Friday, January 29, 2010

NHS waiting times up 57%

All of the media and press attention aimed at Tony Blair appearing in front of the Iraq inquiry has meant that someone at the Department of Health thought it was a good day to bury bad news.

In a press release titled "STATISTICAL PRESS NOTICE - NHS INPATIENT AND OUTPATIENT WAITING TIMES FIGURES" the Department of Health quietly announced that the number of English patients waiting more than 13 weeks for an outpatient appointment has risen by 18,000 from December 2008 to December 2009 a rise of 45.3%

The release also said that those waiting over 8 weeks had increased by 26,900 from December 2008 to December 2009 an enormouse rise of 57%.

The government have put cutting waiting times at the heart of their NHS reforms and have even promised that there will be a legal protection of your right to see a specialist within a certain timescale. Revisiting my previous post that laws are not for aspirations, I wonder that if we had a law that told you you had a right as an outpatient to be seen within 13 weeks who would be in court, or imprisoned for not achieving that today?

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

DNA Database solves only 0.6% of crime

Dizzy Thinks has unearthed some Home Office figures that seem to suggest that the enormous government DNA database is far from a “vital crime fighting tool”.

It turns out that crimes solved where DNA matching to the database was used represent just 0.6 - 0.7% of total recorded crime in the country. It should also be born in mind that these crimes were not solved purely on the basis of DNA, other detection methods were used. To my knowledge the Home Office has yet to release figures for the number of crimes where DNA matching alone has led to the identification of a suspect.

All of this raises the question of the return on investment of the database. The DNA database cost £2.52m to run in 2008-2009 and as I said was involved in solving only 0.6 - 0.7% of all crime reported. The Home office states that the annual cost of a police officer including pensions, NI, overtime allowances etc is £48,000 so the DNA database represents 52.5 police officers. Which would you rather have?

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DNA Database - innocent, but could be guilty later

Inspired by Dizzy Thinks’ piece on the DNA database I dug out something I wrote for the MyConservatives.com Return my DNA campaign:

To me the storage of an innocent person's DNA seems to go against the basic principles of innocent until proven guilty. In fact it introduces a new category of "could be guilty later". No doubt the police already have this category in their heads but by having a database full of such "could be guilty later" people they can quickly move from “could be guilty later” to "must be guilty now" regardless of the facts.

I think one of the biggest challenges for the return my DNA campaign is to overcome apathy from the general public, many of whom’s views are not that different to the police. "Ohh if they’ve been arrested they must be trouble". Or people who say well "If it helps then I don't mind" or the classic "If you've got nothing to hide..." argument.

Part of the issue is that the general public don't see this as something that affects them. In their mind people who are arrested are "bad people" who deserve what they get, they've never been arrested and never will be as far as they're concerned because they are good people. They forget that mistakes are made and that innocent people are often questioned and arrested, and that one day that innocent person could be them.

If we are not careful allowing DNA retention to continue and adding in legislation like detainment without charge, and the Interception Modernisation plan to name just two, we can quickly and easily walk into a world that is very different to the one we are in today.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Inheritance tax, it's not about now but maybe later

Whilst talking on the Today programme this morning, Harriet Harman brought up Labour’s old favourite line that a Tory government plans to  “abolish inheritance tax”, something which the interviewer pointed out is not an active policy, which of course made her drop back to the old line that they are cutting inheritance tax just  for the wealthiest families in the country.

Inheritance tax is an ideological outcome of old Labour, inheritance tax was introduced to act as a wealth redistribution method to separate old money from their money. Labour seem determined that the idea of an inheritance tax cut is only a vote winner for the rich, however this is where ideology gets in the way of winning votes.

Inheritance tax is ultimately a tax on aspirations, even if an individual’s estate is not even close to the threshold at present, everyone, regardless of how little they have, wants to think that one day it might be or that their children’s estate will be. Our obsession with house prices continually climbing and our homes being our primary asset is one of the primary causes of this. Ultimately everyone wants to think that one day they’ll reach that threshold. What inheritance tax says is that if you work really hard to provide something for your children when you are gone then it’s a waste, it has the potential to put a cap on the economy by saying no individual should create a level of wealth past the inheritance tax threshold.

Bashing the Conservatives on inheritance tax only appeals to Labour’s ideological base, and actually puts of those individuals who are upwardly mobile and may have been Labour supporters in the past. The danger is that is lumps groups together, and just like we’re seeing in today’s report into inequalities in britain traditionally less well off groups are no longer homogenous.

I’ve just started watching the West Wing again and inheritance tax reminds me of an episode that covered inheritance tax and tax rises for the rich. The Black caucus and NAACP are in the White House to discuss tax rises with Toby and Josh. Their position surprises Josh who expects them to be for a tax rise for the richest. He can’t understand why this traditionally less well off group would be against that is until Toby points out that the first generation of Black millionaires are about to retire and there’s only going to be more of them to come.

This is a message Labour needs to remember when they bash inheritance tax cuts, inheritance tax isn’t about who it affects now, but who it might affect in the future.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What's a 0.1% increase - £6.79 per person

So we've got economic growth of 0.1% this quarter which means that GDP is 0.1% up this quarter over the last so what does that mean in terms of real increase.

I can only find our GDP in dollars (thanks ONS) so lets take the per capita figure that is the GDP per person in the UK. Using the 2008 estimates this is $43,785 which in today's exchange rates is £27,169.53 that is an annual figure so lets change that to a quarterly figure by dividing by four

GDP per capita per quarter = £6,792.38

and we've seen a 0.1% increase in that figure which equates to a per capita increase of, wait for it £6.79

Now obviously these figures aren't particularly accurate as they're 08 figures and GDP has fallen significantly since then (by 3.2% in fact) but they give you a general idea about how slowly we're coming out of this recession.

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We're out of the recession - Kind of

The ONS have released their prelimary GDP figures showing that GDP in the last quarter was up by 0.1%, mainly according to them due to increased output in distribution, hotels, restaurants and other services. In total output of the service industries increased by 0.1% and production industries by 0.1%, implying GDP decreases in other areas.

In all GDP on the year decreased by 3.2% between 2008 Q4 and 2009Q4.

Update: Further reading of the ONS release says that there were small decreases in business services and finance whilst construction, transport, storage and communication were flat over the quarter. Government and other services increase by 0.2%, mainly due to health spending.

Perhaps most worrying for Gordon Brown is that this is only an estimate based on 40% of data. The last estimates were I seem to recall revised down from 0.2% contraction to a 0.4% contraction, if we saw the same kind of revision then we'd actually still be in a recession.

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End of the Recession?

All the media outlets are reporting that the ONS is expected to tell us that we are out of the recession this quarter. Of course they were expected to tell us that at the end of last quarter which left a lot of bloggers, commentors nad newspaper editors looking quite red faced when the real stat of a 0.2% contraction came through.

Will that happen today? With Christmas included in the figures I doubt it, but just like with unemployment figures, Christmas is a temporary blip, and with all the sales having happened in December and January and consumers tightening their belts in January (not to mention tax being due for the self employed) are we likely to double dip?

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Monday, January 25, 2010

New Blog Post - Crunching TweetMinster's numbers

Now I don’t want to become the statistics guy, especially after the fantastic compliment from Will Heaven who after my post analysing his stats accused me of being "good at spinning statistics” (Although I personally prefer the term “making statistics tell the truth” but there you go.), but  Tweetminster has released a report that is getting a lot of mainstream media coverage, no doubt thanks to Tim Montgomerie’s question at David Cameron’s press conference this morning about him joining Twitter and I think their findings don’t really stack up.

The report “Twitter and UK Politics” makes the usual claims that Twitter is the best thing since slice bread and that it will “have the potential to impact the next general election campaign and shape the 2010 parliament in unprecedented ways that we can currently only make an educated guess  about.”

All very grand but then it gets into the findings which is where I disagree.

Firstly it claims that in terms of politicians the Labour Party dominates all key metrics, being more active and more frequently mentioned as well as having more followers than the two other main parties combined.

I think there are some definite issues with this idea. Firstly raw follower numbers don’t tell you anything, how many of Kerry McCarthy’s 4,831 followers are actually labour supporters and not #kerryout campaigners ready to pounce on her every gaff and equally how many of them also follow John Prescott, Ed Balls etc. A de-duped list is what is needed, simply adding together the numbers doesn’t give a good measure of total number of followers of a party. Equally in terms of retweets, I have seen many Labour retweets from Conservative grass roots appended with “wtf” or similar messages of shock and displeasure. I believe that Tweetminster also measures sentiment against tweets so it would be interesting to see the number of positive retweets.

On the subject of retweets I’m also very suprised by how low this figure is. If Kerry McCarthy has that many followers who only retweeted her 1128 times then her messages are only retweeted on average 0.2 times per follower per year so her messages hardly go anywhere else. @conservatives is apparently the most retweeted political user however the figures have not been provided for comparison.

The second area is with the number of MPs on Twitter with the number of Labour MPs versus the number of Conservative MPs actually roughly representative of parliament. If you look at PPCs then the Conservatives are actually ahead of Labour. So in terms of that “metric” they’re actually not ahead.

If you look at what is being discussed though in terms of trending topics it’s clear that the Conservatives are ahead, something that isn’t mentioned in the Tweetminster findings with the top trending topic being cpc09 (although data isn’t available for how much more popular it was than lab09. Labour Party is above Tories, but what if you combine Tories Tory and Conservatives together, I suspect it would be higher, there are more ways to refer to the Conservative Party than there are to the Labour Party. Additionally David Cameron comes in at number 6 whilst Gordon Brown or even PM or Prime Minister doesn’t even get a mention. In a very circular way the 7th most popular word in political discussion on Twitter is in fact twitter! So is it all just one big self feeding organism?

The final finding I have issue with is that “ data shows that the Conservatives are more effective at distributing their message from the top, yet less so at a grassroots level in terms of spreading these positions within conversations (this should be the work of supporters, MPs, PPCs). While Labour has the opposite challenge – members drive conversations, yet the offcial line doesn’t strategically trickle down.

Tweetminster say that they measure this through “differences between themes/stories discussed/shared by supporters & what the top is focussed on.” although data relating to this isn’t in the report. I don’t see how the conservatives can be good at distributing messages from the top (when this is measured by who is retweeting and talking about them) but at the same time not be spreading at the grass roots, if it is the grass roots that is talking about them to spread them in the first place! In effect what they are saying is that the Conservative Party get their message out there and its discussed and Labour supporters just talk about whatever they want!

I also wonder how accurate the measure of a Tory Labour supporter is. I know for example that ToryBear follows a large number of Labour and Lib Dem supporters and MPs so could by Tweetminsters “network analysis.” be measured as being in the wrong camp.

All in all I think the report also dismisses the important conversations that go on amongst the grass roots, and in some areas ignores them. Am I a blogger for example or a grass roots member for example?

Equally the report misses out  Boris Johnson in the list, who may not be an MP but is a Conservative elected official. He has has 64,094 followers far outstripping anyone else in the political sphere.

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Weekend Round-Up

This weekend's interesting stories and blog posts in full:

  • Dizzy Thinks drew up a helpful flowchart on how to deal with a tragic event whilst in opposition or government;
  • Tory Bear examined Sally Bercow’s position and whether she was abusing her marriage to the Speaker for her own political and career gains;
  • Dizzy Thinks, amongst many others, questioned why Party leaders are complaining about the composition of an audience in a debate. It also turned out on Sunday that the debates may clash with Champions League football so ITV might not carry them after all!
  • Guido, and a number of other sources reported that Labour MP David Chaytor claimed expenses for rent on a property he owned by pretending it was owned by his daughter;
  • An ICM poll in key marginal seats found a swing of 8.5% in those seats meaning that the Conservatives would have a commons majority of 38, far larger than previously suspected;
  • Benedict Brogan in the Times asked if Tory Discipline is beginning to fray;
  • Gordon Brown used his podcast to try to re-draw battle lines between Labour and the Conservatives when he claimed that “active government” can help Britain weather the recession (inadvertently pointing out in the process that we are still in a recession and there’s no end in sight);
  • I wrote about Motorway Man, the new floating voter that Mondeo man has evolved into.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Motorway Man?

Mondeo man, the target voter of Labour’s rise to power in 1997, has evolved, so everyone prepare to meet..... Motorway Man.

The FT is reporting that party pollsters and the parties themselves are turning towards new housing estate around the M61, M6 and M1 in the search for swing voters that will win them the next election.

According to the FT Motorway man is a materialistic and car dependent middle manager, perhaps a salesman, production manager or senior rep. According to the FT’s helpful graphic reproduced below Motorway man doesn’t have super powers, and isn’t able to clear an M25 jam in a single bound, but instead has:
  • 2 cars, typically one of which is a people carrier;
  • Lives on a new housing estate with easy access to the motorway network;
  • Aspires to livign in a detached house with a conservatory and double garage;
  • Loves the web and has several computers;
  • Subscribes to TV channels;
  • Plays golf, visits the gym, plays football or jogs ;
  • Takes the car out of town to shop visiting a mall with a multiplex or bowling alley;
  • Has a working wife although they have a close knit family with 2 or 3 children in state schools;
  • Takes several family holidays a year.
Don’t you all want to be just like Motorway man too?

Apparently much of this swing votering (it’s a word, I just made it up, but it’s a word) comes from the fact that many new housing estates are on “infill” areas where abandoned mines have been replaced by housing. What was once surrounded by a strong local communities and former pit villages is now a housing estate full of independently thinking people. The FT quotes Peter Hain as saying “The classic thing is where your mum and dad lived in a solid Labour town, but you move into one of the suburbs, a new housing estate, and you start to think a little differently about yourself.”

Of course Motorway Man is just one of a long line of alliteratively named people so it’s nice to see the pollsters and psychologists keping up the trend. Some of you may remember the Pebbledash People, Worcester Woman and of course Mondeo Man. You’re less likely to remember the non alliterative ones though, anyone remember Asda Mums, Schoolgate Mums or Sierra Man? Thought not.


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Friday, January 22, 2010

Number Crunching the Telegraph's figures

Will Heaven has written a lazy blog post post  saying that Conservative efforts at online campaigning and engagement are lakclustre and tame, especially when compared to those of President Obama. Who knows how he would describe Labour online campaigning then, but that's not the purpose of this blog.

He compares the 2,612 people who voted 40,000 times on 1,109 questions on the NHS for David Cameron against Barack Obama’s last use of the Google Moderator tool where 92,937 people voted 1.8 million times on 103,978 questions.

Thats not a fair comparison for a number of reasons, mainly Obama is President of the US not leader of the opposition, secondly his questions were allowed on any topic at all, not just one narrow topic and thirdly the US is a much bigger place.

Let’s compare some adjusted stats. The US has a population of 304,059,724 people with 74% of that being Internet users. The poor old UK has an estimated population of 61,399,118 and 79.4% of us are internet users. So the US internet using population is roughly 4.6 times as large.

Lets also look at the first time Obama used the Google Moderator tool in December 2008  in a pilot where again anyone could ask anything. After roughly 2 days the tool had apparently had 1 million votes by 20,000 people on 10,000 questions.

The conservative tool was open for roughly four days on the NHS so lets scale the first use of it by Obama tool to match our situation in terms of internet using population and number of days

Obama
Cameron
Votes
434,782
40,000
People
8,695
2,612
Questions
4,347
1,109

Not that bad, considering that with Obama they could ask a question on anything at all. If you think about it policy falls into generally education, healthcare, crime and justice, defence and other (gross simplification I know) so you can divide Obama's figures by 5 leaving us with

Obama
Cameron
Votes
86,956
40,000
People
1,739
2,612
Questions
869
1,109

Which seems a much better comparison and really just shows that Americans have so much time on their hands they can vote for 50 questions each on average whilst us Brits only have time to vote for 15 at a time!

Updated: With the final figures for the first time use from here

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Harry Cohen not repaying but not getting resettlement grant

Labour MP and top level trougher Harry Cohen will not be given the resettlement grant, meaning that he will miss out on £65,000 of tax payer money as a result of his years of “service”.

The Standards and Privileges committee have said “In our Second Report of the current Session, we responded to the recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life that the House should be prepared to withhold resettlement grant from Members who commit serious breaches of the rules.”

“Mr Cohen's breach was particularly serious and it involved a large sum of public money. Withholding of the resettlement grant is a severe sanction, which will effectively recover from Mr Cohen a similarly large sum of public money. We understand that the resettlement grant payable to a Member with Mr Cohen's length of service is the maximum, which is about £65,000. “

What’s interesting is what they say about recovering a large sum of public money implying that he will not be asked to repay anything as a result of this sanction. Surely he should be asked to repay and have this taken away as well?

The Committee has said that “we conclude that Mr Cohen received over £60,000 from Parliamentary allowances to which he was not entitled.”

Does anyone known if Kelly et al told him he had to pay it back? So effectively he's not missing out on £65,000 he's only missing out on £5,000. Is that really a punishment for such a blatant breach?

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Can green taxes pay for the marriage allowance?

Guido has a post up about the Conservative Married tax allowance and how it will be paid for. His belief (or maybe his sources tell him ?) is that it will be funded by green taxes on motorists.

I personally have a big issue with green taxes being used to fund spending commitments. The purpose of green taxes is supposed to be to change the behavior of individuals, they are supposed to put people off doing something, in this case driving a big fuel guzzling CO2 creating car.

There’s a problem with them though, if they work, and they change the behaviour of an individual, then the green tax revenue will actually fall. For example taken to an extreme if green motoring taxes made everyone change to driving a low emission hybrid and there were no “un-green” cars on teh road then there would be no tax revenue either.

Therefore if you’re using green taxes to fund a spending commitment you’re basically admitting that you either:
a) Don’t understand what they’re supposed to do; or
b) Don’t think there’s any chance that they’ll work.

In most cases I think it’s b) and that means that it’s no longer a green tax it’s just a tax.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Was that poster a mistake?

It was only a matter of time before some bright spark put a bit of PHP knowledge together with a blank poster template and created a “we can’t go on like this” poster generator for the photoshopless masses. So take a bow Mr Andy Barefoot and claim responsibility for unleashing 62,757 new posters onto the public.

Mr Barefoot claims not to support Labour or the Conservatives (is he a Lib Dem!) and I think that that’s probably quite true. What’s interesting is that the poster template being used isn’t the heavily airbrushed one being pimped by the Labour Party and friends over at  myDavidCameron.com where “amusing”, read as negative, posters are being collected together, and the default poster really does poke fun at both parties.

What’s also interesting is his statistics on what words are being used most. Top of the list on 47.89% of posters is Conservative followed by 17.55% of all posters containing the word Labour. After that the most popular words are all in the “Malcolm Tucker” category as he calls them F**K is on 10.28% of posters S**T on 4.44% of posters and C**T on 4.39%. Eton comes up on 2.12%, not that many really and toff on only 0.97% or 608 posters.

So was it a Mistake?
The big question though is whether or not the poster was a mistake with all this “negative” publicity and a lot of negative versions of it floating around. Personally I don’t think it was, I think that everytime people see a defaced / modified version of it they remember the orriginal and they obviously see David Cameron.

The negative versions of it, especially those at myDavidCameron, obviously appeal to a certain group, a group that, in the main, will never vote Conservative. To someone who isn’t tribally Labour I think they look childish, spiteful and overly negative, if anything they’ll turn people off Labour rather than the Conservatives by their pettyness.

So all in all even a negative version of defaced poster is still a vote winner for us.

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Even Labour Voters don't Trust Labour, and don't even ask the floating voters

Politics Home is reporting a poll that they have carried out of 1,193 UK voters, each of which were asked how likely it was that the three main political parties would be able to deliver on their manifesto promises.

What they found was that less than half of Labour supporters believed that a new Labour government would deliver on its manifesto promises, whilst around 75% of those individuals that declared themselves as natural Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters.

So after 13 years of Labour government even its own supporters think that it’s unlikely to deliver on its promises. Does this mean that 50% of Labour suporters won’t vote Labour at this election though, or will tribalism take over regardless of the facts and emotional feelings of voters.

Politics Home also examined the 2005 pledge card which promised that:
  1. Your family would be treated better and faster
  2. Your child would achieve more
  3. Your family would be better off
  4. Your children will get the best start
  5. Your community would be safe
  6. Your country’s borders protected
Which are all pretty weak pledges to be honest, hardly ground breaking, who is going to say no to any of those.

Politics Homes asked voters to rank each on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being that the government could not have been more succesful in delivering on them. Unsuprisingly protecting our borders came in lowest at an average of 3.2 across all parties, then your community safer followed by your children with the best start (interesting considering the money and effort and promotion that’s gone into Sure Start) followed also unsuprinsingly by your family better off. Nothing scored above a 5 on average for non Labour supporters and even then the highest was only a 6.

Floating Voters


What’s interesting is the responses of those that said they were not a natural voter of any party, the undecideds and floating voters (grey above) failed to score above 3.4, with the lowest score of 2.6 for country’s borders protected. Floating voters will be very important in the forthcoming election and I think we can see they won't be voting Labour.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Brown wouldn't let No.10 buy copies of Office

Paul Waugh has highlighted something from Sir David Omand's evidence to the Iraq enquiry. Sir David was the former Cabinet Office Chief and has said that the Treasury restricted the Cabinet office budget, at times "we were struggling to find money to buy Microsoft Office"

To be fair Office is quite an expensive product, and back then they probably couldn't just pull the latest version off of Pirate Bay!

What's interesting is what else he said:
"The Treasury kept us - I think, I expect quite deliberately - on a very tight leash in order to restrain the growth of Downing Street." Obviously in this you should read Treasury as Gordon Brown and Downing Street as Tony Blair.

Following on from the revelations from Peter Watt about Brown's secret slush fund of Labour Party money to oust Blair, it really does look like Brown was spending less time running the country's finances and more time plotting. Perhaps that explains why we're in the state we are now.

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No-fly list and e-borders, another IT failure in the waiting

So as a result of the Christmas Day bombing attempt there are going to be yet more security increases at airports. We’ll now have a new no-fly list and “special measures” list and we all know how well that list has worked in America, with phonetic name matching and various other ways to make it include an enormous number of people.

The US no-fly list was said to contain up to 44,000 names in 2006, and TSA officials stated that 30,000 people had complained to them that their names were being wrongly matched to terrorists. However a recent cull of it has led to the Homeland Security secretary claiming that there are only 2,500 names on the no-fly list and 16,000 names on the extra checks list, in 2008.

How will our no-fly list work, who will maintain it, and how long will it take for the computer system to fail, be delivered late, be over budget, or for the list to be copied onto a laptop and lost in the back of a cab.

On top of this we’re also going to be moving to a system similar to the US where advanced passenger information must be submitted to the e-borders system before take-off. The same e-borders system that has been accused of being illegal under EU law for stopping the free movement of citizens of member state nations. I haven’t heard anything about the e-borders computer system but based on past goverenment IT projects I can’t imagine that it will:
a) work
b) be delivered on time
c) Result in savings in terms of efficiency, effectiveness or even in this case security.

Also how will passengers on the additional screening list be identified at security, I spent much of last year traveling through Heathrow and I showed my boarding pass then went to security and had my bag x-rayed and walked through the x-ray machine, then I showed my passport at passport control, then quite often had to put my shoes through the shoe x-ray machine just before duty free (fellow frequent users of Terminal 3 will know this procedure well I’m sure). So either they’ll start hauling people aside at check-in, at the boarding pass stage or check your ID at the security point, or have some much more detailed checks than the cursory wave through at passport control that you normally get going out of the country.

Basically today's announcements seem long on aspiration and ambition on lacking in practicalities.

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PMQs - Dull

So Prime Minister's Questions was very, very dull today, Cameron decided to use all his questions on Haiti and  child violence and the recent killings  in Doncaster. This led people on the Guido live chat to suggest that he’s just given up on trying to give Brown a kicking as if he does Brown might be ousted before the election (which no one in CCHQ wants). This could very well be the reason, I hope so as otherwise what a waste.

Clegg was, I think, the perceived winner, his question on why RBS are being allowed to fund Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury’s was strong and only solicited a jokey response from Brown on how he’s not being very liberal if he thinks the government should intervene. Ultimately though, if he wasnt being shouted down by a poorly controlled parliament then his question of do you think that British tax payers would have lent the banks all that money if they knew that it would be used to destroy british jobs later was strong.

There were also some shameless plants resulting in the Tory marriage tax allowance being  given another airing. This is surely Brown’s favourite thing to joke about, and the yet again terrible delivery of what could have been a good pre-preared line by Brown in “It is the conservative party that is tied in knots, not tying the knot”.

Brown also got to run out his claim that he is the man of the middle income, not class, because he’s a class warrior too don’t you know, after a terrible plant question on Tory plans to cut the Child Tax credit. This incidentally isn’t in the families mainfesto today, and neither are other claims like cutting sure-start etc that Brown keeps banging on about. In fact today he claimed that the fact it wasn’t there was a bad thing, clearly the Conservatives are just lying!

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Unemployment vs economic activity rate

So the unemployment figures are out and unemployment is down by 7,000 people reducing the unemployment rate from 7.9% to 7.8%. This is obviously a good thing, although doesn't help my case in my last post.

However there is another figure that isn't looked at often which is the economic activity rate. That is the percentage of people within the labour force who are either in work, or looking for work. This would include for example people who have taken early retirement, and also I believe people who are on incapacity benefit and other benefits (but obviously not job seekers allowance.) The economic inactivity rate (the percentage of people who are neither in work nor looking for work) figure has actually increased to 21.2% in the last quarter, its highest since August 2007.

Unemployment is clearly an important measure to the success of the economy, and the confidence of business, but less economically active people is obviously an issue for the Treasury because it means less tax revenues and potentially a higher deficit.

Update:
There's more bad news in today's figures as well with the number of long term unemployed (unemployed for a year or longer) increasing by 29,000 to reach 631,000 people, the highest since November 2007 and representing 25% of all unemployed people. I'm guessing though that this and the economic activity rate won't get past the spin of falling unemployment figures. I'm sure Brown won't be mentioning it at PMQs today. I hope someone at CCHQ is paying attention.

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Inflation, interest rates, credit ratings and unemployment, June election?

Inflation
Yesterday’s news that CPI (Consumer Price Inflation) has risen by the largest one month amount in history, from 1.9% to 2.9% is far from good news for the economy and for Labour’s chances of getting re-elected.

Interest Rates
Mervyn King then bumbled along and pointed out that it may well rise above 3% (it’s only 0.1% away and went up by ten times that in one month so I think it’s a fair bet) and that interest rates will have to rise to control it. He also helpfully pointed out that this will all the patience of Britons who will be “sorely tried” as a result of stagnant pay levels and a real terms decline in living standards.

Credit Rating
At the same time the credit ratings agency, Fitch, has said that the government's plans to reduce the deficit by half within four years aren’t gutsy enough and that if it doesn’t see further spending cuts then it will be doing some cutting of its own by reducing the UK’s much vaunted triple A credit rating.

Unemployment
To top this off today will see the announcement of the latest unemployment figures which are expected to see around 2.5 million people unemployed. However this raw figure hides the real picture of how difficult the job market is with 18.4% of people aged 18-24 being unemployed as opposed to 6.3% for 24-49 or 4.5% for the over 50’s. So unemployment figures are actually hiding something quite interesting, that through this recession people may not have been losing their jobs in the same numbers as in previous years but companies simply haven’t been hiring young school, college and university leavers. Jobs are probably being dropped by that fantastic phrase “natural wastage”.

Election?
So with inflation sky rocketing, interest rates about to go with them, the country’s credit rating in real trouble and unemployment at a new high, how likely do you now think a March election is?
With Gordon Brown’s election strategy seemingly being that he wants to be able to say “look we got us out of this recession that we got us into” he needs good positive economic news before he can call one. If the figures don’t pick up soon then I think he may well see a drubbing at the local elections as not as bad as the economic state of the country and stick it right out until June. Anyone want to place bets?

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Replacing John Maples - A Thought


I had at thought yesterday about the process of the selection of a new candidate to replace John Maples for the forthcoming election. Stratford is in effect a safe seat, actually a very safe seat, the only way it will not be won by Conservatives is if David Cameron stands up and announces a policy that is tough on the middle class and tough on the causes of the middle class.

So what does that mean for the selection. Well it means that it’s incredibly important because rather than 84,000 registered voters of the constituency getting to decide who Stratford will return to parliament approximately nine hundredd  to one thousand local Association members will instead.

It will still be democratic, and every member of the association will have a vote (if they choose to use it), but the ability of the candidates to reach their prospective voters will be much more limited, the press coverage will be limited and in the end the voter engagement will be limited. I would therefore argue that if we had not been so close to an election Stratford as one of the safest seats in the country would have been perfect for an open Primary such as the one that occurred in Totnes.

Sadly there just isn’t time for that now, so I urge my fellow Association members to wisely use their vote and consider what kind of MP they want representing them in parliament. Do we want someone who considers themselves a constituency champion, representing his or her voters, or a potential cabinet member and whitehall Hawk? These are important questions that everyone must ask and consider. Equally the selection process must be as inclusive and transparent as possible allowing everyone to put forward questions to candidates and have them answered, not just the Executive’s own pet questions.

We as an Association will have great power but in the immortal words of Spider Man’s Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility so let’s just remember that.

Related Posts:
Replacing John Maples - it Continues
Replacing John Maples - The procedure
John Maples - The Morning After
 

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Government It Failures - Part II

The Independent is running with an expose of Labour IT failures that show a £26bn overspend / wasted spend over the past decade. so following on from my previous post here’s a few more failed projects



NHS National Programme for IT £12.7bn
Failed to ask medical professionals what the system should be (scoping issues), is years late, has connected only 160 of 9000 health centres. The Legal and commerical support bill has been £39.2m alone.

Defence Information Infrastructure (DII) £7.1bn
Replacement of carying different computer systems in use by Army, Navy, Airforce with one. Was supposed to be used by 300,000 people across 2,000 sites, however it is £180m over budget (quite small compared to the NHS programme) and 18 months late.

National Identity Scheme £5bn
The much discussed national ID card scheme, originally budgeted at £3bn and now effectively cancelled. Many, many issues with biometric features of it failing to properly recognise people.

Single Payment Scheme System £350m
A new sophisticated way of paying farmers subsidies based on their land area. In 2006 it’s failure meant that £1.28bn of £1.5bn of subsidies had not been paid. Although it’s cost £350m the Public Accounts committe warned last year that it was already at risk of |becomign obselete”

GCHQ server move, £300m
When GCHQ decided to move their server systems to a new building it was proejcted to cost £41m, in teh end it cost more than £300m.

Department for Transport Shared Services Centre £81m
A panacea that would integrate human resources and financial services together across the department and all of its agencies. It was even supposed to save the tax payer £57m. The total project will now cost more money (nearly twice more) than it was supposed to save and has meant that staff at the DVLA have had to learn german as the software installed is unable to use English for some messages

This isn’t the complete Independent list but just a few of my favourites (in particular I’m a big fan of GCHQ’s server move). I do think this list illustrates my point in my last post though that IT is fast becoming the defence procurement of this century with poorly scoped projects and ridiculous over spends.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Fire Stations Closures - National Responsiblity

At the moment one of the biggest local political issues here in Stratford is the re-organisation and closure of a number of fire stations across the district. Both the local Labour Candidate and the Lib Dem candidate have latched onto it as an electioneering issue for the forthcoming general election. Below is an open letter regarding the issue.


Dear Sir

I was somewhat surprised to read the letter from Mr Rob Johnston, the Labour Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Stratford, in last week’s Herald. In it he suggested that people should vote on the closure of fire stations at the general election, something that I would have thought would do his prospects of becoming MP for Stratford, no good what so ever.

It was after all his own party, in 2003, who passed a law that repealed section 19 of the Fire Services Act, the result of which was to allow fire stations to be closed as part of a modernisation process.  In fact it was John Prescott, then deputy Prime Minister who argued in the House of Commons that this law needed to be repealed as it “makes modernisation on the ground more difficult”

I would suggest then, that Mr Johnston is either ignorant of his own party's actions and priorities or is just cynically attempting to jump on the bandwagon of Tory bashing surrounding this issue.

I also see that Martin Turner, the Liberal Democrat’s prospective Parliamentary Candidate, has also chosen to jump on the band wagon, in a recent post online, by a Lib Dem Supporter in relation to fire service cuts, I have read that he is apparently “already on the battleground making friends” and Mr Turner himself has recently stated in a quote to the Stratford Observer that “the fact is the Conservatives are now deeply unpopular in Stratford”. At the same time both current and prospective Liberal Democrat Councillors have been keen to pounce on the issue as an electioneering tactic.

I was therefore interested to see that on a national level the Liberal Democrats seem to be portraying a very different message and, like the Labour party, have helped enact legislation that makes it easier for the decisions to close our local fire stations to be justified. Perhaps our local Lib Dems do not know that it has been the result of Liberal Democrat lobbying in parliament that has led to sections of the new Equality Bill being extended to cover Fire Services that were not part of the original bill. Obviously extending equality legislation to include Fire Services is no bad thing, but these sections relate to regulations that allow the redrawing of fire cover to reflect “social inequality”, the ultimate result of which is the closure of fire stations in better off rural areas such as Warwickshire in favour of their positioning in less well off urban locations.

I do hope that at the forthcoming general and council elections the representatives of both the Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties will not forget the actions of their national masters, and that neither will the electorate.

Yours faithfully

Simon Smethurst-McIntyre

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The Schools Manifesto, some thoughts

Today’s announcement by the Conservatives has been trailed as the publication of their draft manifesto on education, but it is actually an announcement of their plans for schools. Further and Higher education and the recent decimation of the Higher Education budget hasn’t been mentioned.

What is contained is interesting though. Coverage of it began with leaking that the policies contained with the manifesto would be “brazenly elitist”. Queue much complaining from the  left, and taking issue with that word. This has led to Creative Tory pointing out that there’s nothing wrong with saying something will be elitist and pulling out a great west Wing Quote to explain it:

“Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I’d ask them what their problem is with excellence.” – Jed Bartlet

What the conservative’s are really trying to say is that teaching should become elite, teachers should be the elite, they should be the best people around, such as is found in countries like Sweden and Finland , where a quarter of all people see it as the profession of choice.

This is right but a challenge to do, the way they want to do it is to say that only the academically strongest (a 2:1 or higher at degree level) will be able to enter the profession and that if you have a 2:1 or a first  in maths or sciences then you will have your student loan paid off.

Setting academic entry standards for a profession is a slightly questionable approach as being academically good enough to obtain a higher level degree doesn’t translate you to being able to teach very well? What matters is that teacher training becomes more relevant to teaching and not more academic. By all means use academic standards as a way to select the best and brightest but don’t require the education to continue to be overly academic. The government has recently moved to make all teacher training masters level, which is totally irellevant to teaching children and just means that teaching students must write 3 essays to a master’s level on teaching theory. I do hope that Conservative plans will resolve this, although I don’t believe it’s mentioned in the manifesto.

Ultimately though this approach to improving teaching standards is very different to that taken by the government. The last decade has been about decreasing class sizes and increasing teacher (or teaching assistant) numbers. Ultimately with the belief that the better the teacher student ratio the better the output.

The problem is that if we want to make teaching the elite then there has to be a scarcity of teachers, by it’s very nature there is not an endless pool of elite candidates. A transformation of the teaching profession along a similar vein has happened in Finland and has actually led to higher class sizes, because there just aren’t enough high quality teachers to go around. However this hasn’t affected teaching quality or student attainment at all.

Ultimately larger class sizes are only an issue if you have poorer quality teachers but in a middle England that is almost as obssessed with little Jimmy’s class size as they are with the price of their house would this be acceptable?

Update: Don't forget that you can ask David Cameron a question and vote for hte questions he will be asked at http://j.mp/8egAhR

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Weekend Round-Up

I didn’t blog over the weekend, but there was more than enough happening:

  • @kerryMP put her foot in it again on Twitter managing to upset both Tory’s, the gay community and the gay Tory community in one fool swoop with her retweet. @OxfordSpring wrote a fantastic piece on the stereotyping of gay people, and the simplistic approach of identity politics to courting their vote.
  • Gordon Brown spoke at the Fabian Society and suddenly moved from Class Warrior to Champion of the Middle Class. A surprise about turn for anyone who thought that Mandelson wouldn’t eventually get his way. CCHQ put up a spirited defence, but Guido did ask what exactly their pro middle class policies were.
  • Peter Watt’s second week of book serialisation in the Mail on Sunday brought about more enormous revelations, leaving Gordon Brown having to explain why he used Labour Party funds to for his own personal campaign to oust Tony Blair.
  • The Sunday Express reported on HMRC’s tender for a new round of council tax revaluations to take place after the general election. Strangely the government haven’t said anything about it happening yet though. Dizzy Thinks suggested it was another front in the class war
  • Ed Balls attacked Conservative Marriage Policy, again
  • UKIP decided that the way to cour the BNP vote was to ban Burkhas across the nation, leading to condemnation on what everyone thinks is a very un-British policy
  • and finally the polls continued to put the Conservative ahead, 9% in a YouGov poll and 13% ahead in ComRes. 
Quite a few posts to write this morning, on these and other issues

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Replacing John Maples - It continues

People are beginning to get very hot under the collar about the selection process for John Maples' seat in Stratford-Upon-Avon (home of this blog), and amongst an information vacuum I think that people are beginning to panic and just make things up.

The current situation as far as anyone knows is that the Association is waiting to hear from CCHQ with regards to the shortlist, effectively who will be on it and how many.  Once that has been decided the membership will then be involved in selecting a candidate from that list in an open manner as they would have been able to under normal circumstances. One thing that is guaranteed is that CCHQ won't be imposing a single candidate on the Association, and that there will be at least three prospective candidates on the short-list.

There has been a lot of talk about the so called "by-election" rules disenfranchising the local membership and disempowering them to be able to select a candidate themselves. However I think you have to look at them in a different light and consider how a candidate is traditionally selected.

Usually prospective candidates apply to CCHQ, who then pass CVs and applications to the local Association. The Association Executive then sifts them  and in most cases interviews these candidates to produce a shortlist. This shortlist which in some cases can be as few as two people is then presented to the entire membership to vote on.

So for the non executive members of the membership, what's changed? Well if anything the situation has improved, there is a guaranteed three people on the shortlist (not a potential two) giving the whole membership more say in the matter. The problem is that the executive lose their totalitarian powers over the process. They have been usurped by CCHQ, and if anything the democratic power has been given back to the membership itself and taken away from those who are locally at the top. The Stratford executive has a large membership, but only a small percentage of them are in the executive. In fact many of them are not overly engaged, just local members, but you can bet they will want to be involved in selecting a new parliamentary candidate. So are these new rules really a bad thing if they increase engagement and democracy in the process for all?

Related Posts:
Replacing John Maples - A Thought
Replacing John Maples - The Procedure
John Maples - The Morning After
 

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Replacing John Maples - The Procedure

ConservativeHome has revealed the shortlisting process that CCHQ will be using to provide the Stratford Upon Avon Conservative Association with a shortlist of candidates to select from.

Eric Pickles, Party Chairman will be given a primary role within it, with no role at all for outgoing local MP John Maples.

The process according to ConservativeHome will be as follows:
  • Any candidate on the candidates’ list who wishes to express an interest in the seat will be invited to do so in an email to Gareth Fox, of the Candidates’ Department at CCHQ.
  • Eric Pickles will conduct an initial sift;
  • A panel of Eric Pickles, Patrick McLoughlin, who is the opposition Chief Whip, and Jeremy Middleton, Chairman of the National Conservative Convention, will draw up the final shortlist for the association;
  • The shortlist will be passed to the association for them to select the candidate.
There’s no word from ConservativeHome on how long the shortlist will be, but I have heard from my sources that the rules stipulate that it must be a shortlist of at least 3, and that in reality the list is expected to be larger than that.

I also know that there’s a meeting at Trinity Street (Stratford Conservative HQ) this morning and I’m sure the local selection process from the shortlist will be discussed. As soon as I know more on what we’ll be doing locally I’ll update.

Related Posts:
Replacing John Maples - A thought
Replacing John Maples - it Continues
John Maples - The Morning After

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Ugly Specter of International Development Funding

So after the Conservative’s pop at DfID and my previous post on the subject comes the news that the Department for International (note that international) Development has approved a £2.4 million grant to the Trade Union Congress (TUC), which is obviously based here in the UK.

The money has been awarded under a Partnership Programme Arrangement, or PPA, which is a system of funding existing charities that have a track record in International development.

The main funding is not tied purely to international development though with one of the aims being to carry out “activities to build support for development in the United Kingdom that are likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty in other countries.”

It appears that their memorandum of understanding is purposefully vague and in true DFID style requires no deliverables. So the activities are “likely” to contribute to a reduction in poverty, not “will” contribute.

Other objectives include raising the capacity of foreign trade unions to enforce workers’ rights (no complaint there) and “Great British trade union membership, understanding of a commitment to sustainable development” and “strengthened UK and developing country trade union international development policy”. The last two of which should obviously be read as spending the aid budget on our friends in the UK.

A report by the International Policy Network which examines the TUC’s relatinship with DfID, A closer Union, has also pointed out that the TUC has to date receieved a total of £3.6 million with earlier payments being intended to raise awareness within teh British union movement for International Development issues. now £3.6 million is a lot of money in international development. In fact it is nearly enough money to provide half of the population of Gambia with a free malaria bed net.

The IPN’s report has raised an ugly specter in the international aid market, that few people know about. Mainly that international aid from organisations like DfID and USAID is supposed to be spent at home not abroad. DfID prefers to use UK based consultants and organisations as opposed to locally based ones in order to ensure that UK tax payers money is spent in the UK and I have been told that USAID actually stipulates that all contractors and consultants should be from the US.

The problem here is that the TUC (well its members) is obviously an enormous contributor to the Labour party, and that although DfID funds almost certainly didn’t end up going into Labour party coffers directly they would have indirectly. How? Well any budget for a specific project such as those mentioned above will have an element of overall running costs built into it, the cost of office space, heating, lighting, IT, admin etc, that obviously actually contributes to the running of the whole organisation. So as a result of this “free money” the TUC ultimately can afford to give more to the Labour Party.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pledge Card Round-up

After the news this morning that Labour are going to bring back their pledge cards there are a few doing the rounds.

First up from ConservativeHome is what Labour should have put on their pledge card in 1997, as well as another set of quite amusing pledges for 2010.


Then Tory Rascal has had a go at what should be on the 2010 card


Just out of interest, does anyone know what was on the actual '97 card? Would be interesting to see 13 years later how many have been kept, but then they were just pledges (defined as a solemn promise), not an honest promise. Semantic difference?

Update: Tim Montgomery over at Conservative Home has just come up with his version for David Cameron. Pretty Good I think, certainly catchier than the alleged real ones on Labour's.

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The Labour Pledges and Accusations

The Independent is saying that Labour will be reintroducing the Pledge card, that was the centerpiece of Blair’s 1997 triumph. The pledge card will summarise all of Labour’s policies into five pithy pledges

The exact five pledges haven’t been agreed but MP’s have been told to focus on the following five areas / pledges for now

  1. Training or further education will be provided for all school-leavers and a job or training for jobless young adults.
  2. Suspected cancer patients will receive their diagnosis within one week.
  3. The elderly and most vulnerable will receive free personal care.
  4. Families responsible for antisocial behaviour will face tough action.
  5. The national deficit will be halved in four years through tax rises, spending cuts and growth.

They’ll also be targeting conservatives with five primary accusations at the Conservatives

  1. Tories would cut education funding
  2. Tories will scrap the cancer promise
  3. Tories will preside over a social care “lottery”
  4. Tories will reduce police numbers
  5. Tories will axe Sure Start

Will any of this work. Personally I don’t think so, we’re now in a very different world to 1997, people know that the issues we face are complicated and the solutions for them can’t be captured in five sentences. There’s also some true pandering to certain groups within the pledges, particularly to the middle class, i.e. antisocial behaviour and free personal care, but then the idea of tax rises (surely not a winner on the doorstep), which sort of destroys that.

At the end of the day there’s nothing radical or spectacular in what they’re offering and I personally think they’re too simple for the modern world.

On the accusations leveled at the Conservatives, we’re back, as I blogged earlier, to the politics of fear. Labour are willing to give just as much airtime (5 points) to what their opposition will allegedly do as to what they will do (5 points also).

Education feature prominently but claims that Tories will cut education (specifically school funding) seem a bit rich when the higher education budget has just been massacred by Mandelson. Also I’m not entirely certain about the fixation on Sure Start, maybe it’s because I’m not a parent but I’ve researched what it is and can’t for the life of me see why it’s so great or why voters should care more about Sure Start itself than the constituent elements of it (free early education for 3-4 year olds, more childcare places etc.) The Sure Start brand itself explains nothing and has no meaning.

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Government advertising and the politics of fear

Grant Shapps, has accused Labour of using the Government’s Central Office of Information’s (COI) taxpayer funded budget to make up the gap in their election coffers.

For those that don’t know COI is the government advertising and marketing arm, they are the ones that are responsible for commissioning all of those awful government campaigns on television (and in the press and on billboards), such as the don’t eat salt, eat healthily, quit smoking, and stop climate change campaigns. Generally the quality of them is terrible, but they’re always there.

Or at least since Labour came to power they’ve always been there. Grant Shapps revealed that in 1998 COI advertising spending was £59 million, whereas in 2009 it rose to a new record of £232 million, a 39% increase over the previous year.

The government is defending this by saying that during the recession COI spending has been vital to the the advertising industry, and indeed at one point when the recession first hit it seemed like there were no other adverts than goverenment ones, and that clearly the ad industry would collapse without a “government bail-out”. However Grant Shapps has challenged this ascertation by pointing out there were similar spikes in spending before the 2001 and 2005 elections.

Having the trappings of being the incumbent is extremely useful inside an election campaign, note for example how Brown et al always appear in front of a government department logo, not a Labour one, when announcing policy initiatives or briefing the press. However I think this is a somewhat cynical abuse of their position. By increasing advertising spending it makes it look like the government is doing something to tackle issues like climate change, the effects of smoking on individuals and the NHS, swine flu etc when actually all it’s doing is telling the population not to do something.

The last year has also seen COI’s output go into a fear over drive. Nearly every campaign in the past 12 months has played on fear, and nearly always fear in relation to your children. From the climate change advert featuring a father telling their children a scary story about the effects of climate change, and of course showing how your cute dog will drown. Right through to the stop smoking campaigns which featured smoke coming out of a child’s mouth when they breathed (passive smoking you see) or just a cute child saying “please stop smoking daddy, I don’t want you to die.”

COI’s output has matched the governments own politics of fear, some would say that COI is in fact the government's propaganda arm, controlling the population through fear and ensuring they stay in line with government policy and ideology.

The same politics of fear are beginning to pervade the election campaign as well, reminders of the 80s and the last recession, scaremongering about the effects of Tory cuts, actors coming out and saying they couldn’t think of anything worse than a Conservative government. It’s an old tactic, but it seems to be Labour’s favourite.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Today's PMQs

Strong performance from David Cameron, poor performance from Brown, dropping back as always to statistics, statistics and more statistics and badly delivering pre-prepared lines.

I don't understand why he always wants to reel them off (although many people have suggested less than nice reasons), statistics just don't engage the majority of the public. What engages everyone and leaves them with a lasting impressions is either narrative (although see my post on the danger of established narratives), i.e a story with a beginning middle and end (and unemployment started at this percentage, changed to this percentage and is now this percentage doesn't count) or something that provides listeners them with an emotional response. We remember emotions far better than facts so that's what really makes up people's minds.

Cameron is doing well at PMQs with narratives and emotional engagement and I think it's something we'll see more of as the election campaigns continue.

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The deficit and debt in pictures

I’ve blogged before about the national debt and the deficit (here and here) and mainly this has involved throwing around a lot of numbers and percentages. For those readers who are less number inclined, the Adam Smith Institute has produced a fantastic graph which covers from 2000 to the present and I’ve reproduced it  below.


- Tax revenues as percentage of GDP are blue
- Public spending as percentage of GDP is red
- Public sector debt as percentage of GDP is purple
- The deficit as a percentage of GDP is green.

It shows two important points, the first is in 2001, when just after their second election victory it seems that the Labour party felt they had a mandate to apply their spend spend spend ideology and spending started to outstrip tax revenues (where the red and blue lines diverge). At this point the deficit sat around 4%. Don’t forget back then, the word recession was something from the past and no one had ever heard of a sub-prime loan or expected to have to bail out banks.

The second point is when the credit crunch and banking crisis hit properly and you see everything sky rocket, well except tax revenues which dipped, but don’t forget all of this is as a percentage of GDp so as that dipped too the actual tax receipts fell faster than the slope of the  line suggests whilst spending and  debt increased faster.

One interesting point that the Adam Smith Institute points out is that tax receipts have remained pretty steady at around 34% of GDP regardless of the situation (and interestingly despite increasing tax takes, changes in NI, the 10p tax band abolition etc) so that’s what a new incoming government should be aiming at. It won’t be easy though as at the moment public spending sits at around 48% of GDP, so we need a change of 14 percentage points.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Responsibility - what does the cold snap tell us?

As the big freeze continues with no sign of a big thaw in sight I've been thinking about the coverage of salt shortages and related issues by the media and the response to the snow and ice by the public.

Helped by a piece by Iain Dale on clearing your own drive way I think that the past decade of Government intervention in everything has led to a lack of responsibility by society, and that our response to a bit of snow and ice is a clear manifestation of this.

All that we have heard is people complaining that the government, whether on a local or national level haven't done enough to clear the roads, the pavements and help us to get around. However where in all of this is our own personal responsibility? How many people have been willing to clear snow from the pavement outside their own house, or lay salt and grit in their own areas? How many have fitted their cars with winter tires or even snow chains? Pretty much no one, instead everyone has complained about how the council haven't done it and how it's not their responsibility to do it themselves.

David Cameron has been putting personal responsibility at the heart of his recent speeches and it is at the heart of modern conservatism. The challenge is how the state cancreate  an environment where  personal responsibility is encouraged but protection for the vulnerable included. However the biggest challenge is that of changing people's minds it's a difficult sell after 12 years of either directly or indirectly being told otherwise.

I think part of the reason is an issue with a tax and spend culture. The more you tax people whether it be national income taxes or local council tax, and the more you tell people you are doing it to provide them with more services the more they expect you to do everything. So the viscious circle begins, people then expect more and you must then tax more to provide more and so on and so forth until we reach the position we are in today.

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Government IT Projects

Louise Bagshawe has a piece on the Blue Blog about government IT projects that highlights some of the failures, over spends and over runs of IT projects and looks at alternative private sector projects. Personally I don't think the piece hangs together all that well as large scale goverenment IT projects don't correlate well to her private sector examples. She also failed to point out the excellent www.makeITbetter.org.uk which took apart a leaked copy of the current government's leaked IT strategy and put forward an alternative which included 8 practical steps and an overarching principle as well.

One only has to look at the devastating failures of IT projects over the past decade to see that radical reform  of goverenment's approach to IT is desperately needed. Since 1997 approximately £100 billion has been spent on IT projects, far more than any other European country, however despite this expenditure a study found that 70% of recent IT projects have failed.

The list is endless but a few personal favourites include:

  • Broadband procurement, a £200m project to save the costs of procuring broadband by pooling resources, saved just £3.5m
  • National Programme for IT, delayed to date and forecast to be £10.3 billion over budget
  • Department for Work and Pensions Customer Information system, £48 million over budget
  • NOMIS and LIBRA systems for the Ministry of justice, still not complete, and £620 million over budget
  • NHS IT modernisation programme, has cost £12bn so far, with the pilot beign delivered 4 years late and is in the process of being abandoned

These are just a smattering of examples that show that IT procurement is becoming the defence industry of the modern age. Just as defence procurement (see the A400m for example) never delivers on time or on cost, neither does the IT industry, and for some reason despite contracts being signed and companies being contracted to deliver at a certain cost, the government continues to pay more and more money, in effect billions of pounds more than they contracted to do so. And just like the defence industry there are just a few giants, companies like EDS (now owned by HP) and Siemens who are sacred cows given projects again and again despite their track record and their failure to deliver in the past.

The solution is clear, radical reform of IT procurement and contracting and most importantly project management within the civil service and ministers that understand the projects that are being embarked upon, rather than believing the radical claims of suppliers.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

45% of the PM's constituents...

Guido, in his constant Jonah watch has pointed out that the curse of Gordon Brown has now hit his own constituency where unemployment is at record levels for the area.

The most interesting point though is that 45% of Gordon Brown's constituents are either claiming jobseeker's allowance or work for the public sector and are hence paid out of public funds. Has he been building up the nation's debt just to pay his constituency

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Tough decisions on efficiencies?

Ed Balls wrote in the Independent this weekend about having to make "tough decisions on efficiencies and non-essential programmes".


What tough decisions need to be made about efficiencies? If something can be made more efficient then surely there's no decision to be made, and it certainly shouldn't be tough, just do it and save some money. Or is Mr Balls suggesting that just the idea of cutting spending is so out of character for  the current government that it is tough to do.

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Boundary Changes and Seat Sizes

There's an interesting post on Conservative Home about the effect of constituency sizes and boundary changes on election results that is well worth a read. It starts by pointing out that in a national vote share of 40% Con, 30% Lab, 18% Lib Dem, 12% Other, then the Conservatives would have a commons majority of just 8, whilst if the Conservative and Labour results were reversed they would have a majority of 138.

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John Maples, the morning after

Last night the news broke that John Maples, Member of Parliament for Stratford Upon Avon had decided to retire at this election. The news was a big surprise to me, although I'm new to the association so wouldn't be privy to everything that goes on.

By retiring after January the 1st he has meant that the local association must choose a candidate under by-election rules, ie. Conservative Central office will enforce a shortlist of three candidates that the Association must choose from.

As the party's head of candidate selection he undoubtably came up with this rule and certainly knew what the effect of his resignation after January 1st would be. He has written to Conservative Home to explain why the situation has arisen and basically it revolves around protecting his reputation.

Clearly he had decided to retire much earlier but was waiting for Sir Thomas Legge's report into expenses to clear him of having to repay anything, because if he was to resign before that it would look like he was doing so in disgrace.

Following the report's publication he says that he had to see David Cameron and our association chairman on December 12th but that the previous day the Telegraph had published an article about the profit made on the sale of his constituency home. He says that had he announced his retirement the next day it would have been seen "as at least linked to the article if not as a result of it" apparently he therefore felt he "had no alternative but to wait a few weeks, which is what I did." 

So he basically disenfranchised the association to ensure that his reputation wasn't impinged in any way on a national stage, but never mind the local one.

Related Posts:
Replacing John Maples - The Procedure 
Replacing John Maples - It Continues

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

John Maples Retiring

Conservative Home has a post up commenting on John Maples' (the Stratford MP) retirement.

I have to say I'm not happy about the late notice of it at all. As far as I knew and it seems others within the association knew, he was running again, the issue came up in a meeting I had as recent as November with someone who really should have known if he wasn't.

Total contempt for the local association, and all becuase we are a safe seat.

More on this tomorrow

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Structural makes up 75% of national debt

Following on from an earlier post back in December on structural debt versus cyclical debt and the PBR’s approach to tackling it (Government debt £300bn and counting), it appears that the structural debt actually accounts for something like 75% of the national debt. What this means is that even without a global recession our national debt would still be something like £225 billion.

This came out today when Shadow Chief Secretary Phillip Hammond opened for the opposition during the Commons debate on the Pre-Budget Report and quoted Treasuary figures.

“According to the Treasury’s figures, the economic recession accounts for about a quarter of Britain’s deficit—that is the cyclical part of the deficit, which economic recovery will eventually eliminate—but three quarters of it is structural, and requires a structural response.”

He has also pointed out that the government's continued reasoning for our debt level as being bailing out the banks isn’t true.

“The real structural crisis that needs to be addressed is not caused by the Government’s support for the banking system, as they like to imply. In fact, none of this year’s £178 billion deficit is directly attributable to support provided for the banks.”

As I wrote previously the PBR’s response in trying to stimulate the economy alone, and failing to cut expenditure seriously suggests that the government believes that there is no structural issue at play which at the end of the day is just plain wrong.

Orriginal story from ConservativeHome

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Science funding changes: The result, no more scientists

Following on from my post just before Christmas on changes to Science funding, a survey from the University and College Union has found that 34.5% of professors would consider leaving the UK in order to escape the new funding rules.

The new rules state that the social impact of the outputs of research funding will account for a 25% weighting in funding allocations under the new Research Excellence Framework that is due to be brought in soon.

Other results in the same survey showed that 72% felt that it would change departmental policies and practices and 65% felt it would change the focus of research itself.

The results of this survey remind me of the giant signs after Heathrow immigration at Terminal 3 that says something like "World class scientists, entrepreneurs, business people, investors.... Come on in".

What with this coupled with our high tax regime (which recent reports suggest are making Goldman's highest paid employees, and hence highest tax contributors start demanding a business move abroad), those signs seem a bit of a joke now.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Snowstorm Plot: Bloggers 1 - Mainstream Media 0

Yesterday’s failed attempt to oust Brown as Labour Leader is almost certiainly the beginning of a turning point in how this election will be reported, with bloggers and Twitter users breaking the story well before the mainstream media picked up on it.

As early as Tuesday Night Guido Fawkes was hearing rumours that a cabinet level move to oust Brown may be made against Gordon Brown, and continued to firm up rumours reporting them to his web readers and Twitter followers.

The next day on Daily Politics BBC Political editor Nick Robinson was asked the question
“I keep hearing rumours of a leadership challenge. I know nothing all all this stuff. Should I believe any of it?” to which he replied “No you shouldn’t it’s rubbish and isn’t going to happen.”

He then went on to blame bloggers and Twitter users, showing his utter contempt and his condescending manner towards the non mainstream media that is increasingly shaping the reporting of this election rather than himself

“..yesterday was an illustration of the madness we might get into with blogging and tweeting and all the rest of it, bit of gossip, reported reasonably by one or two people turns into poor old Tessa Jowell having to deny she was resigning.... and that then runs on the internet as if it was a real story, and it’s not.”

Then saying in possibly his most condescending tone (which is very condescending indeed)

“In the era of what we’re told is the revolution in journalism, blogging, by some of our friends outside, this becomes what they call a story.”

Of course during PMQs the now infamous letters / emails / texts went from Hoon and Hewitt to all members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, kicking off a leadership challenge. The rumored cabinet level resignation never happened. However there definitely was a leadership challenge, which was what the blogosphere and Twitterverse was lit up by, and the mainstream media continued to deny.

I don’t think that this will be the last story in this election campaign to be broken online first, and ignored as irrelevant by the mainstream media, but I suspect it has been somewhat of a wake up call to those in the media who have looked down on their blogging cousins previously.

However I wasn’t surprised to see a tweet from a sky journalist, although admittedly from Sky News online, poking fun at the way Guido and Tory Bear were joking about picking up Iain Dale's TV punditing for the day.

Of course Guido’s caustic reply said it all for where this election is going

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Even we can't go on like this

Courtesy of ConservativeHome, genius and quick response to this afternoon's political maneuvering. All of which was broken first online, by bloggers and tweeters, more on that later.


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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Crowd Sourcing Government Policy



Last week Jeremy Hunt announced a Conservative plan for a £1 million competition to develop an online application that would allow members of the public to collaborate together to create solutions and solve a social problem.

The response of the mainstream media and the opposition was to ridicule the idea, suggest that competitions to create innovation are silly and that there’s plenty of ways to collaborate and consult online already like facebook and Twitter.

What Jeremy Hunt was actually saying was that a Conservative government would introduce a new Public Reading stage of the bill, which will allow members of the public to consult on green papers, make comments and perhaps eventually even come up with better ways of doing things.

There’s a competition because as great at what they do as Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites and apps are, they aren’t designed to do this. Nothing is available that can work on the scale they’re looking for, and with the features that will be needed, and setting up a competition will drive people to develop what’s needed. All kinds of organisations have used competitions to drive innovation in fact Virgin’s Space Ship Two that will provide the first private space tourism is an evolution of the Ansari X-prize winning Space Ship One from Scaled Composites. The precedent is definitely there.

So the competition idea isn’t as silly as it sounds, but what about the basic idea of asking the public to contribute, to effectively make policy and maybe even amend legislation? At the moment legislation does go to consultation but if you ever read a consultation document they’re dull, non interactive and are generally put to you as we want to do this or this, which do you prefer? The responses they get back and certainly the responses that are given the most airing are those from associations, and groups that are seen to represent the public or special interests, not from individuals.

Allowing any member of the public to have input and shape legislation is a natural progression from what we have now and where we started from. I am currently reading William Hague’s excellent biography of William Pitt. Pitt enacted the gagging laws stopping congregations of 15 people or more, because he believed in the primacy of parliament. If you had an issue then you should go to your MP and make a representation and they would then make a representation in the House. To congregate and complain, inciting rebellion etc was against the primacy of parliament and the system, that was more his issue than anything else.

What Jeremy Hunt suggested is a continued evolution of how parliament makes laws at the moment and I think very much reflects the time we live in, where it is about the individual and their views, and the wisdom of the individual in the many, rather than the pure wisdom of their representatives. The issues of tomorrow won’t be solved by the hierarchical solutions of today.

We can’t limit our decision making in such complex systems as we now operate in to the individual complexity of one minister, or a small groups of individuals, we do have to try to harness the wisdom and expertise of the masses and I therefore believe that this suggestion is a great stepping stone towards that.

For a great example of a very simple experiment in this area check out what's happening with the draft manifesto on health the Web Cameron Direct and Google Moderator. Really CCHQ should have been pushing this as a basic example alongside the original announcement.

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