that the banks are in secret talks to restrict this year’s bonus pool from £7bn to just £4bn showing massive restraint and playing into the narrative that we must reduce the size of city bonuses to show that “we’re all in this together”. St Vince at BIS will be happy as he’s been warning banks that excessively large bonuses could result in a bonus tax again.

However let’s stop and think about it for a second. At the moment the UK government needs money, and bankers are heavily tax at 50%. There is no way on earth that they are going to try to put their bonuses (probably the most heavily scrutinised of their pay) through a tax avoidance scheme so that £7bn will net the exchequer £3.5bn of income tax. However if we reduce it to £4bn then George will only be getting a paltry £2bn through the Treasury accounts, a difference of £1.5bn.


So let’s put that into perspective if the government continues to push for banks to restrict their bonus pool they’ve giving up enough money to pay for 11.9 days of debt interest. The easy argument is that’s not a lot so why bother, but let’s put that in perspective again. It will only cover 11.9 days of interest, that’s how much we’re paying every day, let’s face it every little bit regardless of how small or large matters.

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Sure-Start and why the age of austerity has a long way to go

For those of you with memories that reach all the way back to the heady days of the election campaign you might remember the scaremongering surrounding Sure-Start and alleged Tory plans to cut its funding.

The real policy position during the election was that Sure Start funding was to be refocused on its original purpose of helping those that were the most needy with their children and parenting. The criticisms of the programme at the time were that Sure-Start centres had become a home for Middle Class mums who were busy getting baby massage and yoga classes for free whilst forcing out those that needed free support the most. Conservative Plans were to move funding from programmes like these to fund an extra 2,000 Health Visitors.

During the campaign I remember Labour’s view of Sure-Start was to use it as a wedge issue for Middle Class voters, a sure sign that they knew what it had become. For me this was highlighted when Harriett Harman and another Labour front bencher visited a Sure-Start Centre leading to a quote from them (I think it was on twitter) to the effect of “I can’t believe that the Tories want to cut our baby massage funding”. Cue much coughing and spluttering from the right on why the hell are we funding that in the first place.

Now though we have a new coalition government that is doing its best to implement that manifesto and of course we’ve had the CSR which has shown just how bad the economic situation is, so everything’s changed, yes?

Well actually no. This weekend we met up with some of our fellow new parent friends, one of which attends a post-natal class at a Sure-Start centre. So far they’ve done sessions on learning through play, music and song, baby massage (of course) and a few other things. So baby massage funding remains. Fair enough you might say it is supposed to have some real world benefits, but unfortunately it gets worse. In a rather embarrassed way she then told us how the final session of the course had been left free and that the health visitor running it was delighted that she’d managed to get some funding for someone to come in and give the mothers either a pedicure or an eyebrow thread. Where’s the funding from, yes that’s right Sure Start.

Now I found this absolutely shocking. As a country we’re borrowing £500m a day, the interest payments alone are costing us £126m and money is being spent on things like this. I doubt this is an isolated case and it tells us a lot about the challenges we have in making the budget cuts we need to make to turn the economic situation around.

The biggest challenge for implementing the CSR isn’t in coming up with the plan, anyone can move numbers around on a spreadsheet. I used to be a management consultant, that and making PowerPoint presentations was much of my daily work, but getting people to actually implement them is always the challenge.

Look at this instance as just a small example. Firstly the health visitor running it had to think, yes this is a reasonable use of Sure-Start funding, then someone further up the chain presumably had to sign it off and also agree that it was a good use of tax-payer funds. At some point someone even higher up will review the budget and expenditure reports and see an invoice for beauty treatments next to Sure-Start and will presumably not question it. If there was any chance they would then it would never have been OK’d from below or requested in the first place. And don’t forget the mothers, who will also be complaining that VAT is going up and everything costs more, will also have to accept these tax-payer funded beauty treatments without question.

So are we in the age of austerity yet? Economically we are, we have to be, but psychologically we’ve got a long long way to go, not just within the public sector but also within the public itself.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Quote of the Day

"University is free at the point of use to the student, and graduates face an income-related payroll deduction when they start earning. Labour should be loudly cheered for bringing in the system and bashed around the head for its complete failure to get across to the public that this is how it works."
- Lord Browne

It's totally true, the public do not understand how it works, the state will even lend you money for living costs! The current government really needs to hammer this point home as they implement Browne recommendations.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stratford District Council Officers and the Transparency Agenda

At this morning's Stratford Business Forum Breakfast Paul Lankester, Chief Executive of Stratford District Council, spoke and detailed some of what the Council were doing to reduce their costs given the current and future budgetary pressures on them. All good stuff you'd think but then he moved on to talk about the transparency agenda that is being driven by the Department for Communities and Local Government, and it's head Eric Pickles MP.

For those that don't know DCLG are forcing Councils (and they really are having to force them) to publish all of their expenditure over £500 on their website. The idea is that this level of transparency on spending will make them think twice about what they spend money on, how much they spend and even if they need to spend it in the first place. If officers know that Mrs Smith at no 22, or even the Stratford Herald, can see that the council is spending £5,000 on renting meeting rooms at a Race Course for example they may think twice about if it's necessary.

What was Paul's view on this, remembering that he is the Chief Executive earning £107,574  for managing about 300 staff, well he said "I believe that all Council spending over £500 will be online today, for anyone sad enough to want to look". In one line he told you everything about what he, and presumably his team think about this powerful agenda to open up government at all levels.

But he didn't stop there he went on to talk about Freedom of Information Requests, stating that only 10% of them come from local residents and that the remaining balance come from journalists and special interests groups, no doubt alluding to the excellent TaxPayers Alliance, who are well known for their FoI requests. He made a good point about the resource requirements to deal with them, however the obvious response is that if data is routinely made available internally anyway then they shouldn't need 3 or 4 staff dealing with them.

Ultimately though what is wrong with anyone, be they a local resident or an interested body, or journalist having a right to information, a right to question what a public body is doing and a right to challenge them on it? Before FoI's particularly ones made in the area of finance the media and hence the public had no real way to know what public authorities were spending or doing with their tax money. Perhaps Mr Lankester has forgotten that he runs a public body and spends tax payers money not his own.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Red Ed's Wordle

So I've quickly wordled Ed Milliband's conference speech to see if his main message really was generation. Unsurprisingly "Generation" is right up there, but "Must" is mentioned just as often, not to mention "Country" which is interesting, and then along comes "New" and "Change". If you look at the rest you can see just how many words were frequently mentioned reinforcing the view, in our office anyway, that the speech was a mess and all over the place.


NB: For those that don't know the larger the word the more times it was mentioned

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Quotes of the day - Vince Cable vs. Adam Smith

Vince Cable:
"Capitalism takes no prisoners and kills competition where it can, as Adam Smith explained over 200 years ago."
Except he didn't say that Vince, he said government kills competition

Adam Smith:
"Where free competition reigns, businesses cannot keep out competitors. Government policy should focus on increasing competition, ensuring that trade is honest – and on reducing other regulation."

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

The state shouldn't compensate the poor - Clegg

'Welfare needs to become an engine of mobility, changing people's lives for the better, rather than a giant cheque written by the State to compensate the poor for their predicament.
Nick Clegg

You've got to hand it to Clegg he's got balls. On the eve of his conference he picks a massive fight with the left of his party by saying he basically disagrees with everything they stand for. 

After the defection of a Lib Dem councillor to the Conservatives here in Stratford, one wonders if Mr Clegg is lining himself up for something similar? If he carries on at this rate he'll be ousted as leader at the first opportunity, if that happens, maybe he'll be looking for a new home....

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Those Fringe Diary emails

Like many people I was fed up with the daily email coming from FingerPrint events about fringe events at Party Conference. There's no indication of why you're getting them and no unsubscribe, to be honest they feel a lot like spam.

So I fired off an email to FingerPrint saying I wanted to unsubscribe and considered them spam and got a nice reply back from one of their directors.

Dear Simon
I hope you do not mind me replying but please note when you registered you left ticked the option to receive conference related information.
I shall remove you from receiving further fringe diary emails.
However the Party may have you on other mailing lists because that option was left ticked - so you may need to ask to be removed from other emails separately.


Kind Regards


Shama Hussain
Director
 So there you have it, everyone is getting them becuase they left the box ticked to say they wanted to receieve information by email about the conference. As a result you get one email a day totally unrelated to you and your interests. Personally I disagree that these are related to the conference, is the fringe really  the conference, or by definition something else, a fringe to it? I expected to be receiving updates about the conference agenda, sessions, speakers etc, not these.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Does the NHS have to cut the frontline?

The NHS has had its budget ringfenced, meaning no cuts in spending. However stories are starting to emerge, such as this one from Nick Robinson, suggesting that because NHS funding won't continue to go up at the phenomenal rates that it has over the past 13 years, hospitals will have to start making cuts of up to 12 %, and obviously this means less nurses and doctors.

Except it doesn't have to. I've spent this morning sat in the cafe at Warwick Hospital, whilst my wife has her gallbladder removed in the Day Surgery Unit. Whilst sat here I've noticed that on every table there's a little pop-up notice about the NHS pension choice packs that apparently all members of the NHS pension scheme over 50 on 1st October 2009 will soon be receiving.

So what's this got to do with cutting the frontline. Well inside this pack there will be:

  • A Pension Choice statement
  • The NHS Pension Choice Guide
  • The NHS Pension Choice Guide DVD featuring financial educator Alvin Hall and ITN news reader Faye Barker
Yes that's right, the NHS produced a DVD featuring two "celebrities", who I somehow doubt did it for free, to help NHS staff make a difficult decision about what to do with their gold plated public sector pension.

When we talk about NHS spending it's important to remember that such a lot of it goes on things like this, all coming from the NHS Business Services Authority. The NHS doesn't just spend money on nurses and doctors, drugs and MRI scanners, there's a lot of this too, that can easily be cut out without affecting the frontline.


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Opposition Day Debate Fun

Today is Opposition Day which means that the Opposition get to lay down a motion and the government gets to put down an amendment and then there is a debate followed by a vote on the amendment and motion.

They're normally quite amusing, purely for the audacity of the government in their amendment, and today's is no different.

The Opposition motion:

"That this House notes with concern the Government’s failure to prioritise the safety of communities by not protecting central Government funding for the police; notes the conclusion of the Audit Commission and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary that any budget reduction over 12 per cent. will reduce frontline policing; pays tribute to the police and other agencies for achieving a 43 per cent. reduction in crime, including a 42 per cent. cut in violent crime, since 1997, and for maintaining that reduction through last year’s recession; notes that public perception of anti-social behaviour is at its lowest level since it was recorded in the British Crime Survey of 2001–02; further notes that the previous Government set out plans in its Policing White Paper to drive down policing costs whilst maintaining core funding; and condemns the Government’s policy of reducing police numbers, restricting police powers and imposing elected commissioners to replace police authorities, thus condemning the police service to unnecessary, unwelcome and costly re-structuring at a time when their focus should be on maintaining the fall in crime and anti-social behaviour."

The Government Amendment:
Basically drop everything except the first three words then bash the previous government's record whilst praising what we're doing! Fantastic!
 
"Line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to end and add ‘notes the appalling fiscal deficit left by the last Government and reiterates the urgent need to restore the nation to economic health; recognises that the police will need to play their part in reducing that deficit; and welcomes the Government’s proposed policing reforms, which will deliver a more responsive and efficient police service, less encumbered by bureaucracy, more accountable to the public and, most importantly, better equipped to fight crime.’."

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How to make Government IT deliver savings

Another lazy post regurgitating a press release, sorry.

I've written about IT procurement and government IT failures before, here and here, but not really put forward a solution. However the fantastic Network for the Post Bureaucratic Age have released their first report and it's into solving the issues we have with government IT

From PB-Age

The Network for the Post-Bureaucratic Age today publishes its first detailed report on one way we can get better-for-less. This has been put together by some of the UK’s best thinkers on the subject, led by Liam Maxwell, IT specialist and Councillor at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. It presents examples of where their approach has succeeded and a clear plan – a playbook – for implementation. But will government actually be able to put this into action, or will it be blocked?

The report - ‘Better for Less: How to make Government IT deliver savings’ - investigates the quagmire of government IT. 

The British government currently spends somewhere between £16 billion and £23 billion on IT every year. The astonishing lack of clarity over expenditure is symptomatic of appalling failures in IT strategy, procurement, and process. This cannot be allowed to continue, especially during a time of spending cuts in frontline services. The annual cost dwarfs some government departments. It is three times the amount we spend on the army, more than the Department for Transport. Worse, it has been designed badly and, unfortunately this time, the process has been built to last. The problems come from ineffective procurement – much of which is waste. 

Each year about the same amount of money is spent on the procurement process (the jumping through hoops to secure contracts) as is used to run the Foreign Office. Savings just in the procurement process - without even counting the savings from better IT -  could finance the entire Sure Start programme, they could fund 50% more school building. And even when the form-filling is done only 30% of projects work. Indeed government productivity has actually declined since IT was introduced. At a time when dynamic change is required -  to reduce cost and deliver better services – one of the principle barriers to that change has become government IT.

Liam and his co-authors are dedicated to bringing government into the information age, and have looked in detail about what should be done to deliver government IT more effectively, and at a much lower cost to taxpayers. The paper spells out exactly how government can deliver a better service for less money – a very different proposition to proposing mere ‘cuts’, where less money means poorer service.

The full report is available at http://pbage.org, directly here and as an ibook here.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Removing Street Clutter (signs)

Lazy blog post today regurgitating a press release, but I know it's an issue in Stratford, with people very concerned about the number of signs on the streets runing the look of the area. As a bit of commentary, Eric Pickles continues to deliver. There's no recess for that man.

Councils will today be urged to get rid of unnecessary signs, railings and advertising hoardings in a bid to make streets tidier and less confusing for motorists and pedestrians.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Transport Secretary Philip Hammond are concerned that the character of the country’s urban spaces is being damaged and have written to councils leaders calling on them to reduce the number of signs and other ‘street clutter’.

The Government believes that in some cases traffic signs and railings are installed by councils in the mistaken belief that they are legally required. However, although some signs are required by law, Government advice is that for signs to be most effective they should be kept to a minimum. To help councils do this the Department for Transport is reviewing traffic signs policy and new advice on how to reduce clutter will be published later this year.

Ministers want communities to inform local authorities of particularly bad examples of clutter as part of the Big Society in action. Organisations who promote good urban design like Civic Voice, Living Streets and fixmystreet.com are already helping people alert councils to examples of clutter and showing people how to carry out street audits.

Eric Pickles said:
“Our streets are losing their English character. We are being overrun by scruffy signs, bossy bollards, patchwork paving and railed off roads wasting taxpayers' money that could be better spent on fixing potholes or keeping council tax down. We need to ‘cut the clutter’.

“Too many overly cautious townhall officials are citing safety regulations as the reason for cluttering up our streets with an obstacle course when the truth is very little is dictated by law. Common sense tells us uncluttered streets have a fresher, freer authentic feel, which are safer and easier to maintain.

“Organisations like Civic Voice, Living Streets and fixmystreet can help councils provide a Big Society solution – local people carrying out street audits will bring power and character back to neighbourhoods.”

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Pickles Legacy

In an interview with the Telegraph Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local government described what he'd like his legacy to be:

“I would like, when the space ship arrives from Alpha Centura and lands in the middle of Barnsley and goes up to No 23 Acacia Ave, and the spaceling says to the lady that answers the door: 'take me to your leader,’ she would say 'I’m in charge’. Localism is in charge.”

That Ladies and Gentleman, is the man, the Legend, Mr Eric Pickles.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Labour's legacy

In case anyone has forgotten. New video from the Conservative party.

Also did you know that Labour Cabinet Ministers each got a £20,000 pay off for losing the election and leaving the country in the state it's in?

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Why I've been quiet lately

On the 24th of July my first Daughter Emily was born. My wife had a few post birth complications but everything is now heading the right way and mother and baby are both very well.


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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why is Welfare Broken?

The Taxpayers alliance has created a fantastic little video that shows why Welfare and the benefits system needs to be fixed



Hat Tip to Dizzy Thinks on this one.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

You Gov AV polling

YouGov have been doing some polling on the AV referendum and the results are very interesting. Not enough time to do my own analysis so here it is straight from YouGov.

All very positive from our point of view however you look at it.

YouGov has conducted research for Channel 4 and The Sun on the Alternative Vote referendum. The main points from the latest results are as follows:
1) The principle of having a referendum on AV is popular with the support of 69% of the public.
2) Latest voting intentions in the AV referendum are 45% in support of AV, 32% in support of FPTP. 6% would not vote and 17% don't know how they would vote.
3) However, support for AV is soft. We experimented by presenting people with six arguments in favour of AV, and six arguments against AV and then asking how they would vote in a referendum. This resulted in a significant drop in support for AV to 33% and a corresponding increase in don't knows, leaving referendum voting intention neck and neck.
4) The effect of the Alternative Vote, were it to be introduced, would not necessarily damage the Conservative party. Lib Dem voters are now more likely to give their second preferences to the Conservative party, and Labour voters are less likely to give their second preferences to the Liberal Democrats.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Debt and Deficit Confusion and the OBR

Setting up the Office for Budget Responsibility is probably one of the best things that the coalition government has done to date. For some time I have been saying that in terms of forecasting the Treasury simply wasn’t fit for purpose. Whether this was as as a result of political meddling in the figures, Ministers choosing the rosiest of forecasts or plain incompetence we shall never know, but an independent set of forecasts from a specialist organisation can only be a positive thing.

Of course the problem politically, with an independent body that transparently publishes everything (including worst case, best case and confidence levels) is that it makes it rather difficult for you to control the message.

We saw this on Monday whilst the government was trying to talk about the fact that the economic growth forecast for 2011 had been downgraded from the 3.5% set by the last government to 2.6% (quite a large downgrade) the media, ably supported by Alistair Darling, was only interested in the fact that the deficit would not be as big as the last government had predicted.

An obvious knock-on effect of this is that the overall public debt will be lower than expected 62.2% of GDP rather than 63.6%. Now by anyone’s account that is still huge and it doesn’t significantly change the £40bn a year bill we will soon be paying in interest on our borrowing (remember that’s more than we spend on education in a year and approaches our level of spending on defence). It also doesn’t change the fact that even if we manage to cut the deficit in half by the end of this parliament our total public debt will be more than a trillion pounds, ohh and don’t forget that this isn’t a change to the structural deficit, just non structural.

However to hear the media talk about it, and of course the Labour Party you wouldn’t know any of this. Alastair Darling has been demanding apologies from David Cameron and saying that this proves that cuts in public expenditure clearly aren’t needed.

This is rubbish and Darling knows it. We have to cut the deficit, we can’t go on spending 150 plus billion more a year than we get in. It’s not sustainable in any way shape or form and we have to cut it by  reducing spending. Our problem is a structural one not one of economic growth, if we were to cut the deficit as quickly as we need to by economic growth alone (not accounting for inflation remember) we would have to show economic growth of at least 10.5%, which just isn’t going to happen unless we suddenly become China or an emerging economy.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

The waste is there

Today will see George Osborne’s task of having to cut the largest budget deficit in British history begins as he outlines £6bn of spending cuts through efficiency savings.

Throughout the election campaign, that is now just a distant memory to many, to cut now or to cut later was a fundamental difference between the Labour Party and Conservatives. Gordon Brown continually argued that making £6bn of savings this year would put the recovery at risk whilst George Osborne argued that to not do so would ruin the country and risk leaving us in the same position as Greece.

As many people know I worked on Nadhim Zahawi’s campaign and sat at the back of many a public meeting and public debate over the month long race towards May the 6th. At event after event people questioned if we could really find the back office savings necessary to cut £6bn without having to cut front line services. Many suggested that it was a folly to ring-fence spending in the NHS and areas such as international development, but despite this we stood firm,. Nadhim would point to his own experience at YouGov, where as the company grew from 2 men in a shed to 400 plus staff over 4 continents the back office grew and grew and never wanted to make cuts to themselves pointing at the front-line instead as the place to cut spending.

During the campaign it was obviously difficult to give specifics, we hadn’t in the words of many a candidate “Seen the books” yet and so we had to talk in generalities, cutting back on waste, freezing public sector recruitment etc. However now that we are a few weeks into the coalition Ministers are in place, and the civil service has begun to provide details  on where they spend and the returns it is giving. Sadly some of the details of wasteful spending are shocking.

According to internal auditors:

  • There are currently 271 HMRC face to face inquiry centres, some of which receive as few as 11 visitors a week;
  • The Department of Health has 200 phone lines that make or receive fewer than 100 calls a month;
  • There are 573 phone numbers (not even lines, but numbers potentially connected to multiple lines) that receive no calls at all within the Department of Health and the Department of Work and Pensions;
  • A £5m strategy in the Education department “outlines the short, medium and long term objective in bringing to life children’s right to play”;
  • The government spends £125m a year on taxis, £320 million on hotels and £70m on flights;
  • In total the government spends £3billion a year on travel alone .


Now we all know that £6bn is only a tiny percentage of the spending cuts that need to be made to cut the £156bn deficit, but this is a down-payment, a starting point that proves we are serious beyond all doubt that this deficit will decrease.

NB: For anyone wondering why I haven’t been blogging much lately I’ve now got a new job working for Nadhim Zahawi MP so am quite busy as I handover from my old job and get up to speed on this one. I should point out that anything I write here is my own view and not in anyway related to those of Nadhim Zahawi.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Coalition Policies


I suppose you could call this the coalition manifesto. It all looks pretty good, although the devil will obviously be in the details.

THE ECONOMY
  • Emergency budget within 50 days
  • "Accelerated" action to cut the budget deficit: £6bn of spending cuts this year
  • Measures to promote financial stability and support business growth
  • Next year's 1% National Insurance tax rise to be scrapped
  • Phased reform of tax system. Those on less than £10,000 to pay no tax
  • New ministerial committee to look at "structural" banking reform
  • New tax on financial transactions

EDUCATION
  • Investment to reduce class sizes for children from poorer backgrounds
  • New independent schools in state sector - "free schools" - to be set up

POLITICAL REFORM
  • Referendum on the Alternative Vote system for general elections
  • Fixed-term Parliaments - next election in May 2015
  • Cut in number of MPs and equal size constituencies
  • Right of the public to "recall" corrupt MPs
  • Ban on "non-doms" sitting in Parliament
  • Reform of political donations and party funding

FOREIGN POLICY
  • "War Cabinet" to oversee Afghan mission
  • National Security Council to handle security policy
  • Strategic defence review to begin as soon as possible
  • Trident renewal to go ahead but cost scrutinised
  • No further powers ceded to EU without referendum
  • UK not to join euro for foreseeable future

CIVIL LIBERTIES
  • Great Repeal Bill including abolition of ID cards

IMMIGRATION
  • Cap on immigration from outside the European Union

ENVIRONMENT
  • Aviation passenger duty replaced by plane tax

FAMILIES
  • Tax break for married couples and civil partners (Although Lib-Dems don't have to vote for it)

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Discovering the Scorched Earth

So it's begun, first formal day of a new government sees the release of the latest unemployment figures. They show exactly what we all expected that unemployment has risen. The last quarter has seen an extra 53,000 people become unemployed bringing the current total to 2.1 million people.

Be prepared this won't be the last bit of bad economic news in the next few weeks and months.

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Friday, May 7, 2010

Nadhim wins

Nadhim Zahawi won Stratford with 26,052 votes and an 11 thousand vote majority.

Lib Dems came in second followed by Labour. All other candidates including the independent received less than 5% of the vote and lost their deposit.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Surprises from the Stratford Labour party

I recently returned home to find that the local Labour candidate and his team had visited my area and left a copy of their leaflet. It is not however this surprise visit of Labour candidates in a Conservative stronghold that I refer to above,  but the the fact that their leaflet states that the local Labour party is campaigning on a platform to restore funding to a business that is now in administration and therefore totally unable to deliver any services and that they would never have stopped funding it in the first place.

This company in question is of course South Warwickshire Tourism Ltd, the private company that  operates Shakespeare Country and the Stratford tourist information office. My understanding of the situation is that the council discovered that he company was no longer a viable business, and that it was therefore only a matter of time before public money in the form of grants and payments from Stratford District council ended up being used to pay off it’s creditors rather than provide tourism services to the region. The only option despite the bad timing was therefore to withdraw the funding before it was too late.

A quick review of  the accounts on file at Companies House shows that in 2008 the business had a turnover of 1.1 million pounds, much of which, one would imagine, was public money, and yet still made a loss of £137,196 and in 2009 had a turnover of 1.2 million pounds yet made a loss of £52,000. Most worryingly it also had debts payable within a year of £430,782 meaning that in 2009, 35% of it’s turnover, much of which was no doubt paid from council tax receipts from Stratford District Council, did not go towards promoting tourism, but instead towards paying off debts.

The accounts also point out that Stratford District council is not their only source of income with additional funding from Warwick District Council and payments for a join venture agreement to operate the visitor contact centre in Coventry. So should the withdrawal of Stratford Council’s funding really have had such an impact if the company was well managed?

Perhaps in reality I shouldn’t be surprised by the way the Stratford Labour party wants to throw public money after bad. They are after all representatives of the party who, for the last 13 years, has run the country at a record loss (deficit) and has had to resort to printing money to stop the creditors foreclosing on our country. Maybe they think that  Stratford District council should have cranked up their own printing press to keep funding an insolvent businesses.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nick Clegg, Don't read my lips - read my manifesto


"Don't read my lips - read my manifesto"

  • Amnesty for illegal immigrants
  • Closer ties with Europe
  • Scrap Britain's Nuclear Deterrent
  • Release prisoners from jail
Thanks to my father in law for the idea!

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

People Power - Guest Post by Nadhim Zahawi

Next week will see the launch of our manifesto, an essential plank of which will be People Power. Transferring power away from central government and back to where it belongs, with the people.

Today the Labour Party re-announced their plans to introduce proportional representation, a system that Churchill said created "The most worthless votes for the most worthless candidate", and a fully elected house of Lords. This is their response to the reform of the parliamentary system and their plan to restore trust in politics and politicians. It's their first foray into it for 13 years and one can be forgiven for seeing it’s pre-election announcement as a cynical attempt to win votes. The phrase closing the barn door after the horse has bolted comes to mind.

Labour’s proposal do nothing though, to tackle the major issues that the expenses scandal raised, mainly that constituents have no ability to remove their MP. Instead they have introduced proportional representation (so called PR) which is simply a complicate system that returns the least worst candidate. However our People Power manifesto changes that introducing a right to recall if a Member of Parliament is found guilty of wrongdoing.

So unlike in the current system whereby MPs, who have broken the rules and have been officially sanctioned by parliament and the Standards and Privileges committee, can continue to represent a constituency until the next election, we will give constituents the right to recall their Member of Parliament.

Under a conservative government if an MP is found guilty of any wrong-doing then a right to recall will be offered to his or her constituents. This process will begin with the filing of a notice-of-intent-to recall petition to be signed by at least 100 constituents and submitted to the local returning officers.

A recall petition will then be circulated within the constituency. If this petition has been signed by more than 10% of the electorate (in the case of Stratford by 6,936 people) within 90 days then a by-election will be triggered.

This is a radical change, and a change that is truly needed, it removes the concept of the “safe seat” and makes MPs directly answerable to their constituents over the whole, parliament not just every five years. Most importantly it will force MPs to remember who they are are there to represent first, their constituents.

Nadhim Zahawi is the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary candidate for Stratford-on-Avon for more details see his website at www.zahawi.com

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Fire up the Quattro we've got a country to fix

Labour's latest salvo in the on-going poster war seems to have rather backfired. Chosen from over 1,000 activist created posters as part of their so called "People's Poster" campaign, the new poster depicts David Cameron as Ashes to Ashes star Gene Hunt alongside the slogan "Don't let him take Britain back to the 1980s"
So what's the problem with it?
1) Ashes to Ashes isn't actually all that big a show so many people won't get the reference
2) Having said that Gene Hunt is a massively popular character, whose anti-pc down to earth approach has won over the hearts of viewers. Associating David Cameron with him actually makes Cameron cool
3) It only appeals to Labour's base

The third issue, that the poster only appeals to Labour's base highlights one of the issues with this "People's poster" concept and crowd sourcing in general. If you look at all of the examples highlighted as the top entries the majority (I think all but one) were negative posters and personal attacks on either David Cameron or George Osborne. Nothing on Labour's vision for the country or track record.

As @ianamccord on  Twitter pointed out this is why you get an ad agency. An ad agency will design a message and medium that will target your new audience or the audience you want to target, whereas if you ask your existing customers (in this case activists), or even yourself, all you'll get is something that targets the people you are already reaching. Result, you get a poster that enlivens and engages with your base and helps convince no one new of anything.

Of course this has given Conservative activists yet another reason to fire up Photoshop, and has even got  the party officially in on the action. Only in their wildest dreams could CCHQ have compared David Cameron to Gene Hunt without being laughed out of the country, but now Labour has done it for them and meant they can officially compare him to the much loved, no nonsense, get things done man that Gene Hunt is.


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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Darling admits NI hike will cost jobs

Whilst appearing in front of the Treasury Select Committee yesterday, Alastair Darling admitted that the 1p hike in National Insurance will cost jobs, an about face from his previous position on the subject.

His admission came after a Paxmanesque performance from the committee's deputy chairman Micahel Fallon, who asked eight times how many job losses it would cause. Finally a defeated Darling admitted "We think that the impact is manageable"

George Osborne, who announced Conservative Conservative plans to scrap the planned increase for 70% of people responded to the news by saying 

"Alistair Darling admitted his National Insurance tax rise would cost jobs.

"How many? There must be an internal Treasury estimate - so what is it? Either he knows and is not telling us, or he doesn't care."

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why Labour blocked party funding reform

Previously unpublished documents (previously held back by Jack Straw despite Freedom of Information requests, under the fact that the information contained within them was given in confidence) have shown the real reason why Labour blocked Political party funding reform in October 2007.

The newly published papers reveal the true extent of the union funding of the Labour Party and why it is impossible for it to reform party funding to be more reliant on smaller individual donations rather than large scale individual (Ashcroft, etc) or union funding:
  • Many union members would not pay a political levy to the Labour Party if given a choice.
  • Some trade unions affiliate more individuals to the Labour Party than they have union members paying a political levy (only money from the political levy can be used for political purposes).
  • From 2001 to 2006, the unions gave the Labour Party £45 million in cash.
  • Trade unions pay £1 million a year to the Labour Party at a local and regional level, tying in local Labour Party branches through binding “Constituency Development Plans”.
The chair of the meeting Sir Hayden Phillips apparently drew up detailed option papers showing how the political levy could be reformed to give union members real choice, however they were blocked by the Labour party negotiators. One of his options is below.

“The trade union would be able to collect donations from its members, and would be required to pass the donation to the political party of the individual’s choice. Where members decided to donate to the political party the union had affiliated to, these payments would form the collective affiliation fee. The union would therefore be affiliating based on 100% of its members who contributed towards the affiliation fee. The union would continue to collect a political levy from members to fund other political activities. Trade unions would annually ask each member whether they wanted to make a donation and if so, how much and to which political party” 

Shockingly figures revealed by the Labour party at the meeting also showed that in 2001 Union funds represented 81% of all cash donations to the party averaging 66% of all donations between 2001 and 2006.



Total donations in cash to Labour Party
Donations from trade union (including affiliation fees) to Labour Party
Percentage of cash donations from trade unions
2001
£12 million
£9.7 million
81%
2002
£11.3 million
£6.7 million
59%
2003
£14.7 million
£8 million
54%
2004
£15 million
£10.7 million
71%
2005
£20.6 million
£11.8 million
57%
2006
£11.7 million
£8.5 million
73%

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yesterday's budget response

Just a couple of quick things from yesterday's budget. See my tweets for more and Nadhim Zahawi's piece on it as well.

I was happy to see that David Cameron, or his speech writers, have been reading my blog and agreeing with my figures and conclusions. Firstly I pointed out just last week that Labour plans to cut the deficit in half over the next government would leave us with  £1.3 trillion pounds of public debt, yesterday Cameron said:

"They told us they would be prudent but the Chancellor has just said they will be borrowing £734 billion over the next six years, giving us to a national debt of £1.3 trillion."

Secondly I pointed out last month that HMT was a department that was not fit for purpose with regards to forecasts and estimates. That piece was about the cost of the war in Afghanistan which was orriginally costed at "100s of millions of pounds" and has actually cost to date £9.3 billion s. Cameron though pointed to econmic growth forecasts, also produced by the Treasuary and used by the Chancellor:

"Look at their record of predicting growth. In 2008 they said we’d grow by two per cent. In fact the economy grew by 0.5 per cent.In 2009 they predicted decline of 3.5 per cent. In fact we shrank by 5 per cent. Now they say that the economy will grow by [3.25] per cent, the independent experts say 2.1%."

I'll pop by CCHQ later to collect my consulting fees.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Neil Basnett - the "local" candidate?

News reached me late last night that local travel agent Neil Basnett plans to stand as an independent candidate in Stratford at the forthcoming general election.

I attended his public meeting last week along with approximately 40 others , many of which urged him not to stand (hardly giving him a larger local mandate to represent local conservatives than Nadhim Zahawi who was selected by a vote of nearly 200 people). What was interesting was that he refused to be drawn on policy with the exception of his views on Afghanistan (that troops should be brought home immedieately leaving a potential security vacuum in the region) and that he was pro the building of more affordable housing in Stratford.

Many of his issues, and those of his supporters are those dealt with at a local council level, the Bancroft gardens, parking in the town etc. These are obviously important issues to residents of the town (who make up less than a third of the constituency electorate) but what about flooding in Shipston or the state of the economy which affects the whole constituency, not just empty shops in the town. Does Mr Basnett think the deficit should be cut quickly or slowly, does he even know the difference between debt and deficit?

The other worrying thing that came from both him and his supporters was that they felt that a damaging hung parliament was inevitable and would actually be a benificial thing for Stratford if he was our MP. Never mind that interest rates would rise, that the government credit rating would be cut from triple A increasing the cost of borrowing, Neil Basnett's independent vote would be courted by all parties, stroking his ego suitably.

So lets compare the options. On one hand you have Nadhim Zahawi, a strong Conservative who decided to support his country by registering with the Conservative party to become a candidate before a cushy local seat became available. Someone who since being selected has made his home in the centre of the town. A businessman who built a business from 2 men in a shed to a multinational corporation that floated on the stock exchange for over £200 million pounds. He is a Conservative candidate, whose election would help return a Conservative government locally, with strong views on the economy, defence, Europe and immigration.

On the other hand you have Neil Basnett. A man who admits he had no interest in becoming a politician until his local seat became available and he disagreed with who the local party selected as candidate. A local travel agent running one travel agency in one town, for whom Stratford is also an adopted home. A man who has no policy except for Afghanistan hardly a local issue, but that admits that his views on immigration are the same as Nadhim Zahawi and that has publicly stated that Stratford needs to have more houses built. An independent candidate whose election would help to return a hung parliament rather than the new Conservative government this country needs.

Who would you choose?

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Public sector vs consumer debt

There’s an interesting thing about the way public sector debt is reported which  means that the general public can’t understand it.

Generally as well as the headline figure (currently £848.5 billion) it is also reported as a percentage of GDP (currently 59.9%). So it’s reported as a percentage of the entire wealth created by the UK economy. The problem is that people look at that figure and compare it to themselves. They think well I earn X and I owe Y and that’s about 60% of my annual salary so what’s the problem.

The problem is that the annual salary of the government is not GDP, the annual salary of the government is tax revenues, which in the past 12 months have been £463.27 billion (about 32% of GDP). As a percentage of the public sector “salary” borrowing is actually 183% or 1.8 times income.

No problem says the man on the street, when I got a mortgage for my house the bank was willing to lend me three times my salary so the government could borrow 1.3 trillion and there will be no issues. Except that public sector borrowing isn’t the same as a mortgage. It’s unsecured, if you default on your mortgage the bank can swoop in and reposes your house if we default on our debt China can’t swoop in and repossess the Houses of Parliament and government estates.

Public sector debt is like an unsecured loan, or a credit card. If you take an average private sector worker earning £22,152 a year then to be the equivalent of the government they would owe £39,873 in unsecured loans and would be paying in interest alone £157 a month on their debt (the government is currently paying £4.3 billion) and continually putting off repaying the capital.

If it were credit card debt then using standard credit card minimum payments (3%) it would take that member of the public 27 years to pay that off at an interest rate of 12.9%, even at the public debt interest rate of just 5% it would still take them 20 years. If the the government was making the equivalent of a credit card minimum payment of 3% a month (which it isn’t) then it would take 21 years for the debt to drop below a billion pounds and 43 years to drop below a million in total it would take over 50 years to pay it off.

In reality it will take even longer than that. The government has said that it will halve the deficit (the amount of money they are spending above their income every year, not the debt) by 2013 so that’s another 3 years of borrowing at our current levels of £151.27 billion a year followed by who knows how long of adding at least £75.6 billion a year. It will mean that by 2013 the public sector net debt would be £1.3 trillion.

Under Labour plans to halve the deficit, if the government was an average private sector employee it would owe £62,272 in credit card debt (2.8 times their annual income) and under standard credit card interest rates would be paying interest of £669 a month and a minimum payment of £1,868, pretty difficult when before tax their monthly salary is only £1,846.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

The non-local candidate

In november 1995, the Conservative MP for Stratford-on-Avon, Alan Howarth, announced that he was defecting to the Labour party.

The Conservative association quickly moved to select a new candidate to replace him, a short-list of six was selected which included John Maples and Maureen Hicks, the local candidate, who although she had previously been MP for Wolverhampton East was local and had been a district councillor in Straford for 5 years from 1979 to 1984.

On the night of the selection John Maples, an outsider from London (although a party insider and previous MP who had lost his seat in ’92) was selected as the MP and went on to be the consituency MP for the next 13 years.

Fast forward 15 years from then and we see the Conservative Association again selecting a replacement candidate for what has been a safe conservative seat for decades if not nearly a century. John Maples had announced his retirement so close to a general election that by-election rules were in force meaning that a short-list of six candidates would be given to the association to choose from.

At the selection 4 female outsiders and one male outsider, a Londoner who also happened to be an Iraqi Kurd whose family claimed asylum in the UK over 30 years ago, were up for selection. They stood alongside a local candidate,  Phillip Seccombe, a long terms resident of the Constituency, local estate agent and chairman of the Conservative Association, a total shoe-in as far as the residents of Stratford were concerned.

On the night though the association overwhelmingly choose the outsider, Nadhim Zahawi, co-found of international polling organisaiton YouGov and a man who began his opening remarks with the line “With a name like Zahawi I can hardly claim that my ancestors have lived in Stratford for generations”

Both in December of 1995 and February of 2010 the Association choose the outsider, the candidate that had no local links but that they felt would be best placed to represent them.

How did the residents of the consituency, the strongly Conservative voting population of Stratford take this?

In 2010 the Stratford Herald’s letter pages have been full of correspondents bemoaning the fact that Nadhim Zahawi is not a local candidate, in the 4 weeks since his selection the letters page has contained little but letters about him, mainly suggesting that his non-local status excludes him from representing the electorate. In total there have been 13 letters questioning his suitability as MP as well as the promise that a local “independent conservative” will run against him given enough support.

A bit of time spent sat at Stratford Library’s microfiche machine looking through back issues of the Herald shows that the situation was very different in 1995. Following John Maples selection there were just 2 letters questioning his suitability due to his non-local status, other letters were either in support of him or on a different subject altogether.

So what has changed so much in Stratford in the last 13 years that to be non-local is such a crime. John Maples, despite his role as Deputy Oarty Chairman, has been seen as an excellent constituency MP so it can’t be that residents feel they have been burned by their past choices.

Is it instead that Stratford’s issues are so unique and complicated that an outsider will never be able to understand them, perhaps but it's issues of transport, planning issues despite housing shortages, and empty shops are hardly unique.

Or has non-local become a code-word for something else? Has Nadhim Zahawi’s selection revealed a darker underbelly to the pretty market town of Shakespeare’s birth?

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Guest Post - Unemployment figures and clients of the state

Today’s headline unemployment figures show that on the face of things at least, the country is getting back on track, however when you look at the details a different picture emerges.

The headline figures show that the employment rate has risen by 0.3% so there are now 28.86 million people in employment, whilst unemployment fell by 0.1% to 2.5 million people, 1.59 million of which are claiming jobseekers allowance.

What is more interesting though is the detail, the bit that is never reported and specifically the bit that tells us about this government’s approach to resolving unemployment and creating jobs. That is the split between employment in the public and private sector.

If you delve into the figures you can see that the number of people employed in the public sector in the last year was up by 7,000 workers to 6.1 million, whilst the number of people employed in the private sector fell by 61,000 to 22.76 million. This means that a little more than one fifth (21%) of all employed people in this country are employees of the state, bringing in no tax revenues for the government and supported in their entirety by the tax revenues of private sector jobs.

And oh how they are supported. The ONS figures show that the average private sector employee earns £22,152 per year whilst the average public sector employee earns £23,972 a difference of £1,820 a year, a figure that excludes their gold plated pension scheme and other benefits.

What about pay rises then? Well, whilst the private sector has spent the recession battening down the hatches and freezing pay over the last year the same cannot be said about the public sector where average pay is actually up by an inflation beating 3.8%

Stop and think for a minute. Those workers represent a public sector salary bill alone of £146.3 billion pounds, if only 10% of those jobs were in the private sector instead that would be at least an extra £4.7 billion pounds of income tax and National Insurance every year and would save the exchequer at least £14.6 billion a year in salary costs. That’s £19.3 billion gone from our record 101.3 billion pound deficit in a stroke, but instead of trying to create private sector jobs over the past decade, Labour and Gordon Brown, have instead focused on creating jobs in the public sector.

Since 1997 the number of public sector jobs has actually risen by 11% a record figure. Why? Because Labour, and specifically Gordon Brown, wants to make everyone a client of the state. Whilst at University, Gordon Brown wrote an article that pointed out that if the Labour party could make a majority of the population clients of the state, that is either dependent on the state for employment, or dependent on it for benefits, then they could remain perpetually in power.

For the last 12 years, both whilst he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and now as Prime Minister, he has been doing everything in his power to deliver on that vision for Britain, but it won’t work. Why? because the Conservative Party don’t want to see our great country reduced to that, so we will fight against it, becuase private business refuses to see the world that way, acting to subvert it, creating jobs and growing not because of, but despite, red tape and bureaucracy, and most importantly voters can see it for the scam it is and will vote against it come election day.

Nadhim Zahawi is the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary candidate for Stratford-on-Avon for more details see his website at www.zahawi.com

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